14 August, 2018

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Sketches From The South: The Rise & Fall Of Amarapura

By Uditha Devapriya

Uditha Devapriya

The history of the Buddhist clergy, in this country, has largely been a history of schisms, splits, and amalgamations. Over the centuries, certain points have been inferred with respect to this process. First and foremost among them, that the breakdown of Buddhist monastic orders in response to growing caste militancy was only a partial, and not complete, consequence of the political games played by the British. Insignificant though this may be, it is nevertheless important in that certain writers paint a rosy picture of caste-ism while forgetting that the rifts between different castes were exacerbated once the British realised it could harness them to its advantage. Caste-ism was, in other words, waiting to be harnessed by external forces.

Some historical antecedents

When the annexation of Kandy was complete, assurances were made by the Colonial Office that steps would be taken to preserve the privileges of the traditional elite, which obviously included the monastic orders (the Siyam Nikaya). Until then, the politics of the Kandyan Kingdom had followed a largely cyclical process, with shifting loyalties and shifts in the regime (particularly after the Nayakkars began their reign). But with the advent of the outsider, this was destined to be succeeded by a largely linear process, in which that outsider, the imperialist, managed to concentrate hitherto traditional privileges within his bureaucracy. The traditional elite, naturally anxious to preserve those privileges, sought to preserve them through their faith. It was in this context that the Siyam Nikaya was guaranteed the continuation of its practices, in part through the much vilified, controversial Kandyan Convention.

No less a person than the then Governor of Ceylon, Robert Brownrigg, visited and placated the nervous monks at Malwatte and Asgiriya with assurances that “the protection and security promised to their religion would never be wanting.” John D’Oyly, Chief Translator and later Baronet of Kandy, made similar assurances and entreaties to the kapuralas of the four devales in Kandy (Kataragama, Pattini, Vishnu, and Natha). The two promised to undertake three practices which had been the duty of the King: providing food to the temples from the Maha Gabadawa, holding the pageant of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, and maintaining the Dalada Maligawa.

Of the three, the first is the most interesting, since the adherence to and the abrogation of its practice is for me a good indicator of how the Colonial Office affirmed, and later derogated from, the practices of the traditional Kandyan elite. It took several decades for the British to abscond from taking part in the ceremonies of traditional society in India, and that was a consequence of the Mutiny, which took place in 1857. In other words, it took an entire Mutiny to turn the British away from Indian life and culture. In Sri Lanka, by contrast, only 17 years were needed for them to renege on their promises regarding that life and culture; by 1832, contrary to the provisions in the Convention, the Colonial Office had elected to do away with the provision of food to the monks, and instead replaced it with a scheme whereby an annual stipend of 310 pounds (or about 30,000 pounds, when adjusted for inflation) would be paid to the temples. This was an uneasy proposition from the start, and was doomed to stall.

It did stall 15 years later, in 1847, when after a campaign against it by the Legislative Council (which argued that to fund Buddhist monks would be to force a Christian legislature to support heathenism), it was shelved off in favour of a meagre land ownership scheme for the monks. As no proper arrangements were made for the management of these lands, however, some of them would pass into alien hands. This same process, of representations made to preserve traditional privileges giving way to their retraction, can be seen even in the way the British “took to” the pageant and the maintenance of the Maligawa. And yet, by no means did rebel monastic sects emerge purely because of the activities of the British. Long before Pilimathalawa’s and Eheliyapola’s defections, long before the Chieftains decided to side with the British to oust the King, those rebel sects were quickly coming up. Their emergence was conditioned by the regions they originated from. In the hill country, the dominant caste was Govigama; in the low country, the dominant castes were Salagama, Karawa, and Durawa. The Siyam Nikaya yielded to the pressures this soon necessitated, and years after its founding by Welivita Saranankara, it yielded to the dominant caste. Upasampada was restricted to this caste (which was not dominant in the low country, or along the coastal belt). This was true especially when considering how power was distributed in the bureaucracy, prior to the British annexation, between the different castes: while in Kandy the non-Govigama castes had their own headmen, the departments to which they were attached were overseen by Govigama chieftains.

The rise of Amarapura

These discrepancies, unaddressed for years and decades, had to spill over. They did spill over in 1799 with the founding of the Amarapura Nikaya, which had its biggest following in the South, among various groups, ranging from those who felt marginalised by the policies of the Siyam Nikaya to those who were tied to British interests and thus wanted to “affirm” breakaway factions (in the secular or non-secular realm) which were free from the control of the former Kandyan Kingdom. This was tied to the fact that, while certainly not free from the shackles of colonialism, the South was freer than the hill country and Colombo, and was thus more open to a revolt in the Buddhist order. (In fact open support was given to the revolt by local headmen, many of whom had repudiated Buddhism and professed Christianity to become part of the bureaucracy.) But while two upasampada ceremonies had been conducted, in 1772 (at the Thotagamuwa Viharaya in Thelwatte) and in 1798 (at Tangalle), these were not endorsed by the conservative monastic elite (which in 1764 conspired to restrict ordination to Govigama; Sitinamaluwe Dhammajoti was the last non-Govigama monk to receive his upasampada at the hands of the Siyam Nikaya).

In 1799, therefore, Ambagahapitiya Nanavimala, a Salagama monk who resided in Welitara (a Salagama stronghold), went to Burma with a contingent of five samaneras and three lay devotees. They stopped at Amarapura, where they were duly ordained in 1800, and from where they returned in 1803 to inaugurate the new sect at Balapitiya (another Salagama stronghold, in many ways more so than Welitara). This was the Amarapura Nikaya, and their trek to Burma was financed by a leading (Salagama) entrepreneur from the region, Dines de Zoysa Jayatilaka Sirivardana, most likely an ancestor of Cyril de Zoysa, who would lead the Buddhist revival in the 20th century.

But for this sect to get formal recognition, it needed a stamp of approval from the British in the Maritime Provinces. This could only come about through the efforts of an ally monk, and that monk, also from the Salagama caste, was Kapugama Dhammakhanda. He enjoyed the patronage of the chief headman of his village, Adrian de Abrew, who like de Zoysa was an ancestor of a prominent Buddhist lay revivalist (Peter de Abrew, the founder of Museaus College). Kapugama Thera organised an expedition to Burma on his own account, and in 1807, with the patronage of de Abrew, he set off, to return two years later. Curiously enough, however, while the objective of the expedition was to gain recognition for the new Nikaya, the Certificate of Confirmation given to him by the monks at Burma did not make reference to the sect; that would come about in 1825 (a decade after the annexation of Kandy) with an official Act of Appointment given to Nanavimala Thera. (The British had commenced the practice of issuing written Acts of Appointment a few years earlier.) The reason why Kapugama himself was not handed the Act was simple: in 1816, he rejected Buddhism and became a Christian. But this act of departure, symbolic though it was, did not prevent the rise of ideological clashes within the Amarapura Nikaya itself.

It is a mistake to suggest that the British did away with feudal structures in the societies they colonised. Far from it. In societies advancing towards capitalism, as Marx correctly surmised, such archaic structures would give way to an industrial class, which is why and how the Tories yielded to the Whigs. Such a transformation did not come about in the colonies. The reason is obvious. The British did not want to be the catalyst for the sort of change that would empower a nationalist bourgeoisie in the countries they had conquered. The one link with the past that those countries had which would hold back such a transformation was those feudal structures. In India, Africa, and of course Sri Lanka, the conqueror resorted to them, and in resorting to them, he found the perfect way of keeping us locked in the past. Those who believe that feudalism is retrogressive would be surprised to learn that the British didn’t really combat it. Instead, they encouraged it. That was their game, after all. Divide and rule.

The significance of Amarapura

Historians and sociologists tend to view colonial Sri Lankan society in terms of a series of encounters between Govigama and Karawa, or between the landowning aristocracy and the capitalist bourgeoisie. As a result, the evolution of the Salagama as a distinct caste has been neglected in scholarship, with the result being that even such seminal works as Kumari Jayawardana’s Nobodies to Somebodies fail to account for the rise in Salagama consciousness and standing during the Dutch occupation. This is a rather curious omission, and reasons for it are hard to find. Regardless of those reasons though, I believe that such an omission is unpardonable when assessing the divisions in the Buddhist order during the early years and decades of British rule.

What was so significant about the Amarapura Nikaya, given this? Simply, that it was the first sect to emerge from an entrepreneurial class. Those who view colonial history in terms of a rift between Govigama and Karawa fail to consider the fact that the Salagamas forged ahead as a “business class” before the Karawas prospered through arrack rents. What this necessitated was a shift in the way the new Buddhist order, built on the patronage of powerful Salagama headmen and entrepreneurs, operated. 

Given its unique autonomy, it had virtual carte blanche to move forward with a reformist agenda. In other words, as Professor Kitsiri Malalgoda has argued in his book Buddhism in Sinhalese Society, “it successfully questioned for the first time the right of secular authorities to regulate the affairs of the order.” It was as reformist as it was sectarian, and like the Protestant Reformation in Europe, it coincided with changes in the economic landscape: the decline of the traditional elite (soon to morph into a landowning class, courtesy of the British), and the rise of a new elite (though the Salagamas had more or less consolidated economic power before British rule).

Where it differed from the reformist and sectarian movements in Christian Europe, however, was that it was not inaugurated with the objective of establishing a religion and priesthood “for all”, i.e. for the peasantry. It was defined in relation to and against the Establishment, but this did not mean that it flirted with radicalism the way that, for instance, Thomas Müntzer did when he rebelled against both the Catholic Church and Martin Luther. In fact, as Regi Siriwardena argued in a reply to Kumari Jayawardana once, it is difficult to ascertain whether the Buddhist priesthood in Sri Lanka ever produced the equivalent of a Müntzer or for that matter Martin Luther. Even with the setting up of the Amarapura Nikaya, its primary objective was to reform the order in line with the historical antecedents of Buddhism, as reflected (or refracted) through its tenets. “Where are the radical Buddhists?” Siriwardena once asked. It is a question which has invited both censure and praise, and has divided scholars over the decades.

From one standpoint, it has been argued that Buddhism here was infected with the remnants of feudal society. This school of thought discounts the Buddhist revival of the 19th century on the basis that it did not do away with the separation between the clergy and the laity. Personally though, I do not think the contention that Buddhist radicalism as understood by Western scholars did not come about totally is reason enough to conclude that the Buddhist order sought to preserve feudal structures at whatever cost. This is where we must credit the Amarapura Nikaya, because for the first time in the history of the Buddhist order, it brought forth (as Professor Malalgoda observes) “closer cooperation between the monks and their devotees.” This had less to do with an overt objective by those monks to erase caste distinctions than with the fact of their own meagre historical condition: given that it had no royal patronage, the Amarapura Nikaya was compelled to rely on the lay devotee. As an anthropologist once wrote, moreover, this had an impact on the way even the Govigamas saw it: “I know many villagers of the Govigama caste who prefer to give alms to monks of the Amarapura or Ramanya Nikaya rather than those of the Siyam Nikaya because they believe that the former are less worldly.” Here, then, was a Buddhism that promised people salvation in this present birth, as opposed to the more conservative Buddhism which gained prominence among urban followers in the latter part of the 19th century.

Salvation, in other words, would come about through this birth and this world, not one’s next birth. It encouraged affirmative action and dissension, and encouraged a new culture of revivalism. It is here that we see the seeds sown later by Anagarika Dharmapala, with a monastic order that, while certainly not radical like its Western counterparts, sought to combat the other-worldliness the conservative sects had encouraged in their devotees. What this resulted in was a sharp awareness of the need to oppose external forces which harmed the faith, and the Amarapura Nikaya took this point to heart so much that one Christian missionary contended that it was “at present the most prominent in controversy, street preaching, and all that is aggressive.”

After the annexation of Kandy in 1815, the Nikaya gradually found its way to the Central Province, tapping into not just non-Govigama monks and laymen but even Govigama monks who felt disgruntled with the rigidity of their overseers. Among the latter group from the Siyam Nikaya who severed their ties with their ecclesiastical superiors were Mayilave Gunaratne Thera and Rambukwelle Sobita Thera, who had belonged to the Huduhumpola temple (Malalgoda, page 139). But arguably the most vociferous opponent of the Nikaya from within the fraternity was Yatanvela Sunanda Thera, who belonged to the Asgiriya Chapter (the most powerful in the Nikaya) and who had got re-ordained by the Amarapura monks at Balapitiya in 1834. The Act of Appointment granted by the Colonial Office in 1825 would have had an impact here.

The splintering of Amarapura

But from the beginning, what was seen as an all-embracive ethos and philosophy within the Amarapura Nikaya became a definitive factor in the segmentation of that sect in later decades. There were no less than five groups of monks which went to Burma to be ordained in Nikaya. Moreover, the founders of Amarapura belonged to no less than three different, distinct castes: in order of importance, Salagama, Karawa, and Durawa. They were brought together by their opposition to the Govigama elite, but as the years progressed, the underlying tensions between them erupted. What worsened these tensions, interestingly enough, was the absence of a patron under whom some semblance of unity could be maintained, and the fact that the most powerful caste in the fraternity, Salagama, was divided into four sub-castes, each with its own ideological affiliations and share of privileges. By the time of British rule, these four sub-castes became two, but even with this, the differences grew rapidly.

Consider that merely 10 months after Kapugama Dhammakhanda Thera obtained a Certificate of Confirmation from the Colonial Office, monks from the Karawa and Durawa castes held a meeting at Kottegoda, where they (s)elected a representative for their caste: Ambalangoda Wilegoda Punnasara Thera. They even went as far as to petition the government for a separate Certificate, and when they failed, they then persistently sent petitions for an Act of Appointment. In 1825, almost 10 years after Dhammakhanda Thera had converted to Christianity, the government appointed a Chief Monk over the Salagamas, which infuriated the Karawa and Durawa monks.

As Professor Malalgoda has noted, the latter group tended to view the Salagamas as inferior to themselves, which made them reluctant to organise a common front against the Govigama elite. One wonders as to why the British, having appointed a Salagama representative, did not appoint representatives for the Karawas and Durawas. One can only conclude that this was symptomatic of their ambivalent attitude towards caste in the country: while they were able to tap into caste rifts to perpetuate British rule, they were rather unwilling to make official declarations which would divide society further through those rifts. On the other hand, by appointing a Salagama representative without paying heed to the other castes, they ended up widening those rifts even more.

Of the two other castes, it was the Karawas who were most vociferous in their demand for ecclesiastical autonomy. This had to do with the fact that they were also the largest of those castes and also the most powerful, and that they were close to the Salagama monks, with their headquarters in Dodanduwa. Surprisingly, while they opposed the Salagama sect, they colluded with them over important ecclesiastical functions. The leader and founder of the Karawa sect, Kataluve Gunaratne, had moreover obtained his ordination, not at Amarapura, but at Ramanya. Their link with this Burmese city would later lead to them using the designation Kalyanivamsa (after their leader), when attempts at dividing the Amarapura Nikaya further on the basis of caste affiliations continued to fail and after an alternative sect, the Ramanya Nikaya, made their use of the Ramanya label obsolete. The Kalyanivamsa, over time, gradually found their way to Kalutara and Panadura, and even the Christianised Moratuwa, all of which would become the bastions of the Karawa caste. However, long before any of this unfolded, the Amarapura Nikaya had already splintered, thanks to a fatal leadership vacuum.

This process of splintering began when the Salagama monks along the coastal belt affiliated themselves to either of the two lines of succession which had been initiated by the two founders of the Amarapura Nikaya: that of Ambagahapitiya Nanavimala, based in Welitara, and that of Kapugama Dhammakhanda, based in Dadella. It is an irony of fate that while Dhammakhanda had gone with a contingent of monks to Burma intending to supplement, or aid, the efforts of Nanavimala in commencing an alternative monastic order, this merely led to the segmentation of that order. Initially, however, the laymen were opposed to this segmentation. They wanted the two lines to converge, which they apparently managed to do after Dhammakhanda converted to Christianity. Having convinced the Welitara monks to unite with the Dadella monks, they were able to reinforce the unity they brought about by appointing Nanavimala Thera as the leader of both the Salagama groups. When Nanavimala passed away in 1834 (the year that Yatanwela Sunanda Thera rebelled against his Asgiriya roots and entered the new Nikaya), the leadership passed over to Bopagoda Sumana Thera.

Here we must reflect on and consider the fact that the Salagamas of the South were not merely opposed to the Karawas and the Durawas; they were also opposed to each other on the basis of the sub-castes which had been formed within their group. It was during Sumana Thera’s term that these rifts between the sub-castes widened so much that the Salagama Amarapura Nikaya split. This began when the Thera’s chief pupil, Lankagoda Dheerananda, who belonged to a higher sub-caste, founded an autonomous group within the Nikaya. It then worsened when a controversial issue that had not been resolved with the unification of the two Salagama camps made itself felt again.

This was the controversy over the “sima”, which in Buddhist terminology refers to a boundary drawn up to demarcate a sacred area within a temple, so as to separate the sacred world (“lokoththara”) from the profane (“lawkika”). Without delving too much into the niceties of this term, it is enough for us to know that when the two Salagama camps were founded, the simas were based on the respective chief temples, in Welitara and Dadella. The two simas had to give way to one when the two camps converged, but for a long, long time, controversy raged over where it should be based. The Welitara monks, led by Beratuduve Dhammadhara Thera, were adamant that it be based in Balapitiya, near the Madu Ganga. The issue remained unresolved (in fact no upasampada ceremony was conducted in Balapitiya thanks to this dilemma), but eventually, Bopagoda Sumana, despite his affiliation to the Dadella branch (which had its sima at the Gin Ganga), agreed to enlarge the sima at the Madu, in 1845. It was this decision which was challenged by Lankagoda Thera, the chief pupil, six years later.

Lankagoda Thera’s justification for his stance was that the sima at Balapitiya was in effect defiled by a bridge built within the structure, which intruded on the sacred area. This, apparently, made the demarcation of the sacred boundaries a confusing affair. The debate that it compelled led to what historians refer to as the “Simamskara Vadaya”, which was less a debate (as the term “vadaya” suggests) than a controversy. 

The embittered teacher, Bopagoda Sumana, who had been appointed to unify those twin camps before, found himself in a precarious position. Given that the controversy had brought discomfort to Salagama monks in general, he was, naturally, in no mood to add to it even further. For this reason, Sumana Thera decided to throw his weight behind the group which had the larger following: the Welitara camp, led by the pupil of Beratuduve Dhammadhara, Kahave Nananda Thera. A further series of debates resulted, after which the Sangaraja of Burma was consulted. The Sangaraja’s decision, however, made matters worse: he stood by the decision of the (minority) Dadella camp, and even after a delegation from the Welitara camp was sent in 1858 to consult him and try to persuade him into looking at the matter from their side, the Sangaraja refused to be swayed. He was, however, worried over the split it had caused in the order, and to this end sent a missive to Bopagoda Sumana explaining his concerns.

Having written a further letter to a powerful, non-partisan Amarapura representative, Bulatgama Sumana Thera, he tried to bring the two camps together. Upon Bulatgama Sumana Thera’s request, some form of unity and agreement was reached, but neither side was willing to let go of its stance on the controversy of the sima, which continued even after the passing away of the respective leaders of the camps: Bopagoda Sumana in 1864, and Lankagoda Dheerananda in 1871. The conflict had begun in 1851. It was never to be fully resolved. In later years, the students of both these leaders organised their own splinter groups: the Saddhammavamsa fraternity, after Lankagoda Thera, and the larger Mulavamsa fraternity, after Bopagoda Sumana. What had been begun to rebel against the caste-ism of the leading monastic fraternity, in other words, gradually had given way to the caste-ist pressures which had given birth to it in the first place.

Uditha Devapriya is a freelance writer who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 11
    1

    Thanks, Uditha, for having had the courage to venture in to this dangerous area with a much needed article. This is a long article, but as usual with you, well written.
    .
    Actually, the well written should be seen to be different from you usual style, because you have taken a challenging topic, and in writing the emphasis is on the content than the style.
    .
    Let us hope that all the contributions by readers are also responsible.

    • 5
      9

      This idiot needs to be put in to a Pol Pot like work camp for him to learn ‘working’ for a living instead of wrting rubbish to the media.

      CT, please spare us of this idiotic rubbish.

  • 2
    3

    “The history of the Buddhist clergy”

    Uditha ……. kudos to you for your stellar effort ………. but gotta confess …….. didn’t read the whole shebang; too looooong …….

    For an unromantic “brutal realist” with eyes not wide-shut ……… dunno if the Lankan Buddhist clergy is relevant in this day and age ……… it might as well be a piece about the long extinct Dodo ……….

    Would the present-day clergy survive by the relevance of their function/duty/service to society alone ………… if not supported and sustained by the self-serving pols of all sides for their own survival ………when all the hoopla is peeled off and distilled down to the bare basic human-traits ………. I see nothing but a classic case of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back …………

    In Japan, the modern-clergy have found their true relevance …….. they have turned their monasteries into guesthouses ………. if you go to Mount Koya (Koyasan …… it’s a cable car cum train sorta near vertical ride) you have to stay in a monastery ……. the monks don’t speak a word of English but have hand-held gadgets that translate – you type your thang ….. and they type their thang …….. Native Vadda would have a field day watching people just typing away – The food is all vegetarian and the monks are the waiters ……… they bring at one go ………. several dishes like a 7-tire pagoda balanced one over the top of the other …….. it’s a display of skill they are proud of …….. That’s how they earn their keep

    If you want you can wake up very early and join their morning prayer-ritual ………… Bathing is communal ……….. if yours is nothing to write home about ……stay away …….. go several days without a bath ………. Japanese ladies can be severely unimpressed ……… man, I’m beginning to sound like a tour guide ….. Lanka can do that to a man

    • 7
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      At least the history of the Buddhist clergy has not involved pedophilia and abuse of vulnerable ‘altar boys’ like in some other religions.

      So we are proud of their fight against the colonisers and safeguarding Buddhism from the Mlechcha invaders.

      • 2
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        Arambuna,
        “At least the history of the Buddhist clergy has not involved pedophilia and abuse of vulnerable ‘altar boys’ like in some other religions.”
        What a sense of humour you have!. No, the Buddhist clergy give anal enemas to the abiththiyas nowadays.A more elegant way of describing it, you see. Like describing your sort as mentally challenged instead of idiots.

      • 2
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        “Buddhist clergy has not involved paedophilia”

        It’s just basic folly to try to ascribe all human-vices to one group of humans ……..

        “And no matter what they tell you,
        There’s good and evil in everyone” — Van Morrison (Who was that Masked Man)

        “fight against the colonisers and safeguarding Buddhism”

        Buddha’s Buddhism is not a fight ……. it’s a mind “game” taking place mostly in the mind …………. the uncomprehending “followers” might convert it into a clan/tribal battle …………due to metal incapacity to comprehend great thoughts ………..

        Buddhism needs no “protection” if the “Buddhists” understand Buddha.

    • 2
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      Nimal,
      “If you want you can wake up very early and join their morning prayer-ritual ………… Bathing is communal ……….. if yours is nothing to write home about ……stay away “
      You are giving me serious heebie-jeebies. Imagine if our Gandasara took to communal bathing.Would he be accused of assault with a blunt weapon?
      Still, great write-up on a controversial subject by young Uditha, though many would like to pretend the subject of caste among Buddhists doesn’t exist. Sri Lankans think that evil goes away if you don’t talk about it.

      • 2
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        “Imagine if our Gandasara took to communal bathing.”

        OC,

        “The child makes the man.”

        Good gent Ganasara is doing nothing more than trying to get others to pay for his insecurities and feeling of inadequacies that he has carried from childhood ……… like US for poor Donald ……. Lanka gives Ganasara a stage to “act out”

        “Would he be accused of assault with a blunt weapon?”

        I don’t think he’ll measure up ………. his behaviour is a dead giveaway ………… :))

        “controversial subject by young Uditha”

        Yes, Uditha should never be muzzled …….. It’s an open forum and people should be free to express their views freely within the bounds of civil discourse ……… I admire Uditha’s efforts even though at times I don’t have the time to read the entire piece ……. as his writings require more effort to read than many others’ ………..

  • 6
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    The issue of caste in a society supposed to be Buddhist is indeed a scandalous contradiction. One of the main reasons why Siddhārtha Gautama rejected the Vedic Brahmanism he was born into was its caste dimension. The reforms he sought were so radical as to branch off into a new religion altogether. So the people who call themselves Sinhala-Buddhists are more Sinhala than Buddhist because of their deviation from Buddha’s teaching on caste. They are part of the pan-Indian Hindu civilization in as much as caste is an integral aspect of their social structure. So Sinhala people are more Indian than they’d like to believe, and paradoxically this is what makes their brand of Buddhism …….. Sinhala Buddhism. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

    • 4
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      Ajay,
      “So Sinhala people are more Indian than they’d like to believe, and paradoxically this is what makes their brand of Buddhism …….. Sinhala Buddhism. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?”
      The Sinhalese try to make a fetish of their “non-Indian-ness”. Any three- wheeler driver sitting in his Indian-made mode of livelihood with his Indian-made gods proudly displayed above the windshield will tell you how horrible and starvation-prone Tamilnadu is. Strange, because in India a Sinhalese is perceived as just another out-of state guy as long as he doesn’t open his mouth.

    • 2
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      Ajay
      Besides caste, they believe in astrology perhaps more than the average Tamil Hindu, and they worship on average a larger number of gods than their Hindu counterparts.

  • 0
    0

    Kumari Jayawardana’s work was concerned with the evolution of the capitalist class and how the capital came about.
    If the writer is aware of the emergence of a large group of capitalists from any other community in that period,it will help if he states it.
    Caste was a major factor and there is no running away from it. But the battle was between the elite groups.
    *
    The Salagama was seen as an ‘outsider’ by other dominant castes for a long while and the Salagama did not seem to mind it at the time.

  • 3
    0

    Uditha, this is an excellent scholarly foray in to intricacies of Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka, except you stopped at mid eighteen hundreds. Please continue to the present day because most of the divisions and splinter groups may or may not be relevant now. Moreover monks of all Nikayas currently find it hard to recruit young to the order, mainly because of the reduced family size and the improved economic conditions. Most young monks one talks to these days are war orphans and there is no correlation between their cast and the Nikaya they ordained to.

    On a another note, not a derogatory comment but a realistic fact is the gift of gab and the resilience of Salagama cast in general. As a result Amarapura Nikaya had produced great orators as well as extremely courageous monks like the ones who had headed the Nagadeepa Temple through out the war. So I have to disagree with the title, Amarapura Nikaya is far from fallen.

    • 0
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      Mr.Wannihami,
      “Moreover monks of all Nikayas currently find it hard to recruit young to the order, mainly because of the reduced family size”
      What then are those crowds of samaneras regularly paraded as new entrants?

  • 2
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    Thanks for the article Uditha….long, but full of info. One can infer that prior to the European invasion, there was no real caste. It is inferred that caste in Sri Lanka was more about occupation (i.e. each group was able to get the same wage for their respective occupations), and related to geographical area and work availability. This is quite unlike the Indian caste system, where humans were/are forced in e.g. one small village to do different levels of jobs- castes were delegated per village. In Sri Lanka, it was more of gilded associations.
    *
    The article implies that the Govigamas were/are a united egalitarian bunch, whilst the coastal lot were/are full of schisms. The Kandyans however, brought in a Hindu caste system in, but it became mostly symbolic. The simple livelihood of the landowning Govigama caste generally tended to be egalitarian. Yet the symbolic Hindu caste structure remains for ecclesiastical purposes. It also secured the right of property for the Govigama castes, thus saving the traditional Lankan habitat.
    *
    The coastal castes were probably also quite simple in their livelihoods prior to the European invasion – the fisherman fished, the cinnamon peeler peeled, and the toddy-tapper tapped. Yet, after the invasion, with commerce and money flowing around, the coastal classes began to get one up on each other with their wealth. Wealth attempted to beget more wealth, and even the inland Govigama lands were not spared – luckily the priests tightened their control and some land was spared. Yet out of the many moneyed schisms of the coastal castes, came the greater desire for humility and egalitarianism. Ecclesiastics changed accordingly to counter the accumulation of wealth and retain the Buddhist purity.

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      Drear grandma Ramona,
      “Thanks for the article Uditha….long, but full of info. One can infer that prior to the European invasion, there was no real caste.”
      Is that what you made of Uditha’s efforts? Rather like saying there were no chickens before eggs.

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        OC….. it was always class and gilded associations rather than caste. European invaders put our classes together with the Indian system……(well, it was a bit more caste than class compared to Europe, but never as rife).

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      Grandma, many of the so called coastal castes only originated , after the European invasion, when they brought in hundreds of thousands of Tamil low castes as indentured labour or slaves from South India, either to work at the huge cinnamon estates or in the service industries. The Sinhalised descendants of these Indian Tamil low castes are the present day Sinhalese Karawa, Durawa, Salagamma, Hunu, etc . Now making up half the present day so called Sinhalese population. They doubled the Sinhalese population within a few centuries. The so called Sinhalese Karawa , including the Kurukulla clans , living along the western coast north of Negombo to Puttalam , were still Tamil until early to mid last century. They were part of the Tamil Jaffna kingdom , which stretched along north western coast. Chilapam( modern day Chilaw ) was the summer capital of Tamil kings of Jaffna and these areas were famed for their pearl fisheries. It was the Tamil kingdom of Jaffna and not any Sinhalese kingdom that was famed for its pearls. As the western coast from Mannar to Chilaw were famed for pearl fisheries. If any fabled princess from the island, who came from a kingdom fabled for its pearl fisheries , it would have been the Tamil kingdom of Jaffna. The Sinhalese/Tamil Kandyan kingdom was landlocked and the Kotte kingdom was not famed for anything. Even in the early 1900s pearl diving was still taking place ,along the western coast around Mannar/Puttalam. The so called fabled Princess Padmavati , would never have been a Sinhalese but a Tamil from the Jaffna kingdom, anyway even the so called Sinhalese kingdoms, were ruled by monarchs , who were ethnically Tamil.

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        RSS…..many of the coastal Sinhala castes got mixed with the Indian high-castes who came over 500 years ago with their many skills. British brought in some of your Tamil low-castes to do the coolie work on their estates, but Sinhalese chased them away during the riots and they escaped up to their Northen Tamil brethren who used them as human shields during the last stages of the war.

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          Another Mahavamasa fairy tale to hide the lowly recent Indian Tamil immigrant origin of most of the coastal Sinhalese , may be even your family? Go and google and read the origin of the so called coastal Sinhalese. The Karawa, Salagama, Durawa, Hunu, Hali etc. Indian Tamil high castes would have come to rule and their descendants are the so called Kandyan and low country Sinhalese upper castes and ruling classes. Just look at many of the the so called Sinhalese Govi names , a veritable Tamil who is who. Mudali( Mudaliar) Pilli( Pillai) Arachchi( Arachchi) Hetti( Chetti) Banda/Bandara( Pandarar) Sekara( Sekaran) Tunga( Tungan) Koon( Konar) Peruma( Perumal) Naicke/Nayake( Nayagam/Naiscken) Kodi( Kodi) the list goes on. They would not have been imported to fish , work on cinnamon estates and do all other sorts of menial work. This was the work lower castes. The Karaiyar especially their leaders the Kurukulla Karaiyar were good warriors and fighters and were imported from the southern Tamil country for this reason , by all monarchs. They settled along the north west coast that was then Tamil land and part the of the Tamil Jaffna kingdom. The Muneswaram temple and the ancient Hindu Tamil village of Udappu and the surrounding area , are the living remnants of what this area once was. These Kurukulla Karaiyar remained Hindu , therefore maintained their ancient Tamil identity , whereas all their kinsmen in the surrounding villages converted to Catholicism or Buddhism and took on a Sinhalese identity. Go and tell your fairy tales to someone else.

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            No wonder Sinhalese chased you away from the from our Buddha land. You live in your excluded Tamil communities and attempt to spew hatred across the island. You have no idea of Sinhalese society, but try to come into your communities with your twisted mindset. Sad thing indeed. This is what Tamils do to their own people, with no attempt to change. Sinhalese Helas on the other hand, live and assimilate with all and create a healthy society. Go away to Tamil Nadu and suffer your disgraceful shameful system. You won’t take over our land with your disgusting ways.

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              Ramona, Muslim invaders chased Buddhists away from Buddha’s land and there is hardly any Buddhists there. On what basis are you claiming Sri Lanka to be Buddha’s land, when Buddha never set foot here. In Ramayana, Sri Lanka is described as a land ruled by Ravana, a Dravidian Saivite. Why was Sri Lanka not called a Aryan Buddhist land. Sinhalese since independence had been trying to chase Tamils out of the island, but have so far failed. They wanted to drive out all Tamils of recent Indian origin, but managed to send out only half of them. As for indigenous Tamils, only one third had been subjected to ethnic cleansing. If Tamils are to go to Tamil Nadu, Sinhalese also have to go to some part of south India, as it is proved that the core genetic material of Sinhalese is South Indian with no typical Aryan gene marker in anyone of them. Even the ancient Elu (Hela in Sanskrit) people were South Indian immigrants. With modern technology you cannot hide truth to make false claims.

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                Sankaralingam,

                Wow, recently I saw this of the Sinhalese race :
                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_studies_on_Sinhalese#/media/File:Genetic_admixture_of_Sinhalese_by_Papiha.PNG

                Time to give up. Let Sinhalese be Sinhalese. Tamils will be so much more successful if they don’t go around screaming racial and caste epithets. Can’t you proud of your own Dravidian heritage?

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                  Ramona, again you are misleading, citing a paper released by mainly Indians and one Sri Lankan way back in 1996. There are two studies done entirely by Sri Lankans (Sinhalese) much after that with advanced technology First by Colombo Medical faculty with Newcastle University and the second by Kelaniya Science faculty with Bangkok University. Both analysed a sufficient number of Sinhalese selected in acceptable manner around all parts of the country and arrived at the same conclusion. They found the core genetic material of all Sinhalese tested was south Indian with 26% Bengali and 9% Veddha, and none had the typical Aryan marker. As for Bengalis, their origin is from Dravidian migrant Banga tribe who mixed with Tibeto-Burman people and later with Aryans. As for Gujeratis, though they claim to be Aryans, except the skin colour, they are short like Dravidians and do not have any typical Aryan feature. I do not know whether they had subjected themselves to genetic testing. Tamils are not bothered to leave Sinhalese to be Sinhalese like how they have allowed Malayalees to be Malayalees. You must understand that in this modern world, you cannot hide the truth about the fact that Sinhalese are former Tamils with a new identity just like Malayalees. Studies have proved that Veddhas the original people in the island are genetically different to Tamils or Sinhalese and that Sinhalese are more close to Tamils than any other ethnic group in the world including Bengalis and Gujeratis.

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            Also RSSS, add the Suriyas (like Kurukulasuriya) to your list, of which is high-caste (as in your terminology) – that of which many of the Hela Fernandos have as clan names. As per many Tamils names, even your low-castes have high sounding names (just because it is Tamil sounding hardly make it high-caste). Your low-castes were chased away by the Sinhalese to the North after the British left, as there were no more jobs for them. Also your “high-castes” were chased away for trying to create caste-society replete with Tamil caste-hatred spewing from their mouths, on our sacred Buddhist soil. There, these poor people were used as human-shields by their own Tamils in the final end of the war. Only the Estate Tamils remained because they were needed for the tea-estates.

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          Oh now we have to listen to fairy tales from a grandma denying her actual origin,from the fishing villages of Tamil Nadu and claiming fake Indian high caste origin. Your origins change every few months. Once you were part Dutch Burgher and Vellah Jaffna Tamil , then you were descended from immigrant Goan Brahmins who converted to Catholicism. Now the latest from Indian upper castes from South India. Get your act together grandma and stick to one story to be believed and not jump from one origin to another , to hide your real ancestry. Estate Tamils who escaped to the north fleeing Sinhalese violence, were a very small percentage of the northern population and no one used them as human shields. You are trying to invent stories and excuses to justify the war crimes and genocide that was committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Rajapakse regime in May 2009 and lay the blame somewhere.. As per your statement Tamils used the Indian origin estate Tamils s human shields , therefore it was not a crime for the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Rajapakse regime to have deliberately committed war crimes on them and killed them, as most of the Tamils killed were lowly Indian origin estate Tamils. It is the fault of the Tamils. Grandma out of the 300000 people who fled with the LTTE , not even 5000 would have been of Indian background. Listen racist grandma killing any human deliberately or committing genocide on them deliberately is a war crime , irrespective of their origin. ethnicity or whether they were human shields or not. The Sinhalese armed forces and government then as now deliberately targeted and killed them as they were all Tamils , irrespective of their origin.

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            Rajapaksa regime did the needful. Your Tamils however put your so called low-caste people in harm’s way in a deliberate attempt. Sinhalese army tried their best to avoid these human shields, but Tamils played trick upon trick on them. Who will buy the Tamil story now?
            *
            As per me,. no, we never stayed fixated in on one secluded caste. We are indeed a healthy part of many groups (except Valhalla Jaffna Tamil….never said that). Proud of all our many mixtures.

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            And yes Pandi Kutti, I am part Dutch Burgher and Goan Brahmin from my father’s side.

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              Yes and I am Julius Caesar .

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                We don’t know your real name, do we? Mine is known and can be validated. Never seen any Tamils look like Julius Caesar.

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                You Tamils who are so jealous of the legitimate Sinhalese North Indian gene and try to belittle it, are the very ones who claim Brahmin origins (Aryan). And only about 1% Tamils are Brahmin. I wonder how the White Nazis will deal with this. Aren’t you ashamed? Aren’t you ashamed to go screaming racial epithets against any race? I have never heard a Sinhalese person do this.

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                  Yes grandma I am very jealous of Aryan Sinhalese genes( sic) . Aryan my foot. Half of the so called present day Sinhalese are purely descended from Tamil low caste slave labour that was imported into the island by the Dutch and Portuguese, this includes the Fernandos. The other half again largely descended from indigenous semi Tamil speaking Dravidian tribes and Indian immigrants, again largely from the Tamil country. If you refer to the minor Bengali contribution to the Sinhalese DNA as Aryan , you are in for a rude shock grandma. There is very little Aryan amongst the Bengali. They are largely Dravidian by race.Many also Australoid or Dravidian/Mongol. They only speak an Indo Aryan language , that was imposed on them by their rulers, just like the descendants of African slaves now speaking European languages in the Americas. For your information the Sri Lankan Tamils have a slightly higher Bengali DNA contribution in their genetic input than the Sinhalese.. If there is any Aryan amongst the Sinhalese it came from the Portuguese the Dutch and the British from the wrong side of the bed. The percentage of Brahmins in Tamil Nadu is around 2-3% and throughout India around 5% . They predominate more in North India as it is where they originated and due to the huge Ganges river and sacred sites there. In ancient times Brahmins always settled close to a river . North India has the huge Ganges, whereas in Tamil Nadu it is only the Kaveri around which most settled or the Vaikai or the Tamaraparani. I . also wonder how the White Nazis will deal with a wannabe Aryan, Karawa Sinhalese grandma screeching around here about her imagined Aryan Hela genes.

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              ramona Grandma therese scatter brain fernando

              “And yes Pandi Kutti, I am part Dutch Burgher and Goan Brahmin from my father’s side.”

              Which part?

              Which of your other part belongs to
              Rodiya, Tamil, Ahinkuntaya, Rajaka, Ilhava, Irava, Izhava, Erava, Chovas, Chokons, Chogons, Thiyyas, Tiyyas, Theeyas, Kuruvan, Sidhanar, Kuravar, Kuruva, Sidhana, Pulayan, Cheramar, Pulaya, Pulayar, Cherama, Cheraman, Wayanad Pulayan, Wayanadan Pulayan, Matha, Matha Pulayan ……………… ?

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                Oh, sigh, sigh, Native Vedda…..I mentioned in an old posting (that rattled up Tamil-Nazi Pandi Kutti about the Goan Brahmin), that I am probably very much part of those tribes also. We’re so very, very proud of our rich and diverse heritage.

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    Fascinating, albeit a bit too long. Thank you for this amazing narrative. I wonder what Buddha would think? His main rebellion against Hinduism was the total crass unfair foundation of Caste. And these blokes are sticking to caste. Even as a Child I asked the question as to how Siam nikaya can discriminate on the basis of caste when the Buddha spoke and acted eloquently against that concept: His words were “no man is born superior or inferior to another; (you cannot be born Brahamin or Wasalo), and it is our actions and our actions alone that decide whether we are superior or inferior to another..” Pretty damning. In other words, what we do with our lives is what decides whether we are good or bad people; not some bizarre tail of being born a certain classification. If you look at MLK Junior he echoed such sentiments on the serious issue of racism and black vs. white in the USA with his statement: ” I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

    WOW, I know for that politically the Ramanya nikaya sided with the working class, if I am not mistaken and were recognized politically by the SLFP types. Is that true? But this is a bloody sad indictment of people clinging to caste in 2018. This is not true Buddhist doctrine is it? Yikes….Isn’t it time for a giant reformation or Sangaayanawak as happened in the Buddhist orders to clean the Augean stables? Who will be Eurystheus and who will be Hercules? Perhaps Aethism has its merits?

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      Yes Mano Ratwatte, it is good that the Sinhalese continuously speak up against this. However, it is nowhere near the Hindu and Tamil caste system. It is mostly symbolism from our nearest neighbour, which we can never really avoid. Yet it is dysfunctional for a Buddhist country. With the Ranil-Sirisena Indian merger, we will be going into the net even further.

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