5 December, 2022


Who Burnt The Jaffna Library?

By Carlo Fonseka –

Prof. Carlo Fonseka


The striking front cover of the Memoirs of Edward Gunawardena proclaims that among the “tidbits” of his memorable, eventful life of some 78 years, is the story of the Jaffna Library Fire. To call the story of the Jaffna Library Fire a “tidbit” is a bit like calling Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II “Liz”, but let that go. The Jaffna Library Fire is surely the major public event documented in this book. EG was our man on the spot and he was an eye-witness to the event. Chapter XI titled: Who burnt the Jaffna library? gives a clear, authoritative and comprehensive account of the Jaffna Library Fire. It riveted my attention. It disabused my mind of an illusion, or rather I should say, a delusion. In psychiatry, a delusion is defined as a false belief persisted in despite evidence to the contrary. I now think that the period in question was one in which “the time was out of joint” in our country and EG was born to set the historical record right. Owing to my delusion that it was Minister Gamini Dissanayake who burnt the Jaffna Library, I became guilty of an act which will remain a permanent source of regret in my life. Allow me to use the privilege of appearing on this platform to try and make amends for the injustice I inflicted on Minister Gamini Dissanayake. But before doing so, let me say a few words about other matters in the Memoirs of EG.


The facts of the life and work of my distinguished, scholarly, policeman friend are engagingly narrated as part of the social history of our country in his extremely readable Memoirs. Edward is, I should say, an out and out Josephian, having entered the “baby class” of St. Joseph’s College in January 1939 and left it in December 1952 to enter the Arts Faculty of the University of Ceylon Peradeniya during the period when Sir Ivor Jennings was its Vice Chancellor. I joined St. Joseph’s College in 1947 and got to know Edward in secondary school. At University Edward read Geography and excelled in it and graduated with honors in 1957. After a brilliant interview which he recounts modestly, he was chosen to the Police Department and he entered the Police Training School in 1958. After a very fruitful, eventful, and distinguished career he took early retirement from the Police as Senior DIG in 1987. Along the way he went on a Fulbright Scholarship to Michigan State University and earned a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice. As most of us here know, Edward is a very literate man with a straightforward, graphic English style. In 2001 he published a sprawling novel called “Blood & Cyanide” on the theme of life and love and strife in our upper-class, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-cultural society. The novel deserves to be much better known than it is. In my judgment EG is the most literate IGP Sri Lanka never had!

Changing World

EG’s Memoirs give a liberal, educated, cosmopolitan man’s insight into the “interesting times” we lived through in the 20th century. By now things have changed drastically from the time most of us here in this audience were born in the 1930s. Attitudes have changed; so have the landscape and the environment and even the weather! But the cobbler must stick to his last. So as a retired medic and the current Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol, allow me to abuse the privilege of this platform to remind you that the majority of us here will die, as we all must one day, of one of the four major Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). These are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung diseases. There are four major causative factors of these NCDs- unhealthy diet, lack of physical exercise, tobacco use and alcohol abuse. I noted from pages 271 and 274 of Edward’s Memoirs that as a young man he was in the habit of drinking a little wine and beer. That was and is not illegal, and as we can all see from his robust appearance, Edward has manifestly not abused alcohol. At page 283 he tells us that he lit a cigarette in his office. Today smoking is widely recognized as the most preventable cause of disease and death and smoking in a government office in Sri Lanka is illegal. This law is generally observed. So there are definite improvements in our country. It has not gone wholly to the dogs as some grumpy political animals are heard to cry.


Finally let me come to the burning question in this book: Who burnt the Jaffna Library? EG a Master of Science in Criminal Justice has marshaled the evidence to demonstrate beyond any manner of doubt that it was the LTTE that master-minded this crime against civilization. Why did the LTTE do it? Evidently to prove to the world that Sinhalese Buddhists are barbarians. By and large the world believed the LTTE propaganda. Because at that time I was anti-government and because I felt that the UNP – government in power was anti-Tamil (it had unleashed violence on them in 1977 and 79 and 81) I readily believed that Mr.Gamini Dissanayake was the villain who had got the Jaffna library burnt. So during the 1994 presidential election campaign I verbally crucified Mr.Gamini Dissanayake for the crime which I believed he committed. Now after reading Edward’s account I have realized that I committed that atrocity because I believed the absurdity that Gamini Dissanayake burnt the Jaffna Library. Let me spell out the way in which I came to excoriate Mr. Dissanayake.


In 1993 I read a poem titled “Murder” on the burning of the Jaffna Library. It was published in the Ceylon Medical Journal as a filler. I gathered that it was an English translation of a poem written by M.A. Nuhman, who was at that time a Senior Lecturer in Tamil in the University of Peradeniya. I was greatly moved and touched by the poem. It goes like this:

Last night

I had a dream

Lord Buddha was shot dead

by the police-

guardians of the law.


His body lay drenched in blood

on the step

of the Jaffna Library

Under cover of darkness

came the ministers.


“His name-not in our lists

Why did you him?”

they ask in anger.


“No, sirs, no

There was no mistake.


Without bumping him off

it was impossible

to harm even a fly.


Therefore…,” they stammered.


“Okay, okay,

Hide the corpse.”


The ministers vanish.


The men in civvies

dragged the corpse


into the library.


They heaped the books,

rare and valuable,

ninety thousand in all.


They lit the pyre

with the Cikalokavada Sutta.


Thus the remains

Of the Compassionate One

were burned to ashes

along with the Dhammapada.

I don’t know why but I felt an impulse to translate this poem into my mother tongue and I did so. The translation was lying somewhere in a file. In the run-up to the presidential election between Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mr. Gamini Dissanayake I campaigned vigorously for CBK. I concluded my speech which was repeated at least 30 times in different places, by rendering my translation of the poem in dramatic style.

මම දිටිමි සිහිනයක් ඊයේ රෑ
මරන ලදහ බුදුහිමියෝ වෙඩි තබා
නීතිය රකින පොලිසිය විසින්
ලෙයින් පෙගුණු ශ්‍රී දේහය
වැතිර තිබිණි
යාපා පටුනේ පුස්තකාලය අභියස
පැමිණියහ ඇමතියෝ අඳුරට මුවා වීල
ප්‍රශ්න කළහ කෝපාවිශ්ට වල
,නැත මොහුගේ නම අපේ ලැයිස්තුවේ
වැරදීමක් වෙලාවත් ද?,
,නෑ නෑ ඇමතිවරුනිෟ
වැරදීමක් වෙලා නැහැල
නොයවා මොහු පරලොව
හානියක් කළ හැකි ද කුරා කුහුඹියෙකුටවත් ?,
තැතනූහ පොලිස්කාරයෝ
—හා හරි හරිෟ සඟවාපියව් සිරුර වහා ම,
කියමින් අතුරුදන් වූහ ඇමතියොA
එකෙණෙහි ම ඇදගෙන යනු ලැබිණ ශ්‍රී දේහය
පුස්තකාලය තුළට
සිවිල් ඇඳුමින් සිටි
ගොඩගැසූහ දේහය මත පොත්
ඉතා දුර්ලභ ඉතා අගනා
අනූ දහසක්
ඉක්බිති ගිනි තැබූහ චිතකයට
සිඟාලෝවාද සූත්‍රය ගිනි හුල ලෙස ගෙන
මෙසේ ගිනිබත් විය
රන් වන් බුදු බඳ
දම්මපදයත් සමඟ

The poem invariably evoked rapt attention and something like awe. The listeners were primed to receive the message I wished to deliver. With my hands raised above my head in worship I ended my speech in favor of CBK with the incantation:  “මේ මහා ඝාතනයට සම්මාදම් වූ ගාමිŒ දිසානායක මහතා මේ රටේ ජනාධිපති නොවේව”At the height campaign in many places at least a few in the audience responded by saying  සාදු!! සාදු!!


I do not believe for a moment that this “curse” I uttered against Mr. Gamini Dissanayake about 30 times in different places in the country had anything to do with his tragic end. But as I remember well, on the 23rd of October 1994, we started the campaign at Beruwala at about 2.00 p.m. and then I repeated the same speech at several places including Payagala, Wadduwa, Panadura, Moratuwa and Kirulapone. I went to bed tired and exhausted and I was aroused from my sleep in the early hours of the 24th of October to be told that Mr. Gamini Dissanayake had been killed in a bomb blast at Peliyagoda. Ever since that time I have felt a deep sense of remorse because I knew Mr. Gamini Dissanayake well. He was a perfect gentleman. He had never wronged me by word or deed. He was always very courteous to me although we differed politically. Having read Edward Gunawardena’s Memoirs I realize what a crime I had perpetrated against Mr. GD. All I can now do to make amends for the gross injustice I inflicted upon him is to ask Mrs. Srima Dissanayake, Mr. Navin Dissanayake and Dr. Lanka Dissanayake to forgive me because I did not know what I was doing. Indeed, in regard to me, Mr. Navin Dissanayake can act in the compassionate way that Jesus Christ reacted to those who crucified him: “Father, forgive him for he did not know what he was doing”. Let me conclude by thanking my friend Edward Gunawardena for providing me with this opportunity for apologizing abjectly and unconditionally to the Dissanayake family.

*Text of Carlo Fonseka’s prepared speech delivered at the Mahaweli Centre on 19 January 2013, launching the MEMOIRS OF EDWARD GUNAWARDENA. Published by the Author. Battaramulla. 2013. 390 pages with photographs and appendices

Related posts;

May 31-June 4 1981: Five Days Of State Terror In Jaffna by Santasilan Kadirgamar

State Repression With Focus On War Crimes by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

MR Finishing JR’s Relay, Bodu Bala Sena At Temple Trees, And Fire-Walking Over The Jaffna Public Library by Rajan Philips

Burning Memories – Jaffna Library- 31st May 1981

Ethnic Conflict And Literary Perception: Tamil Poetry In Post-Colonial Sri Lanka by M A Nuhman


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Latest comments

  • 3

    Carlo Fonseka has been a sactimonious racist masquerading as a rationalist. He has now exposed himself.Ministers Cyril Mathew, Gamini Dissanaike and Vimala Kannnagara were in jaffna supervising the burning of the library that night. Shortly after this grevious crime, Minister Dissanaike stated in parliament thus:” We do not wish to minimise in any way the gravity of what has been done,the untold damage that has been done…..I saw it and I was shocked…. these police officers have run beserk…I am sorry for the violence that was perpetrated in the Jaffna peninsula. I think we are all responsible.”
    Dissanaike apparently had a conscience quite unlike the hypocrites like Fonseka and Gunawardena.

    • 0

      Bensen Burner says:

      “Dissanaike apparently had a conscience quite unlike the hypocrites like Fonseka and Gunawardena”

      Indians would have given him a good bollocking since they were grooming him as the heir apparent to JR. When Indo Lanka pact was signed JR was flanked by Athulath and Gamini. Mind you at the time of signing Premadasa was out of the country.

      • 0

        When the Indo-Sri Lanka Acccord was signed, there were rumours Premadasa was in a room at the Galle Face Hotel without anyone’s knowledge, to watch how the naval rating assault/attack the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Originally the position of the naval rating was a Tamil, but it was changed overnight, possibly with a bribe of Rs.25,000/= to the naval rating. Everything took place contrary to the Naval Regulations. Premadasa was over looked and Gamini Dissanayake was the Minister in attendance when Rajiv Gandhi came.

        • 0


          According to Sri Lankan print media Premadasa was in Japan.

  • 6

    What Carlo say is totally incorrect. The Jaffna Library was set on fire not by the LTTE but the Sinhalese hooligans who went to Jaffna for the Development Council elections. I am a Sinhalese and was attached to a government institution in Jaffna at that time. I regularly visited the Library during my stay in Jaffna Immediately after we got the word that the Library was in flames, we went there by a vehicle to see men in khaki shorts moving here and there. Nobody was permitted to go near the library. We could go there as we were Sinhalese. That day I wept silently and was also in rage. Carlo takes refuge in a note written by a retired police officer and try to white wash politicians who went to Jaffna to rig the election. A train load of people from Kurunegala and Mawathagama went to Jaffna for election duty. One of my friends who visited said that at 3 p.m. the police had informed the Tamil officers on duty to leave the polling station. Thereafter the Sinhalese officers who had gone on election duty had marked ballot papers and put into ballot boxes. When they found that they do not have time to mark ballot papers continuously, they put the entirety of ballot books into the ballot box. Due to rigging of election results could not be released. The library was set on fire on the same day. I can not definitely say that Gamini Dissanayake set fire to the Library because I did not see him in that night near the Library but I can definitely say that he and Premachandra were in Jaffna in that night. Setting fire to the Library committed by Sinhalese hooligans whether they are police or any other rascals. I can not definitely say that no Tamil was involved in this crime as they genuinely loved their library.

  • 1

    well, well, well. the true christian that you maybe seeking forgiveness after desecrating GD whilst living now seeking repentance before you go to the divide. pity, you when thought of the teaching of the savior ” let him who has not sinned cast the first stone “. atleast you should now check the crowd for whom you hold the burning candle.

  • 0

    Prof Fonseka:

    I have bridge for sale. Would you be interested?

    • 0

      Too late, Jaya. He has already bought Gamini Dissanayakkas bridge.

  • 2

    In this Orwellian “1984” kind of dystopia we live in today, don’t be surprised if in the not too distant future the LTTE is blamed for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Ranil Wickramasinghe is blamed for the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Aliens blamed for the abduction of Prageeth Eknaligoda. ;)

    Here are a few headlines that could appear in Sri Lankan Newspapers in 2050 AD.

    President Namal Rajapaksa tells NDTV that the LTTE will be completely defeated by the end of the year!

    Prime Minister of India, Rahul Gandhi said at a press conference that India does not support the LTTE, and that there are no LTTE camps on Indian soil.

    Vinyargamoorthy Muralitharan Junior, Supreme Leader of the LTTE, vows to use two 15 kiloton nuclear devices obtained from North Korea in populated Sinhala areas if a separate state of Eelam is not granted by the Government of Rajapaksa (GOR).

    The great pyramid housing the mummified remains of the Great Emperor Percy Rajapaksa, father of present President Namal Rajapaksa was completely destroyed by LTTE jets!

    The sacred ‘Satakaya’ once worn by the Great Emperor Percy Rajapaksa, which is said to hold magical powers has been secreted away from the Dalada Maligawa to an undisclosed location for safe keeping!

    Wimal Weerawansa, former lapdog of the Great Emperor Percy Rajapaksa passed away after a brief illness in Disneyland America. The remains will be cremated and buried in Cuba next to the grave of Fidel Castro!

    DNA evidence proves beyond a doubt that the former Supreme Leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabahakaran was the biological father of present LTTE leader Vinyargamoorthy Muralitharan Junior.

    The International Criminal Court convicts Great Emperor Percy Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka, (all three who are now deceased) for being responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 Tamil civilians during the final stages of the war against the LTTE, 41 years ago.

    The Great Wall of Sri Lanka, which was built in 2012AD, across the north of Sri Lanka to prevent LTTE rebels from crossing over to the south, is the only man made structure that can be seen from outer space, said Urine Gagarine Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan astronaut to orbit the earth!

    The Jathika Hela Urumaya requests all patriotic Sinhala Buddhists not to vote for UNP Presidential Candidate, Barakamesh Hobarmysingham (a Tamil), because he vows to devolve maximum powers to the minorities in the north and east, and in doing so, bring to an end the 100 year conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

    The yearly pilgrimage to the graves of Military Comedian Brigadiar Udaya Nanayakara and Government Comedian Keheliya Rambukwella, who kept audiences worldwide in stitches with their daily utterances and tall stories about Eelam War IV, over 40 years ago, will not be held this year due to security reasons, said Charlie Chaplin Rajapaksa, the spokesman for “The Clowns and Comedians Worldwide Association.”

    President Namal Rajapaksa promised the 3,00,000 refugees who were displaced due to the war, 41 years ago, that he would re-settle them after the LTTE was completely defeated!

    Cabraal Nivaad Ajith, Central Bank Governor and son of former Governor, (the late Ajith Nivaad Cabraal) said that the 2.6 billion US$ loan that Sri Lanka requested from the IMF in 2009, would be received in the near future.

    95 year old Jathika Hela Urumaya monk, Athuruliye Rathna Thero told journalists that the only way “Mathata Thitha,” the complete eradication of alcohol and drugs from society would succeed was, if society was completely eradicated. He further stated that a special bill on how this could be done would be presented to parliament in the near future.

    • 0

      PresiDunce Bean:

      For a Sri Lankan you have great sense of humour or shall we say talent for satire.

      However something tells me that I have read this piece somewhere in the past.

      Are you the original author of the above comment? I am sure you would not have plagiarised the funny part of your political forecast.

      If it is indeed your baby surely you are not a Sri Lankan.

      Where are you from?

      • 0

        @Native Vedda

        This was something I wrote way back in 2010 on my blog. I think I may have used it as a comment sometime back on one of the threads in CT.



        • 0

          PresiDunce Bean

          Well done Puththa.

          However you haven’t answered my question.

          • 0

            @Native Vedda
            Well since you insist I would have to say that presently I am not a Sri Lankan, but a citizen of the ‘DemoCrazy, TheoCrazy, International ConsPiracy of Sri RajaPakistan.’ My ancestors came from a beautiful island called Ceylon which was renamed as Sri Lanka by the time I entered this world. As time went by, people from other countries started to call it Silly Lanka due to the silly nature of it’s silly people who kept fighting over silly things like who this silly island belonged to. This was an ideal time for a devious RogerFox and his proxy family of 300 plus to step in and hijack the whole country in 2005. Ever since then this island has unofficially been known as the ‘DemoCrazy, TheoCrazy, International ConsPiracy of Sri RajaPakistan.’ As of 2005 November, I became a reluctant Sri RajaPakistanian. :)

            • 0

              PresiDunce Bean


  • 1

    Soon there will be another theory from another so called Sinhalese Professor that the 83 riots and massacre of Tamils around the country was also a planed execution of the LTTE.

    • 0


      They have already done that.

      JVP was being accused for 1983 riots/pogrom by JR.

  • 0

    I very much doubt this EG codger seriously since I was in the train myself as a youngster in which the Kesbewa & Kelaniya Thugs were playing pucks both before and after the arsonistic fun, some of which even I enjoyed myself shamelessly! What EG gains from this only god knows?

  • 0

    To argue the point”who burnt the Jaffna Library”now is a stupidity. The whole world knows who burnt the Jaffna Library.

    • 1

      There is every reason to nail a lie whenever it is repeated. The Jaffna Library was burnt a generation ago. Many people here under 30 just dont know what some of us ancients take for granted. Maybe all they will ever read about 1981 is EG’s book and if an educated man who lived through the period it describes can actually believe the opposite of what has long been accepted, who knows how successful it will be in reversing ‘history’? Look at the effort and resources that still go into attacking anyone who questions the Nazi holocaust.

  • 0

    It’s very simple you may have not know this. He is currently a cabinet minister in the govt, but then trying to impress JR to get into UNP list from Kesbewa.
    It is Gamini Lokuge- I take full responsibility of this statement.
    Please publish this!!!

    • 0

      This is not clear. Are you saying that Carlo is in the MR cabinet? and who is Gamini Lokuge?

    • 0


      Do you mean Gamini Lokuge has the ola manuscripts from the Jaffna library ? Please confirm.

      Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

      • 0

        Of course, it’s the only thing he reads and that’s how he keeps on and on! Look how full his hotel is these days?

      • 0

        Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

        Have you started your investigation into looted manuscripts and old books.

        Since you believe in Jaw Jaw to War War I hope you get the next flight to Sri Lanka, meet Gota who is presiding over a network of spies, ask him to investigate and physically produce the looted books to you.

        Please give him an ultimatum no more than 24 hours.

        These books and ola belong to the future generation.

        • 0

          Native Vedda,

          Please confirm whether the character you have been referring to is Gamini Lokuge, as stated by Pillai. Please do not confuse and confound the issue by referring to 20 million accused! I am already in Sri Lanka but unfortunately do not have access to Gotabhaya Rajapakse or his network of spies. I think it is you who has leads and information on this matter, who has to follow up on it. Of course, neither of us have the position or authority to issue any ultimatums. I hope Gotabhaya Rajapaakse and his network of spies will read your comment and take follow-up action to recover this treasure. i also hope they can recover the valuable library stolen from my house in Jaffna by the LTTE. I can however take this opportunity to appeal to Gotabhaya Rajapake to initiate action on this crucial matter. The TNA and the EPDP, should also pursue this issue.

          The manuscripts under discussion are treasures that belong to not only the future generations, but also mankind.

          Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

          • 0

            Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

            I am only referring to what I learned.

            While you are in this country you can do bit of a research and find out the details of:

            The Chief Minister during summer of 2009
            The name of the previous chief minister
            Who blamed who.

            I think you ought to get in touch with both print and electronic media who may be able to give you some direction.

            Are you enjoying Kandyan hospitality?

            • 0

              Native Vedda,

              I did not when I could have and do not now because I am a doddering old fool.


  • 0

    Reader Sellam tells us everyone knows who burnt the library and, therefore, advises we speak no more about it. But, Sir/Madam, we live in the Wonder of Asia where an Addendum to the Mahawansa is being contemplated by an un-buddhistic political monk who can well be a Presidential contender in days to come. The tragedy is our powerful Buddhist hierarchy (now about 6 from the original 2) choosing to remain so loudly silent. So even Kudu Mervin can bribe in a few millions and have his exploits recorded so that a few hundreds years from now he will be white-washed clean as the one who stopped drug-trafficking, prostitution, contract-killing, kidnapping/abduction for money and so on. Which Buddhist will doubt this. After all it comes from the pages of the venerable Mahawsansa.

    Policeman Edward G had all the time from 1981 to plead innocence. But the clever man he is (MSc from an Ivy League U, right?) he waits until semi-literate wolves take over. And then he publishes his holy book with much publicity and fanfare – in the company of notorious communal rabble rousers whom even the Sinhalese will not touch with a six foot pole. One of the “heroes” of that degenerate library attack is now ensconced comfortably in the safety of the Cabinet. You know what, he was in charge of hospitality – that is to say, to invite tourists with the call “Come to the Tranquil and Resplendent Isle. Our historic hospitality and courtesy will be yours entirely. You will be completely safe in this tolerant land of many races and religions” Phew!!!


  • 1


  • 0


    I have had great respect for your views. I have more respect now. If LTTE was to choose the worst pain they could inflict on the Tamils – for their own benefit. They had chosen well. This was not very different to their behavior in the final days.

    I too regret blaming Gamini which I did.

  • 2

    Carlo Fonseka’s name was irreparably damaged after Srilanka medical council takeover by the government. His intellect and integrity has been destroyed.

  • 1

    Fonseka is a total fraud. He plays for the gallery. He comes to many functions with his brown coat and sits in the first row and will explore the possibility of giving a speech, if he is not entertained he quietly slips out.

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