Disputation: Athithan Jayapalan
Master Athithan Jayapalan at the Department of Social Anthropology and the Museum of Cultural History will be defending the thesis: Constructing Dhammadipa: Cultural heritage, archaeology and Sinhala Buddhist hegemony in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.
Digital Public Defence
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Title: “Heritage and memorialization among Tamils in Sri Lanka and the diaspora”.
- Associate Professor Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo
- Professor Jonathan Spencer, School of Social and Political Science, the University of Edinburgh
- Professor Camilla Orjuela, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg
Chair of Defence
Professor Ingjerd Hoëm, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo
In this doctoral thesis I explore the role of cultural heritage management and historical representations of archaeological-cum-heritage sites in contemporary Sri Lankan politics. I explore how archaeology and cultural heritage is practiced in an empirical context and how these practices and discourses influence the way people understand and engage the world around them. My thesis concerns the contested and politicized fields of cultural heritage and archaeology in the Tamil dominated Northern Province in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s civil-war. I study how government institutions, the Sri Lankan armed forces, Sinhala Buddhist monastic- and cultural organizations interact within these fields and how they are contested locally. I focus on institutional interests engaged in archaeological and heritage sites of Northern Province in general and in particular on Nainathivu and Kantaroddai in Jaffna district.
Nainathivu is an islet populated by Tamil-speaking people and contains both a modern Sinhala Buddhist temple as well as a traditional Tamil Saivaite (Hindu) goddess temple. Kantaroddai is an archaeological reserve situated amidst Tamil villages in the outskirt of Jaffna town. It is administered by the Sri Lankan Army while officially being under the jurisdiction of the Department of Archaeology. Both sites present locations embedded in social memory, folklore, economic and cultural dynamics associated with local Tamil communities and settlements. Nainathivu is connected with Tamil cultural and religious praxis and cosmology whilst Kantaroddai with Tamil folklore as well as the archaeological heritage of the Northern Province. The thesis is based on 10 months of ethnographic research (between 2017 February – 2018 May) in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province and in the capital of Colombo. Over these months I conducted participant observations, ‘deep-hang-outs’, informal conversations and interviews with government officials, Buddhist monks, members of Sinhala Buddhist and Tamil civil societies, Tamil and Sinhala academics, journalists as well as Tamil local community members and Sinhala dissidents. I also collected field literature, local news-articles and photographs to complement my ethnographic research.
In Sri Lanka, there is a top-down imposition of official history and Sinhala-Buddhist centric narratives of the past enforced by government institutions and Sinhala Buddhist civil society institutions. In the present thesis, I argue that these ideological articulations of history are moulded by British orientalist epistemologies of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist past. Further, they are shaped by post-colonial and Sinhala nationalist renditions and re-configurations. Such structuring of officially endorsed historical representations and materializations in the Northern Province marginalizes and silences Tamil heritage, history and conceptions of the past. A state-centric and Sinhala Buddhist dominated heritage regime prevents possibilities of Tamil decision making and the formulation of democratic cultural heritage policies in Sri Lanka.