Colombo Telegraph

In Jaffna Where The God’s Are Deaf

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Jaffna has a generally liberal-minded population. At the Local Government Elections even Nallur where the Kandasamy Temple is, elected a Christian woman.

However, not everything is perfect. Danger signs of Hindu intolerance are growing. I have written previously of public meetings where the Indian Prime Minister’s Siva Sena and Batticaloa MP Yogeswaran called on the public to vote only for Hindus, even as NP Chief Minister delivered  hot speeches insulting to Christians (Uthayan, 19.11.2016).

In an electoral system, even liberal-minded parties sometimes act communally. When Ms. Rahini Ramalingam who prevailed in Nallur asked the ITAK for its candidature, even people known to be liberal-minded opposed her saying they cannot risk losing even the few votes that Hindu communalists would send their way. However, good sense prevailed; the ITAK decided on principle over tainting itself communally.

Similarly, there was open pressure to not put forward Emmanuel Arnold for Mayor of Jaffna Municipal Council (JMC). Again, the ITAK backed Arnold. The contest would be between Arnold, V. Manivannan (Tamil Congress) and Remedius (EPDP). It was ITAK strategy to avoid a second ballot between Arnold and Manivannan. So it was arranged to have certain ITAK members voting for Remedius to give him second place. But matters misfired when a TULF member in jail for possessing stolen jewelry arrived late from his Anuradhapura jail. Remedius and Manivannan tied for second place.  Drawing lots was agreed to. Remedius won but wanted Manivannan to contest his brother-in-law Arnold. However, the Commissioner over-ruled that move. 

The episode shows not only how Arnold squeaked through, but also how dirty our politics is where criminals are elected and Manivannan became a mayoral candidate when he is facing criminal charges filed by the police in the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court for violating Penal Code Section 186. Under 186, it is a crime punishable by two years’ imprisonment to intimidate a public official from doing his duty. What if he is convicted? It was taking a huge risk, a colossally irresponsible act exposing the JMC to the real risk and humiliation of having its elected mayor imprisoned.

The Hindutvas lost out this time. But vigilance is needed. Jaffna District has a population of 93866 Christians out of 622709 – 15.07%. The District Secretariats of Delft with 2811 (61.62%) Christians, and Jaffna with 29613 Christians (49.36%), are the only District Secretariats where Christians are in majority. Of the Districts of Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi with 52.6%, 8.9%, 9.8% and 10.6% Christians, the latter three present no problems to the Hindutva Project. Mannar is impossible to tackle because 52.6% Christians together  with the 16.6% Muslims, are daunting. Success in reversing Christian advantage can come only in Jaffna and Delft but Delft is difficult to manipulate. 

Jaffna admittedly is the Tamil cultural capital. Jaffna must be retaken from Christians. The JMC is anomalous. It has the entire Jaffna DS Division and a part of the Nallur DS division. It has been proposed to split the Nallur Pradeshya Saba’s 40 Grama Niladari divisions into two with the 20 around the temple being made into Nallur Municipal Council. The temple would make NMC better that JMC.

That is made easy by the educated Christians fleeing Jaffna. If the Nallur Temple could be broken out of the JMC and annexed to a new Nallur MC, it would be a major Hindutva victory. The obstacle so far is the Local Government Commissioner ruling that the JMC borders cannot be altered. However, a change is a matter of time. As Prof. K. Sivathamby wrote in his book “Who is this Jaffna Man?,” the Christians live today ghettoized and sidelined.

The Christians Missions cultivated the Vellalas of both religions as “emphatically our people” and praised their manners as “such as not to require a material change on their becoming Christian.” The Missionaries wrote “they will long continue to be the most, thriving, energetic, intelligent and best behaved portion of the Tamil population.”

Alas! That education made it the easiest for Vellalas to run away. According to the Dutch census in their time to the present day, Vellalas, say anthropologists Bryan Pfaffenberger and Michael Banks, have risen from 30% to roughly a half. There is systematic upward mobility. It helps everyone escape the disadvantages of being low caste. However, all these fake Vellalas then oppress those who failed to rise. That is partly by taking over the levers of power and creating myths that no one is allowed to contradict. Indeed, the Tamil intelligentsia having fled, few are around to contest mythology.

One myth concerns the Nallur Temple which the Portuguese destroyed in 1624 AD. The original temple was located where St. James’ Church Nallur is today.  The Wikipedia agrees with this but goes on to claim that 

“The original Shivalingam of the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple was located in the Vicarage till 1995 when it was destroyed during the recapture of Jaffna by Sri Lanka armed forces and the platform where the Shivalingam was mounted can still be seen in the hallway of the vicarage.”

I hope it is not a replay of Babri Masjid with St. James’. St. James’ was not a Kandasamy Temple nor was it destroyed in the war! Having lived in the vicarage for several years in the 1960s, I state that there was no Sivalingam there. Even today, anyone may verify the absence of any platform as climed. 

The Jaffna kings were ardent Saivites and built Nallur according to agamic rules with a street for every caste and guardian temples to the North, East, South and West of the Central temple. While the central temple was given by the Queen to build a chapel to Saint Mary (which now is St. James’), the temple to its West is not to be seen while the other three appear to be intact.

The present Nallur temple, is said to have been built in 1734 A.D. but I have some doubt about this claim because the Dutch did not allow idol houses especially in towns and relented a little only in their waning years.  Regardless of the date, where it stands is South West of St. James’ and cannot be where the destroyed western guardian temple stood. It is certainly not the central royal temple.

I live in Muthirai-chanthai, the heart of Changili Thoppu, King Changiliyan’s Place. It was Muthirai Chanthai (Stamp Market) because the king’s tax collectors issued stamp marks to acknowledge taxes paid. Our old deed still refers to Muthirai Chanthai by that name. However, with the influx of new people and the vanishing of the market where I used to shop with my mother, it is now referred to in official documents as Muthirai Chanthi (junction). 

As old caste names are changed to depict a fictitious caste-free history, politically motivated changes are the norm. The Hindutva project is to make Nallur Temple the centre-piece of Jaffna, and the centre of the palace grounds. Step one was to name the Nallur Temple area ward as Raja Thani (the King’s Place). Our ward is named Changili Thoppu (Changiliyan’s Place rather than the broader King’s Place). The temple is well away from the King’s palace. 

So we now have two palace grounds! As the next step Tamil Congress’ defeated Mayoral candidate in his maiden speech at the JMC proposed that Changili Thoppu be renamed Kittu Park after the Tiger highup who played a key role in the murder of St. John’c College Principal CE Anadarajan, and had the reputation of having a mistress in every village, including the widows of those he had murdered.

In the meantime, the broader Hindutva project is asserting the Hinduness of Jaffna. The Tamil Congress’s manifesto openly promised in print to make the Nallur Temple a centre-piece in its development of Jaffna. The Urban Development Authority in its plans promises to emphasize the Hindu character of Jaffna. Public lands are being taken over by first building a small idol and then soon expanding it onto government land. 

As noise pollution with cinema music (passed off as religious music) blares daily from 5 am to late night, even during church services, there is impunity as the authorities merely pretend to enforce the law.

Here is an edited Daily News report (07.04.2018):

Several citizens of the city had filed a petition three weeks back against the noise levels from the Nayanmarkandu Temple. Jaffna High Court Judge M.Ilancheliyan ordered loud speaker sounds  lowered, admonishing the priest, ‘Gods hear better than humans.’ The ‘Grama Sevaka’ report requested stated that the volume hadn’t been lowered as advised by court. Another petition was filed by the citizens. The priest, summoned before the judge, claimed the Gods prefer loud volumes. The judge replied that gods hear better than humans and warned the priest to lower the volumes of the loudspeakers.

Here a priest who was warned by a tough judge, not listening, cheekily told the judge that the gods want loud volumes, and then getting a mere warning again. 

The Hindutva bandwagon is rolling inexorably. 

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