18 May, 2022


Wanduramba & Dambulla: History And Meaning

By Pradeep Jeganathan –

Dr. Pradeep Jeganathan

“Police have opened investigations into an attack on a Buddhist centre in Wanduramba, Galle, where tear gas was used to control crowds on Sunday evening,” says a news report published in a National news paper website on Monday last, going on to tell us that, “[t]he protest was launched against a group alleged to be practising Buddhism against the principles of the Theravadha Buddhism at the particular location. Buddhist monks and over 2,000 people took part in the protest.”

Other reports confirm the incident. Some months ago now, a mosque in Dambulla was attacked, once with a fire bomb, and then by a large group of civilians led by well known Buddhist monks from the temple there.

Are these incidents related or unrelated? And if so or not, are they expressions of an age old Sinhala Buddhist consciousness?

The two incidents have ideological differences from each other, and yet they also share similarities. A Facebook page that reproduces and (shares) carefully made Sinhala ‘posters’ gives me a clue to these logics: the Dambulla march and attack was about Buddhist sacred space, the Wanduramba matter about ‘false belief.’ And while these are both listed as matters of grave concern on yet another poster, they are listed separately. Their logics are different but interrelated, one is about the purity of space, the other about the ideological claims that are to be written, inscribed in that space.

Are these claims then, taken together, as interconnected, or separately, ancient? Have those who today claim the mantle of Sinhala Buddhism always been so ideologically inclined? Not in my view. This is not to discount the terror of intolerance, violence and war by covering it in a misty and glorious haze, suggesting that all was calm and kind, pious and loving, “then.”

But it is to point to important differences. Doctrinal disputes, about say, the Vinaya, were crucial to the debates between great monastic orders of the Mahavihara, the Jethawana and Abyegiri in the early medieval period of the island’s past. Often, it seems they were polite and erudite debates, conducted in traditions of scholary respect. Rarely, that is once in many centuries, a monastery may have been destroyed or pillaged on the orders of a King who found the loosers of such a debate to be heretics.  Yet these debates, while no doubt logical and erudite, were not about a “truth” that was rational, verified by modern science, which inaugurates the distinction between contemporary Buddhism and its many, varied ancient forbearers. Modern debates are outcomes of resistance to missionary Christianity, that sought to cast Buddhism as irrational. Indeed, in was at Baddegama, in the very neighborhood of Wanduramba, that the first such debate between Buddhists and Christians took place. These debates were not directed at the Sovereign, as ancient debates were. That’s the second big difference; they were directed at ordinary people whose, ‘consciousness,’ was the battle ground of the arguments. “Consciousness,” as Sumanasiri Liyanage has pointed out recently, isn’t the same as ideology. It’s about what’s inside us. The concept is close cousins with “conscience,” a person’s moral core in the Christian sense. It can be argued that this is a modern, Protestant idea that is a rupture in Christian thought as well.

The idea of Scared Space which catalyzes the violence at Dambulla is also a modern idea; very much a product of colonial archaeological practice, which made hierarchically ordered, racially marked, monumental landscape for us. By the end of the ninetieth century, these colonially produced, museumised spaces were violently sacralized by Buddhist activists like Walisinghe Harischandra, who led direct agitation to purify Anuradhapura of ‘profanity’ in 1903.

What colonial Archaeology made, Sinhala Buddhist nationalism claimed as pure, sacred space for its pilgrims, in its battle for their consciousness.

I see the objections of the high priest of Dambulla to the Mosque and Kovil in the vicinity of his temple, as a replay of Harischandra-led making of modern consciousness, not as an ancient tradition. In fact, we have had multi faith sites of worship in this country for a long time; Katharagama is but one example of temple, Kovil and Mosque existing and interacting in the same space. But it’s not been subject to the archeological intensity that Dambulla has. Hence the obviousness of chronological temporality in once site, (hey, we are 1000 years older than you, my book says so!), to its difficulty in Kataragama or Adam’s Peak (who came first, Adam, Buddha or Murukan?).

The very idea of Sinhala Buddhist consciousness in modern. It doesn’t go back to the fifth century or sixth, an idea that really must be abandoned, because it’s silly. Yes, as modern citizens we are endowed with both a conscience and consciousness. Perhaps that’s ancient or perhaps not; I really don’t think it matters all that much. What does matter is the idea that to be authentic, to be faithful, and to be good, we have to be ‘pure,’ to the point of intolerance, angry to the point of direct violence against someone or something that is not ours.

You can read Dr.Pradeep Jeganathan‘s wrtings @ www.pjeganathan.org

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Latest comments

  • 0


    You don’t know what you are talking about.

    There are no doctrinal differences. Even during the Buddha’s time, there were people, monks, who tried to give different interpretations. That is why Buddha left Dhamma (i.e. Doctrine) as the teacher when Buddha is not here and Buddha did not appoint leaders to represent him.

    In Buddhism, there is only doctrine. That is what is coming the Pali Canon. Even there can not be different interpretations caused by translation from one language to the other. That is why it is in Pali which is very close to Magadhi that Buddha talked. By the way, IT says, buddha could talk EIGHTY languages.

    • 0

      Thanks ! Nice piece. To put it shortly; THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY.
      Like this piece we need lots more deconstructing of the modern Sinhala Buddhist nationalist hysteria sweeping Lanka at Rajapassa and Gota the white van goon’s un-buddhist instigation!

  • 0

    [The very idea of Sinhala Buddhist consciousness in modern ]

    Again, Jeganathan:

    [Edited out]

    Just Read what is called Sathipatthana Suththa. It divides Consciousness into 108 categories. Buddhism considers that mind as the foremost thing for every thing. If you know buddhism, there were intellectual schools schools appeared simply based on Everything is mind or Every thing is perception.

    So, I cannot understand what this modern Buddhist consciousness you are talking about.

  • 0

    You have made another BullS with your article.

    You say, MORAL CORE is the Christian sense. Where do CRUSADES Wars come in that christian sense aka moral code.

    Remember, Sinhala – civilization is intertwined with Buddhism. I don’t think, as a Tamil who is intertwined with South Indian culture and the Indian civilization knows anything about Sinhala – buddhist civilization. So, the Sinhala nationalism is is intertwined with Buddhism.

    Remember, Sinhala nation has over 2600 years culture. Indian civilization has over 6000 years of culture. Christianity has only 2012 years. that is also because the Romans wanted it that way.

  • 0

    For your information, Buddhism can be practiced by Christians and Muslims too. Many Jews, in North America, have adopted, buddhist practices into their day to day activities. Hinduism in India had absorbed Buddhism into Hinduism. Chinese buddhism is Buddhist philosophy absorbed into Confucianism (Tao). Tibetan Buddhism is buddhism mixed with Hindu rituals.

    Most basically, not killing animals, not stealing or not taking what is not yours, not engaging with other women other than your wife, not taking any thing that intoxicate you, not lieing etc., are can be practiced by you too, even though you are a christian.

  • 0


  • 0

    Thalaivar ,

    Your psuedo name and repeated comments are conflicting. You sound like a frog in the well.

    The only way to protect theravadha Budhism is to live by its dhamma. Nothing else will protect or propagate Theravada Budhism.

    Extremism of any kind will bring doom to our society already damaged by race extremism.

    Live by what buddha had preached don’t misinterpret his concepts.

  • 0


    You do not know what you are talking. Pali Cannon was written several centuries after Buddha passed away. At the very first council itself the Buddhist monks split into two factions (Mahayana and Hiniyana) and later into many different sects. Mahayana into Zen, Tanthric, lamaism, etc and Hiniyana into Theravada (practised/followed differently in different countries). What is practised in Sri Lanka (including the rituals) better known as Sinhala-Buddhism is not pure Theravada Buddhism but something mixed with Hindu practises (reason being the Sinhalese are a fully mixed race).

    Pali is an off-shoot of Sanskrit. Buddha spoke Magadi Prakrit which is similar to Pali. The Mahayana doctrine was written in Sanskrit and the Theravada doctrine was written in Pali. Both these doctrines were written several centuries after Buddha.

    A Therevada Buddhist like you (Thalivar) will argue that the doctrine what you believe is true but in a similar way a Mahayana Buddhist will argue in the opposite. We will never know who is right. In my personal opinion both are wrong. The actual pure Buddha’s doctrine, we will never be able to know.

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