Religious Rituals As a Way of Living with Conflicting Ethnoreligious Nationalisms in Sri Lanka

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Anton Piyarathne DEEGALLA DURAGE, The Open University of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka
To many it is hard to imagine that conflicting ethnoreligious groups in Sri Lanka actually unite in everyday interactions. In this presentation I will explain why and how this happens in a context where essentialisations of ethnic and religious labels prevail and relations between groups are still tense following years of conflict. My recent fieldwork in the rural village of Panama shows that people belonging to three different ethnic groups, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim, tend to overcome their differences in the context of rituals that blend Hindu and Popular Buddhist traditions. I will discuss the ways in which religion provides an environment for conflicting groups to unite building on Victor Turner’s idea of communites (1969) as recently applied to the lived religion of pilgrimages (Hermkens, Willy Jansen, and Notermans 2009). In the Sri Lankan context communities is established through the power of rituals which unites people according to their concerns: security and safety. The two main religious performances are the yearly worshiping of the Hindu goddess Pattini and the annual pilgrimage to the shrine of the Hindu god Murugan (or Kataragama). Both rituals start with a three to six days walk of around 105 kilometres to the Murugan Temple located at Kataragama in the month of July, followed by rituals called ankeliya (‘horn pulling’) for paying respect to the goddess Pattini, in the following month. Sinhala and Tamil villagers join with the outsiders (sami) to walk through Panama and the Yala National Forest to do the pilgrimage. During ankeliya the entire village is divided into two: udupila (‘upper side’) and yatipila (‘lower side’). Both the low caste and high caste Tamil people join hands with the fellow Sinhala villagers according to a traditional belief system, which says that the festival will profit the whole community.