Recently, certain people protested outside a mosque in Dambulla, under the false aegis of Buddhism. They are, of course, deeper in attachment to transient identity than Buddhist practice would encourage. My friend Navin Weeraratne recently went to Dambulla to get some pics and talk to people, and he tells a great story on Facebook. I’ve included a few pics and his captions here. Each image is clickable back to the original Facebook page.
Here’s the caption for the general photo above:
This is the mosque. To my knowledge, the pictures in this gallery here are the only ones of it that are out there. If it looks more like a big shed than a mosque, that’s because it is a big shed. This is actually an expanded area, built for the congregation as it grew larger. I can’t name the local heavyweight, so I’m going to call him Robin Hood. He’s Robin Hood, because he did 7 years in prison for breaking into and opening a dam so that desperate farmers wouldn’t lose their crops. He’s Robin Hood because he told the cops in no uncertain terms they were no one to deny us entry into his place of worship. He’s Robin Hood because he was THE major NPC.
Small and modest as it is, the mosque gets its share of outside visitors. Moslems visiting at Kandalama hotel swing by here to pray, as do the Paskistani and Bangladeshi cricket teams when they come to play at Dambulla.
This Koran is tattered because Buddhist monks had been tearing the pages out of it. I asked if the monks had tried burning a Koran, I was told no.
Note that this is the most offensive and inflammatory thing I saw. Can’t confirm or deny.
This man is one of the trustees of the mosque. He told us he came to Dambulla in his twenties (during the 1950s) to work in a shop. In back of the shop they would pull out a table and pray on it. They attracted more and more worshippers, and so they built the mosque area behind the shop.
The police was as helpful and as friendly as I imagine they could have been under the circumstances. They clearly cared about the community they were protecting, and I learned from these two that many of them had been stationed in Dambulla for years (police rotations were common during the war).
I would have probably run into the chap on the left, he had been stationed in Bambalapitiya. There was about twenty policemen in and around the mosque area. Some were more nervous than others, so I did not go about taking pictures of them.
Apparently the monks also threatened to remove a tiny nearby Hindu shrine.
The 8 year old shrine was built by these people.
These are “Sakkili” caste Tamils. The “Sakkili” are the “toilet cleaner” caste. They are not allowed in upper caste Tamil kovils. They live in a slum, and are the second poorest people I have ever seen (the poorest are up north in Batticaloa, where people cannot even afford walls)…
This house is made of mud and sticks, and thatched with dried coconut leaves. Sootch said he can’t remember the last time he’d seen a house that didn’t have a brick in it, and I can’t either.
We were shown video footage of the Head monk himself arguing with a Sakilli slum woman, telling her that not only would he knock down their shrine but that he’d also knock down their houses.
According to the slum dwellers, more Buddhist Singhalese people come to their shrine, than Hindu Tamils. On the left here is a statue of the Buddha.
We asked what the Moslem community beyond Dambulla was doing about the demolition. Robin Hood told us that Moslems in Chilaw (where Moslems are a majority) had been planning a hartal in protest – they were going to shut all their shops for a day. Robin Hood and the other community leaders had asked them not to. The Dambulla Moslems were not only confident that they could protect their mosque from the “parachute priest” as they called him, but were very insistent that this not become a flashpoint for violence.
It wasn’t a concern out of fear, as one would expect (Sri Lankans can be amazing cowardly), but instead a concern to protect the people of Dambulla as a whole. They were not going to do anything that would pander to any extremist agenda, on either side. They needed people to not cause any complications, and I think this has been why nothing visible is being done by the Moslem political leadership in Sri Lanka. I suspect they’re doing a lot — but nothing on a public stage.
We were told that the final fate of the mosque is to be determined in the next few days.
Great freeporting by Navin and Such. Do check out the whole set.