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The Dhamma School in Jaffna that Teaches Buddhism in Tamil
Translation by Sudath Madugalle, Article originally published in the Sinhala ‘Divaina’ newspaper on May 11, 2014
Jaffna, Sri Lanka -- At a time when archeological sites and artifacts were still being discovered as evidence of Buddhist heritage in the Jaffna Peninsula, the dark omen of terrorism started clouding the peace of the entire Buddhist nation.
People in the peninsula drifted away from Buddhism not leaving even a scant clue evidencing its Buddhist heritage. This was a time when one could not even find one person who could recite a Buddhist prayer leave alone a monk that could deliver a Budddhist sermon. There was no one to spread the message of kindness and loving compassion to youth falling rapidly into the clutches of terrorism.
Now when the dark clouds of civil conflict have been dispelled and peace reigns supreme in this blessed land, we came across one man who is trying to spread the soothing balm of the Dhamma among people in the Jaffna Peninsula. Arunnethwaraththam Ravi Kumar lives in Manipay, Jaffna. During the reign of terror in the North, he made a living as a tuition master.
Our parents are all residents of Jaffna. But I had my school education till grade 10 in Bandarawela. I returned to Manipay in 1979; but the political situation there was deteriorating fast.
Ravi Kumar started to narrate his life story to us.
His peers among the youth in Jaffna were getting drawn into brandishing weapons. They were in ‘high spirits’ about their new found power. How did the young Ravi Kumar feel about all this at the time?
Since I lived in Bandarawela during my school days, I associated mostly with the Sinhalese. I knew about them and understood them quite well.
Life in Jaffna in the meantime was taking a strange turn. Friendly ties between Tamil families were fading away. One could not go from one family home to visit another. Divisions between them were deep and marked strongly on the basis of the Caste System. But in Bandarawela things were very different. There were no ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. We moved with one another as friends. There was no division according to caste or creed.
My father was an Inspector of Police. He told me that 36 different groups had taken up arms. They were fighting among themselves. Father and son shot each other because they belonged to two separate groups. It was during this time that I started teaching Botany as a tuition master.
One day, Terrorists came in and told me that I had to stop these classes. They wanted to speak to these students, but I was against it. Prabhakaran was getting powerful at this time. He was going about terrorizing people. He even came to my house and demanded that my students be taught their political doctrine.
As I could not tolerate all this I left for India. I was then married, with a five year old child. But I left alone. When I started receiving death threats I decided I would try my best to save my life. I was first in Chennai then I lived in Mumbai, working as a travel agent.
The saddest part of Ravi Kumar’s life was beginning at this time. When the terrorists could not get hold of Ravi Kumar who had left the shores of his motherland because of fighting among the terror groups, they took revenge on his wife.
“I got information that my wife had been abducted. I felt very depressed about my life...“
“One day I had a good experience in Tamil Nadu.”
Ravi Kumar was recalling a 30 year history. It was not simply a personal narrative; it was intertwined with socio-political issues of the time.
“Once Prabhakaran had come to Tamil Nadu to assassinate Uma Maheswaran. Neither of them was well known at the time. MGR who was the Chief Minister tacitly supported them. But the police chief at the time DIG Mohandas did not like them. He arrested Prabhakaran who was armed with a pistol at the point of time of arrest. He had been remanded in Thenampette, where I went and saw him when I got the information. But I could not speak to him. He was then freed on the orders of MGR.”
Ravi Kumar was feeling increasingly desolate at this time. His wife had disappeared. His daughter was growing up with relatives. Conditions in the Northern Province simply did not allow Ravi Kumar to go back. He felt the need for peace of mind very strongly. He started going about looking for solace from wherever he could find it.
“I felt tremendous pain and anguish when I was reminded of my wife and child. I wanted to lead a religious life. I went to ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ centres and observed those practices for some time. Later, I became a Pentecostal religious follower for a while. I stayed at the Golden Temple of the Sikhs following Sikhism. But none of it worked.”
“One day I chanced upon a meditation centre called Battadiya. I practiced meditation for ten days. I liked it.”
“At Hare Rama you had to dance. That was difficult. Here they taught you the Dhamma preached by the Lord Buddha. In the meantime I practiced Anapanasathi Meditation very well. I became a lecturer in meditation in the same institute. The Sinhalese were always peaceful. They practice the Dhamma and worship the gentle Lord Buddha. But the deities worshipped by the Hindus are violent. So are the films that many Hindus watch. Both have influenced the Hindus into becoming violent.”
Ravi Kumar began to move closer and closer to Buddhism as every new experience he gains in life has strengthened his convictions in Buddhism and the confidence he has placed on his Buddhist faith. He was now not satisfied with finding solace in Buddhism only for himself, but wants others also to share the feeling of the soothing peace of mind it brings.
“Therefore I started a Dhamma School in Jaffna.”
“It is called Nandarama Dhamma School. Also, I have now founded the Jaffna Buddhist Association. The Tamil people have now only got to send their children to this institution. Tamil politicians told these people that Buddhism is a Sinhalese Religion. They misled the Tamil people to keep away from Buddhism and the Temple. They should not be deceived any longer… they should experience the Dhamma for themselves.”
“On the other hand they have converted many Hindus to Christianity. They gave prominence to Christians among the terrorists. Who is Anton Balasingham….? They wanted to convert the Tamil people to Christianity and create a Tamil Eelam. That is why they kept telling the Tamil people ‘the Buddhists are against you, the Christians are with you and support you.’ 50% of the Tamil people are already Christians. Many of those among them belong to Pentecostal and the like.”
“When I started the Buddhist Dhamma School, Suresh Premachandran accused me of trying to destroy the Tamil Culture by doing so. I asked him about American Missionaries and about what they were doing. The ordinary Tamil women wore colorful Sarees. They wore quite a lot of jewelry. Now they dress in white sarees according to American missionary dictates and pressure. Normally a Tamil woman would wear white only when her husband dies.”
“Now do you see who has destroyed the Tamil Culture?”
Ravi Kumar carries on with his work by himself. He has started the Dhamma School in his home. At present 50 Tamil children are taught the Dhamma at this school.
“I need the support of the Sangha. The Sangha should be encouraged to engage in teaching Buddhism to the Tamil people before they travel to Europe to spread Buddhism among the White people. Come to Jaffna. Preach the Dhamma to the Tamils without fear.”
“I ask the Tamil people of Jaffna not to look at Buddhism in suspicion. When you go to the Temple, even the gods will be there. If the present trend of religious conversion among Tamils people continues 80% of the Tamil people in Jaffna will become Christians. The balance 20% will turn to Islam. That will destroy the Hindus, as well as the Buddhists. We are one family. If we fight among ourselves those in the neighboring houses are the ones who would benefit.”
“The Tamil youth in Jaffna and the children approve of what I am doing. I appeal to the Sangha and the Government to help me carry on my work.”
Ravi Kumar is resisting doggedly against the evil forces of ‘Maara Sena’. He is seeking support to spread the Dhamma in the Peninsula. This Vesak Poya Day the moon shines as if to shower Ravi Kumar’s efforts with noble blessings. The moon alone will not be able to illuminate a peninsula long draped in darkness. It will also need the aid of the men of the caliber of Ravi Kumar to do so.