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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 947

Giving Mahavamsa the measles

Dr. Mithra Fernando

It was Albert Einstein who said: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of the mankind.”

In Sri Lanka this “infantile disease” is linked with politicised religion. The resultant lethal blend has produced a malignant cancer which has been spreading. Except for a handful of hawkish profiteers who are getting well fed by the tentacles of the arms trade, overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans of all religions, ethnic and social backgrounds had enough of blood bath, suffering, loss of invaluable lives, loss of hope for a better future at least for the next generation.

Having had no hope to ensure a peaceful productive life in the foreseeable future Sri Lankans who can afford send their children abroad to study to ensure at least the next generations will live in peace.

Even if the war to be ended tomorrow Sri Lanka’s bad Karma would not stop there. Sri Lanka will continue to pay off her bad Karma-the debts of the arms purchases for many generations to come. Sri Lanka’s war budget was given a 45% increase this year and among other arms suppliers, UK will burden Sri Lanka with seven million pounds worth of arms in 2007. Added to this will be the mammoth task of ensuring employment for the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lanka’a armed forces serving in the frontline as well as in various support services, majority of whom would no longer be needed if the war stopped. The bills of disabilty pensions, widow pensions and other social welfare payments will be enormous and continuous. Large scale projects of rehabilitation, reconstruction works also will be required but if the culture of corruption, nepotism and political thuggery is not killed along with the war the costs of rehabilitation and reconstruction will blow up. As usual it would be necessary to “look after” the “political loyalists” as they are the ones with real power to make or break a government.

In spite of all the gigantic tasks associated with the hypothetical post-war scenario, Sri Lanka is gifted with one of the most literate population in the world and unique favourable conditions for growth. Nothing will stop Sri Lanka for marching forward in full steam to restore her glorious past as a tolerant, multicultural, multilingual, peace loving, and friendly nation.

The revived land of serendipity will once again become the most sought after paradise on earth by people around the world. It would be the corruption free country to do business with, the Island resort having all the vital statistics to attract tourists around the world.

Peace in Sri Lanka may sound unrealistic today-but the Sri Lankans, whose voice for peace is not getting heard today, had made their say known few years ago when they elected their new President Mr. Percy Mahinda Rajapakse, who promised to ensure peace and prosperity. People of Sri Lanka and the international community had big hopes-but what the people have received in return is Sinhala Buddhist Nationalistic fervour-blatant violation of Human Rights-stark naked nepotism-erosion of the rule of law starting from the very Secretary of defence (the president’s own brother) and the list goes on.

This is the extent which the ethno-religious cancer has spread to and it continues to spread. It cannot be cured without addressing its root cause.

What Sri Lanka needs today is a prudent political “oncologist” who has the wisdom to understand the factual oncogenesis ?of this tumour so that it could be uprooted with skill and care without bleeding the patient to death.

For the past many decades we have had political surgeons, some of them-sicker than the patient herself. They have used scalpels of ethno-religious hegemony not only to amputate the limbs of the patient but also to rub salt in her wounds as well. Today while the hapless patient is gradually bleeding to death in pain, the pretentious bastions of democracy, social justice and peace, flock around her sick bed to harp about the revival of her ethno-religious sanctity and glory.

What required in Sri Lanka is not a pretentious Nationalistic Religious glory but revival of Sri Lanka’s Glory as a law abiding, peace loving citizen of the world. Hawkish policies and the associated cancers of war profiteering, nepotism, corruption and ethno-religious nationalism can be good for fanfare, hollow pompous grandeur and also may bring prosperity and security for few families but it cannot deliver peace and prosperity to all in Sri Lanka.

The dire need of the day is prudent honest leadership with immunity not only to the “measles of the mankind” but also to the infectious ethno-religious plague.

I wonder whether Albert Einstein had the bleeding Sri Lanka in mind, when he wrote the following words of wisdom:

“Heroism on command, senseless violence and loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism- how passionately I hate them”

The Asian Tribune recently published one of my articles titled “The Myth of Lion Ancestry and Adults only Tale of the Lala Land” in which I wished to show the absurdity of the ethno religious mindset- the mindset of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism. Mr. Sumanadasa Wijayapala’s response to my article, which appeared in the Asian Tribune reminded me of the popular Sinhala saying which sounds “Koheda Yanne ? Malle Pol”-literal translation of which means providing the question “where are you going?” with and irrelevant answer such as “It is coconut in the bag”

In fact Mr. Wijayapala has no argument about the points that I have made in the article…as Mr. Wijayapala has clearly put it “ The purpose of this response is not precisely to refute Dr. Fernando’s points.” but then as there were no points to refute Mr. Wijayapala has fabricated himself some points which he continues to refute throughout his article. In this context it would be an utter waste of time and space to reiterate what I have said and Mr.Wijayapala had agreed.

However, Mr. Wijayapla has accused me of giving the Mahavamsa the measles- metaphorically that is! He has borrowed and conferred on me a title -“Mahavamsa-basher”. He has casted doubt whether I have read the Mahavamsa.

If reading the Mahavamsa means looking into it through a capillary tube then his doubts are justified. I have read Mahavamsa but not through an ethno-religious capillary tube but with free mind with the aim of acquiring knowledge of the Mahavamsa interpretation of Sri Lanka’s history. I have not only read the English translation of the Mahavamsa but had also provided an URL for one of the sites to access it on line for anybody who wants to read it.

Those who wish to know where the Sinhala Buddhist custodianship claims had originated from the writer’s request will be to read Mahavamsa with an open mind and pay special attention to the introductory paragraphs, specially where the trustworthiness of the Mahavamsa is discussed.

The Mahavamsa is available online from the Internet at few URLs , but in my opinion the best access is from the Archives of the American Libraries, as offered by the University of California at - in scanned digitized PDF version(43MB) or Text version (746KB).

The PDF version is a copy of the original complete English translation of the Mahavmsa –The Great Chronicle of Ceylon by Professor of Indo-germanic Philosophy at Erlangen University Wilhelm Geiger PhD (1856-1943) and Dr. Mable Haynes Bode PhD , lecturer of Pali at London University College., as it was published in 1912 under the patronage of the Government of Ceylon.

As for the words that Mr. Wijayapala has substituted for my words I wish to clarify few things. Nowhere in my article had I named Mahavamsa as the source of all ills in Sri Lanka. Precisely, in my own words my article started by saying:

“Over the years Sinhala Buddhist Nationalistic Politicians and Closely Linked Buddhist Clergy have been successful in implanting the belief that the Sinhala Buddhists are the “chosen people” and the real custodians of Sri Lanka and Theravada Buddhism.”

The concern raised in my article was not about what one can read in the Mahavamsabut how its mythology has been harnessed as proof of ethno-religious superiority. It was about how the Mahavamsa mythology was used by the Sinhala Buddhist Nationalistic politicians as historical proof of their birth rights.

Ignoring these words Mr. Wijayapala has fabricated a yarn of his own…

“Dr. Fernando wrote …..expressing concern that Sinhalese historical Tradition has been used to promote ethnic chauvinism against the non-Sinhala minorities of Sri Lanka.” (emphases mine)

There is blatantly a huge difference between the “Sinhala Buddhist Nationalistic” mindset and “Sinhalese Historical Tradition”. Mr. Wijayapala should know that he cannot swallow the medicine without his throat knowing about it. He has opted to ignore the link between Sinhala Nationalism and Buddhism.

It was the mythology written in the Mahavamsa that had linked the Sinhala race to a mythical custodianship of Buddhism, and then to the island Lanka as the holy land, thrice sanctified by Lord Buddha.

Those who are not blind with the nationalistic “pride and prejudice” can clearly see where had the false sense of sanctity of the majority religion- Theravada Buddhism and the majority race the Sinhalese race and their “inseparable” link to the island had originated from. The Mahavamsa mythology had provided a fertile ground to nurture and strengthen the Nationalistic Sinhala Buddhist supremacy.

This was never the intention of the author of the Mahavamsa-the Buddhist monk Mahathero Mahanama.

When the Nationalistic Sinhala Buddhist politicians talk the talk and walk the walk they do so based on this mythological link. Here is an example:

“The link between the Sinhala race and Buddhism is so close and inseparable that it had led to the maxim, "There is no Buddhism without the Sinhalese and no Sinhalese without Buddhism." This is an undeniable fact.

The literature of the Sinhalese is Buddhist literature. The history of the Sinhalese is the history of Buddhism.” (emphasis mine)

Those were the words printed in black and white in a pamphlet published and distributed free in 1982 by Mr. Cyril Matthew a former senior minister in Mr. J.R. Jayawardena’s Government.

One year later the same Minister was the main architect of the collective punishment of our Tamil brethren. The criminal collective responsibility for the disgraceful darkest chapter of Sri Lanka’s recent history – lies on Mr. Cyril Matthew, the J.R. Jayawardena Government which he served and all those who implanted the Nationalistic Sinhala Buddhist custodianship mentality in the ignorant, ill informed minority of Sinhala Buddhist people and the politicized nationalistic Buddhist clergy.

The Sinhalese of Catholic and other religious convictions have no history of playing any part in such atrocities-neither in 1983 nor in number of other communal atrocities committed in Sri Lanka earlier. They did not participate in the Sinhala Terrorism launched by the Janatha Vimukhi Peramuna either.

It seems the blood has to be not only Sinhala but Buddhist as well for it to boil to fierce extremes so easily. The fact is -it was the false sense of Nationalistic-Sinhala-Budhist custodianship that had been derived from the Mahavamsa mythology that had driven the ignorant minority of Sinhala Buddhists to racist insanity. Many other resources of history and anthropology provide scientific evidence of our common shared heritage with the Tamil population of Sri Lanka and our historical ancestral links with South India.

First political terrorism- a point blank cold blooded assassination of a democratic state leader in Sri Lanka was carried out by a Buddhist monk with the assistance of another prominent Buddhist monk. It was in fact two Buddhist monks, Thalduwe Somarama (a graduate from the Vidyalankara Pirivena-Kelaniya) and Mapitigama Buddharakkitha (the chief monk, custodian of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara at that time) who conspired and assassinated in 1959 then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaraniake.

Two years earlier Mr. Bandaranaike, then PM and the leader of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party had signed a pact with Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayagam- the leader ofIlankai Tamil Arasu Katchi, the federal Party – the party representing the Tamil population. Under enormous Nataionalistic Sinhala Buddhist pressure particularly form the Buddhist clergy, Mr. Bandaranaike had to shred the agreement in 1958. One of the fiercest opposition to the agreement between the Sinhala and Tamil political parties came from the then leader of opposition, who later became the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. J.R.Jayawardena.

In an article titled “Missing the richness of plurality” published in the Sri Lanka Defense Force website , this is how the above events are described by Elmore Perera:

“Sri Lankan politics, since Independence is a tale of the Sinhala majority community seeking amity and joint governance with the Tamils. The Muslims were always grateful for domicile. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and S. J. V. Chelvanayagam two great leaders proposed a pact, for peace and economic development known as the B - C pact. A short sighted politician named J. R. Jayawardena together with some foolish Buddhist priests staged a march to Kandy. The two Leaders abandoned the idea and Bandaranaike, the initiator of the idea, tore up the Pact commenting that the day would come when the Country would regret it!

The 1983 holocaust, when Tamils were killed and their homes set on fire, compelling Tamils to seek refuge in South India was the brain child of the fascist minded Ex- President J. R. Jayawardena. When his period of governance was over, R. Premadasa sought to make amends, but like broken china-ware the crack remained and the damage to amity could not be repaired.” Source: The Ministry of Defense website

Having supported the Sinhala Only Act to get through the parliament in 1956 Mr. J.R.Jayawardena, who was the leader of opposition then offered his further service to the Sinhala Nationalism in 1957 with the following words:

"The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, jealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birthright... I will lead the campaign..."

This is how the former PM, Mr. R. Premadasa’s “multi-cultural” views had attracted the wrath of Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula- Vice Chancellor of the Vidyalankara University , as published in the Sunday Times of 5thMay 1996.

"Get this straight and quote me. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist Sinhala country. Let no one make a mistake. Seventy percent of the country consists of Buddhists and Sinhala people. Also make this clear that Sri Lanka is the only Buddhist Sinhala country in the world. If we don't live here, are the LTTE and some of the Tamil Parties asking us to jump into the sea? I got angry with Mr. Premadasa because he chose to call Sri Lanka a multi-national and multi-religious state. No. It is a Buddhist State but we show no discrimination to other races or religion....... More than 2,000 members of the Sangha including the prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatte, had a meeting at which I too spoke. We cannot support the devolution package It seeks to merge the North and East otherwise the Tamils will not accept it.”

While the two major Sinhala political parties continued to play nationalistic for myopic gains, the tradition of nationalistic Sinhala Buddhist terrorism continued to eliminate anyone who supported peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict. Mr. Wijaya Kumaratunga was one of such peace makers. He was gunned down by the Nationalistic JVP for his political leadership in supporting the peace process. The JVP is now represented in the government of Sri Lanka as a democratic party, but they have not abandoned their strong nationalistic stance. they are one of the ardent supporters of a military solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Amidst all the political myopia, overwhelming majority of the Sinhala speaking masses of Sri Lanka, even without any deep knowledge in ancient Tamil epics or literature or even without any speaking reading or writing knowledge of the Tamil language continue to treasure centuries old traditional kinship with the Tamil speaking community.

Sinhala Buddhists for generations have joined the Tamils in worshipping their Gods, sharing their culture, art, music and dancing traditions, sharing their culinary traditions, trade and many other aspects of life. Sane Sinhala Buddhists know as a part of Sinhala Language they use thousands of Tamil words, Tamil grammar and terminology.

One does not have to be a Tamil linguist expert to understand this.

This century’s old peaceful coexistence was reduced to pieces-because the Sinhala Buddhist Nationalistic politicians in their fierce battle for political power required a platform to stand high above the rest to emerge as nationalistic heroes, the custodians of the Sinhala race and Buddhism. The Mahavamsa card matched neatly with the nationalistic card which had proven to be an effective tool in winning elections.

The belief in mythological “birth tight” help ignite the “patriotism” in young Sinhala Buddhist men to take up arms to cleanse the sacred Buddhist land from the Tamil “invaders”.

That is why the writer noted:

“Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, based on mythical narrations covering mere hundreds of years, has locked up and enslaved hundreds of thousands of years of island’s multicultural, multilingual and even international history. The time has come to provide our younger generation with the knowledge of the true history based on scientific facts, so that the cycle of nationalistic hatred and enslavement could be stopped, hopefully with the next generation. “

If this is what “Mahavamsa-bashing” , “Anti-Sinhala, Anti-Buddhist mentality” means then one can only be proud of such titles and for being partial to scientific facts of our common ancestry with our own Tamil speaking brethren.

Professor A.R. Venkatachalapathy, of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Charles Wallace visiting fellow of the Cambridge University and a visiting fellow of the University of Chicago and number of universities in France, has written a review on the 2007 revised version of the book “The Evolution of An Ethnic Identity” by Professor Kathigesu Indrapala.

In this book review Professor Venkatachalapathy notes:

“Traditional histories have portrayed the two ethnic communities, Tamil and Sinhalese, forever at war. Indrapala locates the origins of such invidious history writing to colonial historiography, which was based mostly on narrow interpretations of Sinhala chronicles that fed the theory of `Aryan' invasion.

He strongly believes that the two communities have `a shared history and culture' and refuses to see the historical evolution of Sri Lanka in ethnic terms. Instead he relates it to wider historical changes and interaction with South India; this historical region he calls the SISL (South India-Sri Lanka region). By demonstrating the absolute lack of evidence of any large-scale migration from the Indian mainland, he argues that both the Tamil and Sinhala communities emerged from indigenous Mesolithic peoples of pre-historic times. He then argues for language replacement, that is language change occurring without any corresponding population change, as the cause for the emergence of Tamil and Prakrit speaking peoples in the proto-historic period. Political change and religious, economic and technological interaction between south India and Sri Lanka fuelled cultural change leading ultimately to the rise of ethnic identity.

Based on a reading of Sinhala chronicles, which flies in the face of popular conceptions about them underpinning ethnic exclusivity, he shows the interpenetration of politics in south India and Sri Lanka. Both Tamil and Sinhala kings sought help from across the strait. Tamil soldiers fought in the armies of Sinhala kings who also hired Tamil bodyguards. There were even sections of the army organized under Tamil officers. Pallava and Pandya kings sided with one group or the other. Some Tamil kings win the adulation of the chronicles for their just rule while a Sinhala king banishes Sinhala Buddhist monks and replaces them with pious Tamil Buddhist monks in an act of purification.

This `harmonious' situation led to significant achievements, for instance, in architecture. Pallava artisans introduced the Tamil or Dravidian style of architecture to Sri Lanka which is manifest in the Mahayana Buddhist structures. Tamil traders also played a big part in this interaction. Quoting Joesph Needham, the outstanding historian of science and technology, he points out to the spectacular feats of hydraulic engineering where "the fusion of the Egyptian and Babylonian patterns achieved the most complete and subtlest form" were to be found in Sri Lanka and not in the Indian mainland.

One can only speculate on the course of Sri Lanka's recent politics if such a non-sectarian and composite vision of history had been accepted by the post-colonial Sri Lankan state and had been incorporated in school textbooks and official history. A little knowledge is dangerous. And a little historical knowledge is even more so. Historians are at best conscience-keepers and alas, can scarcely undo the injustice done "to the innocents who lost their lives as a direct consequence of misinterpretations of history" to whom this book is dedicated. (emphases mine)Source The Hindu, 26 February 2007

New archaeological evidence has now emerged to question not only the mythological datelines and stories in the Mahavamsa but also the date lines in the Buddhist scriptures as well.

According to the popular belief as taught by the Buddhist scriptures Gauthama Buddha was born as prince Siddhartha to - Queen Mahamaya ( Mayadevi), 2570 years ago, in Lumbini in Kapilavastupura in present day Nepal. However recent excavations carried out by archaeologists and the scientific analysis of the unearthed artefacts have provided ample evidence to show that Buddha was born not in Nepal but in Kapileswar in Orissa, India, and not 2570 years ago but approximately 1300 years earlier.

The scientific evidence against the popular belief of Buddha’s birth place was discovered by the Head of the Museum in Orissa, prominent Indian Archaeologist, researcher Dr. Chandrabhanu Patel. Dr. Patel’s claim is based on a number of evidence, unearthed as a result of scientific excavations, research and analysis carried out in Orissa by a group of scientists and researchers led by him.

Dr. Patel’s research team of scientists and archaeologists has gathered adequate evidence to maintain that Buddha was born not in Lumbini in present day Nepal, but in Lembei, Kapileswar , in Orissa India.

Orissa, or Kalinga as the city was known during Buddha’s time has many historical Buddhist sites such as Ratnagiri, Udaygiri, Lalitgiri, Kuruma, Brahmavana, Langudi, Ganiapali and many others. In the outskirts of the city in Kapileswar, there is a place called Lembei, which Dr. Patel believes, could well be the birth place of Buddha. Lembei was earlier known as Lumbini.

A stone pillar inscripted edict of the Emperor Asoka discovered in Kapileswar in 1928, now an exhibit in the Ashutosh Mueseum in Kolkata indicates to the fact that Buddha’s birth place was Orissa. The emperor Asoka conquered Kalinga in 261 BC and later converted to Buddhism and carried out missions to spread Buddhism, including the dispatch of Mahinda Thero to Sri Lanka to establish Buddhism. Asoka’s inscriptions on the stone pillar contain six lines in Prakit language which say that in 20th year of his coronation Asoka worshipped at Kapileswar as Lord Buddha was born there. Another Asoka’s rock edict inscription said that the village of Lumbini (in Kalinga) was exempted from Tax in 240BC because Buddha was born there.

Among other evidence were a gilded stone casket found in 1985 during excavations carried out in Lalitgiri in Jaipur district of Orissa-believed to be containing Buddha’s ashes, a broken piece of Ashoka’s stone pillar found in Bhakareswar Temple, located four kilometres from Kapileswar, broken temple bells, replica’s of Ashoka’s famous four lion emblem, all of which are presently placed for public viewing at the State Museum. ( Source Buddha was born in Orissa, says study)

According to another claim “ Re-establishing the Date of Lord Buddha” by Professor Stephen Knapp (Source: Reestablishing the Date of Lord Buddha)

Lord Buddha should have lived 1300 years earlier than what the modern history has taught us, up to now. Professor Stephen Knapp no doubt has the expertise to talk about these matters.

Stephen Knapp first graduated from the Yale University in 1973, earned his Master’s degree in 1977 and his Doctorate in 1981, working at the Cornell University. He worked 16 years as an expert in 18th and 19th century English literature and literary theory at the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the John Hopkins University as the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

He has been a professor provost at the John Hopkins University since 1996.

On the 5th of December 2006, Professor Stephen Knapp was named the 16th president of the George Washington University.

In support of his claim for re-defining the date of lord Buddha Professor Stephen Knapp quotes Professor K. Srinivasaraghavan’s book, Chronology of Ancient Bharat (Part Four, Chapter Two), Some Blunders of Indian Historical Research (p. 189), by Professor P. N. Oak and others.

All claimants of re-defined Buddha’s date have the highest possible credentials, expertise in the subject matter and scientific evidence to support their claim.

According to the evidence produced by Professor Stephen Knapp, Lord Buddha was born in 1887 B.C., renounced the world in 1858 B.C., and died in 1807 B.C.

These objective scientific findings will “upset” the whole school of mythological beliefs deep rooted in the minds of Sinhala Buddhist nationalists. Legitimate questions will be raised about the factual credibility of Buddha’s bestowal of the custodianship right to the Sinhala race. This will be a welcome blessing in disguise.

The updated timeline will obviously cast well founded doubts about Vijaya’s arrival in Sri Lanka on the same day of Buddha’s demise. There will be doubts on the times of Buddha’s visit to Sri Lanka.

This is a natural process inherent to epistemology, gnoseology (theory of scientific knowledge creation) in which the humankind progresses through studying, reviewing, investigating and verifying and coming closer to the reality of things and phenomena surrounding us.

Yet there are those who would first note the name of the authors, writers and academics before even starting to read the contents. In this context if I had a letter “n” at the end of my first name and “pulle” at the end of my surname I would have automatically qualified for few more titles.

I believe overwhelming majority of the Sri Lankans and many readers of the Asian Tribune around the world are much more prudent than that.

Dr. Mithra Fernando is the General Manager of Science & Technology Workshop Services in the University of Sydney. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Sciences and have a number of patents registered with Intellectual Property Australia.

- Asian Tribune –

Also Read:

1. Response to Dr. Mithra Fernando’s “The Myth of ‘Lion Ancestry”

2. "The myth of 'Lion ancestry' & adults-only tales of the Lala land."

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