Tamil’s Great Heroes Day :The Revival of Martyr Cults among Ilavar Part 3

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Peter Schalk – Copyright Temenos 33 (1997), 151­190.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Great Heroes’ Day
The celebration of heroism by the Government and other former IIavar movements


Great Heroes’ Day

27th November was made Great Heroes’ Day from 1989 onwards to commemorate the death of Cankar. In Tamil it is called mavirar nal, “Day of the Great Heroes”. This day was prolonged in 1990 to a whole week. The 27th takes the position of a national day in the present form of the anticipated nation­state of Tamililam. Its purpose is to channel veneration of all LTTE martyrs. It prevents commemorative rituals from being dispersed all over the year.

For a Westerner it can be shortly described as an agon of the LTTE in which the agony of the heroes’ death is commemorated and transformed into a victory. Mavirar nal, “Great Heroes’ Day”, is celebrated as elucci nal. This later expression has the double meaning of “Day of edification” and “Day of rising”. The participant may choose either, one, or better both meanings, according to his or her understanding and liking. “Great Heroes’ Day” is indeed a day of mourning, of agony, but it is transformed into a Day of edification and, or, rising.

Veluppillai Pirapakaran was very close to Cankar. There are many stories about the last hours between the two. The fact that there are so many stories about it and that 27th November has been made Great Heroes’ Day and this day even the National Day of Tamililam, indicates that the death of Cankar was a key experience for Veluppillai Pirapakaran. We have to take this experience as the seal on the determination to kill and to get killed – to the last man.

The original experience and what really happened is today overlaid by levels of reflections in retelling the same story. Sankar is made a collective focal point to re­experience the mourning experience with its predictable outcome. The outcome is clear, to create a preparedness to kill and to get killed in the very act of killing.

One LTTE text prescribes that the week of the Great Hero begins at 9 am. followed by the hoisting of the national banner (the Tiger flag). The entire Tamililam having risen and put on beauty, shall shine in fullness, says the text. The entire Tamil population is in happiness.

The flood of more than life­size posters depicting Cankar on 27th November at the crossroads of Yalppanam is more than impressive; it is overwhelming. All the media are full of his life story, that touches a fundamental mourning behaviour in a martial society.

One LTTE text says that the tupis of the Great Heroes, houses, lanes, houses of learning, public places, the whole population indeed, and all people have themselves become holy on this day. According to this same text, the land of Tamihlam shines with new fullness, having become adorned for all these Great Heroes. According to this text, this kind of commemoration of the Great Heroes should not just be an event, but should develop into a cultural monument and become a cultural element.

During maravar nal cultural performances are arranged. “Cultural performance” is an English rendering for Tamil kalai nikaleci, which literally means “performance of erudition”. It can be a drama, dance, song or all three, very often combined. The LTTE has many well­known poets writing in the spirit of the LTTE.

A dramatic performance of and together with a famous poem by Cuppiramaniya Parati (1882­1921) made into a recital called accamillayaccamillai, “fear is not, fear is not” or enru taniyaminta cutantira takam, ‘When will the thirst for liberation be quenched?”, last but not least as a teru kuttu, “street drama”, is highly appreciated. It is worthwhile to look at the public recital in 1990 at one of these two poems by Parati, because both give a contribution to the concepts of heroism, which evidently have been incorporated in a cultural arrangement by the LTTE, recorded, relayed on Cutarcan Television, which is the local television of the LTTE in Yalppanam, and sent out in many copies to the Tamils in exile.

Parati was not only an Indian patriot; his poetic themes also show concern for the poor, the welfare of the common man, adoration of the ancients, confidence in the future generation, concern for women’s liberation, children’s welfare, and human values, but above all for India’s freedom from slavery under colonial power. He became a makkal kavinar, ‘”people’s poet”. Although his poems were written in Tamil they became known in several Indian languages, and many a militant within the Tamil resistance of today knows his Parati by heart, in Tamil, of course.

Accamillayaccamillai is the name of a poem created in 1914 by Parati, and is the first part of a refrain of that poem which is part of a larger text called Mata Mani Vacakam. The poem recited in Tamil in 1990 at mavirar nal goes like this (in the translation of K G Seshadri):

  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all,
  • Though all the world be ranged against us,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all!
  • Though we are slighted and scorned by others,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all!
  • Though fated to a life of beggary and want,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all,
  • Though all we owned and held as dear be lost,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all!
  • Though the corset­breasted cast their glances,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all!
  • Though friends should feed us poison brew,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all!
  • Though spears reeking flesh come and assail us,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all!
  • Though the skies break and fall on the head,
  • Fear we not, fear we not, fear we not at all!

In the performance of Parati’s poem in Yalppanam in 1990, the poem speaks to the performers and listeners of the recital about liberation from slavery, implicitly, applied to the present situation, of the liberation from slavery of the Sinhala dominated administration in Tamil speaking areas. The poem is vague enough to find its implementation in a different situation than originally intended, in a different place and a different time from its origin. In Yalppanam, on mavirar nal, it was performed by actors of both sexes and all age groups on a stage, and the recital was in the rhythm of a march, indicating firm determination.

Another poet is Paratitacan (1891­1964), who contributed to the martial language of the Dravidian movement and influenced the writing of the poet Kaci Anantan, who is one of the most important living and active LTTE poets. Paratitacan was a promoter of Dravidian separatism from India.

There is a tradition of singing songs on many occasions, not only Martyrs’ Day, celebrating the martyrs of the LTTE. They are now called pulippatukal, “Tiger songs”, but they continue a tradition of parani patutal, “praising war”, i.e. a genre of songs that glorifies the hero who killed elephants. This genre was popularised by parts of the Dravidian movement.

The tiger songs are distributed by the LTTE on cassettes and CDs all over the world to Tamils in exile. The most famous ones are by the poets Kaci Anantan and Putuvai. Both are highly active at present creating “martial poetry” or “poetry of resistance”.

This constructive literary aspect of LTTE martial culture, being a kalai nikaleci, `’performance of erudition”, is often forgotten in the image of the critics of the LTTE. It is very important to identify and highlight this aspect. It is both an expression and a mobilisation of the common thinking and liking of the people with the LTTE. On this level of kalai nikalcci the LTTE enjoys the strongest support from the citizens of Yalppanam. The LTTE may fail in its military adventure and experiment, but what it has achieved by its kalai nikalcci will certainly remain and be cultivated for generations to come. It will constitute the embers of resistance that no enemy will be able to extinguish.

 


The  celebration of heroism by the Government and other former IIavar movements

LTTE sacrificial ideology and its ritual expression during Mavirarnal, “Great Heroes’ Day” on 27th November each year, has also inspired other Tamil groups like EROS, EPRLF and PLOTE, who have taken over much of the LTTE terminology. The LTTE acknowledged the “martyrs” of the EROS and of the early TELO in 1991 and integrated them in their body count. One group within EROS became members of the LTTE and ceased to exist as EROS in 1991.

The Sri Lankan state also has a separate national heroes’ days. In this case, it is explicit that this day is celebrated as a state ceremony.

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The Sri Lankan state annually celebrates a National Heroes’ Day,’ on 22nd May. Then, illustrious Sri Lankans? past and present, will be honoured and remembered. A special investiture ceremony conferring honours on national heroes is conducted by the President of Sri Lanka himself.

Most of the honoured have nothing to do with armed struggle or even with the demonstration of civil courage. They are just males and females with professional merits from civil occupations. They are mostly males. In 1993 there were males only.

Among these “heroes” we can find a librarian, a businessman, an architect, a professor, a judge, a former and retired army commander, an economist, a former ambassador, a philanthropist, a veteran craftsman, etc. The title of a “national hero” is bestowed even on foreigners, if they have contributed to the development of the country. The British professor Richard Gombrich was made a national hero of the Unitarian State of Shri Lanka in 1994.

Although in connection with the National Heroes’ Day the meaning of the word “hero” becomes narrowed down to ‘highly merited persons, the ordinally martial consecrative investiture is still conferred on the honoured. They are “fighters”, but fighters for the improvement of culture and civilisation.

These Heroes” belong to different ethnic groups. In 1993 there were 22 Sinhalese, 6 Tamils and 1 Muslim. That incites us to ask what is meant by “national” in this context. The English translation “national” of Sinhala jatika corresponds to the official state ideology that identifies nation and state. “National” then means, as in the expression “national flag”, that which belongs to the sovereign and Unitarian state called Sri Lanka.

Sinhala nationalists, however, also conceptualise this state as a Sinhala state, and therefore, in their context, the word jatika, “national” becomes ambiguous. “That which is jatika” is in Sinhala often conceptualised as “that which is Sinhala”. “National” in “national heroes’ day” can then mean both “belonging to the state” and “belonging to the Sinhala state”. The selected Tamil and Muslim heroes, in the latter case, are regarded as people who co­operate well with the interest of the dominant Sinhalese group that once (allegedly) formed and maintained the Sinhala state. The Constitution of Sri Lanka that is communal in a hierarchic­inclusive way by having promoted Sinhala only and by still giving Buddhism the foremost place, supports and encourages such a Sinhala nationalistic interpretation.

There is a strong feeling among Tamils that all state ceremonies conducted by the Sri Lankan state exploit the ambiguity of the word jatika, and they have good reason to be suspicious. Besides the communalism of the Constitution itself, that inspirers to communal interpretations of the word national, a famous and important representative of the Buddhist sangha has made it quite clear that all state ceremonies should be Sinhala and Buddhist ceremonies.

Many Tamils’ reaction to this expansive ambition is to break away from this Sinhala hierarchic ethnic­state­thinking and to form a counterpart, to form ceremonies that are based on the concept of a separate Tamil nation­state. One of these ceremonies is the Great Heroes’ Day of the LTTE. This should be seen as counterpart to the National Heroes’ Day of the Sinhala nation state.

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The Ealam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the PLOTE, who signed the Indo­Lanka agreement of 1987, do not have a Tamil nation­state as a territory, but they may have internalised it as an emotion or mental concept of a homeland.

In 1990, they had an occasional fall­back into separatist thinking and threatened the Sinhala nation­state to declare unilaterally the independence of a Tamil nation­state in 1991. That state’s territory was, however, already occupied – by the LTTE. There was never a UDI by the EPRLF.

The EPRLF has since June 1990 suspended the killing of other Tamils in competing groups and has also stopped attacking Governmental armed forces since 1987. It hopes since 1987 that there will be a democratic process in the Parliament in Jayavardhanapura.

On its killing account are LTTE fighters and LTTE supporters and oppositional Tamil youths. Every single killing is documented by the LTTE. Its conscription of youths and massacring of civilians in cooperation with the IPKF during 1987­l990, will make it difficult for the EPRLF to establish itself in Yalppanam for a long time to come.

The EPRLF institutionalised its “Martyrs’ Day” only on 5th­9th February 1993, in connection with its Second Congress in Madras. On this occasion comrade K. Patmanapa was remembered. He was killed in Madras on 19th June i990 together with 12 other comrades; according to the EPRLF and Indian and Lankan news media, by the LTTE. In order to commemorate these comrades and other comrades who were allegedly killed by the LTTE Yokacankari and C Tampimuttu, the 2nd Congress extended its salute to them and declared that 19th June should be declared henceforth as “Martyrs’ Day”.

Patmanapa was then not the first martyr of the EPRLF, in the same way as Cankar was the first martyr for the LTTE, but Patamanapa, addressed as “comrade Napa”, was among the best known leaders among the EPRLF. His relationship to his cadres and supporters was very informal and spontaneous. He spoke about solidarity between the suppressed classes all over the world and recruited many low caste followers. He polarised against both Sinhala and Tamil chauvinism. He belonged to the type of emerging leaders in whom his followers had much confidence. There was never any doubt about his integrity. His violent death was indeed the greatest loss to the EPRLF.

`’Martyrs’ Day” is used by the EPRLF in English sources. In Tamil sources, the EPRLF uses tiyakikal tinam, ‘`the day of the tiyakisN, and the words for their heroes are tolar, virar and tiyaki. The first word means “comrade” and is the normal address in leftist parties. There is nothing religious about it. The history of the two other words we already know.

The organisation of this ceremony by the EPRLF should be understood as a challenge that is mainly directed against the LTTE in a psychological warfare. It should also be seen as a way to contradict the image, widespread by the LTTE, that Patmanapa was a turoki, “traitor”, of the true Tamil cause by collaborating with the IPKF. That message is implicitly conveyed in the celebration of the Great Heroes of the EPRLF.

What is surprising is that the EPRLF at all cares to produce any symbolism that is condemned by its cadres as Tamil chauvinism when they speak about the symbol production of the LTTE. There is evidently a breakthrough of Tamil nationalistic thinking within the EPRLF. It is one thing to commemorate the fallen “comrade” as many leftist movements do all over the world. Another thing is to institutionalise a National Heroes Day replacing Marxist technicalritualistic terms with those belonging to a Tamil nationalistic context.

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PLOTE means `’People’s Liberation Organisation of Thamileelam”. Sometimes the short form of the name is given as PLOT by PLOTE itself, depending on whether Tamil­Ealam is understood as a compound or as two words. The form PLOT can also be a result of the Tamil writing of the English name as PULOT, that was shortened to PLOT. In Tamil the name is Tamilila Makkal Vitutalai Kalakam.

Its symbol is a globe. There is also a hand holding a hammer. It smashes a chain that fetters the globe. Around the globe is written the name of the group in English and Tamil. A banderole surrounding the globe carries the slogan of the group in Tamil and English: anaittu atakkumuraikalalyum utaiterivom. The official translation of this slogan made by PLOTE is: “Demolish all suppression”. This slogan also appears on pamphlets, banners, etc.

The PLOTE has a political wing called the Democratic People’s Liberation Front whose present President is Tarumalinkam Cittarttan (see below). Its Tamil name is Jananayaka Makkal Vitutalai Munnani. The PLOTE has had no official military wing since 1987, but unofficially it has one. It is led by Manikkavasan, who leads his military forces alongside the Sri Lankan Army that provides arms, protection and money. Manikkavasan also comes to Europe and other places of Tamils in exile to collect money.

The PLOTE issues a regular paper in Colombo called Tamil Muracu. In the 1980s it had several papers, among them an English one called SPARK

The PLOTE celebrates its most important annually commemoration day on 16th May. This day recalls the killing of its former leader Ka. Umamakesvaran (Uma Maheshwaran) in 1989. The day is called viramakkal tinam, “the day of the heroic people”. The day does not commemorate their own leader only, but also other leaders who have allegedly been killed by the LTTE, like A. Amirtalinkam from the TULF and Ka. Patmanapa from the EPRLF.

The PLOTE announced an appeal in public on vira makkal tinam, “heroic day of the people”, 9th­15th July 1993, to commemorate its makkal yuttattin makattana talapati, “the great lord of the people’s struggle”, in the fourth year after his death. This is amarar tolar, “immortal comrade,’, Katirkamar Umamakesvaran (Mukuntan), born on 18th February 1945, and died on 16th July 1989. The commemoration day is placed on ati 16, 16th July. The appeal contains a photo and a quotation by Umamakesvaran. There is also a comment by the editors of the appeal.

Having this positive attitude towards the Government and the united state, we are astonished to find the PLOTE celebrating Heroic People’s Day on 16th May “to commemorate the Tamil leaders, our beloved comrades’ other fighters and the people who laid down their lives in the freedom struggle of the Tamil speaking people”. This celebrating becomes still more astonishing when we realise that Heroic People’s Day is just a copy of Great Heroes’ Day on 27th November of the LTTE, inaugurated in 1989. This celebrating becomes most astonishing when we realise that the beloved comrade Uma Makesvaran may have been killed by some of those who now celebrate his memory on Heroic People’s Day.

The PLOTE was the strongest armed Tamil movement in the first half of the 1980s, but declined in number during the second half of the 1980s and gradually lost control over the northern province. At the same time the LTTE increased its membership and gained control over the northern province. The LTTE eliminated the PLOTE, the TELO, the EROS and the EPRLF in Yalppanam from 1986 onwards. The shift in popularity from the PLOTE to the LTTE had to do with the intensified and impatient militancy and growth of Tamil nationalism.

The fatal fight for survival on the battlefield and the political stage that has taken place between the LTTE on one side and the EPRLF and PLOTE on the other has been no obstacle to the LTTE’s ideologically influencing the two enemies. Both accuse the LTTE of   being a Tamil chauvinist group, but evidently the nationalistic striving within both parties is so strong that the leadership could not suppress it. What comes up relates them to the LTTE’s popularised concept of martyrdom.

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