23 March, 2023


Dennis McGilvray: In The Cozy Darkness Of A Velvet Blindfold

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Darshanie Ratnawalli

Stupidity is no stranger to academia. It lurks behind reputed and respected scholarly facades and waits for the owner of the façade to lower his or her guard. Then it comes out, so brazenly and without apology that one is struck speechless. Recently I had occasion to be entranced by the outing of (the stupidities of) Dennis MCGilvray and one other, who shall remain unnamed until it’s his turn for my attentions.

Though American, MCGilvray is no stranger to Sri Lankan studies, with which he has been associated since the late1960s. Michael Roberts, an anthropologist, though a historian by training, recalls how McGilvray was a participant in the Ceylon Studies Seminar organized by personnel from Peradeniya University in those halcyon days and how he (Mac not Mike) used to visit Peradeniya to meet Gananath Obeyesekere and was one of the many others who were drawn to that University by its global repute as a centre of excellence and the vibrant discourses centering around a happening sociology department. Roberts also has fond memories of staying at McGilvray’s place in Cambridge during a winter. All this connectedness with Sri Lanka and its academics could not save McGilvray from folly however.

From 1993 to 2002 Mac conducted (what he thought of as) independent ethnographic studies in Kuragala, the site of a Sufi shrine, while enjoying the hospitality of the main trustee M. L.M Aboosally. Now there are scholars who are capable of enjoying hospitality without compromising their independence. Dennis was not one of them. In the midst of his ethnographic survey he also made excursions into archaeology, willingly blindfolded and holding on to his host’s hand for guidance. Evidence of these forays, made in the cozy darkness of that velvet blindfold called hospitality, holding on to the comforting arm of his gracious host jumps at the reader from McGilvray’s “Jailani: A Sufi Shrine in Sri Lanka

Exhibit 1- “Jin Malai is a gentle stone slope with few cultural features apart from an early Arabic inscription. (The words have been translated as ‘Ya Allah Hijri 300’ or 907 CE (Aboosally 2002: 61, 87)”. When he wrote this sentence, McGilvray, Professor, PhD, University of Chicago had to have known that no credible epigraphic authority in Sri Lanka or abroad has ever claimed, during the whole of the 30 + years since the Kuragala controversy arose, that there were early Arabic inscriptions on any cliff formation at Kuragala. The source from which the knowledge of this early Arabic inscription flows into McGilvray’s august brain is Aboosally 2002, a political mover and shaker with a socio-financial stake in legitimizing a shrine at this site and the very opposite of a credible authority. Also note McGilvray’s sentence structure that presents claim by an interested party as an established fact. What causes a McGilvray to form sentences like this is the malady called hospitalitis.

Exhibit two ditto- Although Jailani is said to have been a place of Muslim refuge and Sufi meditation from the beginning of the fourth century of the Islamic era—and both a discovered dervish tombstone and some Arabic inscriptions would seem to support this view (Aboosally 2002)—all of the infrastructure of the Jailani shrine today is of twentieth century origin.” Again Mac seems strangely unaware of the incongruity of relying on the main trustee, the whole main trustee and the nothing but the main trustee in establishing the antiquity of a shrine. Equally strangely, Mac knew when he wrote this sentence, that a credible and specialist authority had been consistently repudiating the antiquity and authenticity of the dervish tombstone, Arabic inscriptions et al (henceforth to be called the ‘Aboosally antiques’). This specialist authority is none other than the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka headed by Dr. S.U Deraniyagala during the time (1992-2001), McGilvray conducted (what he thought of as) independent ethnographic studies.

According to the Antiquities Ordinance, No. 9 of 1940 and its Amendment No. 24 of 1998, the sole responsibility of identifying what constitute  ‘antiquities’ and protecting them rests with the Director General of Archaeology. By the time Dennis was strolling up the garden path of the Aboosallys’ graciously appointed mansion, hand in hand with his host and dashingly accessorized by a velvet blindfold, a long line of Directors General of Archaeology had consistently refused to recognize the ‘Aboosally antiques’ as antiquities. The line started with Dr. C.E. Godakumbura (tenure 1956-1967), who is famously supposed to have said “of no relevance” when asked to record and decipher the Arabic writings at Kuragala, and included R.H. de Silva, Saddhamangala Karunarathna, Roland Siva, M. H Sirisoma and S.U Deraniyagala.

Mac does mention this specialist refusal but words it so as to cover up that it’s the weight of specialist opinion, which disqualifies the Aboosally antiques. Exhibit 3; However, these officially designated, governmentally-gazetted antiquities still do not include the Arabic inscriptions found on tombstones and rock faces at Jailani. “The Archaeological Department,” observes Mr. Aboosally, “appears to be only interested in Sinhala and Buddhist archaeology.” (Aboosally 2002: 85)”

I wonder Watson, if McGilvray realized, at least when proofreading, that the Aboosally 2002 motif recurs in his paper more frequently than the sex motif recurs in Lady Chatterley’s ? More importantly does it occur to Mac that in the matter of the antiquity of the Jailani shrine, he is technically treating M.L.M Aboosally as a higher authority than S. U Deraniyagala, who was the Director General of Archaeology during the period of research? What would cause a Professor, PhD, Uni of Chicago to rate an Aboosally higher than a Deraniyagala in archaeology? The power of hospitality Watson.

*The writer can be found at http://ratnawalli.blogspot.co.uk/

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Why these archeological studies are this biased, these papers are not submitted to any reputed, peer-reviewed journals.

    How can they publish this kind of garbage, which kind of journals, if at all if those exist ?

  • 0

    “of no relevance” given as a reason not to record and decipher the Arabic writings at Kuragala, taken together with the claim that allegedly “officially designated, governmentally-gazetted antiquities still do not include the Arabic inscriptions found on tombstones and rock faces at Jailani” may have caught Dennis McGilvrays attention.

    As a scientist he would realize that “of no relevance” acknowledges the existence of something that was “of no relevance” and he probably decided to see for himself what this thing was and also see for himself the evidence demonstrating such lack of relevance.

    Being no stranger to Sri Lanka McGilvray probably decided to look at these “Aboosally Antiques” himself. Since these “Aboosally Antiques” were the focus of his attention – other related matters having presumably been well documented elsewhere and officially recognized – it is quite understandable that they should recur as a motif in his paper.

    I am given to understand that ‘specialist opinion’ does not rank very highly in terms of the classification of data and this may be why Dennis gives his own findings or evaluation of these “Aboosally Antiques”an equal or higher rank to the opinions of these experts.

    Perspectives change with time and so do our understandings of antiquities, their contexts and their relevance to our times.

    As far as I can see Dennis McGilvray has brought something in from the cold. It may turn out to be “of no relevance” and if so I hope that Dennis at least will clearly tell us what exactly gives it this irrelevance and in relation to what exactly this irrelevance arises.

    Meanwhile if reference to the paper in which Dennis has described his encounter with the “Aboosally Artifacts” is made available it may be possible for readers to assess the “silliness’ or otherwise of his efforts.

    • 0

      Why did Mac bring this fake history of Aboosally “in from the cold”?
      If he didn’t do this, his name will be for ever forgotten. This was his chance to write a controversial book. If he had written out the standard well-established story of Kuragala, not a feather would be ruffled. He would have done nothing to leave a footprint anywhere, to justify his many days hanging around in Peradeniya.

      Besides, history is written to the tune of the people who pay to write the history. But Aboo needs support. So why shuldn’t he buy that support.?

      We see that also with “exclusive” Tamil homeland myths.

      Also, Muslims should not be outdone by the Tamil Nationalists. So “nearly exclusvie” Moslim homelands have sprung around Deegavaapi, Paanama, and other places. A historic Kuragala is very important in that context.

      Too bad the Tamils and the Muslims did not have Mahavamsas of their own. The
      nasty old sinhalese went about recording everything on stones and also wrting chronicles about them. So, the others who did not inscribe on stone, or write chronicles have to invent them even belatedly.

      As for this writer Dharshanee’s on-going critique of “pseudo-history”, she may have to begin with the Maha-bharat, Ramayana, and all that pseudo-history of the Greeks woven with myth, or the mahavamsa. So the muslims got Mac and Aboo to weave a myth for them. The “native Veddha” has his naive myth that he is native and comes directly from the womb of Kuveni, unlike the Tamils and the Sinhalese!.

      The educated Muslims know all these things. But heroic history is needed as a bit of ‘eau de vie’ for those who come out of the Friday prayers from the Mosque, or from the Kovil after having had their dose of opium of the masses.

      • 0


        “The “native Veddha” has his naive myth that he is native and comes directly from the womb of Kuveni, unlike the Tamils and the Sinhalese!.”

        Native Vedda never accepted the perverted Mahawamsa version of history let alone Kuveni myth. Please make sure you don’t put words into Native’s mouth.

        “for those who come out of the Friday prayers from the Mosque, or from the Kovil after having had their dose of opium of the masses.”

        Please do visit the link below where you will learn more about religion straight from horse’s mouth.

        Richard Dawkins takes on Religion: Al-Jazeera TV

    • 0

      Dhas, Agree with your viewpoint. Something I am puzzled about. Were there arabic writing on the rock? Were they dated? If there were, why were the writing not relevant? Godakumbura “is famously supposed to have said” they were not relevant. Why? Had he truly said so? If there were arabic writings, then it is likely that a Sufi shrine existed. There is nothing wrong in that except that Muslims would say the Koran forbids such sites. But if it is an archaeological site, let it be recognized as such. If the arabic writings are of more recent origin then will Ratnawalli say so?

      • 0

        This is the problem. The statement that they were not relevant means that something existed that was not relevant. The question then arises as to how they become irrelevant and in relation to what they are irrelevant and also on the contrary in relation to what they may be relevant.

        In my opinion whatever it is that was seen as irrelevant could have been documented along with the reasons as to why it was deemed irrelevant. It could also have been translated and it could have been dated as well. This would help us to draw our own conclusions based on our own perspectives which change with time as we mature in our outlook and increase in our awareness.

        Of course whether a Sufi shrine existed or not would depend on what evidence there is and whatever it is that was deemed to be irrelevant may actually help us understand better whether such a shrine was likely to have existed or not.

  • 0

    Oh me god, the great pretender is back in action! :)

    And she is bang on target with this carefully calibrated opening sentence “Stupidity is no stranger to academia”.

    Would you expect her to recognize telltale signs on wonders?

    Since the answer is an overwhelming NO, we rest our case Watson.

    • 0


      This is what she says in her Blogg:

      ravings of a strange woman

      “All the entries in this blog are works of fiction and products of my imagination”


      At least she is honest.

      Please don’t take her seriously as she loves fun that is what she she is having right now.

      You never took me seriously, why her?

      • 0

        LMAO :)

        • 0

          Certainly, muslims should be upset with her writings because she exposed the dishonesty of a muslim and how muslim try to islamize the world.

          • 0

            Jim softy

            “how muslim try to islamize the world.”

            If Sinhala/Buddhisation of the entire island is justified what is wrong with Islamic Arabisation of the entire world, given that Islamic Arab oil has been the necessary economic factor which oil the wheels?

            I suggest you found a Sinhala Shiva Sena in this island and sell oil to the Islamic Arabs.

            • 0

              Don’t forget Vanniyelaththo is constructing a Buddha stautue in Dambane on his own and he is a vegetarian too.By the way is Ratnavalli also from the Native clan? just curious!

  • 0

    This aboosally was the guy who gave the scorlaship to ellawala medananda(JHU) to learn archealogy. Now he’s back to takeover kurugala. Well it doesn’t matter who it belongs to but they just want to take out whatever historical artifacts and sell it in the black market. Same thing was done to the National Museum, and so many historical sites. They are also depiting all buddhist temples destroyed by LTTE as destroyed by muslims in the east. Well at the end the govt. Tookover kurugala so who knows they might end up putting a casino there as a mixed development project, because its a 650 acre land.

  • 0

    Oh dear this [Edited out], the Kuragala [Edited out] is back and this time Dennis MCGilvray is the culprit. He is accused not only for his so called ‘stupidity’ but also the ‘power of Aboosally (Muslim) hospitality’ has made him a biased researcher.

    The so called ‘specialist authority’ in Sri Lanka (The Archaeological Department) and their researchers were always biased to their pay masters (the Sinhala-Buddhist government). Other than Sinhala and Buddhist archaeology, anything else was not relevant to them. Even Dr. Senarath Paranavitana was a well known Sinhala-Buddhist biased researcher even though he was not a Buddhist. They were buttering the Sinhala-Buddhist (majority) regime (compromising their independence) in order to earn their daily bread.

    What caused a Professor, PhD, Uni of Chicago to rate a Aboosally higher than a Deraniyagala in archaeology? The power of the daily bread that the later receives from the Sinhala-Buddhist majority regime Watson, it has made Mac not to rely on the ‘specialist authority’ Watson and nothing else.

  • 0

    Do not talk of what you do not know. Paranavitana was no Buddhist.He remained a Christian to which religion he was born. That is how he became a favourite of the British Arch Commissioner, Codrington and earned his scholarship. You do not know that he argueed that the reference in Mahavamsa to Abhiseka Jina was to Jesus Christ and Christ’s statue were Consecrated in King Dhatusena’s time. He did not suppress evidence of that stamp-sized impression of a Persian Cross found at Jetavanarama Stupa Anuradhapiura.He showed how the Tamil rulers mentioned in Mahavamsa/inscriptions were practitioners of Buddhism. So it is not fair that with your ill-informed stock you come to disparage his writing.
    Even James Rutnam made the mistake you are making and purchased Paranavitana’s personal papers thinking he had hit a goldmine to find no gems he expected.”The Sinhala-Buddhist Govt” was not interested in them.Successive Commissioners like Rolland Silva and Deraniyagala were no Buddhists but Christians and archaeologists. do not import your imaginary and biased thinking to the website.
    HCP Bell and early archaeologists were all archaeologists first and Christians second. They did not distort like Mc Grilvy for filtyy lucre.
    What is implied in your post is that you would have liked if Sri Lanka had an ALL Musilim Govt like in Saudi Arabia! Hmmm!Then you want be writing like this.

    • 0

      Yanne Koheda, malle pol. (where are you going, coconut in my bag).

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