Final Passage for McGuinness and Prabhākaran: Sharply Contrasting

Michael Roberts

 The ‘final’ journeys on this our earth for Martin McGuinness and Velupillai Pirapāharan have been sharply different: McGuinness’ mortal remains were borne in March 2017 by his very own with a massive crowd of IRA and other Irish around; Pirapāharan’s in May 2009 was borne by his deadly enemies with no Tamils present…. and, definitely, no Tamil Tiger fighters.

Both were leaders of separatist movements, McGuiness and the Sinn Fein challenging Great Britain and the English in particular; and Pirapāharan and the LTTE challenging Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese in particular. Pirapāharan’s endeavour has not borne fruit (thus far …). McGuiness ‘s endeavour has borne worthwhile political fruit and his compatriot pallbearers surely moved with political satisfaction, albeit sadly.

So, the contrast is sharp and sensational: the juxtaposed images are an outstanding media product.

Pirapāharan’s Last Stand in Mangrove and Swamp

There was controversy around the circumstances of his demise. From his ‘lair’ in Canada, DBS Jeyaraj had reported on the ongoing battles with more details than many reporters in Sri Lanka could muster[1] and he declared that “Prabhakaran fought to the end and then shot himself on 18th [May and the] Army recovered [his] body hours later on [the] 19th.”[2]  For all his certitude, Jeyaraj was comprehensively wrong. David Blacker[3] deployed his military expertise to indicate that a self-inflicted wound could not have left the scars that were deeply etched on Pirapāharan’s forehead. The gaping wounds reveal that he was hit by a bullet “traveling diagonally across VP’s skull, probably from left forehead to right rear of skull – [a bullet that was part of] either a rifle round, or a rifle-calibre round” (David Blacker, email to Roberts, 14 February 2012).[4] Blacker emailed Jeyaraj directly and asked him to respond to his contentions. No response has been received to this day.[5] So, the picture of heroic self-sacrifice by own hand is fiction.

But there is no doubt that Pirapāharan was not ready to surrender and that he was seeking to break through the SL Army cordons in order to reach the Mullaitivu jungle and sustain his goals somehow. But the Army encirclement was several layers deep and the swampy mangrove terrain was both helpful and recalcitrant towards this endeavour. Two months later HLD Mahindapala used his high-level contacts[6] to visit the Nandikadal Lagoon locality with the Army units of the 58th Division which had engaged in the final battles in this arena.  He presented a detailed account of the final firefights in this arena on the night of the 18th May and 19th morning. It was after Tamil Tiger resistance had been silenced and a body search was carried out that Pirapāharan’s body was discovered. Major-General Kamal Gunaratne’s recent book confirms the thrust of this story in intricate detail; while also presenting pictures of the troops involved and the character of the terrain where ‘General Pirapāharan’ made his last stand.[7]

The key point for our purposes is what most soldiers will tell you: more often than not, one sprays a round at vague figures of the enemy way in front of you. Allowing for the exception posed by the insidious work of trained snipers using telescopic sights,[8] a frontline soldier  has the luxury of identifying an officer or X and Y to target only on a few occasions. Alas, the Western world is dominated by journalists and intellectuals who have no experience in jungle warfare (or any form of warfare).

They have also been subsumed by a propaganda machine cultivated over the years by the LTTE and augmented by migrant Tamils with bitter experiences of the 1983 pogrom — individuals who intervene actively in conversations in the West without Tiger prompting.

It seems that Mahindapala’s detailed account in 2009 has been effectively blotted out. In an extended book review in the prestigious London Review of Books, Thomas Meaney speaks with a certainty that brooks no doubt: “At the Nanthikadal lagoon, in the far north-east, Prabhakaran was captured and killed. Photos of his execution and a gruesome video were widely disseminated.” Since no documentation is deployed in these types of powerful media outlets, we have no means of checking Meaney’s conclusions. World media chains simply drown out little figures in The Island and lesser-known web sites in that little island.

However, such disputes are, in some senses, immaterial. How and where Pirapāharan died is not of great moment now. The argument is beside the point because Pirapāharan is active now: as I contend below. And he will continue to be active in the near future and for centuries.

Denying Pirapāharan’s Demise

When the Sri Lankan Government (GSL) announced his Pirapāharan’s death, they displayed his corpse, with one striking scene where his body was shown in loin-cloth with his identity being confirmed by his former aides, Daya Master and Karuna Amman.

Many Tamils far and wide – Sri Lankan Tamils in the island, Sri Lankan Tamil migrants worldwide and Tamils of Indian nationality – refused to believe it. Several Tamils proclaimed him alive. If one trawls through blog web sites such as Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph one will find affirmations on these lines (and it is likely that web-sites controlled by Tamils and in Tamil will contain a plethora of assertions to this effect). Tony Donaldson informed me recently that “When [he] was living in Malaysia 2009 to 2015 many Tamils I knew refused to believe VP was dead and had all kinds of theories about how he had escaped and that he would one day make a comeback.”[9]

A rationalist’s disdain towards this type of conviction will miss the import of such denials. Pirapāharan was the epitome of Sri Lankan Tamilness and the goal of Thamilīlam. The refusal to believe in the fact of Pirapaharan’s death highlights the depth of commitment to Tamilness and Thamilīlam.

That was then in mid-2009. Now, years later, it is probable that these Sri Lankan Tamil patriots see Pirapāharan not only as a symbol of Thamilīlam, but also as a force from beyond our realm who will work forcefully towards the achievement of their political dream.

Pirapāharan is not dead

This is where my juxtaposition of the bodies McGuinness and Pirapāharan is misleading. Western Catholics may believe in the heavenly after life, but that experience is said to occur beyond this earthly realm. Asians, on the other hand, whether Saivite, Vaishnavite or Buddhist. believe in rebirth and karma. Those with good karma will be reborn in good form. Those with bad karma will re-emerge as frogs, worms and other lowly forms…. Just desserts so to speak.

So, Pirapāharan is now a god, a deity. As before, his visage remains vibrant in several Tamil minds and adorns shrines where food and drink (e. g, grapes, biscuits, fruit, cake, coca cola) are placed for his benefit. Thanks to Arun Ambalavanar[10] I can present an image from a Tamil web site where Pirapāharan is honoured on his birthday 26th November. It is a scene from 26 November 2012 –  yes 2012.

 Also see Roberts, Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo, 2014, p. 207.

Because several of the items presented to him are non-vegetarian, the gifts cannot be considered a prasādam.[11] But the point is clear-cut: in these Tamil eyes Pirapāharan is a force. With Pirapāharan as force, Thamililam remains an achievable goal.

Thus, in my surmise, the Tamil faithful today believe in Pirapāharan’s return and continuing ‘work’ in punishing form. In this reading he is now a punishing deity … or on the path to such a status. He will be an avenging figure in the manner Durga, Kāli, Kannagi. Those who have smiled at the sight of Pirapāharan’s corpse on that stretcher should read Diane Mines’ book Fierce Gods: Inequality, Ritual, and the Politics of Dignity in a South Indian Village (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 2005).

So, be aware! Beware!

***   ***


Bowker, John 1991 The Meaning of Death, Cambridge University Press.

Gunaratne, Maj-Genl Kamal 2016 Road to Nandikadal. The story of defeating Tamil Tigers,  Sharp Colombo: Graphic House for Vijitha Yapa Bookshop.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009a “Theepan of the LTTE: Heroic Saga of a Northern Warrior,” 4 April 2009,

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2009b “Anatomy of the LTTE Military Debacle at Aananthapuram,” Sunday Leader, 8 April 2012 —

 Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2012 “Sea Tiger commander Soosai’s wife Satyadevi speaks out,” 30 January 2012,

Mahindapala, H. L. D. 2009 “How Prabhakaran went down in Nanthi Kadal – the last battleground,” 10 July 2009,

Meaney, Thomas 2017 “A Review Article,” 10 February 2017,

Mines, Diane 2002 “The  Hindu Gods in a south Indian village,’” in Diane Mines & Sarah Lamb (eds.) Everyday Life in South Asia, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 236-48.

Mines, Diane 2002 Fierce Gods: Inequality, Ritual, and the Politics of Dignity in a South Indian Village (Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Narayan Swamy, M. R.2003 Inside an Elusive MindPrabhakaran, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Natali, Christiana 2008 “Building Cemeteries, Constructing Identities: Funerary Practices and Nationalist Discourse among the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka,” Contemporary South Asia 16: 287- 301.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko 2002 Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: the Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

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

Roberts, Michael 2005b “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 49:  67-93.

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

Roberts, Michael 2006 “Pragmatic Action and Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 50: 73-102.

Roberts, Michael  2011 “Death and Eternal Life: Contrasting Sensibilities in the Face of Corpses,” 29 June 2011,

Roberts, Michael 2012 “Velupillai Pirapaharan: Veera Maranam,” 26 November 2012,

Roberts, Michael 2012 “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler in Young Pirapāharan’s Thinking,” 30 February 2012

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, M. and Arthur Saniotis 2006 “Empowering the Body and Noble Death,” Social Analysis 50: 7-24.

Sax, William Bo 1992 “Pilgrimage Unto Death,” in James Veitch (ed.) To Strive And Not To Yield. Essays in Honour of Colin Brown, Victoria University of Wellington, pp. 200-12.

Schalk, Peter 1997a “Resistance and Martyrdom in the Process of State Formation of Tamililam,” in Joyce Pettigrew (ed.) Martyrdom and Political Resistance, Amsterdam: VU University Press, pp. 61-84.

Schalk, Peter 1997b “Historicization of the martial ideology of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”, South Asia 20: 35-72.      

Schalk, Peter 2003 “Beyond Hindu Festivals: The Celebration of Great Heroes’ Day by the LiberationTigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Europe,” in Martin Baumann et al. (eds.) Tempel und Tamilien in Zwe


[1] Jeyaraj was a journalist in Lanka before migrating and I recall the benefits I derived from his talk at the ICES circa 1986 on the Tamil militant groups. He has been subject to LTTE attacks in Canada and is by no means a Tiger parrot. One outstanding illustration can be found in his account of the LTTE debacle at Aanandapuram in early 2006 (Jeyaraj 2009a and 2009b). Jeyaraj must have been in regular touch with some senior LTTE personnel and perhaps also GSL sources to attain this level of detail.

[2] This note was in [not accessible now?] on the 26th November 2011 (see Roberts, “Veera Maranam,” 2012).

[3] Blacker is of mixed parentage, his mother Parames being Tamil. He fought with the Sinha Regiment of the SL Army in the 1990s before being invalided out. He has since sustained a career in advertising field while also writing novels and maintaining a web site known as The Blacklight Arrow. Further details can be found in

[4] See Roberts, “Veera Maranam,” 2011 for the full version of Blacker’s reasoning.

[5] Blacker to Roberts, email 24 5arch 2017.

[6] Though resident in Australia for quite a while, Mahindapala had been editor of a major Sri Lankan newspaper in the 1980s and would have high profile contacts. Though he may be viewed as Sinhala extremist in many quarters, it is the content of this particular essay that must be evaluated. Ad hominem dismissals are simply not kosher.

[7] See Kamal Gunaratne, Road to Nandikadal, 2016: 717-41.

[8] Snipers on both sides were critical elements during Eelam War IV. However, the terrain on the eastern shores of Nandikadal Lagoon during  the last stages of the fighting in mid-May was probably not conducive to that activity.

[9] Email note from Donaldson, 15 March 2017.

[10] Ambalavanar is a young Tamil poet with Left leanings who slipped out of Thamilīlam in the early 1990s and eventually moved to Sydney. He stood firm in attacking Niromi de Soysa’s duplicity in recent years.

[11] I am indebted to Arun Ambalavanar and Muttukrishna Sarvananthan for clarifying such matters. Also see

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, authoritarian regimes, citizen journalism, doctoring evidence, gordon weiss, historical interpretation, human rights, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, news fabrication, politIcal discourse, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, truth as casualty of war, war reportage, zealotry

Leave a Reply