By Jude Fernando –
“Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past” -George Orwell
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”- L.P. Hartley.
The current practices of archeology and their complicity with rebranding of archaeological heritage as national heritage have contributed to the ethnic tensions, civil war, injustice, inequality, and violence in the Sri Lankan society. The pretense that archaeology is an apolitical profession is a form of complicity with these social ills. In many societies, archaeological knowledge was the historical basis for nation builders and their antagonists (e.g. separatists/sub nationalists), who reclaimed or plundered their antiquity, and reshaped it to support discriminatory social, economic and political practices. Sri Lanka is no exception.
Nation building and archeology are intimately related. According to Randall McGuire “nationalists muster archaeology both to prove their myths dispassionately and to reveal and reconstruct an “authentic” objectified heritage.” In most societies archeology evolves and becomes institutionalized within the political and cultural parameters set by the nation-building priorities set by the state. Under these circumstances archeology is politics by other means. Denying the political nature of archeology is a form of self-deception.
Good governance (Yaha Palanaya), as a political response to pernicious social and political consequences of nation building, will elude us unless we are prepared to radically change the current mindset about the relationship between country’s archaeological heritage and culturally distinct collective identities and landscape. People’s entitlement for freedom, equality and justice should be the driving force behind the reasons for our search for archeological knowledge and how we chose to act upon it. Archeology fails to make a positive contribution to the society while it is a prisoner of the ethnonationalist politics of the state. Under such circumstances archeology becomes complicit with political and cultural practices that use archeology not “necessarily always to better understand the past, but to use the past to legitimize the present.” The point here is not that the past “literally speaks to the present,” but rather, “when the past is used to legitimize the present, we insist that it is saying what we want to hear, even if the thoughts we are imputing to the past may have been alien to it.”
Establishing connections between the past and present is a deeply political and cultural process that assigns contemporary meaning and roles to present-day ethnic, racial, and religious identities and the associated systems of governance, through archeological history. When archaeologists fail to be a critical voice against the pernicious consequences of these political and cultural practices, they become complicit with the forces that hinder the emancipatory struggles of the society. Multiculturalism, advocated here, aspires to reorient archeology as an ally-in-solidarity with these struggles.
Archeological Heritage and National Heritage
The knowledge of Sri Lanka’s past that we can glean from its unique archeological heritage seems limitless. So do the possibilities of archaeology’s fostering a multicultural society free of prejudice, domination, and violence. The Sri Lankan state has forced a marriage between its ethno-nationalist policies and archeology through the rediscovery/rebranding of archeological heritage as national heritage. This marriage has suppressed objective discovery of the richness and diversity of the country’s archeology and the positive role it could play in society.
National heritage that we celebrate today is a processed cultural and political product that the state has invented “through ideology, nationalism, local pride, romantic ideas, or just plain marketing into a commodity.” The political and cultural rationale behind the elaborate measures to restore the country’s archaeological heritage and promote heritage tourism, particularly since the J.R. Jayewardene government and the aftermath of the war, has been to keep the Sinhala Buddhist identity of the nation alive as the primary source to legitimize the social, economic and security policies of the state. Defending the nation’s Sinhala Buddhist identity and the Sinhala-Buddhist national spirit’s invincibility entails glorifying heroic defense of country’s archaeological heritage. The same engagement with the archaeological heritage has been used to legitimize the policies that sought to transform the economy according to a capitalist rationality by representing these policies as a continuation of the ancient Sinhala Buddhist civilization.
The fundamental issue is not with the country’s Sinhala Buddhist archaeological heritage or the Sinhala Buddhists’ affinity with it. But rather with the function of Sinhala Buddhist heritage as the dominant national identity of the state that renders those who do not belong to that heritage as second class citizens, and as a source that legitimize the discriminatory social and economic practices. This exclusive national identity has contributed to the defensive nationalism and xenophobia that censor and suppress people’s ability to think critically about the social, economic and political issues and their imagination to seek alternatives. Under these circumstances, the hegemonic national culture and capitalist economy transforms national heritage-nation building nexus as a source of prejudice, biases, inequalities, injustices, and violence resulting from the hegemonic national culture and the capitalist economy. 
The state proactively keeps this nexus alive and uses it to suppress, neutralize, and punish interpretations that do not conform to its cultural and economic ideology and practices. The nexus then functions as a political and cultural ideology that contributes to popular legitimacy for exclusive ethnoreligious nationalism, authoritarianism, militarization, and neoliberal policies and suppression of resistance against them. When these functions are aided by the way archeologists’ produce organize and disseminate the knowledge about the past, arguably, they become allies of the ethnonationalist politics of the state. Then the culture of the archeological practices and the culture of the state are more or less the same and they reinforce each other. Their respective roles in defining and asserting national identity—and national sovereignty and rights of citizens –are indistinguishable and they complement each other. It is rare that archeologists have been proactively self-critical of the political nature of their own practices and their complicity with the social, economic, and political consequences of the state’s role in transforming antiquity into national heritage.
In order to finds ways out of these social ills, Sri Lanka needs to cultivate a new mindset and institutional framework to liberate practice of archeology and the knowledge it produce from these ideological functions so that it could imagine humane ways of forging connections between archeology, and, national identity, nation building and national policies.
Multicultural Approach to Archeology
To this end, the fourth goal of the Ministry of Inclusion and Diversity (MID), proposed in this seven part series of articles, is to facilitate a socially responsible relationship between archeology, heritage, and nation building that would be articulated around the notion of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, advocated here does not suggest a romantic celebration of diversity or a move toward the integration and assimilation of different communities, but a view of Sri Lankan society as a diverse cultural mosaic that creates an equal opportunity for each culture to celebrate its uniqueness, that would otherwise be undermined by the cultural and political manipulation of archeological heritage. It directly engages with the, knowledge, social and political power generated by knowledge about antiquity and how it could contribute towards a humane society.
Multiculturalism does not undermine the efforts of professional archaeologists and historians to establish authenticity in the meaning and cultural histories of the country’s archaeological heritage. Rather, it creates a space for socially responsible archeology that is free and flexible to pursue the meaning of this heritage (and its uses and abuses) through critical inquiry. This would also help society to develop a sense of tolerance in the face of challenges to cherished ideas about the continuity of culture between the past and the present, the meaning of citizenship, the state’s identity, ethnic conflict, and justice and equality in a multicultural society.
We must recognize that creating a multicultural mindset of archeology in the society is a battle against unprofessional archeologists and historians, educators, journalists, politicians, and demagogues who provide ‘final certainty’ and ‘completeness’ to uncertain and incomplete meanings in archaeological knowledge and who make those meanings available for exploitation by racist nationalist projects. They play a leading role in educating the public on the meaning and relevance of the country’s archaeological heritage to ensure that citizens remain passive consumers of archaeological narratives that are completely subservient to the state’s nationalist project. Their narratives reinforce the Tamils’ fear of Sinhala Buddhist expansion into their cultural and geographical space and the Sinhalese desire to control that space, which morphed into the xenophobic patriotism that provided legitimacy to the war and continues to obstruct meaningful reconciliation.
Arguably, creating a multicultural mindset of archeology is also a battle against the professional archeologists who were complicit with the racism and chauvinism associated with these projects or who never took the opportunity to speak out against them. Multiculturalism seeks to reconstitute archeology as a political practice infused with ethical and moral responsibility that would contribute towards a humane world, as Randall McGuire noted we must have, “control over the knowledge that archaeologists create, a praxis that guides our knowledge toward human emancipation rather than alienation.
Prior to venturing into such effort, we must first examine reasons for the current institutional, cultural and political framings of archeological practices and their consequences.
Professional and Institutional Biases
After independence, national heritage became an obsession of both nationalists and the archeologists. There has been no critical dialogue on the national heritage between the professional archeologists gradually and interests of nation builders. Research into archeology, particularly that made available to the public, was organized into ethnic and racial categories that became institutionalized during the colonial and postcolonial state. They are mostly concerned with authenticating the antiquity and legitimizing and sanctioning the borrowed categories.
The Sinhala archeologist occupied a privileged position in the national discourse of archeology compared to those of Tamil origins. Instances of their solidarity against the abuse of archeology by nationalists and their opponents are rare. Evidently, nationalism and racism have not been popular topics of concern in the mainstream archaeological discourse as it is in other countries. Particularly after the civil war began the critical voices against mainstream archeology that existed at the margins of the society has disappeared or succumbed to defensive nationalism.
For example, many scholars, including Gananath Obeyesekere, have refuted Paranavitana’s claim that the Vijaya is an Aryan, and that Sinhalese came from the Western region of Arayata (land of the Aryans), a claim Sinhala nationalists used to establish a “bloodline with” the Aryan race. Gananath Obeyesekere, in the New York Times, dismissed Paranavitana’s claim as “racist nonsense [that] is part of the mythology of the Sinhala-middle class.” He added that the Aryan identity is “no longer acceptable to serious historians” and most likely is an invented linguistic category that translated into an ethnic identity to serve middle-class interests in nation building.Paranavitana’s and Palipana’s readings of the Vallipuram inscription, regardless of the surrounding controversies about its interpretations, point to the use of archeology to develop notions of racial purity and legitimize the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist claims, and also the denial of demands for power sharing and national unification, in many ways similar to those invented in Europe in their pursuit of nation building (Ondaatje), where myth often becomes “historical reality and history myth.”
It would be preposterous, on my part, even to suggest that all archeologists are racists or ethonationalists. There are many archeologists who pursue their profession with a great deal of objectivity. By identifying (often selectively) certain markers in archeological objects, even these archeologists have made erroneous moral claims about multiculturalism and peaceful coexistence among different ethnic communities in the past. These markers tell us anything about the conflict, biases, and prejudices within and between these communities. Markers of coexistence are not evidence of justice and equality in the past. Nor do they indicate that ethnicity and religion have performed the same social roles in the past as they do today (Kohl, P. 1998). Successive governments since independence have used the same archeological evidence to legitimize the deprivation of people’s entitlement for freedom, equality and justice. Cumulative impacts such government actions over time have contributed to substantiate anti-colonial and anti-Western arguments, tainted with exclusive ethnoreligious nationalism that the Rajapaksa regime used to legitimize its power and escape the international scrutiny of human rights abuses during and aftermath of the war.
Nationalisms’ hold power over archeological practices by creating a culture of fear and stigma anyone who challenges the established national myths and identity and archeology’s dependence on state patronage prevented archeologists from critical engagement with the links between archeological knowledge and ethnic riots that spanned over decades, 30 years of civil war, lack of progress in devolution of political power, militarization, and social and economic inequalities of the neoliberal economic policies. Defensive nationalism of the archeologists’ and their complicity with the state’s exploit of their profession has thus prevented them from exploring alternative ways of practicing archeology (e.g., the community archeology, post-colonial archeology, and feminist archeology. 
Uneven and Racialized Patronage
The state’s patronage of archaeological endeavors continues to be unevenly distributed between the Sinhala- and Tamil-speaking areas. This trend coevolved with the state’s ethnonationalist and neoliberal economic policies, particularly since 1977. For example, take the critical analyses of the cultural triangle (CT), sponsored by the UNESCO-Sri Lanka Team, by Nira Wickramasinghe, Matthew Lieberman et al. The very notion of a CT was political, deeply interwoven with the post-independent nationalist ideology, as its boundaries were inventions of the modern state and excluded the predominantly Tamil-speaking areas. The focus fell on the three ancient capitals. Kandy was included in the project in 1978. Why did the Tamil-speaking areas were not CT, particularly in the light of the tensions between Sinhala and Tamil communities. CT excluded or marginalized the Excavations in Polonnaruwa. It is likely that excavations during Polonnaruwa period would reveal the Hindu (e.g. Saiviate) and Buddhist cultures coexisting alongside with each other and having equal status in terms of their relationship with the society. Could the reason for not to excavate Polonnaruwa have been to avoid challenges to the purity of the Sinhala Buddhist narrative or the economic imperatives of the state?
Tamil archeologists and historians were less prominent or rarely involved in the CT project. Knowledge of the CT, particularly that is made available to the public, rarely emphasized the syncretic nature of the Sinhala and Tamil cultures. Rare is the evidence of an open dialogue between the Sinhala and Tamil speaking archeologist in relation to the implications of their respective interpretations of archaeological artefacts for the contemporary issues of nation building. The CT was a sophisticated project promoted under the guise of protecting national heritage and promoting heritage tourism to incorporate diverse cultures into the Sinhala Buddhist narrative and legitimize its role as the guardian of the Sinhala Buddhist culture. 
According to historian Nira Wickramasinghe, the post-1977 government’s interest in the restoration of archaeological heritage was closely interwoven with the government’s mutually reinforcing ethnonationalist and neoliberal projects. Evidently, state investments in heritage protection focused primarily only the areas that could be used to legitimize purity of Sinhala Buddhist narrative and attractive to global heritage tourists’ interests. UNESCO, which funded the CT as a part of its efforts to protect world heritage, “belong[s] to a world system and world economy which are in no way at odds with the way nation states exhibit and promote a populist interpretation of the past.
CT project was a project that was implemented within the ethnonationalist framing of meaning of the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state. Hence it lacked sensitivity to the how that meaning impacted the objectivity of efforts to pursue to protect the archeological heritage and the politics of the CT project. In that sense international organizations such as UNESCO facilitate the marginalization of certain histories and the dominance of ideological and cultural appropriation by centers of political and economic power.  The global capitalist and security interests after the post-Cold War period needed a strong state in Sri Lanka legitimized by its own culture and traditions in order to provide stability and security for global capital and its geopolitical interests.
The state used the “national heritage” to provided legitimacy for the state to represent the investments in mega agriculture and irrigation development projects (e.g., the Mahaweli Development Project) as evidence of the state’s commitment to protect and to ensure the continuity of the Sinhala Buddhist civilization. Neoliberal institutions that funded CT compelled the government to invest in the and culture according to the interest (e.g. profit, political stability) of the markets, without any regard for how these investments could impact the entitlement of peoples freedom, equality and justice.
The commodification and racialization of archeological heritage (i.e., capitalism and racist nationalism) are two sides of the same nation-building process. Consequently, the racialization of archaeological knowledge/national heritage that contributed to the civil war in the country continues to undermine the political stability required for the progress of the capitalist economy. Creating stability and suppressing of dissent against inequalities and injustices inevitably leads to militarization that in turn invokes a racialized national heritage as a source of its popular legitimacy. Then the society’s uncompromising devotion to this heritage undermines solidarity between different ethnic groups against those inequalities and injustices.
Destruction and Neglect
During the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) period, the Jaffna Museum, which housed the collections of the Jaffna Archaeological Society, was destroyed. Valuable historical material indispensable to understanding the archeology of the entire country was lost when the Jaffna Public Library was burnt down, in 1982, during the United National Party’s rule. Since the end of the war, the management of archeological sites has become further centralized, and government investments in the development of institutional infrastructure have been unevenly distributed between north and south. Fewer Tamil professionals were involved in the Department of Archeology, national museums, and national archives. Allegations of the government’s distorting the appearance, meaning, and histories of sites that exclusively represent the culture and histories of minorities and/or Sri Lanka’s multicultural past (the shared heritage of Sinhala and Tamil communities) abound.
The selective investment in restoration of archaeological sites under the Rajapaksa regime excluded those sites that, perhaps, could have challenged the claims about the purity and historical continuity of the exclusively Sinhala-Buddhist state identity, and those claims that draw transhistorical relations between the Buddhism, Sinhala language and Sinhala ethnicity in the political sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state. For example, the settlements of culturally similar early populations of ancient Sri Lankan and ancient Tamil Nadu in India and megalithic burial sites at Pomparippu on the west coast and in Kathiraveli on the east coast of the island, are evidence of the Early Pandyan Kingdom established between the 5th century BCE and 2nd century CE. Excluded from the excavation reports are the detailed information of skeletal remains of an Early Iron Age chief in Anaicoddai, Jaffna district, potsherds with early Tamil writing from the 2nd century BCE found in Poonagari, Kilinochchi district to the south in Tissamaharama. Archeological objects discovered in Annaikodai, Karainagar, and the Velanai, Vallipuram, Kaliamallari sites, and Manimekalai and Kundalakesi are not a part of the Sinhala public discourse of Sri Lanka’s archeological heritage.  Sinhala heritage tourists rarely visit the neglected and undervalued sites nor do these sites figure into popular media stories.
The travel route for Sinhala heritage tourist and pilgrims, some of whom travel north in buses carrying banners claiming ‘this is my Buddhist Kingdom,’ is carefully mapped. From Tellippalai, they go to Keerimalai, to the Buddhist temple in Tiruvannamalai in Maathakal where the Sanghamitta statue is enshrined, and then to Nagadeepa, and they don’t have an opportunity to hear the narratives of the history depicted in those sites they avoid. This regulated tourism is another ironic example of purging the Tamil identity and culture in the practice of Buddhism so that Buddhism becomes exclusively associated with the Sinhala identity and culture. Tourists are unaware of the tension among the local populations, military, and the archeology department due to the alleged appropriation of large tracts of land for excavation purposes and the constructing new Buddhist temples in historically significant sites occupied by Buddhist monks. Does the state or the Department of Archeology follow consistent land appropriation policy throughout the country, and allows the construction of new Buddhist Temples in lands classified as archeological heritage?
Such neglect, and the selective exposure of tourists to heritage sites, adds credibility to the Tamils’ perception of invasion and the control of their cultural landscape by the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala perception of the need to protect their Buddhist heritage from the Tamil/foreign invaders. The claim that victory against the LTTE helped the people to reclaim the archeological sites from the LTTE’s control reinforce the xenophobic mindset of tourists that provides legitimacy for the expansion of the national security apparatus in the north and east and the expanded role of restoration and safeguarding of archeological sites is further reinforced. Such military involvement provides further credibility to the Tamil community’s apprehensions about the links between national heritage and militarization in the north east. For tourists to think outside of their nationalistic mindset about national heritage is made difficult by their memories of the LTTE attacks at sacred Buddhist heritage sites (e.g., the attack at Sri Maha Bodhi in 1989, the Bombing of Dalada Maligawa in 1992, and the destruction of an ancient Buddhist statue at Nagadeepa in 1958). These acts of terror added to the Sinhala community’s fear of losing their archeological treasures and contributed to the perpetuation of prejudice, xenophobia, and the ethnic tensions.
Distortions and Deceptions
The state’s control of heritage tourism is an important contributor to the polarization of Sri Lankan society along the lines of ethnicity and religion. Visitors to Anuradhapura only see the stupas built by King Dutugemunu, not the tombstone of Tamil King Elara who was killed by Dutugemunu. This reinforces highly distorted understandings of the war between Elara and Dutugemunu, which is an important part of the state’s nationalist identity.
The Hindu religious and cultural ideals depicted in many of the archeological sites scattered throughout Anuradhapura escape visitors’ attention and their tour guides do not care to draw attention to them. The Koneswaram Temple, a site of Hindu worship, reflects Hindu architecture of the Pandayan period, and the stalls closer to the Koneswaram Temple “owned by Sinhalese traders – that sell Buddha statues and post cards carrying pictures of Viharas that decorate either side of the road that leads to the temple” say nothing about the temple’s Hindu heritage. “Until visitors reach the summit of the rock upon which the temple sites, they do not feel as though they are journeying towards a Hindu temple that boasts more than 2500 years of history.” 
After math of the war the rationale behind restoration of historical sites has been to assert the purity of Buddhism and dominance of Buddhism over minority religions, and make connections between the Buddhism and the rulers of the present day and their political and cultural agendas. There are two statues of Sangamitta, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, in Muhamalai, one erected during and the other after the war. The description of the statute gives more prominence to former President Rajapaksa’s wife’s name than Sangamitta’s. The new complex built after the war in the same place, beautifully maintained by the Sri Lankan Navy, is an important Sinhala tourist destination. The Hindu Kovil about 100 meters away from the complex remains in need of rehabilitation and the Christian church remains in ruins. The complex is physically isolated from the surrounding Tamil community and their culture. The layout of the complex does not give equal prominence to Buddhism and Hinduism. In the minds of the tourist the complex is a testimony to the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist space liberated by the Rajapakas regime, and it reinforces the narrative of Tamil nationalism.
After the war Kandarodai, situated in the West of Chunnakam village, was renamed Kadurugoda. It was placed under high security zone and it soon became a famous attraction of the heritage tourists from the South. The curator of the site is a Sinhala Monk. About 10 dome shaped Dagobas situated at the site served as a monastery for Tamil monks and their burial sites. The excavations of this site by the Jaffna University in 1984 found Tamil Brahmi script in coins during early Pandyan and Chera dynasties of 300 BCE, and recent excavations of Sivagnanam found evidence of Hindu worship in the site. The archeological findings on Kandarodai are evidence of practice of Tamil Buddhism, integration of Buddhism with Megalithism, a hallmark of Tamil Buddhism, and transoceanic maritime relations between Tamils and world kingdoms in the prehistoric period. The heritage tour guides at Kandarodai refer only to the stupas as evidence of Buddhism in the north, not as evidence of Buddhism among Tamils. They completely ignore the other artefacts (e.g. coins) that provide evidence of Tamil language or Hindu worship found at the same site. In their attempt present the purity of Buddhism they also ignore the evidence of Buddhist and Hindu religious syncretism found at the site.
The rebranding of Kandarodai as a national heritage after the war is yet another example of the deliberate steps taken by the Rajapaksa regime to conceal the Tamil identity and culture in the practice of Buddhism from the Sinhala public and equate Buddhist identity exclusively with Sinhala identity. The neglect of syncretism in the practices of Buddhism and Hinduism renders these practices monolithic, ahistorical, and unchanging, making them the exclusive monopoly of one race or linguistic group. Further misinforming the public about the fundamental differences in the roles that religion played in the past, thus reinforcing post-war claims about the continuity of the island’s Sinhala Buddhist political and territorial identity. Nimal Dewasiri noted that “the first is the Sinhala-Buddhist attempts to spatialize its imagined territory in the North and East based on historical claims to this territory. This spatializing trend is explored in relation to the politico-ideological meaning of North-bound pilgrimage-cum-tourism by Sinhala-Buddhists from the South, and what I term the archaeologising of the North and East in popular Sinhala-Buddhist archaeology.”(Nimal Ranjith Dewasiri, 2013)
Rethinking National Heritage-Archeology Nexus
The challenge of good governance in Sri Lanka requires radical rethinking of the current relationship between archeology and national heritage, and its repercussions for domestic politics. Our focus should be on the claims of national heritage that are founded on the false premise that the ethnic and religious identities of the past and their role in state formations during and through historic, prehistoric, and modern times remained unchanged. The broad generalizations about the connection between present and past are based on identifying certain markers in archeological artifacts. Often, these markers do not reveal the complete meaning of an artifact because they may not exist in a complete form, as they are often disfigured over time. Markers of objects that appear to be indicative of the sole identity of one culture could in reality have been produced through the interaction between diverse cultures over a period of time (Kohl, P. 1998; Abdi, K. 2011; Brown, CD 2008). Therefore, they do not suffice for forming broad generalizations about the purity of a given culture.
Even if archeology can establish reasonably accurate characteristics of social formations and their behaviors, their meaning and the role in the society in the past and present may not be the same. It is intellectually dishonest to use these makers of Buddhism or Hinduism evident in archeological objects to legitimize claims about the purity and continuity of the Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian identity and Tamil minority identity, from the past to the present. Such attempts provide an oversimplified, belligerent, and deterministic view of the relation between religion, race, territory and conflict. Even if some sort of continuity is established between the past and the present, that does not provide moral justification to use archaeological evidence to legitimize present inequalities and injustices. Critical reassessment of these arbitrary continuities established by political and cultural acts of rebranding archeological heritage as national heritage is indispensable to achieve Sri Lanka’s desire for good governance. This requires archeologists’ to be open to self-criticism of the political and cultural framing of their practices and to alternative practices as well as a political will of the state to facilitate such practices.
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