In 1815, in completing their conquest of Ceylon, the British deposed, captured and exiled the last king of Kandy, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, banishing the king, members of his family and servants to Vellore, India, where he spent the remainder of his life. I am currently doing research on the circumstances of the king’s deposition and exile, the fate of the former sovereign and his entourage in exile, and the place of the king and the Kandyan dynasty in Sri Lankan memory, history-writing and commemoration. Of interest, too, is the exile of leaders of the 1817-1818 resistance movement against the British to Mauritius.
This article was printed initially in the Lanka Monthly Digest, Special Millennium Issue, 27 January 2000.
In sending a letter to John D’Oyly as the British representative on 29 June 1812 on behalf of the King of Trisinhalaya (the Kingdom of Kandy) Pusvälla Rālahāmy began thus: “From the great King Vijaya born of noble exceeding pure race of the sun.” This was a conventional feature in several Kandyan letters of the time. That is several letters began with a reference to Vijaya. Conscious as he was of history, it was Junius Richard Jayewardene’s practice to refer to himself as the umpteenth head of state, the count including Vijaya as Number One in the line and, in effect, founding father. This was part of a manipulation of supposed history towards Jayewardene’s own ends. But such usages also raised the honour of the Sri Lankan state in general and the Sinhala people in particular. It placed a premium on antiquity. When Chandrika Kumaratunga, speaking in South Africa referred to the Sinhala people as “the original inhabitants” of the island she was also placing a value on time and emphasizing the strengths of the Sinhala claims to the island in, say, roughly similar ways to the value that Jews place on Palestine.
Preamble: Journals use Abstracts in order to provide readers with a distillation of the argument in an article. Where theoretical concepts are deployed, this presupposes that readers have some familiarity with the literature. Faced with the summary below, some readers of transcurrents may rush to the conclusion that this essay is featured by abstruse and esoteric nonsense.
After all, what does “transvaluation” connote? I derived the concept from SJ Tambiah’s Levelling Crowds. I understand it to refer to the re-working and transformation of pre-existing ideas and/or practices in meaningful ways that carry weight; and thereby sustain both continuity and change within the specified cultural/political arena. This is my interpretation of the term and it may well be challenged or refined by other scholars versed in the anthropological literature.
Having identified a problem area via one illustration, let me stress that this article is not replete with such academic terminology. It is mostly filled with empirical detail about the LTTE’s killing operation. This attention to detail encompasses cultural specifics.
Many of these particulars will be meaningful to those familiar with the Hindu faith and its devotional activity. Those nominally “Hindu” and all those from other faiths who are adamantly secular and/or materialist in orientation may be puzzled by the weight I attach to these specifics. Hopefully, this emphasis will pose a challenge to their mode of thinking.
Finally, let me stress that my essay expressly notes that it is presenting “a speculative argument that cannot be empirically substantiated” (p. 29 of full article). This may come as a shock to those readers, such as the blogger “Belle” commenting on one of my articles in http://www.groundviews.org recently, who seem to think that the social sciences should not indulge in surmise. Such a perception seems to believe that the world of scholarship should only deal with “facts” and definitive conclusions of the sort demonstrated in laboratories. This is a rigid schoolmaster’s view of the humanities or what, in academic jargon, will be read as a “positivist” form of thinking.
Dhanu & Sivarasan wait with Kokilavani on right
Kokilavani reads poem, while Dhanu –head in foreground–awaits her moment
Set within the context of the Sri Lankan Tamils’ liberation war dominated by the LTTE, this article clarifies the motivations behind Pirapāharan’s decision to eliminate Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 in order to pre-empt his election as Prime Minister. The details on the LTTE’s intricate killing operation under operational commander Sivarāsan sets the scene for a focus on facets of the attire adopted by suicide bomber Dhanu. Saffron-green outfit, kanagambaram in hair and sandalwood-pellet garland may have been directed by pragmatic reasoning. But circumstantial contentions also point towards cosmic reasoning. Taken together with the kill team’s preceding supplications to the god Ganapathi at a temple in Chennai, these indications suggest that Dhanu’s explosive transformation into ash was geared towards a transvaluation of self in the cycle of rebirth. Information on Hindu practices taken from the researches of Mines, Fuller and Tanaka amplify the significance of the details deployed during this operation as supplements to plastic explosives, ball-bearings and suicide vest.
transvaluation; enchantment; assassins; Hindu substances; Tantric encirclement
Courtesy of http://www.transcurrents.com. This essay was first drafted on 23 Dec. 2009, as a sequel to the short note on “The Eelam Struggle,Tamil Tigers and Their Commemoration of Māvīrar (Great Heroes)”under the thuppahi cover.
The photographic images that have been deployed on web in my essay on “The Tamil Tigers and Their Practices of Homage” (httt://thuppahiwordpress.com) as well as a host of less accessible academic articles convey the importance placed on the commemoration of the fallen by Pirapāharan and the Tiger leadership. The institutionalisation of mortuary rites of burial for their fallen from circa 1989 – in a radical move away from the cremation for those of Saivite faith[i] – was a way of sustaining meaningful bonding between Tiger personnel and those who had sacrificed their lives for the cause of Eelam.[ii]
Michael Robertson the Eelam Struggle, Tamil Tigers and Their Commemoration of Maaveerar (Great Heroes)
In response to a request from two friends I post a list of my academic writings on this subject for the benefit of those with the capacity to access such resources and the patience to read long essays.
Photo kindly provided by Ravindiran Vaitheespara of Canada.
Bodies that Fight On
This icon was built in 2004 and commemorates the Tigers who fell in recapturing the Kilinochchi locality from the Sri Lankan army a few years previously. The title is my invention and is intended to capture the sense of empowerment and defiance embodied by its signs, notably the black power symbol with gun. Note however that, in a fusion of ‘tradition’ with modernity, this icon is encircled by the karthigapoo or glory lily (the LTTE’s emblematic flower) in the manner of a Hindu rite of ārati. Vaitheespara remarked that it conveyed the idea of a ‘resurrection,’ a perceptive reading that is supported by one of the themes – that of renewal and regeneration — coursing thorough LTTE poetry studied by Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam (South Asia 2005).
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.