Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration

Michael Roberts,   … a reprint of an article in Social Analysis,  Volume 50, Issue 1, Spring 2006, 73–102. **

The de facto LTTE state in Sri Lanka has established a number of calendrical rituals to honour and remember its fallen heroes and heroines, the māvīrar. These are the personnel who have died in battle or fallen as part of the LTTE goal of political independence, namely, Thamilīlam or Eelam as the latter is more widely labelled. The most significant of these moments is Heroes Day on 27 November when their ­talaivar, or “Leader,” Velupillai Prabhākaran (more properly Pirapakaran) also delivers a peroration for 25 minutes immediately prior to the lighting of the flame of sacrifice at 6.06 p.m. at the designated tuyilam illam (resting places) for the māvīrar.[1] As Chritiana Natali discovered (2005) the Tamil people do not see these sites as “cemeteries.” Rather they are “portrayed as temples.” Binded, like the people she talked to, a demi-official LTTE site described the locations as “holy places.”[2]

 32a- KOPAYFIGURE 1 Tuyilam Illam  at Kopay, Near Jaffna Town, November 2004 The original tuyilam illam (resting place) at this site was bulldozed by the Sri Lanka  Army when it captured the western part of the peninsula in mid-1995; this is a rebuilt temple’. Each tuyilam illam  is kept in immaculate condition. This photograph was taken at a time when Kopay was being prepared for the major ceremony on 27 November 2004. Stands with oil lamps have been placed in front of each gravestone so that kinfolk can light them simultaneously at the appointed time. Photo by Michael Roberts.

Among the nine other rituals observed annually by the LTTE perhaps the most significant is that known as Black Tiger Day on 5 July, a moment which identifies the day when one of their fighters known by the nom de guerre Captain Miller[3] drove a truck laden with explosives into a school compound at Nelliyady in 1987 and killed about 40 soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) – for the compound was the site of a camp occupied by the advancing SLA forces during its Vadamarachchi offensive threatening the Tamil heartland known as the Jaffna Peninsula. Institutionalised around the time of this attack,[4] the Black Tigers are the LTTE men and women who have been specially selected for dangerous operations including suicidal attacks. They are the LTTE’s version of the SAS or commando.

While the Black Tigers’ dutiful commitment to self-sacrifice through suicide attacks is one dimension of their capacity, they are not alone in this measure of commitment. From very early on the LTTE leadership demanded that all their personnel should take an oath of loyalty expressing a readiness to die for their cause even by their own hand. This commitment-cum-expectation was (is) embodied in the cyanide vials (kuppi) around their necks – a ready instrument for use if captured. This practice was adopted around 1983/84.[5] It immediately garnered admiration among the Tamil population of all classes and gave an edge to the LTTE in their competition with other militant groups for recruits and supporters. As a Christian Tamil octogenarian in Adelaide informed me, the “devotion that the Tigers showed was unmatched.”[6]

Indeed, the Tigers regard the kuppi as “a good friend,” as Schalk notes in distilled summary after conversations with Kittu (third-in-command) in 1991 and other LTTE personnel.[7] Thus, sacrificial devotion to the point of suicidal self-annihilation was (is) expected of every LTTE fighting person as well as other personnel committed to the cause. There was a temporal gap, however, before the LTTE hierarchy approved of the use of human weapons of death. There was an internal debate between 1984 and 1987 before those who argued that there was no difference between swallowing pills to avoid capture and mounting suicidal attacks[8] (and thus assassinations too) won the day. It was seen as a logical step forward with the instrumental benefit of creating a precision weapon. The situation of beleaguered military asymmetry confronting the LTTE and the Tamil people, of course, conditioned such reasoning. In brief, as so many analysts have stressed, human bombs have been perfected by forces in a disempowered situation.

 23a - Black Tigers Marching Fig 2 Black Tigers marching This image was extracted for me by Varathan from a web site partial to the LTTE, namely, The location is definitely on the A9 road at Kilinochchi.The Black Tigers are elite commando troops and do not always function as units. It is from their ranks that the suicide attackers and assassins are selected.

EXTRA. Pirapaharan pays homage, 5 July2005 Fig 3: Prabhakaran pays homage to Black Tigers in front of a photograph of Miller on 5 July 2005, the first Tiger who carried out a suicide attack at Nelliyadi, (5 July 1987) … courtesy of TamilNet.

Since then, the Black Tigers (see Figure 2) have been the best fighters who are carefully selected because of their skills as well as supreme qualities of commitment. A semi-official statement notes that “[t]heir identities are closely guarded. Having completed their training, they serve in regular LTTE units, concealing their membership. When called up for a mission, they take routine leave and if they survive, return to regular service again. Membership is only revealed if they are killed in combat.”[9] The significance attached to the Black Tiger personnel within the military machine of the LTTE from the late 1980s is indicated by the fact that those sent on suicide missions have the privilege of a last meal with their tesai talaivar or “national leader”[10] – a practice that has surely been inspired by the Christians within the movement. By September 2002 there were 241 Black Tiger māvīrar among the 17,889 LTTE fighters who had died for their cause, that is, they made up 1.3 percent of the fallen.[11] In November 2004 a special commemoration shed at Kilinochchi was devoted to displaying pictures of selected Black Tiger dead.

Each of the calendrical rites designated by the LTTE is not confined to one site. They may be held at several regional sites, while Māvīrar Nāl on 27th November is conducted at twenty-one locations,[12] besides being observed by migrant bodies of Tamils in various parts of the world — whether Toronto, Dusseldorf, London, Geneva, Melbourne et cetera.

Commemorative Rite: Black Tiger Day, 2003

My focus today is on the ethnographic details within depicting the manner in which the LTTE supporters from Trincomalee District inaugurated a memorial for the Black Tigers at Sampur village within Muttur East on 5 July 2003. The ceremony was presided over by Colonel Pathuman[13] and included “Mr. Uthayan” (the LTTE’s military commander for the Trincomalee town) and other area commanders as well as “Mr. K. Thurairetnasingham” (the Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian) and Thilak (the LTTE’s district political head).

Pic 1 Pic 6 Figures 4 and 5

This new memorial was dedicated to sixteen Black Tigers from Trincomalee District who had fallen up to that date, in addition to the first Black Tiger, Captain Miller, and the first woman Black Tiger, Angayarkanni. From the website description it appears that the ritual activities followed this order.

  • Colonel Pathuman, Thilak and other area leaders took the salute while the Tamil national anthem was sung.
  • A relative of a Black Tiger lit the flame of sacrifice.
  • Mr. Uthayan hoisted the Tamil Eelam national flag.
  • Colonel Pathuman then declared open the memorial by cutting the ribbon.
  • Col. Pathuman, Mr.K.Thurairetnasingham, Mr.Thilak and LTTE area commanders laid floral tributes to the fallen Tigers – while thereafter “leading citizens, principals of schools, teachers, students and the public also paid their homage to the Black Tigers” (, 6 July 2003)
  • A paramilitary training exercise followed [as a means of demonstrating the LTTE’s capacities and inspiring the audience].

My principal interest is in one of the accompanying images of Black Tigers queuing up to honour their immediate ‘lineage’ of māvīrar. In one hand they carry a weapon and in the other white flowers, probably the jasmine flower (Figure 6). To me these two symbols embody the currents of “practical rationality” and “enchanted power” that inspire and guide the LTTE struggle. These are currents that they draw on for protection, mobilisation and commitment. It is towards an elaboration of this hypothesis in mostly conjectural, yet logical, ways that my essay is directed.

Black Tiger homage Sampur Figure 6: Black Tigers Pay Homage to Their Fallen at Sampur in Muttur East, 5 July 2003

In contrasting rationality in all its complexity with “enchantment” I am clearly informed by Max Weber’s writings. The idea of “enchantment” is intimately connected with Weberian sociology and its stress on the process of disenchantment towards religious faith and “magic” that accompanied the growth of rationality, science and market capitalism. The hegemony secured by mathematico-logical and scientific skills over the seventeenth-to-nineteenth centuries included a cluster of processes, such as a stress on the Individual, secularisation and the growth of materialism.[14]

 Specialists in Weber’s oeuvre note his “casual and unsystematic” use of some of his own concepts and the relational “perspectivism” that qualifies his evaluations of the rationalization process taken in sum.[15] But it is widely agreed that Weber’s principal focus was “specific and peculiar rationalism of Western culture,” more especially its capitalist economy and “its objectified, institutionalised, supra-individual form” of bureaucracy, an emphasis that was informed by the international mastery secured by European forces.[16] This supremacy, in Weber’s view, was secured through multiple, interrelated processes. In Brubaker’s summary three motifs underline the Weberian analysis: “increasing knowledge, growing impersonality and enhanced control” (1984:  9-10).

 In Weber’s view, as Gellner notes, the process of rationalization involved the institutionalisation of the ways of “ordered regularity” associated with the bureaucrat and means:ends efficiency. Moreover, “rationality and disenchantment [were] intimately connected” and (1974: 188-89). Thus his ideal typical concept of “practical rationality’ referred to the individual pursuit of egoistic ends in calculating ways attuned to given realities – with “a concomitant inclination to oppose all orientations based on transcendence of daily routine” (Kalberg 1980: 1152). To Weber, therefore, the “modern proletariat, … [was] characterised, like the greater part of the authentic modern bourgeoisie, by indifference to, or rejection of religion.” The proletariat, moreover, had abandoned “all thought of dependence on cosmic processes, the weather or other natural processes seen as capable of being influenced by magic or providence” (Weber 1978a: 178).

Given his focus on the historical trajectory of rationality to its position of eminence, Weber’s remarks on enchantment and irrationality are, not surprisingly, unsystematic. But no less a person than Talcott Parsons has observed his “marked tendency … to move in terms of the dichotomy of rational and irrational” because of his methodology of ideal types (1947: 15). As such, deviations from rational norms were seen as irrational, leading, in Parsons’s evaluation, to “a theoretically unwarranted antithesis” (1947: 16).

In this tendency Weber was reproducing the dominant current within intellectual circles in the West in his time, a perspective which regarded magical practices and religious faith as inferior phenomenon. Ardent religious faith, even that among Christians, was deemed “zealotry;” and, eventually, in the twentieth century decreed to be “fundamentalism” – something suspect because of its dogmatism and its literal readings of a Book.[17] In this disenchanted, rationalist perspective, therefore, “enchanted practices” were seen as equivalent to magic/irrationality. My essay is partly directed towards questioning this linkage and enforcing their separation in specified contexts.

Since rationality was, often implicitly, associated with individual advancement in one’s lifetime and an individuated, transactionalist reading of the Good, seeking benefits in the afterlife assumed inferior status. In this logic, therefore, seeking death happily was more irrational than suicide in a state of depression: the latter was as regrettable as illegal, but understandable, whereas the calm pursuit of death by a healthy person was madness.[18] Suicide by immolation, involving as it did horrific Fire, was doubly crazy.[19]

 Fire is not seen in quite this horrified way in Hinduized cultural settings. The third eye of Siva, at the centre of the forehead, is the point at which his fiery power is said to flow out (Fuller 1992: 60). The “immaterial medium of a flame” is treated as a form of divine power. A camphor flame is a central item in conventional worship (pūjā) at a temple. The camphor flame and a devotee’s offerings of prasāda, “together divinize the human actor to achieve … identity between deity and worshipper” (Fuller 1992: 74). Again, Tanaka argues that when devotees walk the fire they are nor merely keeping a promise and thanking a deity for boons conferred; they are also performing “homa, a form of fire sacrifice.” That is, “firewalking is a ceremony of symbolic death and rebirth in which the medium and the votaries [whom] he leads sacrifice themselves” (1991: 181).

Against this background the immolation of self through fire in special circumstances requires but one extra step, so to speak. In relatively recent times in Indiasati matas who immolated themselves on their husbands’ cremation fires were heroines who became deified and served others as tutelary village deities (Fuller 1992: 49). The praise and celebration of suicide extended to great men who killed themselves “when some irretrievable disgrace or insult befell them” (Kailasapathy 1968: 76). Such an act was usually carried out in ways that were deemed to be a chastisement of powerful figures by those weaker – in brief a classic case of a weapon wielded by the weak.

Suicide attacks emerged as Tiger weapon in precisely this situation of military asymmetry. They were one facet of a tactical response directed by a rational marshalling of available resources.

 LTTE Success and its Hard-headed Capacities [20]

The date when the LTTE emerged is shrouded in obscurity. Its predecessor is said to be the Tamil New Tigers formed in 1974, while its formal existence as the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam is attributed to the year 1976.[21] Its committed core of fighters in early 1983 may not have been even added up to 100. But, like the other underground militant forces, this ragtag guerrilla group expanded hugely after the July 1983 pogrom. In the next four years at least ten batches were trained at military camps in India, several of them LTTE-run. By early 1987, having ruthlessly eliminated the TELO forces in April/May 1986 as well as the EPRLF leadership, the LTTE had become the leading resistance force among the Sri Lankan Tamils.

     When the relationship with the Indian government soured in October 1987 and the LTTE went to war with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, they lost significant numbers of their cadre. But they replenished their ranks and withstood a massive Indian army presence. After the Indians left in February/March 1990, they established a de facto state dominating much of the Tamil-speaking territory within Sri Lanka.

     In no time they became a conventional army with guerrilla extensions in certain areas. Between 1990 and 2001 they secured massive victories against the Sri Lankan state forces, notably at Pooneryn (November 1991), Mullaitivu (July 1997), Puliyankulam & Kanakarayankulam (September 1999) and Elephant Pass (April 2000). Though outgunned and outnumbered, they used to advantage the state’s foolhardiness in fighting in fixed positions on numerous fronts by relying on mobility, the tactical concentration of limited resources and superior-intelligence about their opponent’s dispositions.

     From early days moreover, they developed a brown water navy of speedboats that used the subcontinental coastlines to advantage – perhaps the only modern liberation force to develop such a capacity. Purchasing a fleet of freighters that sailed convenient “pan-ho-lib” flags, they developed a shipping network that functioned as legitimate businesses while also bringing them arms when feasible. They also have an embryonic air force that is causing widespread anxiety at the present moment.[22]

     One word sums up the LTTE’s success and reach: “organization.” Within Sri Lanka, for instance, their key personnel have been protected since the late 1980s through extensive underground facilities, while state-of-the art, underground hospitals service(d) their rehabilitation needs. From the mid-1980s they grew into a transnational corporation with numerous subsidiary enterprises, some criminal and clandestine, as well as affiliated front organizations. As one militant told Davis, Prabhākaran “thought like a good merchant capitalist” (Davis 1996: 31). This multinational corporation has three dimensions: fundraising, arms procurement, publicity. As Peiris sums up: the “LTTE has established over the years a massive empire of business and commerce with a global spread for which the Eelam war provides the motive force” (2002: 00).

     In this sense the LTTE is an epitome of successful etatism or state capitalism – as anyone who visits Tigerland today and sees the thriving restaurants, transport services and customs collections would attest. Such productive investments call to mind, albeit in minute comparison, the developments within Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Enabling both instances of growth was the foundation provided by a people’s investment in education over many decades in ways that provided a pool of personnel with technological and organisational skills – that is, with the bureaucratic rationality-cum-precision that Weber and so many identified as the path of dominating modernization.

Managerial Abilities, Pragmatism and Scenario Planning

The wide-ranging activities and success of the LTTE, therefore, demonstrate their managerial skills. The demi-god status attached to Velupillai Pirapāharan among some Tamils must not lead one to think of the organisation as a one-man show. Pirapāharan is not only supported by thinkers, investment-bankers and logisticians (such as the mysterious Kumaran Padmanabha) abroad, but also has had the support of able men such as Shankar,* Kittu,* Mahattaya,* Ponnamma,* Kerdelz,* Tileepan,* Shangar (Soranalingam Vaithiyalingam),* Soosaipillai, Baby Subramanium, Yogi, Balasingham, Pottu Amman, and Basheer Karder during the 1980s (asterisks indicate those who have died). Since then capable individuals honed by battle and organisational experience, such as Thamil Chelvam, Karuna, Sasi Master, Karikalan, Kaushalyan,* Mano Master, Sornam, Bhanu, Puhalenthi, Ramesh, and Kuttu, have added steel to the senior ranks (till a major split in early 2004 centred on Col. Karuna and Batticaloa District generated a spanner within their works). But the critical point is that there always has been a high command that directs operations along multiple channels and relies on watchful devolution.

      As such, the Tigers are the epitome of modern entrepreneurship and what one can call “practical rationality.” This capacity is leavened by pragmatism. “The LTTE lives by the day,” said Dharmeratnam Sivaram in conversation with me at Wellawatte one day in 2000.  Sivaram himself is better known to the world as “Taraki,” the name he adopts for his newspaper columns. Widely read in philosophy, well versed in Tamil history,[23] Sivaram originates from the EasternProvince and had been active in PLOTE, one of the militant groups fighting for independence, before taking up the pen. As a staunch Eelamist, his sympathies have been increasingly towards the LTTE. But it is his perceptiveness and knowledge that I wish to mark in highlighting his evaluation of the LTTE.

      The Tiger leadership, in this estimate, adjust their goals according to tactical requirements as well as their strategies. It is a point that has also been stressed by Peter Schalk from a position sympathetic to the LTTE project. He observes that many fighters in the LTTE know a famous quotation from their talaivar by heart: “Poritta vativankal maralam. Anal ematu poratta ilatciyam marapovatillai” – “The methods of war may change. But the aim of our war will not change.” This was a statement made by Veluppillai Pirapakaran at Cutumalai Amman Kovil in the JaffnaPeninsula, on 4th August 1987 at a stage when the LTTE was confronting a dilemma, whether to accept the intervention of the Indian state in the form of the Indian Peace Keeping Force or to reject the imperialistic relationship implied in such actions. Schalk presents this principle as a form of Kautalyan wisdom suited to the LTTE situation.

     The subsequent successes of the LTTE on battlefield, in the global order and the field of diplomacy indicate that their pragmatism is paying dividends. The comparison can be taken beyond Kautalya to the figure of Bismarck because of the ruthlessness which the LTTE has displayed in eliminating key opponents, marshalling the Sri Lankan Tamil population and generally using the instruments of power, notably guns, explosives, assassinations, and propaganda, to pursue its cause. Where in the late 1980s the Tamil moderate party  (TULF) was firmly opposed to the LTTE, from 1999 this very same party and its successors have fallen into line behind the LTTE and accepted the principle that they are the “sole representative of the Tamils” in the ongoing peace negotiations. Here, then, we see a degree of similarity with the manner in which so many German liberals of the mid-nineteenth century sat at Bismarck’s feet after he united Germany by power and immorality in 1870. The conqueror is victor, so to speak, and, as so often, writes the ‘history’ after the victory. Realpolitik can reshape the past world according to it own image.

     The moulding of opinion by the LTTE among the Tamil population in Sri Lanka and the Tamils of the diaspora has involved careful and wide-ranging efforts through press, radio, television, and performative modes of presentation. From an early date the LTTE also has trained two-person video teams that go into action with their fighting units in any major battle. The footage on their victories is then suitably edited by a state-of-the-art studio to produce videos and DVDs for propaganda and mobilisational purposes both in Sri Lanka and abroad.[24]

      The day-to-day adjustments of a pragmatic and opportunistic character, however, are seconded by long term planning as well as schemes for several contingencies. One reason for LTTE success has been this foresight. A striking example of their long term vision was the manner in which they planted one of their committed loyalists, Babu, alias Kulaveerasingham Veerakumar, as a mole in the working class urban quarter where Ranasinghe Premadasa, the UNP politician who risen from the slums to the position of President, had his origins and roots. There in Kehelwatte over a period of two years Babu inveigled himself into Premadasa’s circle of fixers and low-level intermediaries. On 1 May 1991 the familiar figure of Babu (with hidden suicide vest), was able to breach Premadasa’s security cordon with relative ease and to blow himself, the President of Sri Lanka and others around to smithereens.[25] It was not only that the timing for Babu’s act of suicidal assassination that was impeccable. From the viewpoint of realpolitik, the moment chosen by his LTTE masters was geared to their objectives: they had got rid of two of the most capable leaders within the ruling United National Party within one month in 1991 in ways that encouraged all manner of conspiracy theories and maximum uncertainty.[26]

     The LTTE discovered the value of long-term contingency thinking the hard way. Again, we are indebted to Sivaram for clarifying this point. “The Tigers,” he says “were utterly unprepared for the Indian military intervention in 1987.” When they eventually took on the might of the IPKF, many of their fighters were known to the Indians and they lost a significant number of their cadre of their pool of personnel, then around 2000 persons (Taraki 2004a). Thereafter, however, the LTTE attended meticulously to “scenario planning.”[27] “The first military lessons that Tamil guerrillas learnt in the early eighties was that a plan of attack, however small, should always include as many alternative routes of withdrawal as possible to ensure the safe return of fighters and their weapons. Training with scenarios makes commanders more agile in making decisions in the battlefield” (Taraki 2004a). Such long-term thinking extends beyond battlefield situations to the overall military and political prospects. As such, Taraki tells us, they have always “plann[ed] ahead for possible future foreign military interventions on behalf of the Sri Lankan state.” This military thinking itself is “not as an end in itself but as a means to achieve the fundamental political objectives espoused by the Tamil national movement in Sri Lanka since 1948.”[28] Thus, the Tigers developed the concept of “asymmetrical deterrence” as one part of this two-pronged strategy. This idea describes a situation where an outgunned and outmanned antagonist positions its forces strategically to deny military victory to an opponent with superior resources. Such a programme is designed to secure a “stable equilibrium” that enables a political thrust.[29]

     In sum, therefore it is foresight backed by organisational skill that has enabled the LTTE to move from a position of pronounced military asymmetry in the mid-1980s to one, since 2001-02, where they have effective military deterrence and revealed a capacity to breach the heartland of the Sinhala-dominated state through commando operations.[30] This organisational capacity has been a feature of the Eelam movement in its widest range from the 1970s and applies to other Tamil-run outfits, both those that have been aligned with the LTTE and those who are quite hostile to it (e. g. the University Teachers for Human Rights). One has only to review the web sites sustained by the LTTE or its front organizations to comprehend the thoroughness of their activities.[31] They are efficient tools of LTTE propaganda. Not only are they regularly updated, but their historical data pool is also maintained meticulously – with a LTTE slant of course. The efforts of the government in Colombo and those of hardline Sinhala activists in the diaspora pale into significance when brought into comparison with the streams of internet transmission mounted by the Eelamists over the years – streams that not only cater to the true believers, but also target those on fringe and serve as instruments of legitimation for those watching the scene.

       The LTTE, therefore, is the epitome of a cohesive outfit pursuing its ends with tactical acumen and organisational efficiency. Attentiveness to this capacity is a requisite for all those surveying the scene, including those adamantly hostile to the LTTE.

Deciphering the Black Tiger Rite

We are now in a position to return to the image, Picture 5, that provides the point of departure for this essay: a body of Black Tigers with gun in each hand and jasmine flowers in other paying homage to the garlanded photographs of their fallen, local Black Tigers. Though occurring in open air the table that is the focus for the line of Black Tigers at Sampur resembles that of a pītam, the table or “sacrificial altar” placed in front of religious icons at shrines in Asia.[32]

As significantly, the photographs of the māvīrar are garlanded. Garlands are a sign of importance, but can convey different shades meaning according to context. Politicians and important persons in South Asia are garlanded as an expression of honour. Such an act cannot be deemed “religious” in any sense of the word. But within the context of death and a funeral rite, the ambience associated with a garland “deepens.” The LTTE garlands its māvīrar gravestones as well as memorials for stellar māvīrar such as Malati (Picture 6) and Miller of Nelliyady fame. One such star in their firmament is Lt Col. Bork, namely Mapanapillai Arasaratnam of Arumuhathan Puthukulam, who attempted to breach the forward defences at Mankulam as a human-bomb-in-makeshift-bulldozer in 1990. Thus, we witness an official recognition of his valour in his home locality of Vavuniya on 5 July 2003 (Picture 7).[33]

17-Lt. Col. Bork's Nadukal worshipped Figure 7 Lt Col Bork’s Nadukal worshipped by an LTTE official, 5 July 2003  “LTTE’s Vavuniya Political head Mr. S. Elilan is seen garlanding Black Tiger Lt. Col. Bork’s ‘Nadukal’ at the Eachchankulam Maveerar Thuyilum Illam. Lt. Col. Bork (MapanapillaiArasaratnam of Arumuhathan Puthukulam Vavuniya) was killed on 23.11.1990 when he helped destroy the entrance to strategic Mankulam SLA camp” ( Courtesy of TamilNet.

As significantly the LTTE call the gravestone a nadukal,[34] that is, a memorial stone or hero stone. This term refers to a practice in India of enshrining special humans, a practice that Aiyappan encompasses within the phrase, “the deification of humans and the humanising of the deities.”[35] The practice of erecting hero stones prevailed in many parts of Tamilnadu as well as the Kannada-speaking area of Mysore (Karnataka) and Kerala for many centuries.[36] The evidence goes back even to the Cankam poetry of the first-to-third centuries BCE. “These heroes often became tutelary divinities or demons and were worshipped with offerings of food and flowers.”[37] Indeed, in southern India it was believed that the spirit of the dead entered the hero stones (Rajam 2000: 8 ff).

Honouring Lt. Col. Bork in this way with a garland was not an isolated act. Witness the manner in which every gravestone at tuyilam illam (resting places) is ‘ordained’ with a garland prior to an LTTE ceremony (Figure 8). Such official practice is amplified by the kinfolk who bring flowers, incense, camphor and candles to ‘embalm’ each gravestone (Natali 2005). As Chandrakanthan has observed elsewhere, these acts of bedecking are one facet of activities that resemble action at shrines and temples (2000: 165). As strikingly in 1998 the Voice of Tigers radio said in its night broadcast … that aircraft of the Air Tigers sprinkled flowers on the LTTE’s Heroes’ memorials in the Vanni this evening during the Maaveerar day ceremonies” (TamilNet, 27 November 1998). As such the functions of 27th November are rites rather than mere ceremonies.

  garlanded g'stones at tuyilam illam, Batticaloa Figure 8: Garlanded gravestones at a tuyilam illam in Batticaloa District. his image was located for me by Varathan of ICES, and I have no details with regard to the time and place. The red and gold (yellow) color schemes for buntings, shades, and other décor are conventional for most LTTE rites and assemblies. They convey a warm familiarity and perhaps even a Hindu Saivite religious ambience.

Perhaps the most significant parallel between garlanded-Tiger-gravestone and Saivite rite is the blood sacrifice known as velvi that occurs at the climactic stage of the Bhadrakāli festival for Tamil Saivites and other worshippers. Officiants hang a garland round the neck of a black goat, anoint it with consecrated water and wave incense over it, while the crowd shouts “arohara!” before the head is cut off.[38] In parenthesis we might attend to the multiple sensory media that are called into play during such rituals, with sound, smell, touch, and sight in kaleidoscope fusion engaging each devotee’s basic channels of consciousness.

 It is the garlanding, however, that is my focus here. There does not seem to be a standardisation of the flowers used for the goat’s garland, though red is favoured according to some informants.[39] As an analytical extension Tanaka conjectures that the rite of velvi is akin to a marriage and symbolises the marriage between Bhadrakāli and her “devotee husband,” represented by the he-goat (1991: 119). Etymologically velvi means (i) spiritual discipline; (ii) the site of a rite; (iii) service or worship; and thus a desire or offering in search of a goal (elaboration by Sivathamby, interview November 2004). It is the idea of a gift that appears to prevail at the folk level among the Sri Lankan Tamils: for Hellmann-Rajanayagam found that in the context of māvīrar ceremonies it is often expressed as veta velvi in the sense of “donation” (2005). This vocabulary is consonant with the concept of uyirāyutam, an innovation of Tiger coinage that describes those who sacrifice their lives by swallowing cyanide or serving as human bombs and translates as “life-[gifted-as-]weapon.”[40] Thus uyirāyutam carries a legitimation of suicidal operations.

The enchanted traditional dimension is accentuated by the fact that in their act of homage at Sampur each Black Tiger carries his flowers in his right hand, while the weapon is on his left. The right hand is the ritual hand, the clean unpolluted hand. It would be unclean to bear flowers in one’s left hand. Whether this choice was intentional or not, it was a choice – the more significant if it was taken-for-granted “tradition” or convention.

The force of convention is deepened by the choice of flower. My educated speculation is that the Black Tigers are carrying white jasmine flowers. Jasmine in its species form of two petals is widely favoured by Tamil worshippers because of its fragrance and common availability in the popular colour, white. But other flowers, such as hibiscus, roses, chrysanthemum, are also deployed. Roses (rōja) are probably a colonial import, now deemed normal because of long usage. But bougainvillaea, another colonial import, is never used because it has no fragrance and is deemed unsuitable.[41]

 Some Tamil informants stressed that jasmine was used because of its widespread availability – a line of utilitarian reasoning that denied symbolic implications. The fact remains that jasmine is deeply etched within Tamil folklore and culture from Cankam times as the symbol of meaningful connectivity: whether identified in its specific forms as mullai, malikai or nitya kalyāni, the jasmine stands for the stoic fortitude of a female lover waiting for her warrior hero (Thaninayagam 1966: 80-81). Hart notes that jasmine signs the heat of desire and the smell of love making because it is associated with the expectant heroine waiting at dusk for her hero chief to return from war (1999: 164-65, 187). Elsewhere Thaninayagam refers to its evocation of pathos when a poet addresses the jasmine in his elegy at the death of a chief (1966: 33). Taken in sum, these tropes emphasise the degree to which the jasmine is associated with critical conjunctures or passages — what Turner in another context refers to as “conjunctiveness” (1982: 29). It appears to be the liminal flower par excellence in Tamil culture in the anthropological sense of the “liminal.”

As originally presented by van Gennep, the concept of liminality identified the transitional stage in a rite of passage, that which was betwixt and between and therefore shared aspects of the stages preceding and following it. Victor Turner expanded the idea to encompass enduring figures, such as the jester or the poet, or social principles such as matrilaterality in patrilineal systems of kinship. Such diverse phenomena tend to share specific features: such as paradoxical symbols as well as a “lurking sacrality” associated with “movement towards the borders of the uncharted and the unpredicted.”[42]

 TI-11This “deep culture” of speaking in flowers, with “different flowers signify[ing] different strategic movements” (Thaninayagam 1966: 34), is now implanted in LTTE practice. In November 2003 they proclaimed the karthigai or karnthal (kaantal) to be their “official national flower.”[43] The karthigai is the gloriosa superba or glory lily. This choice was justified on three grounds: (1) “in November, the month of Heroes Day celebrations, [the karthigai flower] ubiquitously spreads, sprouts new shoots and blooms throughout the North East;” (2) it was the practice for ancient Tamil kingdoms to have a favourite flower just as modern nation states opt for such emblematic signs; and (3) the karthigai was the flower of the “War God, Murugan” (www.Tamilnet, 14 April 2004). In the Cankam traditions, one might add, the karthigai or kaantal is described as a “blood red flower” and associated with “lovers in the hills” (the tinai landscape identified as kuriñci).[44] Since the glory lily has flame-like tubers and is either red, deep pink or yellow in colour (Picture 10), its symbolising love (Cankam) and sacrifice (LTTE) seems apposite. One could not ask for a better visual image of immolation in flames (also see Picture 11).

5-Flagpole & Jasmine - Vavuniya 2

For our interests here, however, the more significant flowering, both literally and figuratively, of this tendency lies in the fact that a small circle of jasmine surrounded the LTTE’s flagpoles at various sites in Kilinochchi in November 2004 (my observations), while a profusion of wild jasmine (nitya kalyani) adorns the base of the flagpole at the tuyilam illam at Vavuniya together with crossandra, hibiscus and frangipani (Picture 12). In carrying jasmine in their right hand the Black Tigers at Sampur were re-affirming the liminal significance of the moment. They were establishing and conveying profound connections.

From an analytical distance what, then, were the connections and meanings that are being secured by the ritual action at Sampur depicted in our key Figure 1? Clearly, as explicitly argued by LTTE sympathisers,[45] this was an act of commemoration, a remembrance of deeds done and the ultimate sacrifice of life by heroes past.

Logically this act could also be deemed an act of camaraderie between the deceased Black Tigers and those Black Tigers participating in the rite, one that at the same time reaffirms comradeship, a special form of connectivity, among those fighters participating in that act of homage.

 TI-22  TI-33kopay_m_cemet_27_11_2004_1 TI-44sella_1

One can build logically on this reasoning in ways that are in line with instrumental reason and emphasise the strategic advantages to the LTTE from this type of ritual venture. It could be conjectured that the living fighters draw strength and courage from such acts and go away with the firm knowledge that their deaths would be remembered in similar fashion should they die in action. Thus, such rites can be deemed to be a renewal of commitment to cause. As such, the LTTE hierarchy could be said to be deploying ritual intelligently in order to strengthen their military capacity. For my part I have no doubt that such reasoning would be at play.

The question remains whether there are additional dimensions to this type of ritual act, either at the individual level of participating Black Tigers or among those who organise these moments. Here, I move into more tenuous terrain of conjecture. Let me provide one of the Black Tigers in Picture 1 with the pseudonym Kandasamy and develop my argument in question form. 

Could Kandasamy’s flower offering and act of homage expand beyond remembrance to a votive request, an act of propitiation? Could Kandasamy (silently?) ask the māvīrar at the ‘altar’ before him for some assistance in the manner of Saivites and Christians who make offerings at shrines?

If we grant this possibility, what would each fighter ask for? Protection and safety, that is, staying alive? That would seem the obvious type of request. But these are Black Tiger fighters, no ordinary persons. They have been disciplined and honed as members of a special commando force. They are fully aware that they could be at any time chosen for a suicidal attack, a special privilege in the universe of being surrounding personnel in the LTTE. In such circumstances, therefore, my conjecture is that Kandasamy would request his dead mates to provide him with a “good death.”

A Good Death: for a Black Tiger a good death would be a successful strike, mission accomplished without letting any comrades down.

Taking up all the probable and possible dimensions attached to the Black Tiger rite at Sampur on 5 July 2003, therefore, one can extract a significant analytical point. Such an event has the capacity to become a conjuncture that “draws different dimensions toward itself” (Copeman 2004: 131); or a conjuncture that develops “fusion force” in Kapferer’s vocabulary (1997: 261). Since the context for Kapferer’s elaboration is that of sorcery, I shall limit myself to Copeman’s clarification. Copeman develops this contention from an analysis of recent blood donation events in India centred upon statues of dead celebrities such as Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. At such events the blood of the donor is usually “identified with the blood of the person being commemorated.” It therefore “holds the past within it.” But “in being propelled into the veins of others … it simultaneously holds the future within it” (Copeman 2004: 131).

Such an extrapolation of meaningfulness, I fear, will be meaningless to readers of this text unless they have some awareness of the heritages and cosmologies within which these practices secure worth. To grasp Copeman’s argument one has to comprehend the value attached to such Hindu practices and expectations as prasāda (Skt), darśanam, arul and accaryam. The concept of darśanam, — known as darśana or darśan elsewhere — can be translated variously and severally as the act of seeing and being seen by a deity, an exchange of vision, an auspicious sight or a blessing deriving from the gaze of a deity.[46] Arul refers to grace or divine presence, while accaryam describes marvels and surprises arising from divine responses to devotional fervour.[47]    

A prasāda, that is a piracātam in Tamil, is “the indispensable sequel to all acts of worship in popular Hinduism” (Fuller 1992: 74). A brief description of a piracātam in a Saivite temple in Sri Lanka serves to illustrate its meaningful relationships and potentialities.

[As the concluding act of worship] the priest passes around among the devotees the fire of the pancāratti, which remains after the last worship of the main idol. They place their hands over the fire, and move them towards their faces, touching them lightly over their bodies from the eyes down to the hest – as if they were absorbing the divine body from the fire into [each] body. Then sacred ash, sandal paste and vermilion powder are passed around the congregation. They … make a pottu mark (a sign of Saivites) on their foreheads. Finally the priest distributes rice balls. Prasāda, which includes fire, sacred ash and other non-edibles, is considered to contain divine power and religious merit accrues to those who eat it (Tanaka 1991: 70).

Contextualised in this manner, Copeman’s blood donation rituals may not be considered a prasāda in the strict sense, but the description of such devotional practices underlines the ideas of connectivity, transmutation and transmission that gird and thread the South Asian world of religious belief. The central point is this: the deity in sculpted form or within a poster calendar is treated as if he or she is alive. The deity is thus “immanent,” charged with ākarśana, that is, the “power of divine magnetism” or attracting force.[48] It is this conviction that leads so many South Asians to place food offerings before the deities on appropriate occasions. Indeed, in worshipping a deity a devotee brings that deity into life, renders that deity ākarśana and darśanam. It is a two-way connectivity. The internal energy of the devotee, organically engaging all the sensory modes available to a human being, helps invoke the deity’s powers. [49]

It would be stretching one’s imagination to suggest that the Black Tiger rite at Sampur was an act of piracātam (prasāda). But could Kandasamy have propitiated the māvīrar before him in the manner of those seeking arul or darśanam? One would be ill advised to dismiss this possibility in peremptory fashion: the background of religious practice in which Tamil Saivites and Catholics — especially those from working class, farming and fishing families — have been nourished over the years suggests the potentiality for such modes of interrelationship and expectation.

 Be that as it may, within such a context the Black Tiger rite at Sampur can be read as a nodal, liminal moment where Past, Present and Future meet in fused unity, gathering an empowering form of fusion from the Tiger point of view. At this moment the Past is embodied in the māvīrar, sacrificial heroes from the recent past, perhaps deified dead like those reposing in natukal in the Tamil-past. The Present is borne by the Black Tigers, the point men[50] in the LTTE project. The Future is the iconic goal of the LTTE and the Tamils they command, the independent state of Eelam, that nationalist utopia of the true believers.

Moving On, Moving Beyond

In my argument, therefore, the ritual at Sampur neatly encapsulates the combination of hard-headed instrumental rationality on the one hand and an “enchanted universe of being” on the other within the organisational ‘investments’ of the LTTE. That the rational, tactical, and strategic calculations demanded by their military-cum-political requirements have dominated the activities of the LTTE for over two decades cannot be denied. But my point here is to indicate that their practices are also influenced in some measure, no doubt in lesser measure, by sentiments that are “beyond reason” and rooted in the cosmos of their upbringing as Tamils of South Asia, whether Christian or Hindu. I have, in other words, attempted to ‘introduce’ the fabulous dimensions of their existential situation of uncertainty/risk and to highlight the manner in which they attempt to augment their rational military/political strategies with practices drawn from the “mythologized realities” (Kapferer’s phrase) of their everyday world.

They are not the only radical militants to draw on the phenomenological subjectivities embedded in their everyday world of upbringing. Take the 9/11 attackers who shocked the Western world with their devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. These were thoroughly modern revolutionaries, using ‘simple,’ rational methods to turn a modern machine into a flying smart-bomb – with enormous and terrifying effect. As one of the arms of Al-Qaeda, moreover, they were part of an organisation that can be, like the LTTE, viewed as a multi-national corporation with multiple sites and a globalised reach. It is now commonplace for security experts to stress that Al-Qaeda is thoroughly modern and that Osama bin Laden has the adopted the managerial practices of modern economic corporations into his outfit.[51]

Yet, take their preparation for their tasks in the heightened moment of the eleventh hour. “The Last Night,” probably drafted by Mohammed Atta, the operational commander of the strike-force, sets out the requisite (thus ideal) precautionary and preparatory practices for each Al-Qaeda commando.[52] The first injunction runs thus: “Mutual swearing of the oath unto death and renewal of [one’s] intention.* Shave excess hair from the body and apply cologne. Shower.”[53] Among the subsequent commandments are these:

  1. Staying the night [praying], pressing onward in prayer, divination (jafr), strengthening [ones self], [obtaining a] clear victory, and ease of heart that you might not betray us.
  2. Much remembrance [of God], and know that the best way of remembrance is to read/recite the Noble Qur’an…
  3. Purify your heart [54] and cleanse it from all uncleanliness. Forget and become oblivious to that thing called “this world.” The time for play is over and the appointed time for seriousness has come.

Thereafter in moving to what the author saw as the “second phase” of their operation, we find the following orders:

When the taxi is taking you to the a[irport], then recite the devotional of travel, the devotional of [entering a] town, the devotional of praise and other devotionals. When you have arrived and you see the a[irport] and have gotten out of the taxi, then say the prayer of  shelter; every place you go say the prayer of shelter in it. Smile and be tranquil for this is pleasing to the believers. Make sure that no one of whom you are unaware is following you. Then say the prayer: “God, make me strong through your entire creation, … Then you when you have said it, you will find matters straightened; and [God’s] protection will be around you; no power can penetrate that. [God] has promised His faithful servants who say this prayer that which follows: ….

1. [They will] return with grace [from God] and His bounty[55]                   

2. Evil will not touch them

3. [They will be in] accordance with the grace of God

All of their devices, their [security] gates[56] and their technology will not save them nor harm [anyone] without God’s permission. 

The Last Night, it should be stressed, was drafted by someone “well acquainted with the Qur’an” and “a strong basis in Muslim pious literature” (Cook 2002: 000). Without a comprehension of the spirituality that permeates his Qur’anic interpretations, one can hardly comprehend the pervasive emphasis on prayer as an essential tool for each commando assassin to sustain his determination and goal orientation. In this sense the Last Night was a psychological preparation for the difficulties of battle, in short, a trainer’s manual. But this manual also contained a mantra: a profound belief in Allah as their guardian and a force that would render them invisible, powerful and successful. Here, then, enchanted cosmological being was merged with careful planning and rational action.

 The picture of the Black Tigers’ act of ritual homage and the Last Night, in this argument, share a shoring in cosmological realities, that is, what Weber would regard as a world of enchantment antithetical to the rational order ushered in by the Enlightenment, market capitalism and the terrors of modern war as well as the epistemologies of individualism and materialism. This is not to say that the Tigers and the radical Muslims of Al-Qaeda share a similar mentality. At face value their cultural backgrounds could be deemed substantially different. The similarity is at one step removed, at the level of abstraction that I have framed as the “enchanted world” in opposition to the disenchanted world of materially-grounded instrumentalities and rational calculation rooted in an emphasis on the Individual.

 In speaking of an “enchanted world” I stress that it should not be equated with the supernatural and other-worldly in the sense “out there in the skies.” My suggestion is that in many parts of Asia today people engage in daily activities that are imbricated with non-tangible forces and possibilities. The “evil eye,” for instance, is a possibility within daily life for many people in southern Asia. The idea that someone can harm another person by looking at the other’s property or person, the “eye of envy” as it is sometimes called, remains widespread in contemporary South Asia and among Greeks all over the world, though it is impossible to indicate precisely the proportion of people who adhere to this belief and take precautions, such as amulets and black pottus for babies, against these dangers.[57]

     Where such potentialities inhabit the everyday, and where acts of sorcery by jealous others remain real to so many people, protective rites are not uncommon.[58] In this sense they are “everyday.” They may not be daily acts, but they are highly significant acts; and sometimes even expensive acts calling for investments of planning, time, and money. Just as the use of ädura (specialists in exorcism) and healing rites to cure a bodily or mental affliction does not preclude a suffering family from resorting to Western or ayurvedic medicine,[59] thoroughly modern warriors are quite ready to propitiate the spirits that inhabit their world. Within their mind-set, there is no necessary contradiction. The universe of being in which the most Tigers and Tamils have been nourished would have oriented them to multiple strategies and the contingencies of the life-world. Calling on the powers of their cosmos to protect them and to regenerate their enterprise is as meaningful a rite as a puja that seeks to inspire the rains to fall at the right time for their agricultural work or to protect fishermen on their daily ventures to sea.[60] The ritual acts of the type depicted in Picture 5, and the whole LTTE enterprise of calendrical rituals and cemeteries with tombs for fallen māvīrar,[61] are reasoned actions seeking to renew their strength and to enlist the powers of the cosmos in this work of regeneration.

  26-Bodies that fight on Fig ?: Bodies that fight on …This “memorial tomb” is a specific act of “veneration” for the 398 Tiger fighters who “attained martyrdom” during a three–ay operation, known as “Unceasing Waves,” directedby Prabhakaran himself that “liberated the territory of Kilinochchi from the Sri Lankan military that occupied the Tamil homeland.” This cenotaph, located along the A9 road to Jaffna at Kilinochchi, administrative capital of the LTTE, was unveiled on 27 November 2004. The inscription is in English, and the words quoted above are from this representation. Note the embellishment provided by flame-like stalks of the karthigai (glory lily) cradling the fallen avirar in the manner of a lotus base. Pic courtesy of Vaitheespara Ravindiran.  

   There can be no better illustration of this deadly combination than the scene of Black Tiger commandoes at a ‘shrine’ with guns in one hand and jasmine flowers in unpolluted hand. Such a moment sits neatly with one of the LTTE’s expressive propaganda acts that depicts a tombstone with a clenched fist encoded with gun punching the air (Picture 12). Here we see an enshrined warrior attempting to inspire Tamils with his/her fighting spirit and affirmation of defiance. In the Tamil and Asian world, therefore, power and empowerment does not rest solely on disenchanted rationality. The dead, whether a Rajiv Gandhi-as-statue or a mavirar-in-tombstone, can be invested with an “ongoing agentive capacity”[62] in the manner of saints and deities of the past.

** However the footnote referencing adheres to my original version [because some citations were incorporated in the text in Social Analysis]; while the photographic numbering is somewhat different and one or two additonal images are included here.


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[1] See Schalk 2003, Roberts 2005 and, late November any year.

[2] Natali 2005 and description of Māvīrar Nal in TamilNet, 27 November 1998 18:02 GMT.

[3] Narayan Swamy 1993: 155-56 and Schalk 1997a: 77. Captain Miller, or Valipuram Vasanthan, was the son of a bank clerk and had attended HartleyCollege in Point Pedro (information from Tamil friends).

[4] Schalk (2003: 396) says that they were set up in 1986. This requires verification.

[5] Narayan Swamy 2003: 201-02, 109. The first Tiger to swallow the cyanide kuppi was Celvam (Selvam) Pakin on 18 May 1984 (Schalk 1997b: 62). But Seelan can be deemed the first Tiger to commit suicide because he ordered one of his juniors to shoot him when he was injured and cornered.

[6] Interview with S. Rajanayagam, Adelaide 7 January 2004.

[7] Schalk 1997a: 76 and 74-75. “We are married to our cyanide,” said one LTTE publication in Tamil (Hellmann-Rajanayagam 1994: 67). Also see Schalk 1997b: 62-63. Schalk notes that the cyanide vials are manufactured in Germany.

[8] Personal communication from RSM, a former fighter.

[9] From, 6 July 1997. However, other accounts indicate that the Black Tigers do operate as units especially at sea.

[10] Grapevine stories, Reuter 2002: 160 and Schalk 2003: 396.

[11] Figures from and These are not official sources and they do quite tally with the total of 17,780 māvīrar up to November 2004 by,  the closest one is to an official site.

[12] Information from Joe Ariyaratnam and Tamilnet, 27 November 1998. These include the following: Kopay, Kanagapuram, Visvamadu, Vaani,  Aandaankulam, Poonagary, Vannivilaankulam, Vannivilaankulam and Pandivirichchaan.

[13] Pathuman was closely associated with Col. Karuna and after Karuna’s breakaway circa March 2004 he was recalled to the Vanni headquarters. It is likely that he has been executed.

[14] See Tambiah 1990; David Gellner 2001; Keyes 2002; and Weber 1948, 1978a & 1978b.

[15] Quotations from Brubaker 1984 and Kalberg 1980: 1155 respectively. For an instance of scholarly disagreement on Weber, see Ernest Gellner 1974: 000n.

[16] Brubaker 1980, 2 and 9, with the first quotation being the words of Weber himself

[17] For the emergence of the concept “fundamentalism” in USA in the 1920s, see Harding 1987.

[18] Thus the Dutch troops effecting the imperial expansion of Dutch power in Bali were “thoroughly bewildered” in 1906 when they had advanced to the edge of the state of Sanur “where the king [of Sanur], his wives, his children, and the entourage marched in a splendid mass suicide into the direct fire of [their] guns” (Geertz 1980: 11). This act was repeated by the king’s palace entourage in the state of Klungklung two years later.

[19] When a young Kurdish girl set herself alight in London in February 1999 as an act of protest against the situation of the Kurds and the front pages of newspapers depicted the event, a proprietor of a news agency I visit waved the picture of the girl in flames in front of me and in considerable alarm inquired how anyone could take such an extreme measure. He stressed that he could not even contemplate such a step. This outburst was entirely unsolicited and thus an ethnographic gem. See Roberts 1999 and 1995.

[20] This section is based on Davis, 1996; Chalk 1999; Peiris 2002; Gunaratna 1997; Senaratne 1997; Narayan Swamy 1994 and 2003.

[21] Given the variations voiced by various scholars, these dates should not be taken as definitive.

[22] See Shanaka Jayasekara, “Air capabilities of global terror groups and non-formal States.” Daily Mirror, May 2005.

[23] See Whitaker 1999 and 2004 for some facets of Sivaram’s intellectual background and capacities. Sivaram was a key figure in running TamilNet till he was assassinated (probably by Karuna’s faction) in Colombo in late May 2005.

[24] The Australian Broadcasting Corporation presented a documentary on “Sri Lanka. The Truth Tigers” as Episode 32 in Series 11 of Foreign Correspondent on 15 May 2002. The synopsis says: “The extraordinary story of the camera crews who record the bloody exploits of the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. Mark Corcoran meets the cameramen and women who’ve routinely put their lives on the line recording the pitch battles between the Tigers and Government troops.” I have also seen this documentary on one of the channels on individual TV screens in Qantas flights.

[25] See Gunaratna 1997: 86-87.

[26] So much so that a recent publication by Bradman Weerakoon, a senior administrator who worked directly under Premadasa, does not discount one of the conspiracy theories of 1991 to the effect that Premadasa had bumped off Athulathmudlai (a rival within the UNP). Lalith Athulathmudali, a senior Minister, had been assassinated by pistol shot previously at an election rally on 23 April 1993.

[27] “Scenario planning” seems akin to the concepts of “situation plan” in the vocabulary of good sports coaches. I first heard the phrase “situation plan” from Joe Hoad, a cricket coach. This idea refers to efforts to train players to think on their feet and to adjust to the vicissitudes of a game. In this sense “situation plan” is an issue of tactical adjustment within a strategy or game plan.

[28] Sivaram underlines this point with the remark that “anyone who has cared to study the LTTE’s negotiating behaviour in the past two years even superficially would understand that the Tigers see their military power [as subordinate to their political goals].”

[29] Taraki 2004a and 2004b. In this instance the LTTE has been materially aided by a ridiculous state policy of fighting its war on about six fronts. Taraki (rather conveniently, but perhaps deliberately) slides over this facet of the situation, especially when plugging another line in another article (2005).

[30] Perhaps the devastating attack on Katunayake airport on MMM was the most significant of these operations. The infiltration of a unit that mounted an attack in the Borella area in MMM was another. Again, the truck bomb driven by a suicide bomber that devastated the Central Bank (which held the country’s gold reserves) on 31 January 1996 was supported by a few others Tigers who came by three-wheeler and used RPGs to cause mayhem in the heart of the central business district.

[31] See Jeganathan 1997 and Whitaker 2004 for aspects.

[32] Clearly, ethnographic detective work is required to ascertain whether this term is used in LTTE or contemporary Tamil circles. For pītam, which is called pītha elsewhere in India, see Tanaka 1991: 134-36.

[33] Bork helped destroy the entrance to strategic Mankulam SLA camp on 23 November 1990. There is also a special memorial honouring him on the A9 route south of Mankulam. He ranks with such figures as Angayarkanni, Malathi, Miller and Kittu in the LTTE pantheon of māvīrar.

[34] The literal meaning is “planted stone,” a conceptualisation that fits in with the LTTE construction of their dead as vitai or seeds (see Schalk 1997a: 66, 79, 81, Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005; Roberts 2005b). Nadukal can also be written as natugal.

[35] This quotation is a modified version of a title used by Aiyappan 1977. Also see Schalk 1997b: 64. Note, too, that among the Sinhala-speakers “demon deities are regarded as having once been human beings or the children of a divine-human union” (Kapferer 1997: 32, relying on Obeyesekere’s work on the Pattini cult).

[36] See Settar & Sontheimer 1982; Settar 982 and Soundara Rajan 1982.

[37] Pope as quoted in Kailasapathy 1968: 76. Also see Whitehead 1921: 91, 93, 102, 117-19.

[38] See Tanaka 1991: 72, 114, 118-19 and Bastin 2002a: 65-66, 196-99.

[39] I am informed by Val Daniel (tel. chat, 13 Dec 2004) in noting the absence of standardisation. While he himself thought red and white were favoured and sometimes marigold was used, M. Ponnambalam (a poet nurtured in one of the islands off Jafffna) said that red or reddish flowers were usual for the velvi garland (December 2004).

[40] Schalk 1997c: 40, 63, Chandrakanthan 2000: 164 and Roberts 2005a. Uyirāyutam is commonly written as uyirāyutham.

[41] Information from Mrs Krishna Kumar and Mrs Pushpa Selvanayagam, both in Jaffna – with the former observation being expressed at the māvīrar commemoration shed at the Jaffna Campus. Further clarified by Mrs Bragatheeswaran in Adelaide.

[42] Myerhoff 1982: 117. Also see Turner 1982: 52, 237-39, 241, 255, 263, 274.

[43] See www.TamilNet, 14 April 2004. A subsequent piece dismissed claims that the poisonous features of the karthigaipoo had informed the LTTE’s choice.

[44] Thaninayagam 1966: 104, 30. In one verse the kaantal is described thus: “its red petals shining like lamps lit at sunset.”

[45] For instance, D P Sivaram in conversation, late Oct. 2004.

[46] Tanaka 1991: 70, Fuller 1992: 59-60, Bastin 2002a: xvii, 122, and chats with Sivathamby and Daniel.

[47] Bastin 2002a: 122. Bastin’s chapter 6, entitled “The look and the thing seen,” is essential reading for these contexts and details. Note that arul and darśanam seem to have considerable overlaps, though they are not quite synonymous.

[48] Obeyesekere 1987: 14. Elsewhere it is described by Gombrich and Obeyesekere as “the ‘magnetic power’ of the … essence of the deity” (1988: 90). Bastin summarises it in the following terms: “ ‘attracting’, a type of sorcery” (2002a: xv).  Ākarśana is a Sanskrit word and thus understood in both Sinhala and Tamil-speaking regions.

[49] I am indebted to one of Chris Pinney’s seminars detailing practice at the grassroots in Madhya Pradesh (India) for my initial acquaintance with this point, while I have profited immensely in recent years by my exposure to Arthur Saniotis’s phenomenological approach to human action. Also see Bastin 2002a: 122.

[50] For those unfamiliar with military terminology, “point men” are those individuals at the head of a V-formation in an infantry squad advancing cautiously into dangerous terrain. Where ambushed, they are likely to die first.

[51] Hoffman 2002, Stern 2003: chap. 9 and Ramakrishna & Tan 2002: 6-7. Also note Bruce Hoffman. “Terrorist Leader as CEO. Interview. 2003. in

[52] David Cook’s translation of this document is available as an Appendix in his article in Novo Religio 2002. The asterisks are Cook’s annotations.

[53] “It is clear that this section marked with an asterisk in the text is an afterthought on the part of the writer” (Cook 2002). 

[54] “This is the first verb in the command form; all the previous points are introduced by verbal nouns” (Cook 2002).      

[55 ] “As the verse specifies that the servants will “return” from whatever mission to which they were sent, the logic of citing this idea in a document involving a ‘martyrdom operation is problematic.”  (Cook 2002).         

[56] This is the section designed for passing through the security devices of the airport” (Cook 2002).

 [57] See Maloney 1974: 174-76 & 1976 and Pocock 1981. Ananda Wakkumbura brought the prevalence among the Sinhalese today of fears of äs vaha, kata vaha, ho vaha (poison by eye, mouth and thought) to my attention when we were translating old war poems. His grass roots knowledge is impeccable. Those who saw media pictures of Baby 81, the infant discovered under a garbage pile in Kalmunai on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka after the tsunami and the object of conflicting parental claims, who was eventually identified after DNA tests as Abilash Jeyarajah, would have noticed the black pottu (pottu is the mark of the Saivites) on his forehead. And so too did Junita Jeyarajah, the mother, sport a black pottu, ritually administered to ward off evil.  To indicate the significance of such fears among Sri Lankan Tamil people is not to deny the currents of secularism fostered among them by strands of the Dravidian movement and the presence of this strand within the LTTE through such individuals as Baby Subramanium.

[58] See Bastin 2002a & 2002b and Tanaka 1991.

[59] The most detailed case studies are from among the Sinhalese (Kapferer 1983: chap. 4 & 5), but the work of Tanaka and Bastin point to a similar universe of being among the Tamils. Copeman informs me that two of his relatives in Delhi who are receiving treatment for a serious blood disease keep their daily medicine beneath idols of Ganesh, Krishna and Jesus Christ so that the medicines are blessed.

[60] Thus on 27 August 2004 “the sea faring residents and fishermen from the town of Valvettiturai … [took the] elephant- faced god ‘Ganapathi’ around the town in a boat shaped vehicle.” This account also noted: the “deity’s protection is sought with a visit to the [Kappalodiya] Pillaiyar temple by everyone before he/she ventures out into sea” (TamilNet, 27 Augusr 2004). 

[61] See Schalk 1997a and 2003, Roberts 2005b and Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005.

[62] Copeman 2004: 135, who is informed by Gell’s emphasis on agentive capacity (Art and Agency, 1998, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 222).


Filed under historical interpretation, Islamic fundamentalism, jihad, life stories, LTTE, nationalism, performance, politIcal discourse, power sharing, prabhakaran, religious nationalism, sri lankan society, suicide bombing, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, unusual people, world affairs

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