Unscientific Twisting of the Truth
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
Among the many pseudoarchaeological stories spread in Sri Lanka in recent times, the story about Buddha being born in Sri Lanka tops the list. This is extremely damaging and it seems to be leading towards graver issues that are harmful to the country as a whole. This distorted story misinterprets the teachings of the Buddha and gives its own misleading interpretations as well as threatens the national identity of the Sinhalese race.
The other danger is that this story is unscientific, ignores countervailing data, rejects accepted methodologies in history and archaeology, and provides simple answers for complex questions, in which academic and scientific methods have been rejected.
Therefore, since Ceylon Today Heritage has started to explore pseudoarchaeological stories in Sri Lanka, as our first example we shall explore the story behind the Buddha being born in Sri Lanka fable today. However, while doing some research we came to the conclusion that it is difficult to separate this myth from the Ravana myth. At some point, both myths have merged and collided. Also, these two can be identified as the most vicious and damaging pseudoarchaeological stories in Sri Lanka.
In the late 1990s, a twisted story about Buddha being born in Sri Lanka and not in Nepal was spread across the country. This was spread by a robe-wearer and some of his early followers, greatly misleading blind devotees. In a time where social media was not in use, those who spread this myth published booklets and distributed them among devotees. Out of curiosity people went on exploring this and some newspapers back then, gave unnecessary publicity to this myth. If a full stop had been put to this during the late 1990s, this would not have been a grave issue as it is now.
Taking advantage of the blind faith of the devotees and media publicity, this group went on claiming known archaeological sites in Sri Lanka to be sites related to the life of the Buddha. They completely changed the nationality of Buddha and his people, the geographical boundaries of India, Sri Lanka, and accordingly of the entire Buddhist world.
As this group accuses and questions the authenticity of historical texts, especially of the Mahavamsa, this also can be seen as a political conspiracy that creates bigger issues in terms of national identity and inheritance of land. We recently witnessed C.V.Vigneswaran expressing his hatred towards the Mahavamsa calling it a mere fiction that has no history written in it. It is ironic that those who reject the Mahavamsa and other Pali historical texts as fables believe in the Hindu epic Ramayana.
Adding to this, the Ravana myth comes on stage. Started as a story by some scholars to create a sense of nationalism and patriotism, the Ravana myth now has grown as a poisonous cactus that sucks the cultural and national identity of Sri Lanka. It is also a great mockery to the scientific study of archaeology and history. The danger is that India and extremist political groups will use the Ravana myth for their own agendas.
To know more about this, we contacted a group that battles against this myth. Known as the Mithyawata Erehiwa or Against the Myth, this is a group of young enthusiastic scholars and history lovers, led by senior archaeologists.
The Mahavamsa hatred
The group started by talking about the many accusations against the Mahavamsa. According to them, this is also a part of this pseudoarchaeology movement. One reason could be that, as long as the Mahavamsa is accepted and valued as a reliable source of history, pseudoarchaeology stories, especially the story about Buddha being born in Sri Lanka and the Ravana myth cannot triumph.
Answering our question, Prof. T.G. Kulatunga said that the Mahavamsa is the biggest challenge for separatists. As long as its authenticity is accepted, it is difficult for them to achieve their narrow goals. It is the same about the thousands of inscriptions scattered all over the island. So, what is happening is that the trust and acceptance of the Mahavamsa and ancient literature are being damaged by provoking the people who used to believe them. This leads towards a graver issue - separatism.
Mithyawata Erehi group said that G.G.Ponnambalam was one of the earliest politicians to accuse the Mahavamsa as being false. They further said that the biggest barrier to the dream of a separate State in Sri Lanka is the continuous writing of the Mahavamsa and its proven authenticity through scientific archaeological research. It must be noted that the Mahavamsa and other ancient chronicles stand as a strong land deed of Sri Lanka and its early inhabitants.
In short, the Mahavamsa is the strongest historical witness of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the land. Therefore, Mithyawata Erehi scholars believe that there is a link between the Mahavamsa accusation and Buddha born in Sri Lanka, and Ravana believers as these pseudoarchaeology followers accuse the authenticity of the Mahavamsa to prove their false belief.
They also said that, if we carefully observe the areas of Sri Lanka which these pseudoarchaeology followers claim as ancient Jambudeepa, all of them are in the North and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. This part of the country is the separate State the LTTE has been fighting for. They said that this definitely cannot be a coincidence.
According to the ‘Buddha born in Sri Lanka’ story, the ancient Sinhala kingdom is barely limited to the Southwest areas of the county and the rest of the island was never a part of the Sinhalese; it was Jambudweepa. Hence, the closeness of the Eelam separate State of the LTTE and the Jambudweepa map of the Buddha born in Sri Lanka is strikingly and shockingly similar.
The group further explained that although racists attempted to spread their ideology among the Indian Tamil estate working communities in the Central province, thanks to politicians like Thondaman that ideology never came to light.
The beginning; rotten fruits of lunacy
Talking about the beginning of pseudoarchaeology stories in Sri Lanka,Ven. Missaka Kamalasiri Thera explained to us how the mindset of those who create such fables works. He said that it is similar to how the minds of writers of fantasy novels and historical fiction work. Early Sinhalese novelists were inspired by European novels, especially historical fiction and they followed that to create Sinhala novels and stories.
Stories written by W.A.Silva can be stated as examples of this. This mentality of early scholars and writers influenced the giving birth of pseudoarchaeology in Sri Lanka. However, it must be emphasised that we are not at all accusing W. A. Silva as a novelist. The fault is that readers took his work as historical fact rather than fiction.
As Kamalasiri Thera explained, Arisen Ahubudu and Sooriya Gunasekara started this trend in Sri Lanka. Through scholars like them, the myth of Ravana was rewritten with an essence of patriotism.
Meanwhile, as Kamalasiri Thera further explained, a person named Wimaladharma who believed that he was the reincarnation of King Wimaladharmasooriya (1592–1604), resided in a cave at the Udawatta forest monastery, in Kandy. At some point in his life, he lived as a robed clergyman. He was one of the earliest to claim that Buddha was born in Sri Lanka (in Kandy).
However, the history of the ‘Buddha born in Sri Lanka’ myth goes a century or so earlier, as there is evidence to say that the British had misunderstanding and confusion about the Buddha’s birthplace and Robert Knox also writes something similar. However, after a deep study of historic and archaeological evidence, the early British scholars and enthusiasts came out of this confusion. Further archaeological research discovered the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal and the authenticity of the Mahavamsa and inscriptions were proven.
Although Knox’s account is considered a historical record, it is a known fact that most of his writings are biased and based on the folklore he heard from villagers.
As the group explained to us, this myth was first spread during the time between 1990 and 2000 when a lorry driver named Jayantha Pathiraarachchi published some newspaper articles and a couple of books on Sri Lankan inscriptions and history which were merely his personal thoughts. Later, when he was an in-house patient at the Angoda Mental Hospitals, a monk named Meewanapalane Siri Dhammalankara met him. After meeting Pathiraarachchi, Meewanapalane learned from him and added more to what he learned from Pathiraarachchi.
Subsequent to reconstructing the fable of Pathirarachchi, Meewanapalane wrote and published a book titled Apa Upan Me Helabima Budun Upan Jambudwipayayi in 2008. Day by day the number of his followers increased. It is also reported that this Meewanapalane who is a self-proclaimed arhat, is not an ordained monk, but still is a novice. More people joined Meewanapalane by publishing more books on this subject such as Hiran Shashi Herath. By 2015, 2016, 2017, this myth was vastly spread via digital platforms such as blogs and Facebook.
As the group explained to us, by this time, it takes an interesting twist. The Ravana myth was already prevailing when all this was happening. Followers of this myth developed an interest in the ‘Buddha born in Sri Lanka’ story. A large number of believers of the ‘Buddha born in Sri Lanka’ myth came to life, along with the Ravana myth. This can be seen as a dangerous trend during the 2018-2021 period.
Although this was first said by Pathiraarachchi, due to conflict, he and Meewanapalane belong to two opposing groups. However, Pathiraarachchi still leads one of these groups.
The name of Waharaka Abayarathanalankara cannot be ignored when talking about this issue. He was one of the earliest to say that Buddha was born in Sri Lanka.
It can be seen that the myth of ‘Buddha born in Sri Lanka’ had two initiative roots.
- An illusion is born in the minds of some mentally imbalanced people.
- Backed by commercial and economic agendas of the some.
The growth of this idea can be identified in four stages;
- It was merely thought of by some mentally in imbalanced people and supported by followers who were curious about this new idea,
- Devotees of blind faith gatherered around them,
- Used for commercial and economic gains by the media,
- Used by political movements.
The story of Ravana has a similar origin and growth.
- First started as a fable/fiction glorified in arts and literature,
- This was used to enhance feelings of national pride and patriotism,
- Used for commercial and economic gains by the media,
- Used by political movements.
The latest trends of these two myths are presented as below;
- In recent years, Ravana myth believers also started to merge with the ‘Buddha born in Sri Lanka’.
- Since recent years, both of these myths have been developed to the status of ‘cults’. There can be identified two categories of this cult. One is the religious cult and the other is the group of pseudoarchaeologists.
- There is a recent development that these two myths are being used by political (racists and separatists) and religious movements to distort the cultural and geographic identity of Sri Lanka.
As Kamalasiri Thera and the Mithyawata Erehi group explained, a person named Ariyamagga uses the story of ‘Buddha born in Sri Lanka’. The vicious conspiracy behind this was exposed very recently by this group.
Now we come to the part where political groups and separationists join the story of the Buddha born in Sri Lanka and the Ravana myth.
Is Ramayana fiction or fact?
Before we go in-depth into this, it must be noted that the Hindu epic Ramayana’s protagonist Rama, is a bodhisattva in the Pansiya Panas Jataka book. Therefore, some scholars are of the view that the Ramayana was purely inspired by the Dasaratha Jataka tale in Buddhist literature. Hence, the historic existence of Ravana is clearly dismissed on this fact. There is no Ravana in the Dasaratha Jataka tale.
Based on this, it can be confidently said that the mythical land of Lanka which was the land of demons and ruled by a demon king was an addition by the composer of the Ramayana. This story portrays Sri Lanka as a land of demons and even to date, followers of the Ramayana burning the image of Ravana, the king of Lanka, can be seen as a moment where hatred and loathing are being openly encouraged towards a neighbouring country.
To be continued...