Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - Both Hostile and Hospitable: Janus-faced Treatment of Hindu Temples in Sri Lanka

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Magnolia, Lower Ground Floor

This paper discusses how Buddhist nationalism has come to affect Hindu Temple spaces in Sri Lanka. Hinduism in Sri Lanka is increasingly being projected by Buddhist Sinhala nationalists as a foreign religion. This view, a bone of contention between the ethnic Tamils and Sinhala nationalists, has had a detrimental effect on Hindu Temple traditions, especially in Tamil speaking areas. The case of Killinochi’s Kanakaampikai-Amman temple, for example, where the Buddha Vihar built inside the temple space by the Sri Lankan military in 2016 comes in the way of the chariot route of the Hindu deities, points to a situation of emerging religious hostility between Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. The hostile stance of the democratic nation-state towards the religious space of Hindu minorities is in sharp contrast to the erstwhile Sinhala kings, who provided hospitality to Hindus and patronage to their temples, as is evident in the case of Siva Temple at Polonnaruva. Similarly, the present Kataragama sacred site that houses both Buddhist and Hindu temples along with their popular religious traditions is a living example of religious amity. The paper concludes by showing how the attitude of past rulers and of large portions of the present general population toward the Hindu sacred places of Sri Lanka can be harnessed to guide the policymakers of the modern nation-state and motivate the Sri Lankan government to protect and promote the religious needs and rights of ethnic minorities across the globe.  

James Ponniah

University of Madras, India

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4 - Both Hostile and Hospitable: Janus-faced Treatment of Hindu Temples in Sri Lanka



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