Freedom, Religion and Dambulla : A photoessay by Navin Weeraratne


Of threatened shrines and threatened people

This gallery contains images which are displayed in three pages below. Note that the captions are not viewable in slideshow mode.



  1. Excellent piece of work !!!

  2. The Monks who attacked the Mosque should be arrested and punished in order to not to repeat the same. Not only that they have
    taken the authority in their hand against to other race but also, violated and exceeded the law of Constitution of a social republic democratic country…

  3. GAYA/Naveen, why didn’t you goto the land registrar and try to find out if the land they built this “mosque” actually belongs to them? Photos can be artistic and might convey the so called “innocent plight of a minority” but why didn’t you speak with the head monk of the temple of Dambulla at the same time? Can you jot down by any-chance if the same incident happened the other way around; that is if Buddhists tried to build a temple on a sacred land of Muslims (note that this was build by Muslims on a sacred land that is by law belongs to the temple of Dambulla) – that too without permission? I’m sure you won’t even have the liberty to take photos in the first place!!

    If you are reporting, be fair on both sides. This is incident (Buddhists “demolish” Muslim mosque in Sri Lanka) is being marketed all over the world by those who want SL to perish and being a Sri Lankan, you just aided them. Job well done!!

    • Keith, thank you for your comment. Legality is an issue which is settled in Court. The monk has run amok taking matters into his own hands and ignored consultation and other mechanisms of dispute resolution in the interest of the peaceful coexistence of the community of Dambulla. It’s called impunity. For the monk’s opinion please see Sunday Leader 29 April reproduced here , for The Dambulla crisis and need for a policy for multiculturalism and post-war social integration please read Dr Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake at For videos and media related to the incident and further comment check Groundviews. Both the courts and consultation will doubtless produce an outcome either positive or negative. For us Srilankans however what is crucial is to condemn violence as a method, thuggery, impunity and to reach out to rural communities who are affected by mob violence especially when the incident takes place far from Colombo City and especially when the incident is not isolated.

  4. openmind says:

    Hey Keith, we are not in any sort trying to show the ” innocent plight of a minority”. but it is reasonable to feel sorry for those who had to go through such incident. where in Buddhism have they taught you to claim any part of the land. when did Lord Buddha ever preach of such violence?? how could they forget the basics of Buddhism bieng Monks? is this how they are trying to achieve Nirvana? what happened to the Maithree & Karuna?? the muslims arent by any chance claiming the land. it is a simple place where the muslims gather to do their communal prayers as you may see in the pics, its nothing grand for anybody or anything to be insulted of. after all it is Sri Lanka, we are a multinational country, every citizen has their freedom to practise the religion they want in this land. i live in a multi national muslim country and there are plenty of mosques, temples and kovils here. nobody threats or have any problems with no one in having those.Islam, Christianity, Buddhism etc.. they are all religions of PEACE. Hence i do not support such thuggery. i believe they just insulted their own shasanaya by such low behaviour. after all the mosque has been there for more than 10-20 years or so,now what do they wanna do with it by crushing innocent peoples prayers??

    • Brian Vittachi says:

      Openmind, you are so right. Took the words right out of my mouth. Militant Buddhism? That’s an oxymoron.

  5. dharisha bastians says:

    Dear Keith,
    As a journalist, I agree that the photo essay would have made even more of an impact if it had contained the Buddhist monk’s version of events as well. However, as a journalist writing and working in present day Sri Lanka, I can also vouch for the fact that the story Navin and Suchetha told through the lens and their conversations with people is a side of the ugly incidents in Dambulla that is not permitted space in today’s mainstream media. It is therefore, a monumental piece of reporting and I am grateful that it has found such a wide audience, at least online.
    Sri Lanka will not perish because of this Photo Essay. Sri Lanka – my Sri Lanka – will perish, I believe, if we continue to wound and marginalize communities that also call this country home, in the name of Buddhism. There is less and less space here for the ‘other’, especially an ‘other’ that is not willing to submit to majority will. That is the most dangerous trend underscored by the hideousness of events that unfolded in Dambulla and it is threatening to be our undoing as a pluralist nation, constantly pushing us towards hegemony of a single ethnicity and a single religion.
    As Gaya says, if legality of the land rights was the issue, the matter should appropriately be resolved in a court of law.

  6. warner says:

    The violent head monk led a major protest against the building of the Kandalama Hotel and vowed to set himself ablaze on the day of the opening of the Kandalama hotel. . The hotel was built, opened and in business for the last 18 years. The monk did not make good on his promise too and lived another day to continue to create trouble and promote hatred. How the change of heart to the hotel came about is anybody’s guess.

  7. David Webb says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful blog post. This is not Buddhism, if Buddha was alive he’d object to these monks and show the hypocritical ways of these monks. Specially the head monk who visits Bangkok ever so oftern for his orgy’s with the Thai transvestites. Apparently, he blames his behavior on Viagra. A

    Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu, Christians, Jain, we all live in Sri Lanka a true multi ethnic nation. Unfortunately, we have thugs and gangsters as our ‘leaders’. There days are numbered, people have had enough of war. It is the few who made their keep trying to create another war so that they can live and take care of their bastard children with black money.

  8. Beautiful and moving…good work brother!

  9. Good. I accept your analysis. If there’s injustice, let that be punished, and if this is a land dispute, let that settle in the court.
    Buddhism preaches metta, karuna etc. Islam preaches to kill non-believers (do your own research). Isolating this incident, don’t forget what’s happening around the world and in some parts of SL.
    On another note, can you also, travel to Kuragala, and do a similar “photo essay”? I’d be eagerly awaiting you’ll actually visit there, and speak only with the Buddhist parties. Looking forward to it.

    • Keith, thanks for using respectful language in commenting. It is appreciated. There were not-so-respectful comments in response to your post which were not posted in line with the object of this website at generating constructive open and respectful sharing. I am hoping to share more views on the greater issues at stake in the “Dambulla incident” as it is important at many levels I believe to post-war societal cohesion in Sri Lanka. I hope you and others will continue to comment respectfully. Thank you.

      • Gaya, don’t you think kuragala has the potential to be another “dambulla”??? It looks like there are so many righteous people to save the minority parties and not the majority when the majority become victimized!!!

        • Rosh, hello ! I have no expertise to speculate on the potential of Kuragala but thank you for asking nicely 😉 It is appreciated. None of the ‘righteous’ will have a space on iSrilankan nor ‘saviours’ I hope. Opinions are welcomed in comments but I don’t really think opinions are in short-demand in Sri Lanka; what I prefer to have are insights. As an insight -gatherer I have received a few which I will share in the next few days.

    • Hey brother keith,
      I feeling sorry for you knowledge about Islam. Islam doesn’t preach about killing any one. please do not see what only you want to see brother. killing a another human is equal to killing a whole humanity. thats wat islam preaches for true believers. and yet buddhism or christianity or hindusium or any other religions which exist they dont preach about taking another humans lives. v have no rights to do this. so please do learn before talk brother, Iam a muslim but i read about all the religion. i dont see much of a different inbetween them.

      This island (sri lanka) have already gone through a very bad bitter era. let not have that again. this country could be a paradise. its all multi ethnicity to held hands and work for it brother. if there is any conflict on any matter i think it should be peace full and sorted by law. lets hope every one lives peace in this island. please do not spread racism.

      I am sorry if i do have hurt any once feeling. apologize in advance

  10. Please refrain from using derogatory language and gossip if possible when commenting. Thanks guys ! Gaya

    Our life in this world is short we are all going to die one day (we dont know when it may be today or tomorrow or after a few days) …the maximum we can live is (100 years x 365 days = 36,500 days) or on an average (70 years x 365 days = 25,550 days).
    We have spent a great majority of this time and we can calculate the average balance yet to go.
    The days and weeks and months fly. The day comes and the day goes, the month comes and the month goes, the year comes and the year goes. What does all this mean.
    What does each of our religion teach us …. The common message is your future is depended on how you behave and conduct your life …..Let us adhere to the Teachings of our Spiritual Guides…..
    Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.
    Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.
    Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.
    Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
    However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?
    In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.
    In Islam Love and Hate can be only for the Sake of Allah ( Muslims believe that Allah is the God who is the Creator of the Universe and all that it contains including Mankind and Jinns who are spirits (good and bad), He is the Cherisher, he is the Sustainer and He is thThe Nourisher …the Lord of the Universe, he controls everything which is happening, will happen, and which happened). He controls the sun the stars and the Moon and the Whole universe including all the planets what we can see and what we cant see. He controls the movement of the Stars and the Planets. We have to return back to him…..

    Your love or hate for your kith and kin, your wife, children, your parents or anyone or anything else should be for the sake of Allah. Whatever you do should be for the sake of Allah – You give for the sake of Allah, you take for the Sake of Allah, you do for the sake of Allah. (This implies that there is no Show offness, no expectation of praise for your acts, no name boards, no exhibitionisms, no expectation of returns, no expectation of praise – all done for the sake of Allah). The focal point is the Love of Allah. The centre of unity is the love for Allah the creator – you bonding and binding and love is dependent to the extent of your love for Allah, which in turns is reflected to the extent you practice your religion based on his love.
    There are also some verses of the Quran to Fight against the Unbelievers who had driven the Prophet and his companions out of their land which was Mecca (this was for that particular circumstance – @keith).But the Quran explicitly states that : “Allaah does not forbid you to DEAL JUSTLY and KINDLY with those WHO FOUGHT NOT against you on account of religion nor drove you out of your homes. VERILY ALLAH LOVES THOSE WHO DEAL WITH EQUITY.” [al-Mumtahanah 60:8]
    The Quran also says : Prophet of Islam was not sent, “save as a mercy unto all beings” (The Qur’an 21: 107). The message is a mercy on to Mankind and is for the whole mankind….not to one group.
    The Qur’an says: “We sent aforetime our messengers with clear Signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that men may stand forth in Justice.” [Al-Hadeed 57:25].
    “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” [An-Nisa 4:35]
    “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.” [Al-Maidah 5:8]
    “Allah doth command you to render back your Trusts to those to whom they are due; and when ye judge between man and man, that ye judge with justice: verily how excellent is the teaching which He gives you! For Allah is He Who hears and sees all things.” [An-Nisa 4:58]

    May we be guided to serve humanity and to bring peace and Justice in our Mother Land and Humanity as a whole…..

  12. javed ansari says:

    this cant be the work of BUDDHISTs, these people who have done this are not followers of BUDDHA. they should go thru the principles of Buddhism again, which is bravery & patience, not cowardliness and destruction. Any such attack on any religious place anywhere in the world should be strongly condemned . My solidarity & support is with the Muslims of Dambulla.

  13. Navin Weeraratne says:

    Great piece of work Navin (I’m honoured to share my name with you). As Javed (above) has already identified, one would think a community blessed with the wisdom of any religion would create heaven on earth. Yet what have we created in Sri Lanka of late?

    Sure, we have a lot of temples and statues of the Buddha, but where are the results of compassion and unity, detachment and wisdom, one would expect to see in a ‘Buddhist’ nation? Instead, what we have to show is a long list of corrupt and opportunistic leaders (political/ tribal/ religious), decades of war, and masses of vulnerable citizens. For decades our people have been groomed by our ‘leaders’ to turn a blind eye to our failures and faults by using patriotic clichés, with anyone who doesn’t oblige being branded a Traitor. As a result, our people have become blissfully ignorant, and grossly dependent on such leaders.

    The sad truth is, much like most religious establishments (note that I differentiate between a religion and a religious establishment), the Buddhist establishment in Sri Lanka has become a political tool used to control the masses. It shows little regard to the actual teachings or spirit of the Buddha. However, if people like you can help our society see past these ignorances intentionally instilled in them by these manipulative ‘leaders’, then you are helping our country take a big step towards realising the true values of Buddhist teachings, and thus becoming a wiser, more independent society.

    Like a good parent must be open to flaws of their children, in order to correct them, a true patriot needs be open to the flaws of their nation. So thank you for putting together this piece of work. I hope you will continue to do such work, and counter the work of movements with a vested interest in ignorance and division. Violence and division is neither Buddhist, nor Sri Lankan. We are a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious nation. It is anyone who acts against such a spirit that is a Traitor.

Speak Your Mind