Groundviews

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.