How did this become the season for bashing Anagarika Dharamapala, the Buddhist Pirivena ethos, and the essential post-1956 Buddhist revival?
It is probably due to what is happening at this time of the year in a faraway place where a certain UN body is in session. Or, is it because this is the time of March madness, induced by excessive heat that brings certain people to near delirium?
Whichever comes first, probably. Anagarika Dharmapala bashing is an anachronistic behaviour that crops up from time to time. Anachronistic because nobody was bashed as much as the Anagarika was, when he was alive. According to a certain columnist, the late Anagarika “concocted the poison that’s seeping into the body politic today in the form of extremism.”
In the first place, it takes a peculiarly linear mindset to place the imagined woes of today — the 21st century — on a single person who lived the life of an itinerant ascetic a century back in time. This writer feels that it takes a special type of persecution mania for someone to do something of that sort — but then, there are those who specialize in those tendencies.
The Anagarika was the harbinger of a political tectonic shift — the Temperance Movement — that was the driving force behind the nationalist ferment that brought those such as the Senanayakes and the Jayatillekes to the fore to spearhead the independence movement. To decry the Anagarika as an individual who was responsible for poisoning the system, is to vilify the entire revivalist independence movement — and Independence itself.
Then again, that seems to be what these silly-season critics want. Who says they wanted independence? They would rather have been under the British. Everything they say these days gives out that vibe.
But it is churlish to blame the nascent forces that fueled the independence movement — those such as the Anagarika, who was commemorated in India with a stamp in his honour. Talk about a prophet not being honoured in his own country…
It’s quaint that those folk who blame the Anagarika for ‘poisoning’ the system do not blame the Senanayakes for instance, who were among some of the leading lights of the independence movement. Apparently the Senanayakes fought an entire Local Council election on the grounds that they would ban any liquor shops within the given local council area that they were campaigning in. The writer is not fully acquainted with the details, but something to this effect happened.
Those folk who blame the Anagarika idolize the Senanayakes because they were from the ‘right circles’, not realizing that the Anagarika came from similar or ‘better’ family circles, and had attended S. Thomas’ College.
All this indicates that it is not so much the Anagarika that is the target. When certain agent provocateurs of certain vested interests want to create disaffection towards the Sinhala Buddhist community, they find it most convenient to do so by creating a hate figure such as the Anagarika rather than say anything about the Sinhala Buddhists people — the ordinary folk — who they know are generally a very genial and essentially tolerant lot.
These people find it much easier to create a hate symbol out of a person that lived several scores of years back, and try to diminish the entire majority community vicariously through such a hate figure they basically concocted from thin air. Not that the Anagarika did not exist of course — he was a national hero from a different time — but the misdeeds they try to pin on him never existed, and are a modern-day concoction.
What would have been the early Ceylonese legacy without a transformative figure such as the Anagarika Dharmapala? This would have probably been a nation of alcoholics and dissipated folk who knew nothing of their culture or heritage, but would gladly barbecue anything that moves, and that may only slightly be a recourse to stereotype.
Anagarika Dharmapala was a product of his times and the Pirivenas he fostered and the campaigns he led were animated by the needs of the time. The Sinhala Buddhists were a lost and forgotten race, and those of the Amadyapa (Temperance) movement set about the task of giving the Sinhalese some measure of collective self-worth. To label anyone an extremist for that necessary task, should probably make anyone who does so a lackey of the erstwhile colonial powers, or as the Soviets used to say “a running dog of the imperialists”!
It’s sad that people need these hate symbols when they want to ‘hate on’ the majority Sinhala community in this very tolerant country where race on race animosities have been rare, despite a war once upon a time between a terrorist group and the State.
At least those who don’t need to make hate symbols out of national heroes of the post-colonial revival such as the Anagarika are much more honest, and less devious. Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne, for instance, a Leftist and a “bleeding heart liberal” is nevertheless a good man, though our viewpoints are divergent. When the writing was on the wall for the end of the Yahapalana regime, and the SLPP that forms the current Government was on the campaign trail, Bahu as he is known said, “When the different ethnicities are getting along fine together, there are elements who are seeing this and cannot stand it.” He said “kaala inna behe” (roughly directly-translates as “they can’t eat and live when they see the communities get along.” Well, you get the idea.)
This writer disagrees with Wickramabahu vehemently on this score. The races got along very well always, and they do get along fine now too — it is the others, particularly third parties, outsiders sometimes and locals with vested NGO interests who cannot stand it when the majority is happy, and the minorities are happy too, as things are at the current conjuncture.
But as for Bahu, at least he came out with his honest sentiments, and did not need to create a villain carelessly from the past out of a great national hero such as the Anagarika. Bahu said it as he thinks things are, and though he was not right, he was not devious and did not mind genuinely antagonizing the majority community, with his rather blunt though palpably flawed viewpoints.
Call for Ahimsa
Why do the haters call the Anagarika a ‘poison’? Is it because he decried beef eating? What is so great about beef eating that it has become romanticized?
Vegans and vegetarians decry beef eating in large numbers in the Western world today — are they all racists? The Anagarika’s call was based on Ahimsa, and the cow is sacred by most reckonings in India for the same reason.
Demonizing a man who lived so far back in time just because he did not want a arrack-swilling beef-eating lifestyle from among his people who had essentially taken to ‘imported’ habits, takes a special kind of obtuse obnoxiousness. It is a bad kind of bigotry masquerading as a call against bigotry.
As stated earlier, the Anagarika’s stand on many matters may seem curious now in a society that believes ‘anything goes’, but he was a product of his time and that was an era that called for revival and resistance.
His life and work has to be contextualized. His type of forthright convictions was necessary to stamp out the slavish mentality that had bred a mass of supine people, who were cowed to the point of prostrating themselves before the colonizer.
The problem with those who call that type of chutzpah ‘poison’ and a ‘poison that percolates the system to this day’, is that such critics are unfortunately continuing to prostrate before the colonizers/the ex-colonizers and that ilk. At the visceral level, they continue to mentally carry the white Master in his palanquin, while pointing accusing fingers at their compatriot locals who do not join in.