From Godse and Gandhi to the Selfless Sacrifice of Tamil Tigers

Michael Roberts **

“I must reduce myself to zero” (Mahatma Gandhi)

Mahatma Gandhi 11 Gandhi nathuram-godse-11Godse  13c--Prabha with pistol-2Pirapaharan

I am indebted to Dennis Hudson for the insights via Gandhi which inspire this article: “Gandhi was a martyr to satya, which is ‘truth’ or ‘true being,’ or ‘being true,’ …. Truth’s power radiates through the person who participates in it by eliminating the personal ego-centered passion that distorts it. Truth is God whom Gandhi called Ram. To serve Ram as a conduit for his gracious power in the middle of India’s violent political life, Gandhi had tried for years to reduce himself to “zero” [as he himself expressed matters]” (Hudson 2002: 132).

GandhiThis transcendental orientation guided many of the Mahatma’s interventions in the tumultuous era of Indian nationalist politics. During the course of one such intervention, as he walked to an evening prayer meeting at a friend’s house in New Delhi on 30 January 1948, his life in this world was viciously terminated by an assassin named Nathuram Godse.[1] Paradoxically, both Godse and Gandhi were inspired by the Bhagavad Gīta (Jaffrelot 2003). The Gīta was a foundational inspiration for a long line of nationalist or fundamentalist thinking beginning with Tilak and extending into the Hindu fundamentalist stream of thinking associated with Savarkar who “invok[ed] the motif of Hindu religious sacrifice.” Already a member of the Hindu Maha Sabha, when Savarkar founded an offshoot called the Hindu Rashtra Dal in 1942, Godse became the editor-in-chief of its newspaper (Jaffrelot 2003:300-11, quotation from p. 304).[2]

Gandhi and Godse

Thus, Godse was an articulate member of Hindu fundamentalist organizations which contended “that Gandhi was sacrificing Hindu interests in an effort to appease minority groups [and] blamed Gandhi for the bloody Partition of India.”[3] Though Godse played a lone hand in this killing, he had been part of a group that had attempted to assassinate Gandhi earlier. The details are irrelevant because the interest here is in the suicidal nature of Godse’s mission in a context where the death penalty was attached to murder.[4]Thus, Godse was willingly walking down the path to the gallows in order to punish Gandhi and to bear witness to the legitimacy of the cause espoused by the Hindu Maha Sabha and Hindu Rashtra Dal. Within their subjective understandings both Gandhi and Godse were entwined in selfless sacrifice, albeit in different ways.

-Nathuram_godse - wiki Godse’s testimony in court was impassioned. “Born in a devotional Brahmin family, I instinctively came to revere Hindureligion, Hindu history and Hindu culture” — his opening lines indicate that his reading of the past was a Hinduized interpretation that was supplemented by reference to such hero-figures as Shivāji. Against this backdrop, he held Gandhi and the Indian National Congress responsible for the “vivisection” of India. Gandhi, he insisted, had “acted very treacherously to the nation by his consenting to the partitioning of it … I stoutly maintain that … he has proved to be the Father of Pakistan.” His highest pitch was in this declamation:

The accumulating provocation of thirty-two years, culminating in [Gandhiji’s] pro-Muslim fast, at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end immediately. Gandhi had done very good in South Africa … But when he finally returned to India he developed a subjective mentality under which he alone was to be the final judgeof what was right or wrong. If the country wanted his leadership, it had to accept his infallibility (emphasis added by author).[5]

Godse’s self-conviction drew emotional responses from the audience in court, but was not enough to sway the judges.[6]He was executed. In this sense, to reiterate, his act of killing was a suicide mission.[7] From his Hindu fundamentalist standpoint the decision to embark on the assassination was, arguably, based on the premise that his self, too, was reduced to zero.

Ponnudurai Sivakumāran stands forever

Ponnudurai Sivakumāran of Urumpirai in the Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka was a Vellalar youth who came of age during a period when the Tamil people were in political ferment over what they saw as second-class treatment by a government dominated by Sinhalese interests. Besides political grievances of both an economic and symbolic nature, the young Tamils of his day were particularly incensed by the gerrymandering of university entrance requirements through acts of allegedly positive discrimination that modified the principle of merit that had served the Tamils so well in the past (C. R. de Silva 1974 & 1979). To a Left-oriented classmate in his teenage years[8]Sivakumāran was a “Tamil chauvinist.” This zeal led him into militant nationalist pathways: he seems to have been the initiator of a tiny underground cell committed to armed struggle for the Tamils. The zeal was not matched by efficiency. They botched efforts to rob banks as a means of sustaining their project. While out on bail Sivakumāran then failed in his attempt to assassinate the senior policeman who had led a baton charge in Jaffna Peninsula that caused a few deaths. When eventually cornered by police he swallowed some cyanide that he carried with him for such an eventuality. The intent was to avoid torture and to protect his fellow-plotters. [9]

Among the Sri Lanka Tamils of the north this act was immediately understood to be one of selfless sacrifice by a committed young man. The last rites, a cremation, at Urumpirai witnessed an outpouring of intense grief and anger, the stuff of dramatic politics. Popular action decreed the day to be one of hartal, that is, a strike and demonstration of protest where all shops were closed and no work was done. Huge crowds journeyed to Sivakumāran’s home village. So too did venerable Tamil leaders, many of them lawyers of note. There, within the feverish fervour aroused by untimely death, these leaders were subject to assault by slippers wielded by angry young men. Being “slippered” is the ultimate in insults within Asia. It is a slap that proclaims a heinous transgression. The victim is deemed to have no moral ground. He must cop his fate silently (Roberts 1985).

sivakumaran 1FIG 1. Sivakumaran hailed

As significantly, graphic posters depicted (1) Sivakumāran, with kingly head-dressand swordon rearing horse, featuring as Vīrapandiya Kattabommān, a recalcitrant local chieftain in southern India during the 1790s who had been the stuff of variant folk tales in Tamilnadu and then depicted as an anti-colonial resistance hero in a popular film in 1959 with Shivāji Ganēsan, the famous film star, in the lead role;[10] and (2) student Sivakumāran standing beside the ailing and widely-respected figure of Thanthai Chelva,[11]the leader of the Federal Party which was itself in the process of becoming the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) committed to self-determination. The second of these pictorial posters quite explicitly depicts the two figures as part of a process that was a changing of the guard.[12]As such it was prophetic because the older, white-collared professional men with one foot in Colombo and another in the precincts of the Jaffna Peninsula who led the Federal Party/TULF, were, as we know in retrospect, on the verge of being displaced by young men who were of the Tamil-vernacular, rooted in the villages of the north and prone to wear motley outfits and flip-flops afoot as they engaged in guerilla struggle.[13]A further mark of the degree to which Sivakumāran captured the Sri Lankan Tamil peoples’ imagination was seen when a statue was erected in his honor (see Figures 1 & 2).[14]A statue, as we know, takes a person “into the realm of the timeless or the sacred” (Verdery 1999: 5).

10b--sivakumaran FIG 2. Sivakumaran statue after it was ‘sccidentally’ knocked down by an Army truck, 1979 –Pic by Raghubir Singh 

Sivakumāran’s exemplary act captured the imagination of another young man, Velupillai Pirapāharan (b. 1954) who had been among those who founded the Tamil New Tigers around 1972/73 and then initiated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 1976. At some point between 1976 and 1983 Pirapāharan (also written as Prabhākaran) decided to carry cyanide with him. By 1983 this practice had been formalized within LTTE fighter ranks in the mode of a vial, or kuppi, carried on the person and, where feasible, worn as part of a necklace. The kuppi was de rigueur for LTTE personnel (Figure 3), one facet of their oath of commitment to the goal of Eelam.[15] It was an expectation assumed for leaders as well as foot-soldiers. Indeed, over the next decades several in the highest ranks committed suicide when called upon to do so;[16]while it has been claimed that one/third of the LTTE dead “up to 1992” swallowed a cyanide capsule, surely a remarkable proportion (Schalk 2003: 396).

Tigers plus kuuppi FIG 3. Tiger fighters at camp with their kuppi cyanide capsules circa 1989/90–Pic vby Shyam Tekwani

The kuppi was also a talisman and an article of faith. Whispers about the kuppi among the Tamil people served as testimony to the Tigers’ indomitable spirit and selflessness. Though there were a few Tamils who seem to have regarded the Tigers as “fanatics,” many others admired them for their quality of arppaNippu, or “dedication, offering, gift, sacrifice.”[17] This feature was, as observed in another context, “propaganda of the deed” (Taylor & Ryan 1988: 98). Unlike Sivakumāran’s cell, moreover, Pirapāharan’s small coterie – there were only about 27 to 35 trained fighters in July 1983 — sustained its secrecy and had links with smugglers and seafarers that extended its reach and provided a capacity to go to ground in southern India.

Inevitably the underground armed resistance produced fatal casualties: Shankar on 27 November 1982, Seelan on 15 July 1983 and Sellakili on 23 July 1983 were the earliest (all nom de guerre). A critically wounded Shankar was borne all the way to a hospital in Madurai, India where he died. The injured Seelan’s death was in effect a suicide by command directed at a junior beside him and Sellakili’s occurred during an LTTE ambush.[18]All these early deaths of intimate comrades are said to have affected Pirapāharan profoundly. He cried.[19]Impelled by this emotional foundation the early LTTE leadership deployed the bodies of the dead to propagate their cause. Where feasible the bodies were conveyed around the streets of the Jaffna Peninsula, in some places in broad daylight, elsewhere in the depths of the night, but stoking emotion everywhere and gathering fame for the LTTE.[20]Thus the propaganda by the dead built upon the propaganda of the deed.

These were the early fashioning of a “political life for dead bodies” (cf. Verdery 1999) by the LTTE, a kind of ‘pre-history’ prior to the institutionalization of the commemorative process that began in November 1989. The numbers of the fallen quickly rose: between November 1982 and July 1987, the moment when India intervened and the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed, the LTTE lost 632 personnel. After the Indian intervention turned sour and the LTTE took to the jungles and side-streets against the massive Indian presence, they lost 712 (Jeyaraj 2006). By the end of 1989 a ceasefire came into place as the Indians decided to withdraw their forces at the request of Premadasa, the new President of Sri Lanka. It was at this stage on 27 November 1989 that “around six hundred LTTE cadres assembled at a secret venue in the Mullaitheevu district jungles of Nithikaikulam” to commemorate what they call Māvīrar Nāl or Great Heroes Day. This first celebration, it is said, was “a restricted affair [where] the highlight was a highly emotional address delivered extemporaneously by Prabakharan to his enraptured followers” (Jeyaraj 2006).

12a--shankar Shankar

The date was not happenchance, but marked the day on which the first Tiger fighter died. This was Shankar, Pirapāharan’s childhood friend. Thus, on Māvīrar Day Shankar “is made a collective focal point for recapitulating the mourning experience of Velupillai Pirapākaran” (Schalk 2003: 400). The climatic moment of this ritual of commemoration, it should be noted, involves lighting a flame of sacrifice at 6.06 p. m. immediately after the tesai talaivar (national leader) Pirapāharan’s speech.That, ostensibly, is the precise time at which Shankar died. But, in Asia near the equator, it is also twilight time, the juncture of day and night, a moment etched deeply with pathos in the poetry of the Cankam era and since sustained in Tamil literary and folk culture as a profound moment for sorrow and emotional expectation, including conjunctions of lovers, or wives pining for the return of hero-husband-kings. In this sense twilight is the moment par excellence for Tamils to inscribe the sadness of parting or ecstatic hopes of re-union.[21]

Since 1989 the commemorative process has been incrementally expanded into an epic scale occurring simultaneously at numerous sites, and especially at the 21 impeccably-maintained tuyilam illam, or “resting places,” where the countless Tiger fallen have been “planted”[22]or commemorated by plaque where their remains were not recovered. This moment engenders a community of suffering across the length and breadth of the Tamil country and along Tamil networks across the world. The lamentation, however, is gilded by pride and a celebration of worth. Indeed, as Schalk tells us, Heroes’ Week is celebrated as an elucci nāl, that is, a “Day of Edification” or “Day of Rising.”[23]The term elucci (also written as ezucci),says Weiss, is “the nominalization of the verbal root ‘elu’, which means rise up, get up, get up out of bed – [a word] that it is reflexive, that is, to raise oneself up, to get oneself up, rather than to lift up something else [so that it marks] independence and self-sufficiency.”[24]It appears to carry a multivalent richness in Tamil-culture — because a dictionary indicates its meanings as “ascent, elevation, staring as in a procession, derivatively song sung at dawn to raise the god, king or VIP from sleep, origin, birth appearance, beginning, oatitis, inflammation of the ear, effort, activity.”[25]

It also marks an innovation introduced and enforced by the LTTE. Prior to 1989/91 — the precise date of the switch is unclear — it was the practice of the LTTE to arrange for the remains to reach the closest kin whenever possible so that the last rites were Hindu, Catholic, Protestant or Islamic as the case may be. But it was precisely about the time of the first institutionalization in 1989 that the LTTE hierarchy decided that the fallen were their personnel and therefore they should have first lien on their bodies; and, secondly, that all should be planted as natukal valipādu or “hero stones worthy of worship” (Jeyaraj 2006), at their very own resting places [cemeteries].

This was a momentous step for those attached to Hindu practices of cremation. Cremation has been the esteemed mortuary practice in the Tamil-speaking world during the last century or so, but burial also occurred in some localities and among some communities.[26]As a broad generalization encompassing the Hindu universe, it has been stressed that “cremation is cosmogony” and involves a sacrifice permeated by austerities which “is thus an act of creation, even a cosmic renewal” (Parry 1982: 76, 86). Corpses are nevertheless extremely polluting. Therefore everywhere in India and Sri Lanka the cremation grounds were (are) polluted terrain. Here, then, was a striking reversal: the tuyilam illam, like cemeteries elsewhere in the world, became sacred terrain and were explicitly deemed to be “holy places” and “temples” (Natali 2007).

Though radical in some ways, the reversal was not wholly novel. There were precedents in Indian and Tamil heritage: sannyāsin, heroic defenders of a village, victims of gross violations who have committed ritual suicide and women of sati, all such personnel had been buried in what were known in India as viragal or natukal,that is, “hero stones” or “planted stones.” Several of these stones became “divinities of blood and power” with the typically fierce and ambiguous character of guardian deities.[27]As such, they were deified humans. This practice and the terminology may not have been familiar to many Tamils in Sri Lanka; but its hallowed Indian heritage seems to have made its introduction that much more acceptable.

The LTTE innovations did not stop there. They underlined their emphasis on sacrificial selflessness by word play. Laying one’s body on the line for the LTTE and the cause of Eelam was gift-wrapped, so to speak, as a “gift” of self. Their suicide attacks are described as acts of tar-kotai (pronounced tharkodai), meaning “self-gift,” thereby playing upon and transforming the standard word for suicide, namely, tarkollai.[28]Secondly, they have compounded this presentation by coining the term uyirayutam, or life-(gifted)-as-weapon, to describe suicide attacks. Take Pirapāharan’speroration on 27 November 1992:

These great heroes do not die in [normal] time; [they are] artisans of independence (cutantiram), heroic maravarwho have sown the seeds for the rise of a very great liberation (struggle) on our soil. These magnificent individuals who give themselves (tarkotai yālarkal), who are those who abandon [lie], who have given up their sweet life for the independence, honour and security of our community (inam) are those who should be worshipped (pūcikkappat vēntiya varkal) in the temples of our hearts (itayakōyilil) throughout the ages.[29]

The emphasis, then, is on giving. A gift is also an offering. In this construction offering one’s life is a huge gift, an eloquent negation of self for the cause of the LTTE and the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. The selflessness is also cast by the LTTE as an act of tiyakam — abandonment, sacrifice, renunciation.[30]This renders each fallen LTTE fighter into a tiyaki (one who abandons), derived from the Sanskrit tyagi and a term that was widely used in British India to describe freedom fighters.[31]However, it appears that the term māvīrar is more widely deployed in Sri Lankan Tamil circles and has tended to subsume or displace the word tiyaki.

The depth of the LTTE’s sacrificial demands is neatly captured by the ethnographic work of Margaret Trawick, whose impeccable familiarity with the Tamil language enables intimacies that produce rich empirical data. In talking to high school students in the Eastern Province in the year 1997 or thereabouts, she discovered that they saw two stark alternatives in their immediate future: either to get away from the province in search of some job or to join the LTTE and die (Trawick 1999). That is, the LTTE’s presentation of self was interpreted, whether with favour or in some doubt, as one that was the path of death.[32]

Self as Zero? Under a God become Man?

The idea of gifting one’s body and abandoning self within the LTTE universe of being is suggestive of Gandhi’s renunciatory journey towards the elimination of ego-centricity to the point where self becomes zero. That quest, however, was within Gandhi’s interiority of being. It had an enchanted component that sought to transform the specifics of the world targeted in his projects through the powers of satya in fusion with the god, Ram. Alongside this, suggests Hudson, was “the ancient South Asian idea of the person as a collective whole” (2002: 138); for, as Parry puts it, “a recurrent theme in Hindu religious thought is the homology which is held to exist between body and cosmos” (1982:76). Moreover, Gandhi’s abandonment of ego involved no dead bodies around him. In contrast the Tigers called to sacrifice are soldiers and sailors. Their task is killing or support of killing work. They produce victims not mediated peace.

13a--young Prabhakaran warrior 18b- VP as CHE FIG 4. The talaivar

Their selflessness, therefore, in contrast with that of Mahatma Gandhi, involves desire, a passion for Eelam and for the LTTE regime. In this manner their ego is submerged within the collective. This collective has had a single leader since 1981, the talaivar Pirapāharan (Figure 4).[33]As with any military force, the organizational structure is hierarchical and Pirapāharan’s word is law. Inevitably, too, a personality cult emerged.

24--Tamil mass hears VP, 1987  FIG 5. Masses of Tamil people assemble to hear Pirapaharan and Tiger leaders speak– Sudumalai Amman Kovil grounds — Pic from Lake house

The legendary status of Pirapāharan was evident as early as 4 August 1987 when he returned from India after the Indian government had twisted the LTTE’s arm to accept the Indo-Lanka Accord and addressed a huge crowd on the grounds of Sudumalai Amman Kovil (Figure 5), a defiant speech which contained the seeds of rebellion.[34] When the uneasy relationship with India turned sour and the LTTE went underground and successfully held out against the might of the Indian army for over two years, his reputation among the Tamil people, as well as the world at large, soared. When the IPKF left in March 1990 and the LTTE seized control of much of the Northern and Eastern Provinces by mid-1990 and proceeded to set up a fledgling state, this status was further compounded. Success compounds power. Over time even some Tamil parties, such as the TULF, whose leaders had been assassinated by the LTTE, have proclaimed to the world that the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamils.

Leader worship is not uncommon in armies and political parties. It is particularly pronounced in South Asia and one can talk of a cakravarti model of departmental, political party, or state governance that is sustained by the propitiatory practices of subordinates and sharpened by a top-down flow of authority and distributive largesse. The regard with which Pirapāharan is held within the forces he commands is revealed in a propaganda blurb attached to the work of a soldier woman turned cameraperson extraordinaire. This woman is known to the world today by her nom de guerre, Gajaani. The resume is ostensibly her life story. It is, in all probability, a document jointly crafted by her in league with the public relations unit of the LTTE. It gains in value for this very reason. “I remember in earlier times, before I joined the LTTE, I would ask the fighters I met how they could be in the LTTE without meeting Prabhakaran. I had now been in battles for one-and-a-half years, and I still hadn’t met him. Then came 1991; I was being trained for Aniyiravu (the Battle of Elephant Pass), and Prabhakaran came to the base. As soon as I met him, I felt ready to go to battle and die for my people. I was so happy that no matter what happened from then on, I had met Prabhakaran. My aspiration in life had been fulfilled.” He was there on the morning of the battle, sending us off into war. We fought so hard that day because of this. It was the most unforgettable day of my life.…[35]

This measure of respect cannot be evaluated in isolation. Other clues magnify its import. Take Brendan O’Duffy’s experiences among Tiger personnel in May 2003: “Interviews with senior LTTE leaders reinforce the mythic reverential perceptions of the leader. The senior LTTE administrator in Kilinochchi (Sanappah Master) told me that he and others considered Prabhakaran as “god become man.” Other cadres have also emphasized their devotion not only to the cause of Eelam but also to their sense of personal duty and obligation to the leader [O’Duffy 2007: 265].

Supplement that data with an empirical finding at the grass-roots level: when a major battle erupted in Sampur district south of Trincomalee in the middle of 2006 and the state forces succeeded in recapturing the area, they came across an old woman who had been abandoned by her sons; this lady had a portrait of Pirapāharan whom she said was god Ishvara.[36] Ishvara is none other than Brahma, “the ultimate cause behind all causes.”[37]

The ramifications of such reverential treatment extend beyond Sri Lanka along the networks of Tamil migrants. Chandrakanthan tells us that in numerous migrant houses Pirapāharan is enshrined as a divinity and that the kinfolk of māvīrar treat their portrait-as-shrine with rituals “normally reserved to Saivite deities and saints.”[38] This witness is enhanced by the fact that he is a Catholic clergyman who moved from the Jaffna Peninsula to Montreal in 1995 and has since become a leading spokesman for the LTTE in the global circuit.[39]

The full significance of this practice requires elaboration for those unfamiliar with Asian modes of worship. Central to such worship is the concept of darshan (also darsan): seeing a deity and being seen by the deity.[40] Any deity is immanent in his or her iconic form, be it statue in clay, terracotta, stone or wood; or calendar poster rendered iconic by the placement of lamp or candle in front of it. Thus, a dialogue of visual exchange is created and then confirmed through a worshipper’s bodily demeanor and actions. In this manner the sakti (essence, cosmic power) of a named deity is literally rendered magnetic and alive by the practices and offerings of a devotee. “Performing pūjā to gods … is said to make the images themselves grow or swell” (Mines 2005:150). At festivals to specific deities their sakti is literally stoked and enhanced by the rites and practices of a mass of worshippers guided by religious specialists.[41] In some festivals the deity is embodied by substance within a pot. Processions bearing the pot circumambulate a village as one step in the ritual process of nourishing the deity so that s/he will protect the village and ensure abundance in the year to follow (Tanaka 1991: 102-19; Mines 2005:30-46, 147-68). When, therefore, pots were deployed on 26 November 2004 to mark the figure 50 and greet Pirapāharan on his fiftieth birthday the symbolism of a divine power promoting bountifulness would not have been lost on Tamils (Figures 6 & 7).

vp fifty pongu FIG 6. Fifty pongu for Prabhkaran’s 50th birthday, 26 Nov 2004 – Pix from Puthinam

53- Pongu Thamil Geneva 2003 FIG 7. Pirapaharan float at Pongu Tamil gathering at Geneva, summer 2003 –Pix from TamilNet

VP homage 2005 FIG 8. Pirapaharan pays homage to the Black Tigers, 5 July 2005 —Pic from TamilNet

In negating their ego and offering their bodies-as-weapon to the Sri Lankan Tamil collective through the LTTE, Tiger fighters are, it seems, prone to see Pirapāharan as the embodiment of their cause, Eelam. Elite fighters are inducted into the ranks of the karuppulli, or Black Tigers, those ready to become human bombs (Figure 8). It is widely believed in the international circuit that individuals selected for specific suicide attacks have a meal with the talaivar and have a photograph taken together as comrades in arms.[42] Grapevine whispers indicate that this is not standard practice. But the LTTE has never discounted the theory because the tale has good propaganda value: what greater fame for Ye but to be likened unto Jesus Christ at the centre of a Last Supper! Likewise, in step with Gajaani’s adulation, for a Black Tiger warrior gifting his/her life as a smart bomb on a death-dealing mission to be thus ‘entwined’ with the the talaivar Karikālan[43]would be truly an apotheosis of self, for it would amount to a fusion of self with a god-become-man, with Ishvara himself.

** Since this essay was drafted in the year 2007 the present tense is used.  The essay was presented earlier in Colombo Telegraph, where readers will find a range of comments, perhaps including some from bloggers who disparage my work: see



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Roberts, Michael 1996 “Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide,” Contributions to Indian Sociology 30: 245-72.

Roberts, Michael 2005 “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict  & Terrorism 28: 493-514.

Roberts, Michael 2006 “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.

Roberts, Michael 2007 “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in  Conflict & Terrorism October 2007, 30: 857-88.

Roberts, Michael n. d. “Inspirations and Caste Threads in the Early LTTE,” unpubd Mss sent to a journal.

Sabaratnam, T. 2003 et seq Pirapaharan,, serialised book on web.

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Schalk, Peter 2003 “Beyond Hindu Festivals: The Celebration of Great Heroes’ Day by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Europe,” inMartin Baumann et al. (eds.) Tempel und Tamilien in Zweiter Heimat, Wurzburg: Ergon Verlag, pp. 391-411.

Settar, S. 1982 “Memorial Stones in South India,” in S. Settar &G. D. Sontheimer (eds.) Memorial Stones, Dharwad: Institute of Indian Art History, pp. 183-97.

Sivaram, D. 1992 “Tamil Militarism,” Lanka Guardian, 1 May 1992 et seq. in 11 parts.

Tanaka, Masakazu 1991 Patrons, Devotees and Goddesses. Ritual and Power among the Tamil Fishermen of Sri Lanka, Kyoto: Institute of Research in Humanities, Kyoto University.

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                               ****                    NOTES         *****

[1] The coincidental significance of Ram in the life interests of both killer and victim is worthy of a fictional novel. For information on Godse and his thinking, see and wiki/Nathuram_Godse.

[2]Jaffrelot’s emphasis on several ideological currents motivating Godse and the Chitpavan Brahmins (and others) of the fundamentalist right-wing is a counterpoint to Nandy’s emphasis on the “warrior culture” of the Chitpavan Brahmins that is said to be the basis for Godse’s thinking (1980).

[3] From Note: “Ethnic Hindus looked upon [Gandhi] as an impediment of (sic) their plan to revenge the atrocities on Hindus. Godse was a child of this extremist thinking” (Chunibhai Vaidya, “Assassination of Gandhi — The Facts Behind,” in in RTz

[4] Godse and Narayan Apte (the mastermind of the previous attempt at assassination) were sentenced to death and hanged on 15 January 1949. Both “went to the scaffold proclaiming ‘Long live Undivided India!’ with a copy of the Bhagavad Gīta in hand” (Jaffrelot 2003:314). Gopal Godse, Nathuram’s elder brother, was one of four others sentenced for life. Released on parole in 1967 he expressed no regrets and indicated that he fully expected to be executed himself (

[5]For other sharp criticisms in Godse’s own words, see Jaffrelot 2003: 311.

[6] “The audience was visibly and audibly moved. … I have … no doubt that had the audience on that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse’s appeal, they would have brought in a verdict of ‘not guilty’ by an overwhelming majority,” said Justice Gopal Das Khosla (From review of Koenraad Elst, Gandhi and Godse: A Review and a Critique in no25334.htm).

[7] The standard definition of suicide missions, or SMs, refers to “a violent attack designed in such a way as to make the death of the perpetrators strictly essential for its success” (Gambetta 2006: vi). Insofar as the act of bearing witness is often a central dimension of suicidal operations of a political kind, there is a strong case for extending this definition to embrace protest suicides (self-immolation and fasting-unto-death) as well as no-escape assassinations.

[8] Interview with S. Visahan in London, 27 February 2007. Visahan was at Jaffna Hindu College in the mid-1960s in the pre-SSC class with Sivakumāran.

[9] Details re Sivakumāran from Narayan Swamy 1994:29, Roberts 1996:252-54 and T. Sabaratnam 2003, vol. 1: chap. 7, “The Cyanide Suicide.” I also received information about events on the day of the last rites from the poet Jayapālan.

[10]This poster bears the captions “Do and Die, Die” and “Heroic Glorious Son of Eelam Tamil Land.”

[11] On S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Vadukoddai Resolution of May 1976, see Wilson 1994 and 2000.

[12]I am indebted to S. Visahan of the Tamil Information Centre in London for photo copies of these posters. They were produced by the proprietor of a photo studio known as Kalaignaani, partly as a business venture, though the owner was also an ardent supporter of the Federal Party.

[13]Initially women were only part of the support network, but from circa 1985, the LTTE recruited women on a significant scale – so much so that roughly one-fourth of their fallen are women. By 1990, and probably earlier, the women were trained in separate camps under female commanders. They were expected to perform in the same manner as the men (interview in London with Sita, an ex-fighter, 3 March 2007). Also see O’Duffy 2007:269-70 and Schalk 1997:70-73.

[14]See National Geographic, 1979:139 for Raghubir Singh’s picture of the statue after it had been knocked down by the army.

[15]For details in this paragraph, see T. Sabaratnam 2003: passim and Schalk 1997 & 2003.

[16] These included the two regional commanders, Kumārappa and Pulendran, in October 1987; and No. 3 in the hierarchy, Kittu, in January 1993. Sivarāsan, who was operational commander for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, also committed suicide when trapped in Bangalore (mid-1991). Grapevine tales indicate that Rahīm, one of the bilingual middle-level officers of the mid-1980s, was eased out of the LTTE because he did not bite the kuppi when he should have.

[17]On arppaNippu, see Schalk 1997: 66, 69 & Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005:123. It also takes the form ArppaNam, with both meaning “the performance of dedication as well as that which is dedicated” (email note from S. V. Kasynathan, 30 March 2007).

[18] Shankar = Selvasinthiran Sathiyanāthan of Kambarmalai; Seelan = Charles Anthony of Trincomalee and Sellakili = Selvanāyagam of Kalriyānkadu. Re the ambush of army patrol at Tirunelvely on 23 July 1983, see T. Sabaratnam 2003, vol 1, chap 37. This incident triggered a pogrom against Tamils and Indians living in the south-central parts of Sri Lanka and in turn exponentially strengthened the hand of all the militant armed groups.

[19]Jeyaraj 2007; T. Sabaratnam 2003, vol 1, chaps. 31 & 37; Schalk 2003:400-01 and Narayan Swamy 2003:77-78.

[20]Information (meeting in London, late Feb. 2007) from Sayilakumāri, sister of Radhā, a charismatic officer-class fighter who was shot by a sniper in battle on 20 May 1987; and Hoole et al 1992:110.

[21] Hart 1999:233 and Thaninayagam 1966.

[22] The LTTE does not bury the remains of a person, but conceive their mortuary action to be a “planting” and speak of the bodies as vitai (seeds) and viththudal (bodies that become seeds)that will soak into the soil and fructify as ash (, 6 July 1999; Schalk 1997:79; Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005:123-24, 138, 141). Viththudal is the combination of two words: viththu (where the th represent the t with dot underneath when diacritica is available) and udal (meaning “body”). I have been assisted here by S. V. Kasynathan in correcting a misprint in Hellmann-Rajanayagam’s article.

[23]Schalk 2003:404. He adds: “what exactly rises? One supporter told me that a (collective) amma ‘soul’ of the members of the movement rises. His view is not sanctioned by the LTTE, but it is not rejected either.”

[24]Email note from Rick Weiss in Auckland, 20 Feb. 2007.

[25] Information conveyed by S. V. Kasynathan in Melbourne (email notes, 20 Feb. 2007) using the Madras University Lexicon (1982 edn.) and adding his own elaborations. Note the semantic overlap with the concepts pongu and ponkal.

[26]Two Tamil friends in India assured me that cremation was the generalized practice, but David Mosse and S. Nataraja of the BBC insisted that there were some who buried their dead. While Sivarām (26 Oct. 2004) insisted that burial was the standard practice in the Eastern Province, Mark Whitaker found both types of last rites in Mandur locality in the 1980s (email note, 4 April 2007). However, cremation is said to have been widespread in the Jaffna Peninsula in the third quarter of the twentieth century and gaining in popularity even among the depressed castes (information from K. Sivathamby). As a large proportion of the fallen in the 1980s are likely to have been persons from the Peninsula, it is that context which is most significant in evaluating the implications of this change.

[27] The phrase is from Susan Bayly (1989: 27ff). Also see Rajam 2000; Settar 1982; David Mosse 1994: 301-32 and Mines 2005: 133.

[28] Schalk 2003: 403 and Chandrakanathan 2000:164.

[29] Schalk 2003: 402, with his own translation superseding the official LTTE version in English. The reference to Maravar is to one of the castes in the southern parts of Tamilnadu, one with a tradition of being mercenary soldiers and a reputation for toughness. Folklore among Sri Lankan Tamils suggests that some Maravar lineages served the kings of Yālppānam, but became absorbed over time into the Vellalar and Karaiyar castes (see Sivaram, Lanka Guardian, 15 May, 1 June and 1 July 1992).

[30] Schalk 1997: 67-68, also pp. 66, 80; Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005:123-24 and information conveyed by Rajesh Venugopal of Oxford (October 2004) as well as Sri Lankan Tamil informants.

[31] The concept tyagi was widely deployed in describing the militant Indian freedom fighters of the anti-British struggle and was loosely rendered as “martyr.” However, note that in south western India indigenes interacted with Syrian Christians for centuries before the advent of European missionaries. In early modern times the terms used to translate the Christian concept of “martyr” in Malayālam and Tamil respectively were rakthasakshikal and irattacātci, both meaning “blood testimony” (Mosse 1994:308 and email communications from Susan Bayly and Geoff Oddie). Irattacātci appears to have given rise to the shorten form cātci (witness) as the translation for “martyr.”

[32] Cf. the story of soldiering under the Japanese military regimes of the first half of the 20th century: “Whereas German soldiers were told to kill, Japanese soldiers were told to die” (E. Ohnuki-Tierney 2006: 4, emphasis hers).

[33]The word talaivar translates as “leader,” and thus carries the sense Fǖhrer in the standard German meaning before it was contaminated by Hitler. In some contexts it could also mean “hero” (Trawick 1990: 26, 30).

[34]K. Sivathamby considers this one of Pirapāharan’s greatest perorations (personal communication).

[35] Gajaani 2005 or

[36] Ranga Jayasuriya, “Military gains which went obscure,” Sunday Observer, 29 Oct. 2006.

[37] Ishvara is not a mere god, but “that entity or the Supreme Being which is the lord and the ruler of everything,” (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

[38] Chandrakanthan 2000:164-65. Also see Hellmann-Rajanayagam 2005:139, 144

[39]He was one of the chairs at a Workshop in Zurich organised by Geneva Call (who lobby for the ban on land mines) in mid-April 2006. I had turned up a day earlier and had circulated a flier advertising my pamphlet on Narrating Tamil Nationalism, a flier designed for market purposes that referred to Chandrakanthan’s chapter within A. J. Wilson’s book as “a paen of praise” for the LTTE leader. When a gentleman in a dog collar accosted me at the buffet line, I was taken by surprise till I saw his name tag. Subsequently, I worked out that he had seen the flier and not the article—where, in fact, I stress that his evidence on this issue is empirical data of great significance. It was Chandrakanthan’s eulogistic tone and the sins of omission in his chapter that had drawn sharp criticism not the empirical facts on this point.

[40]See Eck 1981; Mines 2005:30, 50, 220 and Fuller 1992:59-62, 220-21. Note, too, the related concept of pārvai, referring to the [sought-after] “eyeflow” of the divine being (Mines 2005:131, 156), a feature that emphasizes the qualities of transmission and transitivity residing in deities.

[41]For vivid illustrations, see Tanaka 1991; Bastin 2002 and Mines 2005:35-36, 147-68.

[42]Schalk 1997: 396 and repeated elsewhere by Roberts 2005: 497 as well as scholars engaged in general surveys of suicide attacks. This ‘fact’ must now be brought under review. Only those at the heart of the LTTE can resolve this issue.

[43] Karikālan is the name of the military leader and founder of the Cōla Empire and the one and only code name adopted by Pirapāharan (Sivaram, “Tamil Militarism,” Part 8, Lanka Guardian, 1 Sept. 1992).





Filed under cultural transmission, heritage, Hinduism, historical interpretation, Indian religions, Indian traditions, life stories, LTTE, martyrdom, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, religiosity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, suicide bombing, Tamil civilians, Tamil Tiger fighters, unusual people, world events & processes, zealotry

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