Protests, ownership counter claims and Pillayar Kovil stays! | Sunday Observer

Protests, ownership counter claims and Pillayar Kovil stays!

A block of land that is said to include remnants of a demolished Pillayar kovil (Lord Ganesh’s temple), a stone’s throw away from Kanniya’s ‘seven hot springs’ tourist attraction, has been at the centre of a contentious land grab tug-of-war between Hindus and Buddhists. This has apparently ended with a ruling by President Maithripala Sirisena, benefiting the original owners.

The bone of contention had been a Buddhist group also laying claim to the same land.

The President’s order is that Hindu devotees should be allowed to carry out religious activities sans any hindrance, and includes an interim ban on the attempted construction of a Buddhist temple.

This decision was reached, subsequent to a high-level meeting spearheaded by the leader of the Democratic People’s Front, Minister Mano Ganeshan, and the President, which included Minister Digambaram and other Tamil representatives.

Instructions passed down by the President include (1) to appoint five Tamil Archaeologists’, addressing the lack of Tamils involved, and (2) ‘to immediately lift the prohibition enforced by the Archaeological Department, depriving access to Hindu devotees’. It was concluded during the meeting that no persons nor the Archaeology Department has the authority to prevent devotees from visiting the temple. Since, the department does not have the authority to maintain the premises, this function has been entrusted with the District Secretariat.

The meeting had taken place on Thursday (18), at the Presidential Secretariat, after National Integration, Official Languages, Social Progress and Hindu Religious Affairs’ Minister Mano Ganeshan had pressed hard for a discussion with the Head of State, in a bid to end the growing dispute.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the Democratic People Front’s leader had raised the issue with the President, and insisted that a special meeting be convened to settle the issue.

This saga initially sparked two-months ago, when on May 21, the trustee, Kokila Ramani, decided to repair their property. Thereupon, a Sinhalese group had raised objections and claimed that the land belongs to them.

Thavaththiru Akaththiyaar Adikalaar, a priest of the temple told the Sunday Observer that Lord Ganesh’s temple had been in existence since the time of British rule. It is about 10 metres away from the famous hot springs, and about 25-30-feet, in size. In the early 2000’s, the property and land became problematic.

“In July 2004, when MP Sampanthan laid the foundation for another round of refurbishment, the following day, a Buddhist monk claimed rights over the property and filed an interim injunction, against any development,” the priest said.

“But, then again, citing the absence of the petitioner, the case was dropped after four years,” he said.

Last Tuesday (16) saw a protest by the area residents, which, gradually, escalated into a tense situation. Soon after, and, primarily to avert a communal quarrel, military personnel were deployed, including Police in the kovil premises.

“A group consisting of Kokila Ramani, myself, were en-route to the temple for a special observance on Tuesday. We saw military personnel, and we were denied access to the shrine. But, subsequent to some of us demanding that we be given access, only I and the trustee were allowed in. Seeing this, we asked the police what was going on,” the priest recounted.

“However, there was no explicit explanation from the law and order authorities. Hence, we lodged a complaint with the Police, and on the following day with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL).” When the Sunday Observer, asked the priest, whether they sought evidence as to it being Buddhist land, the Hindu party said that evidence is stored in Colombo.

There were reports stating that the President had written to the Archaeology Department issuing a directive to halt the construction of the Buddhist temple. The trustee of the Pillayar kovil, is also a custodian of another Lord Amman temple (Muththu Maari amman) in Trincomalee.

Meanwhile, Police OIC of Uppuveli, Gayan Prasanna said “Epigraphical evidence was found, when excavating the place. Hindus counter-claimed that they had their temple located there, while so did the Buddhists, saying inscriptions and ruins have been discovered. On Monday (15), a court interim injunction was issued preventing any work at the site. It’s hard to arrive at a conclusion. The two have expressed contradictory claims that present an inconclusive picture,”

The OIC said of the role of the Police- “There is no evidence or visibility of both shrines. We were called in solely to protect the land”.

Numerous attempts by us to contact Minister Ganeshan and Digambaram for comment, were futile. 

The land claimed by both Hindus and Buddhists