The burning of the Jaffna library: 31 years on

31 years ago, the public library in Jaffna was burnt. As noted online, at the time of its destruction, the library was one of the biggest in Asia, containing over 97,000 books and manuscripts. Nothing survived the flames. Anchored to an event in Colombo, an article commemorating the burning of the library published on Groundviews last year noted,

Some one quite rightly pointed out that it was a crime against humanity. No doubt, it is a crime which struck at the very heart of Tamil culture and civilization- a crime which is tantamount to rape, as described by the speaker – a rape not of the body but of the hearts and minds – for this repository of knowledge, culture and history represented the pride and dignity of the Tamil people.

The following poem was sent to us some months ago. It seems apt to publish it today. Originally written in Tamil by Prof. M. A. Nuhman, the translation is by S. Pathmanathan (from Lute Songs, edited by Chelva. S. Kanaganayakam).

Murder

Last night
I dreamt
Buddha was shot dead
by the Police,
guardians of the law.
His body drenched in blood
on the steps
of the Jaffna Library
Under cover of darkness
came the ministers.
“His name is not on our list,
why did you kill him?”
they ask angrily,
“No sirs, no,
there was no mistake.
Without killing him
it was impossible
to harm a fly –
Therefore… ,” they stammered.
“Alright, then
hide the corpse.”
The ministers return.
The men in civvies
dragged the corpse
into the library.
They heaped the books
ninety thousand in all,
and lit the pyre
With the Cikalokavadda Sutta.
Thus the remains
of the Compassionate One
were burned to ashes
along with the Dhammapada.

  • http://ravana.wordpress.com Jehan Mendis

    What is the Cikalokavadda Sutta? Generally, the Suttas are available online, but a search for this one only brings up this poem.

    • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

      Jehan,

      We believe it refers to the Sigalovada Sutta.

      GV Eds.

  • rita

    There is no change in the underlining hatred of the ‘other’ among ”Sri Lankans”:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11668352
    Sri Lanka’s historic Jaffna library ‘vandalised’, 1 November 2010

    • Dan Herath

      This intention of vandalising the library by the visitors from the South is too alarming to be ignored. Many in the South have been given free bus travel to the North in 2010/2011 and the places that Tamils are not allowed to enter have been accessible to these visitors.
      Research by social scientists would reveal significant findings.

      • Kusum

        Psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have their work cut out here – besides political scientists.

  • Ward

    Groundviews
    You’re tremendous.

    The poem – last 64 yrs in a nutshell.

    • Sadun

      64 years in a nutshell; that may be including or excluding the killings of pilgrims at Sri Maha Bodhiya, the bombing of Dalada Maligawa, the killings of Samanera bikkhus at Arantalawa, who were followers of the Lord Buddha and the list goes on on. The library was burnt by some mad men and some say led by a thug of a minister whose ancestor was a tamil and the good old professor thought it suitable to drag a religious leader into the poem respected and followed by many, including the tamils, some say that the ancient ruins in the north were created by tamils who were buddhists many moons and years ago and we learnt at our young ages not to drag religious leaders into our arguments since they do not belong only to us and as they belong also to others not linked to our sorrows and pains and our use of their names might hurt those who are not linked to our sorrows and pains, but the professor thought it fit to castigate a religion, however much his sorrow is of the burning of the library, his seat of history and education, it is not that good.

  • Buddhika

    You forget to mention the author of the poem!

    He is professor MA Nuhman who i believe once held a chair in Linguistics at Jaffna University. In yet another twist of fate, he found himself an émigré when the LTTE exiled Muslims from Jaffna in the mid-80s.

    sad times.

    • Buddhika

      Ah, I see you’ve edited to include the provenance. Good show!

    • Ward

      Thanks for bringing up the name of the author.
      Hope Groundviews brings up some more of his poems.

      This vicious conflict continues to take unacceptable turns. Successive governments have been interested in annihilating the LTTE and not serving the ethnic minorities justice.
      LTTE made a lot of unacceptable atrocities. Why successive governments haven’t returned the Muslims to the North after quickly regaining Jaffna from the LTTE is a question. But then all visiting foreign dignitaries have been taken to Puttalam to show the ”LTTE atrocity”. So serving Muslims justice is much less important than showing the LTTE atrocities to the outside world??

      What the government doing now to the Muslims and Tamils in the East and the North and elsewhere after wiping out the LTTE is unacceptable.

  • Kusum

    What action was taken against the vandals in:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11668352
    Sri Lanka’s historic Jaffna library ‘vandalised’, 1 November 2010

    What action was taken in 1981 please?

  • Nelum Bandara

    Buddhika
    You say:
    ”You forget to mention the author of the poem”

    Did you forgot to read:
    ”Originally written in Tamil by Prof. M. A. Nuhman”

    • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

      Dear Nelum,

      Actually, when the post went up originally, it attributed the translation and the volume from which it was taken, but omitted to mention the author. This was correct within a few hours of it being online, and the comments that led to the correction kept on the thread. Hence, Buddhika’s right in noting at the time that GV hadn’t mentioned the author of the poem.

      Best regards,

      GV Eds.

  • Nelum Bandara

    If only the flames engulfed the hatred of the ‘other’

  • Nelum Bandara

    rita
    To me the attack on Jaffna University student is a continuation of the attack on Jaffna library:

    http://www.srilankabrief.org/2012/05/jaffna-uni-student-union-secretary.html

    In fact the high militarisation and the refusal to hold elections for the North tell us that the mindset of 1981 lives on.

    • Nelum Bandara

      Most unfortunately and most unashamedly.