Satara varan devi, in the Sinhala language of Sri Lanka, refers to the four guardian deities of the Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka. It is a phrase that first appears in inscriptions at Buddhist temples in the 15th-century Sri Lankan upcountry region of Gampola to denote the protective gods of the divine hierarchy who have been warranted with powers by the Buddha to not only protect the kingdom as a whole, but to provide for this-worldly well-being of individual Buddhist devotees as well. In ensuing centuries, the identities of deities constituting the satara varan devi varied from era to era and from place to place. Moreover, the identities of these deities were often composite conflations of a number of collateral deity traditions. The singular popularity of each of these deities for many devotees continues to form a significant presence in contemporary iterations of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist religious culture. Each are regarded as Buddhist deities, even though the origins of most can be traced to Brahmanical beginnings in India. Even so, most Sinhala Buddhists would be surprised to learn that worship of Vishnu, for instance, originated in India, since he is so well known in Sri Lanka as the guardian of the Buddhasasana (Buddhist tradition). Antecedent constructions of four guardian deities appear in earlier Vedic, Buddhist, and Puranic schemes that were articulated in the earlier history of Indian religions. These various constructions not only served the function of protecting temples, cities, regions, and, in the case of early Buddhism, the Buddha himself in cosmically configured contexts, but they also reflect the way in which deities from non-Vedic, non-Puranic, and non-Buddhist origins were also assimilated and subordinated, perhaps mirroring social and political processes that were historically in play. Comparatively, analogous but not identical processes of incorporation or assimilation can also be seen within the contexts of other Theravada Buddhist-dominated religious cultures: how the Burmese have enfolded nats (mostly euhemeristic, but some Hindu deities), how the Thai and Lao have enveloped phi (various spirits or powers of place and space), and how the Khmer have embraced the worship of neak ta (again, spirits or powers of place and space). In each of these other Theravada Buddhist cultural contexts, important Brahmanic deities have also been absorbed and their significance reframed. In Mahayana contexts, other Buddhists have similarly accommodated the worship of non-Buddhist indigenous deities in Japan (kami), in Tibet (bon), and in China (Taoist and Confucian supernaturals, in addition to deities of the Chinese folk traditions).
Sree Padma and John Holt
Theravāda Buddhism is a neologism denoting a variety of historically connected religious traditions. Today these traditions are predominantly spread in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and parts of Vietnam. More recent communities in other parts of the world (e. g., Europe, the United States, India, Nepal, Australia) are directly or indirectly connected to the traditions of these countries by migration or adaptation processes. These local varieties do not constitute a homogeneous entity. Nevertheless, the use of a common denominator is justified by their interconnected religious histories and a common stock of liturgical, ritual, exegetical, and narrative traditions. Prior to the 20th century theravāda (or theriya, theravaṃsa) was understood as a nikāya, an institutionalized monastic lineage primarily defined by a specific system of ritual and legal regulations for monks and nuns (the vinaya). This specific lineage became increasingly associated with Sri Lanka during the first millennium ce, while its Indian origins became obscure. Like many other nikāyas, the Theravādins were not uniform in their doctrinal, ethical, and liturgical orientations. The dynamics of local acculturation and active participation in the translocal networks of the ancient “Buddhist World” produced multiple religious expressions and attitudes within the Theravāda monastic lineage through the centuries. Doctrinally, these could range from an exclusive Pāli-based Śrāvakayāna (“Hīnayāna”) approach to the promotion of so-called Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna texts and practices. A series of royally enforced monastic reforms in the 11th and 12th centuries in Sri Lanka strengthened a certain “conservative” camp of the saṅgha and enforced an exclusivist vision of a Theravāda “orthodoxy,” purified from what this group deemed to be inauthentic adulterations of the Buddha’s teaching. This impulse yielded a powerful—though not unchallenged—impact on the further development of Buddhist monasticism in Sri Lanka and, somewhat later, in Southeast Asia. Ultimately they shaped much of the modern ideas about the characteristics of Theravāda Buddhism. During the first half of the 20th century the nikāya name Theravāda was detached from its technical monastic meaning and became reinterpreted as a type of Buddhism, idealizing the doctrinal content of the canonical scriptures of this lineage—the so-called Pāli Canon—as a binding belief system for all “Theravāda Buddhists,” monastic or lay. In anachronistic extension of this typology, the compound “Theravāda Buddhism” was further understood as the most ancient, or even “original,” form of the Buddhist “creed.” The adjective form of Theravāda is Theravādin, which can also be used as a noun to denote a follower of Theravāda.
Richard B. Allen
The African diaspora in the Indian Ocean is inextricably intertwined with slavery and slave trading in an oceanic world that encompasses southern and eastern Africa, the Red Sea, the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, South Asia, the Indonesian archipelago, and parts of East Asia. A combination of factors, including the cost of free labor, high morbidity and mortality rates from diseases such as malaria and smallpox, and the perceived attributes of different African peoples spurred the exportation by Arab, Muslim, and Swahili merchants of an estimated 2.9–3.65 million men, women, and children from diverse populations in southern and eastern Africa, Madagascar, and the Horn of Africa to Arabia, the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and Southeast Asia between 800 and c.1900. European involvement in this transoceanic slave trade began during the early 16th century and continued well into the 19th century. This diaspora’s legacy includes the presence of communities of African descent in modern Iran, India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.
Civil–military relations (CMR) in Sri Lanka are an outgrowth of its military’s primary role of defending the state against domestic insurgencies. Historically devoid of any external threat, the main role of the Sri Lankan Army, which was the only active service at the time of independence of the island state in 1948, was ceremonial. Later, when the Air Force and Navy were also established, the role of the armed forces remained limited to policing. This function grew as a result of multiple insurgencies in the south, and later, north and northeast of the country. The CMR balance is defined by Sri Lanka’s politics. Successive governments have used the armed forces as a policy tool in enforcing a political philosophy that upholds Sri Lanka’s status as a Sinhala-Buddhist state. Over the years, the state was gradually transformed from its secular and semi-European character to predominantly, Sinhala-Buddhist. This resulted in the first coup attempt in 1962 by officers that were fearful of “Sinhalization” of the state, which went against the traditions the military had inherited. While the attempt failed, the political leadership speeded up the process of changing the ethnic balance in the armed forces through increasing Sinhala intake. Other policy changes like introducing Sinhalese as the only state language went against the inherited secular structure of the state. This caused a spike in internal tension that presented itself initially as a class conflict, and later morphed into ethnic contestation between the Sinhala and Tamil populations. The internal ethnic war that was fought from the 1970s onwards solidified both the Sinhala ethnic character of the state and the military. These domestic conflicts have also defined the professionalism of the armed forces. While ensuring that the military remains under control, the civilian leadership invested both in making the armed forces professional and ethnically tilted toward the majority. This contradiction represents Sri Lanka’s politics and CMR balance. Since the 1980s with a rise in Tamil insurgency, successive governments in Colombo appreciated the need to professionalize the military to fight internal wars. More money was spent on honing the defense services’ capabilities. However, this capacity building ensured that the military and its military capacity would serve the political interest of the Sinhala elite and majority population, with little concern for the political rights of the Tamil. In this respect, Colombo’s politics is unrepresentative and its CMR balance makes for a model that can only be explained as positively favoring civilians if viewed only from the theoretician Samuel P. Huntington’s viewpoint as laid out in his book ‘The Soldier and the State’. This makes Sri Lanka’s case similar to those of other regional democracies like India where the majority ethnic group or the ruling elite partner uses the armed forces to enforce its legal and constitutional framework, which does not necessarily favor minority groups, or certain regions. Such a framework means that the CMR balance must be described as representing not a strong and stable democracy, but a weak democratic structure.
Buddhaghosa was a Buddhist scholar-monk of the 5th century ce who belonged to a branch of the Theravāda school in Sri Lanka known as the Mahāvihāra. He has long been celebrated in the Sri Lankan Theravāda-Mahāvihāra tradition as the paradigmatic saint-scholar. In the first half of the 5th century, Buddhaghosa compiled his most important treatise, the Visuddhimagga (The Path to Purification). Outlining how the practitioner might overcome mental afflictions and attain nibbāna (nirvāṇa in Sanskrit), the Visuddhimagga offers a systematic explanation of Buddhist thought and practice in terms of the triad of conduct, meditative concentration, and wisdom. Buddhaghosa then went on to compile commentaries on the first four Nikāyas, which are collections of the Buddha’s discourses contained in the Pāli canon, and possibly commentaries on other texts too. In these commentaries, he provided exegeses of words and concepts in Buddhist canonical literature. Just after the beginning of the cultural and linguistic hegemony of the “Sanskrit Cosmopolis” across South and Southeast Asia, Buddhaghosa wrote in Pāli, another Middle-Indo Aryan language. According to Buddhaghosa, Pāli was the only language suitable for the transmission of Buddhist scriptures. Buddhaghosa also established the definition of the Pāli canon on the basis of the argument that five hundred elders had fixed the divisions of buddhavacana (which literally means “the word of the Buddha”) at the First Buddhist Council. The oldest extant biography of Buddhaghosa confirms that the Mahāvihāra treated Buddhaghosa’s commentaries like canonical texts.
The Tiger Movement had one ultimate political goal, and two main alternating methods to reach this goal, which was to obtain recognition by world community for the right of self-determination for a group of people living in the northern and eastern provinces of the island of Sri Lanka (in accordance with UN A/Res/42/159, from 1987). These people were Tamil speakers. Self-determination implied the right to secession and to the establishment of a separate and sovereign state called Tamilīlam. Peaceful methods to reach this goal were negotiations, diplomacy, lobbying, conferences, workshops, and above all mediatation; Gandhian methods like hartal “strike” (closing down of shops) and satyāgraha “holding onto truth” (non-violent resistance like sit-downs) have also been used during the period 1956 till today. The Tiger Movement has promoted the non-martial method of fasting to death in protest, but this was not in the orthodox Gandhian way, which did not make a choice between martial and non-martial acts dependent on the circumstance. All non-martial methods could be militant, but not violent. Depending on the circumstances, alternate methods, closely related to each other and to the goal, were used. The non-martial methods were used transnationally, the martial methods nationally, only on the island of Sri Lanka, with one exception—the assassination in 1991of Rājiv Gāndhi, which was executed in Tamiḻnāṭu. Vēluppiḷḷai Pirapākaraṉ was conscious of several methods to reach the goal, but there was only one goal. In 2003, however, the Tiger Movement for the first and only time, suggested a temporary suspension of this goal, an interim regional autonomy instead of separatism for a period of trial of five years. This did not change the ultimate goal, but suspended its realization in time to create space for negotiations. The government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) rejected this proposal, called Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA); The GoSL already had an ultimate goal, the preservation of the constitutional and centralized unitary state. This rejection threw both sides back to their starting point. The martial method to reach the ultimate goal consisted of several different forms of armed struggle, which were parallel with the non-armed struggle; each time the non-armed struggle failed, the martial struggle gained momentum, from the 1970s to 2009. We count today four periods of war from 1983–2009, separated by truces and cease-fires, but not by peace. Combatants made extensive use of the martial method of voluntary death, which in media language goes under the name of suicide attack, belt bombing, etc. The media has made this an identity-marker of the Tiger Movement. The Tiger Movement’s martial methods comprised assassinations squads, whose task was to assassinate VIPs related to the GoSL, guerrilla attacks, martial methods of a standing army with specialized brigades, and attacks by deep penetrating units, often ending in voluntary death. The motto for all methods related to its ultimate goal was “the task of the Tigers is (to establish) Tamiḻīḻam.” The combatants’ determination was to act according to the norm do or die, which might end up as do and die—as it did in May 2009, the end of the Tiger Movement. The leader of the Tiger Movement, Vēluppiḷḷai Pirapākaraṉ, held the firm view that methods may change (continuously), but the goal does not. He held the same ultimate goal, which was political, to establish Tamiḻīḻam based on the right of self-determination of a people. It was universal, he emphasized. He also referred to legal forms of violence in a national struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination (according, for example, to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/33/24 of November 29, 1978). The reason for actualizing the right of self-determination for Tamil speakers was the result of political, social, and economic discrimination, including 171 massacres, well documented by the North-East Secretariat of Human Rights (NESoHR). [NESoHR, Massacres of Tamils 1956–2008 (Chennai: Manitham Publishers, 2009). There is a German edition, which also contains the massacres by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). NESoHR, “Damit wir nicht vergessen …” Massaker an Tamilen 1956–2008. Mit einer Einführung von Professor (em) Dr. Peter Schalk (Heidelberg: Draupadi Verlag, 2012)]. These massacres amounted to genocide in the interpretation of the Tiger Movement, performed by the government of Sri Lanka from 1956–2009, and by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), during 1987–1990, with the assistance of deliverance of arms by India, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Pakistan. The Tiger Movement was well aware of geopolitical reasons why the United States and India would not allow Tamiḻīḻam to emerge. The unarmed and armed struggles by the Tiger Movement were to counteract a deeply felt injustice. The two methods were closely related to the ultimate goal, which gave the Tiger Movement a moral justification, though the world outside did not necessarily agree. Today we see that both methods were unsuccessful and the ultimate political goal was not reached. The GoSL suppressed the peaceful methods, and the martial methods earned the Tiger Movement the classification of “terrorists” by the United States, the European Union, India, Sri Lanka, and several other states. The end of the Tiger Movement came in May 2009, but Tamil speakers still cultivate its ultimate political goal, especially in the worldwide, transnational diaspora. The Tiger Movement (puli iyakkam) was only one half of the organization known as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), founded in 1972 and reconstructed in 1976. The other half was known as the People’s Movement (makkaḷ iyakkam). In an environment of lasting peace, we could speak of a military organization that was subordinated to a civil society, but in a war environment, the hierarchy was reversed. The People’s Movement became supportive of the Tiger Movement in many ways. Civil tasks, like political administration, police, the judiciary, and the financial sectors were under the Tiger Movement in a de facto state, which was not recognized by any state. GoSL based its claims for unity and the recognized sovereignty and integrity of its state on recognition by the United Nations and on a Constitution from 1972 and 1978. It insisted on the preservation of a centralized state-formation characterized as a unitary state, which made separatism, even non-violent agitation for separatism, illegal. The ultimate goals of both parties, the recognition of the right of self-determination of a people and the preservation of the sovereignty of a state were incompatible. Confederalism and federalism were also rejected by the Tiger Movement, because they were too little, and by the GoSL, because they were too much.
From the late 1970s to its defeat by the Government of Sri Lanka in 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for Tamil independence in Sri Lanka. The ultimate aim of what was often considered to be one of the world’s most disciplined and efficient insurgency groups was to create an independent Tamil homeland (which they called Tamil Eelam) in the northern and eastern parts of the island. The LTTE based itself on a unique mix of Tamil nationalist, socialist, and feminist visions of a new future for the marginalized Tamil communities of Sri Lanka. The LTTE became feared for its extensive use of suicide missions, carried out by soldiers of both Hindu and Catholic backgrounds. Because of the marginalization of the Tamil-speaking Muslims from the Tamil nationalist project, none of the LTTE soldiers were Muslims. Generally speaking, religion played—and in the 21st century continues to play—a minor role in the ultimate nationalist goal of establishing Tamil Eelam. Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka centers around Tamil culture, language, literature, and regional identity, not religion. The LTTE’s official ideology was strictly secularist, expressing a clear separation between religion, the state, and politics. The LTTE accepted individual religious practices in its ranks—for example, having a personal crucifix or a holy picture within military camps, but did not facilitate institutionalized religious practice. Yet religious formations, controversies, and practices have been important, if not crucial, to Tamil separatism and, ultimately, to the LTTE itself. In a short period of time, the LTTE developed a unique martial culture and martyr cult, drawing on numerous cultural and religious sources in Tamil society. This martyr cult encompassed references to the Christian tradition of martyrdom, Hindu bhakti (devotional) literature, and classic Tamil heroic poetry. Each martyr’s self-sacrifice formed part of a symbolic universe that was fundamentally nationalistic, but Christian and Hindu references and ritual language were employed to help to legitimize the sacrificial act. The ideology of martyrdom transcended the martyrs’ religious backgrounds, and instead of a place in paradise or release from the cycle of reincarnation, it promised eternal life in the memory of the nation. Within the cultural and political universe of the LTTE, the nation and its territory became sacralized, and the LTTE’s meticulously articulated martial culture began to take on quasi-religious qualities. At the ideological level, the LTTE propaganda machinery managed to balance secularism, deep religious sentiment, and religious diversity, and religion functioned as a multilayered concept used for a variety of purposes by military and political leaders. Religion can also be identified as various “fields” within the movement: “civil religious,” “Śaiva religious,” and “Tamil Catholic religious,” allowing for overlapping yet distinct Hindu, Catholic, or nonreligious identities under the sacred canopy of Tamil nationalism.