These three images adorn the cover of little notebooks, each 4 inches in height and 2.7 inches breadth, in my possession. They were purchased by me at Kilinochchi on 27th November 2004 when I visited the administrative capital of the state of Thamilīlam during the ceasefire. The tale is recounted below as entry-point to a portrait of the LTTE’s remarkable innovations.
It was around 2004 that I shifted my focus from the study of Sinhala nationalism and began to focus on a specific dimension of Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism embodied within the LTTE, namely the devotion to the cause of Eelam taken to the point of turning oneself into a precision weapon – the suicide bomber and/or assassin. I had already touched on this phenomenon in an essay presented in 1996 as “Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide” (in Contributions to Indian Sociology, 30: 245-72). That article was an incidental offshoot of work on communal violence in Sri Lanka and India – an offshoot stimulated by my discovery that a few Tamil citizens in southern India had committed sympathetic suicide in grief in 1984 when they heard of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination (where no northern Indian citizens were reported to have taken such an extreme course).
Parenthetically, let me stress that I have never followed Western scholars (for e.g. Robert Pape 2003) in demeaning the phenomenon by framing it within the rubric of the concept “suicide terrorism.” I have consistently placed the action within the concept of “sacrificial devotion to cause” and even organised an international workshop on the topic at the University of Adelaide. – an event that led me and Daniel Nourry to set up a web page entitled “Sacrificial Devotion, Virulent Politics” (see https://sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/).
That concept does not reject the fact that some suicidal actions by the LTTE operatives have been terrorist acts targeting civilians or civilian establishments; but it also enables one to take note of their readiness to turn themselves into low cost precision weapons hitting military targets in kamikaze style. In this dedication to their cause the Tiger personnel were abiding by motivations that were not very different from those guiding several operations by commando forces, spies and airmen attached to the Allied forces in World War Two where those involved knew their chances of survival were next to nil.
The gift and receipt of the kuppi marks the final moment of induction for trained fighters –BBC video documentary 1991 or so
The fruition of this shift in research focus, however, was not in train when I embarked for the Jaffna Peninsula by plane in November 2004 – literally on a wing and a prayer without prior arrangements. My inadequacies as an ethnographer were deepened by my technological shortcomings and the reliance on an old camera that broke down after I had taken 36 shots.
As soon as I landed, I headed for the University of Jaffna where some staff in the Department of History recognized me in friendly fashion. There and then I was prompted to visit AJ Canagaratnam – a scholar and teacher who had been an undergraduate and my senior at Ramanathan Hall at Peradeniya in the year 1957/58. AJ was in retirement and was residing with the Krishnakumar family. The latter helped me secure a room in a cheap guest house near the campus, while providing me with invaluable services (and the continuing friendship) of their eldest son, Chenthan – then a senior medical student at the university.
Chenthan was my guide and interpreter when I visited the tuyilam illam at Kopay and Vadamaratchi in a hired three-wheeler, with the latter trip enabling me to take in the scenario at VVT (Pirapāharan’s home town and a centre of initial LTTE activities). Though under GSL rule, the Jaffna Peninsula was permeated – one could even say “swamped and awash” – with the mourning celebrations associated with Māveerar Nāl, where the patriotism of the Tiger heroes, the māveerar, is marked, mourned and celebrated.
Though the Tigers had deployed the bodies of their dead (by displays on peripatetic vans with appropriate fanfare) as a means of whipping up support from early days in their insurgency, the institution of Māveerar Nāl as a formal day of mourning that is tinged with celebratory commitment only commenced in late 1989 – as DBS Jeyaraj has clarified (2006). It involved a radical step: sidelining the standard Hindu practice of cremation and stressing the symbolic burial of their martyr/hero dead (Roberts 2005).
Such radical innovations have been part of the LTTE’s history and among the critical foundations for their success in warfare and state formation till they overreached themselves in the late 2000s. In overview, their ability to oust the other Tamil militant organisations in the 1980s and to take on both the government of Sri Lanka and the IPKF (1987-89) was founded on several major factors – factors that reveal the innovative genius, organisational capacity and ruthlessness of Talaivar Pirapāharan and his senior advisors.
Let me list these in point-form:
- The ability to organize the import of arms and ammunition from foreign sources from 1984, thereby loosening their initial dependence on the Indian government and its intelligence arm, RAW.
- Comprehending the crucial importance of sea communications and logistics; and the choice of a trusted and super-efficient lieutenant, KP Pathmanathan, as the head of this supporting arm.
- The development of the Sea Tigers as a brown water force that has been unmatched in the history of world insurgencies because of their underwater stealth capacities, innovative speed-boats, swarm attacks and continuous success in debilitating the SL Navy till the latter learnt how to defeat the LTTE at its own game during Eelam War IV.
- The insistence from the outset that the Tiger fighters must commit themselves to die for their cause and therefore carry a kuppi (capsule) with cyanide which they had to bite (yes, bite, not swallow) if ever under threat of capture. This was a precautionary defensive tool – but it embodied the sacrificial notion of uyirayutham (gifting of one’s life for cause) in a manner that secured great admiration among the Tamil people and thereby gave the LTTE an edge over the other militant organisations in the competition for recruits and public sympathy.
- Pirapāharan’s extreme and efficient ruthlessness in eliminating dissentient voices within the LTTE hierarchy and the organisation’s superior ruthlessness in eliminating the other Eelamist groups between 1985 and 1991.
My media connections enabled me to hire a van and head for Kilinochchi early on Friday 26th November in the company of two Canadian Tamils whom I had befriended in Colombo. We were treated to a breakfast at one of the LTTE buildings and then attended an official ceremony marking the opening of a media centre. Thamil Chelvam was the chief speaker at this official function, while Thiru Master, DP Sivaram and a Christian priest were among those who addressed the audience. The speeches were in Tamil and not within my grasp. I kept a low profile and ‘savoured’ the moment.
Both Ravi (one of the Canadians) and I lodged at one of the guesthouses in Kilinochchi town. By happenchance another lodger was the late Joe Ariyaratnam, a Trinitian from Jaffna town who was reporting for Reuters in those years. Some of the information he provided during chats was invaluable. We stayed in Kili for three nights. The piece de resistance of this visit, of course, was participant observation at the Māveerar Nāl homage ceremony at the main tuyilam illam south of Kilinochchi on Saturday the 27th November – involving a huge gathering of people and meticulous organization.
Pertinent descriptions of this event and my readings of the Tamil Tiger devotion to cause have been presented elsewhere in research articles – essays that underline the degree to which the mass of Tamil people in the Northern Vanni and the Peninsula revealed their deep attachment to Eelam. What is pertinent to this present essay is one little outcome: the three notebooks I purchased at one of the shops in Kili town. Notebooks that fit into a shirt-front pocket have been essential tools in my trade for years. I have countless such. But these three are special because they depict and embody the LTTE Supremo, the Talaivar as the Tamils saw (see) him.
In their own way, the notebooks, with Pirapāharan imprinted up front, witness the reach and capacity of the LTTE machinery. From way back the LTTE revealed a remarkable ability to present their cause effectively within Sri Lanka as well as abroad. They utilized a wide variety of propaganda tools, including videos of military operations taken by two-person teams of “Truth Tigers.” The Maaveerar Nal ceremonies every 27th November, whether in Sri Lanka, or the cities of the Tamil diaspora in many parts of the world, were a the ‘heavy end’ of this type of propaganda work. The little notebooks are at the tiny end.
This set of images is imprinted on the back cover of one of the Notebooks. From top left anti-clockwise we see Sivakumāran, Shankar, Annai Pupathi, Mālathi, Miller and Thilīpan. Sivakumāran was not of the LTTE; but has been adopted into their ranks because of his “exemplary death.” Malathi, from a Catholic Karaiyar family, was the first female fighter to commit defensive suicide. Because they served the LTTE and Tamil cause through their protest fasts-unto-death, Thilīpan (thileepan) and Annai Pupathi are sometimes referred to as “tiyaki” rather than “māvīrar.” For Pupathi, also see Figs. 12a & b in Roberts, Fire and Storm, 2010, including her encasement in a lotus symbol – thus in effect indicative of an ārati, a ritual act which encompasses participants and protects them through a field of power/energy.
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Tanaka, Masakazu 1991 Patrons, devotees and goddesses. Ritual and power among the Tamil fishermen of Sri Lanka, Kyoto: Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University
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Roberts on Tamil Tiger Devotion to Cause
1996c “Filial Devotion and the Tiger Cult of Suicide,” Contributions to Indian Sociology, 30: 245-72.
2005 Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities & Issues, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, ISBN 955-1266-03-X … orig pubd in 2004 within South Asia, vol. 27…………………………………………………………………………………… ………………………. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1479027042000186441?journalCode=csas20
2005b “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 28: 493-514.
2005c “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 49: 67-93.
2006a “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis, 50: 73-102.
2006b “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.
2006c “Understanding Zealotry and Questions for Post-Orientalism, I” Lines May-August 2006, vol.5, 1 & 2, in http://www.lines-magazine.org. …. Reprinted in Celebrations: Fifty Years of Sri Lanka-Australia Interactions, ed. C. A. Van den Driesen and I. H. Van den Driesen (Colombo: GovernmentPress, 1999), 544–548.
2007b “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30: 857-88.
2007c “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Online publication within series known as Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP), ISSN: 1617-5069.
2008 “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, 24/3: 22-23.
2010 “Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture Vol 1, No. 1, pp.25-41.
2010 “Self-Annihilation for Political Cause: Cultural Premises in Tamil Tiger Selflessness,” in Roberts, Fire and Storm. Essays in Sri Lankan Politics. Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, pp. 161-201.
2011 “Death and Eternal Life: Contrasting Sensibilities in the Face of Corpses,” 29 June 2011, https://thuppahis.com/2011/06/29/death-and-eternal-life-contrasting-sensibilities-in-the-face-of-corpses/
2012 “Velupillai Pirapaharan: VEERA MARANAM,” 26 November 2012, https://thuppahis.com/2012/11/26/velupillai-pirapaharan-veera-maranam.
2014 “Where In-fighting generates Fervour & Power. ISIS Today, LTTE Yesterday,” 21 July 2014, https://thuppahis.com/2014/07/21/where-in-fighting-generates-fervour-power-isis-today-ltte-yesterda/
2014 “From Godse and Gandhi to the Selfless Sacrifice of Tamil Tigers,” 13 June 2014, https://thuppahis.com/2014/06/13/from-godse-and-gandhi-to-the-selfless-sacrifice-of-tamil-tigers/
2014 “Encompassing Empowerment in Ritual, War & Assassination: Tantric Principles in Tamil Tiger Instrumentalities,” Social Analysis, 2014, 58: 88-106.
2014 “The Induction Oath of Tamil Tiger Fighters at their Passing-Out Ceremony,” 23 June 2014 https://thuppahis.com/2014/06/23/the-induction-oath-of-tamil-tiger-fighters-at-their-passing-out-ceremony/
2015 “Farrer and Roberts discuss War Magic and the Sacrificial Devotion of the Tamil Tigers,” 23 December 2015, https://thuppahis.com/2015/12/23/farrer-and-roberts-discuss-war-magic-and-the-sacrificial-devotion-of-tamil-tigers/
Roberts on Ceylonese Nationalism and Sinhala Nationalism
1979 “Meanderings in the pathways of collective identity and nationalism,” in M. Roberts (ed.) Collective identities, nationalisms and protest in modern Sri Lanka, Colombo: Marga Publications, pp.1-90.
1978 “Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese perspectives: barriers to accommodation’, Modern Asian Studies 12: 353-76.
1989 “A tale of resistance: The story of the arrival of the Portuguese,” Ethnos 54: 69-82.
1989 “The political antecedents of the revivalist elite within the MEP Coalition of 1956,” in K.W. Goonewardena felicitation volume, ed. by C. R. de Silva & Sirima Kiribamune, Peradeniya University, pp. 185-220.
1993 “Nationalism, the past and the present: the case of Sri Lanka,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 16: 133-66.
1997 “Stimulants and ingredients in the awakening of latter-day nationalism,” In M. Roberts, ed., Sri Lanka: Collective identities revisited, Vol. 1, Colombo: Marga Institute. pp. 267-92.
1997 “For humanity. For the Sinhalese. Dharmapala as crusading bosat,” Journal of Asian Studies 56: 1006-32.
2000 “Lanka without Vijaya: Towards the new millennium,” Lanka Monthly Digest, 6 January 2000, 6: 27.
2000 “History as dynamite,” Island millennium 2000 issue, Also in Pravâda 6: 11-13.
2000 “Sinhala-ness and Sinhala nationalism,” in G. Gunatilleke et al., (eds), Towards ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka – Marga Monograph series
2000 “The burden of history: obstacles to power sharing in Sri Lanka,” Contributions to Indian Sociology, n. s., May 2001, 35: 65-96.
2003 “Language and National Identity: The Sinhalese and Others over the Centuries,” Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 9/2: 75–102
 The LTTE regime was treated as a state with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments in late February 2002 and then at the international media event at Kilinochchi on 10th April 2002 (see Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, 2014: Fig 61a, b & c). This positioning was further consolidated by the reception of LTTE and TRO delegations abroad. However, the Tiger command cunningly resorted to a strategy wherein Thamililam could pursue its objectives like an insurgent state wherever convenient without abiding by ‘standard’ state obligations.
 By 2004 I had retired from teaching duties at Adelaide University and my magnum opus on Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period (Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2004) was in press. My various articles on Sinhala ideology in modern times can be found in the separate Bibliography below.
 Hence my criticisms of such scholars as Robert Pape for their wholly instrumentalist reasoning in attempts to comprehend the LTTE policies, deepened further by poor empirical grounding and the failure to attend to the defensive reasoning which guided the initial suicidal actions namely avoiding capture (see Roberts, Blunders in Tigerland,” 2007)
 This gathering included such personnel as Riaz Hassan, Clive Williams, Daya Somasundaram, Shyam Tekwani, Carl Thayer and Rohan Bastin.
 One of the postgraduate students from Sydney who attended the Workshop in Adelaide.
 I stress here that as a youngster at St Aloysius College I immersed myself in the London Illustrated News pictorials on the war and in story books and films on World War II.
 Several of these images embellish the articles I have written on the topic. I consider such aids vital to understanding.
 The friendship with the Krishnakumars has persisted to this day and I stayed with Chenthan (now married) in Vavuniya on my way to Jaffna in 2011and also dropped in on the Krishnakumars.
 Though outsiders may regard the tuyilam illam as “cemeteries,” the SL Tamil people regard them as “holy places” and “temples” (see Natali 2008; Roberts, Narrating, 2005 and Roberts 2006:73-74 and www.tamilnet.com, 27 November 1998).
 See my three articles for elaboration in association with some images (“Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’,” 2005; “Saivite Symbolism,” 2005; and “Pragmatic Action,” 2006.
 Little is known about the inner dynamics of the LTTE in the 1970s and early 1980s. In express conjecture, I wonder if Baby Subramanium was a significant advisor in Prabhakaran’s circle throughout. I further ask if we must attend to the possible influence of Raghavan (till 1983), Ponnamman and Thileepan (mid-1980s) KP Pathmanathan (from 1980s) and the sounding board provided by select members of the Jaffna intelligentsia. While Tamil friends from that era have cautioned me I present this conjecture in order to spark inquiry. KP and Raghavan would be good starting points.
 On the considerable resourcefulness and the innovative actions of the SL Navy during the period 2005-08, see Chandraprema 212: 361-73. Note that eight LTTE warehouse ships were sunk in the high seas between 17 September 2006 and 7 October 2007 (Mendis 2013 and Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, 2014, pp.112-13).
 See Roberts, “Pragmatic Action’ 2006b: 75.
 All the groups were ruthless, but the LTTE was more thorough-going in it severity and better armed for the tasks of eliminating or freezing out the other organisations.
 This involved the negotiation of a GSL and then a LTTE checkpoint at the border north of Elephant Pass. Special forms were not required. Countless civilians and trades were travelling from the south through thamililam to the Jaffna Peninsula.
 See my three articles for elaboration in association with some images (“Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’,” 2005; “Saivite Symbolism,” 2005; and “Pragmatic Action,” 2006.
 See Roberts, 2005; 2006a and 2006b.
 They have been fully used as my notebooks over the next few years – but the historical value is in the images and the intent of the Tiger marketing arm.
 ABC, “Truth Tigers,” 15 May 2002 and Roberts, “Pragmatic Action,” 2006a: 82.