“The Munneswaram Kovil in Chilaw is presently at the centre of a controversy over animal sacrifice.” P.K. Balachandran

Hindu Deity


P.K. Balachandran


Munneswaram in Chilaw: Heritage of Ethno-Religious Harmony and Plural Worship

Photocredits: Gane Kumaraswamy

Gaya’s intro: The common worship spaces shared by both Buddhists and Hindus and the intersections were always fascinating to me. This morning an anthropologist friend sent this in recommending it highly. When politics and power collide in issues relating to places of worship or religious rituals,  the media and scandal-mongers tend to exaggerate and create further tension in reporting it. Also, it becomes impossible in the scandal-heat to get well researched articles, unbiased and insightful.

The Munneswaram Kovil in Chilaw is presently at the centre of a controversy over animal sacrifice.

Although animal rights activists are among those, who are fighting for the end of this practice, the opposition voiced by the standard bearers of Sinhala-Buddhism like the Janthika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a section of Buddhist monks, and the ebullient Minister of Public Relations, Mervyn Silva, has given the movement an ethno-religious colour.

Since the Tamils, per se, have kept their views to themselves (barring the All Ceylon Hindu Congress, which has issued statements opposing animal sacrifice) the movement has acquired the look of Sinhala-Buddhist opposition to a time-honoured practice in an ancient Tamil Siva temple.

However, this divide, seen in media coverage and political statements, does not reflect the situation on the ground at Munneswaram. The divide also goes against the rather unique historical association of the Munneswaram Temple complex with ethno-religious harmony, namely, harmony between the Tamils and Sinhala-Buddhists. Literature on the temple complex reveals that from the earliest times, it has been a unifier rather than a divider of Sri Lanka’s two major communities.

Like a lamb to the slaughter



The temple, including the shrine for Bhadra Kali, where animal sacrifice takes place, has been a rallying point for Tamil Saivites and Sinhala-Buddhists since the 10th century, when it was constructed. The main shrine, devoted to lord Siva and his consort Ambal, and the smaller one for Bhadra Kali, have been meeting grounds for these two communities even in periods of great ethnic strife, as in the 1980s, when the island was torn by rioting, terrorism and war.
Read more at DBSJ

Photocredits: Natalie Soysa on Flickr

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