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Refuting Christian Historical Claims
and Expatriate Role

by Victor Gunasekara

Cursory Comments No. 17
This is a response to several posts (some reproduced as Appendices) stemming from recent propaganda that Christianity has a history in Sri Lanka earlier than the arrival of the Portuguese. As some other issues like the responsibility of expatriates to respond to matters like this are also considered I am putting this reply in my CC series.

The recent controversy on the history of Christianity in Sri Lanka was sparked by an article "Catholic Heritage before the Advent of Portuguese in Sri Lanka" by D. E. Mendis in the Sunday Observer (reproduced as an Appendix A). This was partially refuted by 'Tikiri Banda' a pseudonymous Sri Lankan (see Appendix B). This led to the question whether the primary responsibility for refuting such claims should be with expatriates (see Appendix C for some posts relating to this) or with Sri Lankan experts. I propose to consider both these issues in this essay with the emphasis on the latter question.
The Claims of D. E. Mendis

As far as the immediate question is concerned this is a matter of contesting historical claims. Even though Mendis' claim is so ridiculous that it is surprising why a reputable Newspaper should have even published it, refuting it in an effective way involves examining the "evidence" that is produced by Mendis. Mendis claims that two of the well-known ancient Kings of Sri Lanka, Dhatusena and Mugalan were converted to Catholicism[1] and that they caused the Cross to be carved on the Sigiriya rock.

There is really little to refute in Mendis claims as he produces no evidence to back his fanciful conjectures. He says that the evidence is in several stone inscriptions. But since these inscriptions are neither identified nor quoted we are entitled to consider them bogus. Nor has he produced a picture of the alleged Cross at Sigiriya or the Jaffna baptismal bath. Thus there is nothing to refute in this article. If evidence is produced on these archaeological items their authenticity will have to be verified by someone who has access to the relevant literature. Ink-stampings of all known inscriptions have been published by the Archaeological Department in British times, and they have been interpreted by archaeologists. This material is available in Sri Lanka and the UK but not in other places, so expatriates in these other places may not be able to verify them. There are people with the necessary expertise in Sri Lanka, so it is on them that the primary responsibility for evaluating the claims of D.E.Mendis must lie, should they be substantiated. A start has been made in the post from 'Tikiri Banda' (reproduced as an Appendix) but it is not complete and its value is reduced because of anonymity of the writer.[1a]

The kernel of truth - if indeed this itself is true - is the story that the "apostle" Judas Thomas visited South India in the first century of the Christian era. This story is related by many ancient Western writers but not by any early Indian writer. Mendis claims that the followers of Thomas were later supplemented by other Christian arrivals and that they roamed south-east Asia as traders spreading Christianity. This is another unsubstantiated claim imagined by this writer. It is not usual for traders to proselytize and even if Christian traders visited parts of Asia they would not have been a source of evangelization. It is on such fanciful conjectures that Mendis asks people to believe that Dhatusena and Mugalan were Catholics.

Even the stories relating to the activity of Judas Thomas in India are largely fanciful. He is said to have landed on the Malabar Coast[2] and soon converted many Brahmaical families to his Syrian branch of Christianity. After a short period of activity in the Malabar coast he traveled east where he was killed probably because of his unethical conversion activity. He is said to have been buried at Mylapore near Madras.[3] Thomas never visited other parts of India nor Sri Lanka, and Christianity was completely unknown in these parts until Islamic and the colonial invasions. Thomas is said to have been in India for only two years (80-82 CE) too short a time for the things he is alleged to have done there. The small group of Christians in South India, who may not have been direct descendants of Thomas' alleged converts, soon adopted many Hindu features that when the Portuguese came they could hardly identify them as Christians. Most of the so-called Nestorian Christians in India today are actually Portuguese converts to Catholicism and later converts to Protestantism. They are no different to the Jesuhelas of Sri Lanka and should be regarded as a Colonial imposition. Other than in South India there were not Christian communities in other parts of India (including Sri Lanka) before the Portuguese.

We may consider what the role of expatriates in this matter should be. While expatriates have been active on the SL issues they have not produced a reasoned justification for the legitimacy of their activity. This issue may be taken as an occasion to comment on this.


The Role of Expatriates

0n the second question of the responsibility of expatriates as against resident Sri Lankans there are many questions involved which need some resolution. I first got involved in the Sri Lankan issue in the mid-1980s when the Queensland Association for Sri Lankan Unity (QASLU), now defunct, was formed. At the time I wrote a document entitled The Role of Expatriates in the Resolution of the Sri Lankan Problem which set out the justification for expatriate involvement and the limits to that involvement. This was generally accepted by QASLU and some other groups. However since then situation in SL had changed radically and it may be that some of the arguments given there may need revision.

I had argued that as expatriates have left their country of origin their activity must be in support of what the people and Government of SL is doing to preserve the unity of the country against racially-based separation. In the 1980s the Government of SL was engaged in a military confrontation with the separatist terrorists and this had wide popular support. However inefficiently this policy may have been carried out it was the right policy. In these circumstances there was no contradiction between what the expatriates were arguing for and the official policy in SL. In these circumstances the activities of expatriates had to concentrate on the countering what I had called the International Tamil Separatist Lobby (ITSL) and their influence with foreign Governments and NGOs.

However the situation has now changed. Only last week the President of SL addressing the UN said that her Government is committed to a negotiated settlement with the LTTE and that this policy has been repeatedly endorsed by the people in recent elections. This is also the position of the UNP-led opposition. So both Government and Opposition are now committed to dealing with terrorist separatists and the only issue is how much power is to be given to the terrorists. I do not think that this is a position that expatriates in general should endorse. Hence they are now placed in the position of not only combating the ITSL but also the SL government. The question is: Is this a justifiable position for expatriates to take? I have frankly not arrived at an answer to this question, but it is one which all expatriate organization should seriously consider.

Under the guidelines given in The Role of Expatriates ... document what expatriates should refute were the propaganda of the ITSL relating to their demand for a racial homeland, the exposure of the LTTE as a terrorist group, the misrepresentations put out by foreign Governments and NGOs in support of the ITSL position, etc.. An article such as the Sunday Observer article would be outside the parameters envisaged in the Charter for expatriates, and should be something that should be contested by interested parties in Sri Lanka. Of course people anywhere can write to newspapers but it is a question of these papers will publish them. [4]

The Jesuhela Problem

Even as Sri Lanka seems to have given up on the LTTE problem the country is faced with another problem -- the resurgence of Christianity. The cutting edge of this problem is the conversion of Buddhists and Hindus to Christianity. We do not even seem to have any reliable statistics on the scale of this problem. Once again Sri Lankans seem to have misunderstood this nature of this threat. They seem to think that it is a threat posed by some foreign fundamentalist Christian sects. The reality is the damage that these groups can do (without the assistance of the local Jesuhelas) is minimal. The real threat comes from the local Jesuhelas, who are becoming increasingly confident and arrogant and are staking a claim to the entire 'Hela' heritage. This is where the propaganda of D. E. Mendis comes in.

The Jesuhelas are trying to prove that they have as much a historical claim to Helabima (a term we shall use to denote that part of Sri Lanka after the Tamils have been given their Eelaam) as the Buddhists. In Sri Lanka's entire history only two baptized Christians have worn the crown. These are Don Juan Dharmapala and Konappu Bandara. If Jesuhelas can add Dhatusena and Mugalan to the list it will extend their legitimacy in Lanka by by several centuries. Later they may claim that other kings, even the whole Maurya line were Christians. That is why Buddhists of Sri Lanka (not expatriates) should take the lead in this question as on the other question of LTTE separatism.

Nation, Ethnicity, Religion and Homeland

The final question I would like to comment on is the question of ethnicity vs. religion as determinants in defining so-called "homelands". The following comments from the posts of Wimal Ediriweera (WE) given in the Appendix are relevant:

"The PRIMARY criterion is, therefore, whether any nation already has its own country. If so, then its conquest of any other country is an INVASION - an exercise in imperialism. Otherwise various nations would be permanently invading the countries of other nations."
"If a nation does NOT have its own country elsewhere, then it would be entitled to claim a land as its homeland if it is not occupied by another nation - that is, if it is a no-man's land. If, like in Palestine, more than one nation has been occupying the same area, then that area belongs to ALL those nations - and they have no choice but to share it, or divide it among themselves in some acceptable (rational and fair) proportion."
I think 'nation' here is defined in terms of ethnicity (or race) e.g. Sri Lanka is called Sinhalé. But few nations are mono-racial, so I presume WE means that the majority race can claim the entire country as its homeland. This completely neglects the religious factor. Thus if Helabima goes over completely to the Jesuhelas and the Buddhists are all converted by whatever means then this will not be a factor in WE theory as it will not be an "invasion" as he defines it. Also only the current status is considered not how this status came to be what it is. Thus is Australia the homeland of the Aboriginals or of the Anglo-Saxons who some 200 years ago invaded it? The Anglo-Saxons already "have the country" of Australia (as WE would put it) but is it an Anglo-Saxon country? Again Tamils are said to have their homeland in Tamilnadu. But what determines the boundaries of Tamilnadu. During some periods of SL history the north of the country was part of the Chola empire (the equivalent of Tamilnadu). The long-term plan of the LTTE is to redefine the boundary of Tamilnadu to include all of Sri Lanka. This might initially be regarded as an invasion, but if the invasion lasts for a period of time the whole of SL may become part of the Tamil homeland according to WE's theory which seems to take into account which dominant racial groups rules the 'homeland' at any point of time.[5] I think this is a dangerous doctrine. There are things more than mere race in defining the identity of a country, and historical factors are important.

I would like to know in terms of WE's theory whether the distance between a Boduhela and a Jesuhela is greater or smaller than the distance between a Bodhuhela and a Hindu Tamil. I would consider the religious divide to be more significant than the racial divide. But ultimately it is neither of these that should count but a different an more complex set of criteria.

Today there are about 150 states but there are well over 5000 racial-ethnic groups. According to WE those racial-ethnic groups without a homeland of their own will have to find an empty land to call it their own. But there are no empty lands, nor has there ever been empty lands. The erroneous concept is here is that of a "homeland". According to many anthropologists the human species evolved in one place (the Rift Valley of E. Africa). So humans occupying the rest of the world are invaders or first migrants. If we are going to justify ownership of "homelands" according to first occupation we may well be confronted with serious problems. For instance who were the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka?

The unitary status of Sri Lanka has to be justified on historical, economic, political, legal and other factors, not merely racial ones. This had been recognized as such in classical times. It is only with the advent of Western colonialists that an alternative racist-religionist view emerged. It is this view that lies at the basis of the neo-Sinhala transformation of classical Lankan values. The resolution of the current problems have to be sought on the basis of those classical values of Lanka, not on racialist, communalist and chauvinistic ones that derive form the colonial experience..

NOTES

[1] The term "catholic" (with a simple 'c') can be used to denote any universal Christian church and Protestants too claim to be catholic in this sense. But Mendis uses the term Catholic (with a capital 'C') and in this sense it refers only to the Roman Catholic Church. Even the Malabar Christians who followed Thomas are not Catholics. Thus Mendis' claim that Dhatusena was a Catholic contradicts his assertion that he was converted by followers of the Syriac Church which was not Roman Catholic.
[1a] Many of the points made by Tikiri Banda (TB) are minor such as the claim that Mendis says that Persians were Arabs (which statement I could not find in Mendis), the spelling of Thodeus, etc. TB's critique of Mendis' use of the term Catholic is right, but the denomination does not really matter as what is in question is whether there were Christian kings in Ancient SL as claimed by Mendis. Incidentally TB seems to agree that a Christian Church existed in old Anuradhapura, and I wonder what the basis for this claim is. Most of TB's critique is around linguistic points but Mendis has not given any reference as to what inscriptions he is relying on, so this of criticism may be premature until we know what inscriptions are really involved. .

[2] Very little is known of the authentic history of Thomas. The earliest account of Thomas is the Acts of St Thomas written in Syriac about 400 years after the time Thomas is said to have lived. According to this an Indian king called Gondaporus sent an agent to Jerusalem to find an architect to build him a palace. There the agent met Jesus who summoned Thomas (a carpenter like Jesus himself) and sold him as a slave to the Indian to take back to India. Gondaporus freed Thomas and gave him money to build the palace. But Thomas gave the money to the poor and went around preaching the gospel of Jesus (an early example of unethical conversion). When Gondaporus went to see the palace there was none and Thomas told him that he had built the palace in heaven and not on earth! Thomas was thrown into prison but he caused Gondaporus's brother to die and go to heaven where he saw the palace. Thomas then brought the brother back to earth to relate his story. The end is that Gondaporus himself was converted, and Thomas allowed to carry on with his evangelical work. This gives an idea of the kind of nonsense relating to this alleged apostle of Jesus sent to evangelize India.

[3] The Portuguese searching for relics of the Apostles opened the grave in 1582 but nothing was found.

[4] It has been reported that a letter had been written to the Sunday Observer contesting Mendis' claims but it has not been published at the time of writing. If this is not published what would be the point of writing to the Sunday Observer?

[5] If the Cholas had not been repelled and the Colonialists did not come then the North of Sri Lanka would be a Tamil homeland according to WE's theory. At the time of the Portuguese arrival Kotte was largely a nominal suzerain and its real control over Jaffna is somewhat uncertain. The unity of SL in 1948 was a colonial legacy. The British did not agree to Tamil demands to partition SL either wholly or partially. What the British refused to do the Hela Governments since the Cultural Revolution of 1956 are willing to concede.


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APPENDICES

[A. The Claims of Mendis]


Catholic heritage before the advent of Portuguese in Sri Lanka

by D. E. MENDIS

The Nestorian Cross that was unearthed from Anuradhapura, the Baptismal
Alter that was found in the North of Sri Lanka and the Mutwal Cross that
emerged from the estuary of Kalani Ganga in 1912, cannot be laid aside as
frauds.

In 52 AD the apostle, Jude Tedious went to preach the Good news as
commanded by Lord Jesus to Syria and Persia and the apostle, Thomas went
preaching the Good News to India. The Syrians and Persians who became
Catholics were known as Nestorian Catholics and the Malabar Indian
Catholics as Compidian Catholics.

During this era there were persecutions of Catholics in Persia under the
rule of Persian Arab King, Faros the Second. The Catholics of Persia fled
to India in the guise of merchants to escape death under Faros. These
Nestorian Catholics and Compidian Catholics visited countries of Far East
and Sri Lanka on trade missions and they had friendly trade relationship
with Sri Lanka Rulers.

Both Nestorians and Compidians were accorded facilities to practice their
trade and their religious faith. Some of them settled down in Sri Lanka and
Nestorian Catholics established the Sign of the Cross in their Settlements
to distinguish their identity.

The archaeological registers of Swarnasinghe relating to Stone
Inscriptions, said to indicate that the Chief Commander of military
Regiments, Migara who led regiments of King Datusena and King Kashyapa, had
built a Church dedicated to Jesus Christ called "Nana Mathrica Abiseka
Jinesya Christava Prasada" an! d the Chief Commander, Migara Jr. of King
Mugalan's main regiment persuaded the King and assisted him in building a
similar Church close to Sigiriya dedicated to 12 apostles of Jesus Christ
called "Agga Maha Sravaka Dolos Maha Saya".

Historical factors
The archaeological and the historical factors in Dr. Paranawithana's books
provide the backdrop about the Catholic faith in Sri Lanka, which goes back
to the Era of Maurya Dynasty. During this period Catholic Faith was a
practising religion and received recognition and patronage from the
royalty.

According to the book of Lineage of Kings of Sri Lanka, King Datusena was
the son of King Damstranam of Punadra State of South India who was of
Maurya Dynasty. King Damstranam waged war against King Mahanama of Sri
Lanka and conquered the country and signed a Peace Accord with King
Mahanama. As a result, King Damstranam married the daughter of King
Mahanama. She was called Sanga. Datusen! a was their eldest son.

King Damstranam was a friend of King Singhavarman of Pallawa State of South
India.
King Singhavarman's enemies waged war against him and Datusena led the
King's Regiments against the Calabara regiments and defeated the enemies
and saved the life of King Singhavarman. As a result of his military
prowess King Singhavarman made Datusena the chief commander of his military
regiments.

He also gave in marriage his sister, Prutha to Datusena. Datusena's and
princess Prutha's eldest son was Kashyapa. Later on Datusena left the
Kingdom of his father, Punadra State and settled down in Sri Lanka, which
he inherited from his maternal side. During that time Sri Lanka was ruled
by an Indian Calabara tribe - Tamils.

He fought with the Tamil rulers, Thirathara, Dathiya and Pithiya and put
them to the sword and ascended to the thrown of Sri Lanka. The Prana State
(Mangalore) assisted him by sending 75 ship loads of r! egiments to conquer
the Island.

Among these soldiers there were many Compandian Catholics. The Sigiriya
Story reveals during the reign of Maurya Dynasty these Catholics propagated
their faith in Sri Lanka. These regiments of soldiers are mentioned in the
Sigiriya Story as "Murundi Regiments". They migrated to Chilaw and
Gokaththa regions in Sri Lanka and practised and propagated their Catholic
Faith in the country.

Findings
The Sigiriya story was constituted out of data gathered from 14 Stone
inscriptions found in an archaeological register dating back to the 16th
century and collated with primary data of Foreign States. This book also
mentions Migara and Migara Jr. who joined the military regiments of King
Datusena and King Kashyapa from the regiments of King Singhavarman.

The relationship between King Singhavarman and King Datusena weakened after
some time and Singhavarman sent Migara to capture Datusena alive and
present! him to Pallawa State.
He waged war with Datusena whose regiments were led by Kashyapa who
overpowered Migara's regiments and saved his father, Datusena's life.
Migara then signed a Peace Accord with King Datusena. This resulted in
Migara marrying the sister of King Datusena called Ganga. And Migara was
recruited to the military service of King Datusena.

These circumstances prevailed on Migara and Princess Ganga to leave Pallawa
State and they took up court in Sri Lanka with their two children. At that
time Catholic faith growing as minority religions did not face an
obstacles. The coming of Migara and princess Ganga was an added strength to
the faith in Sri Lanka as there was an intimate relationship between the
King's family and Migara's family, which enabled the Catholics to obtain
representation in King's Court or State Council. The ties between two
families became further intimate when Migara's son Migara Jr. married King
Datusena's daughter and King Datusena's son (Kashyapa) married Migara's
daughter.

No proof
Though Murundi regiments in the service of Kings prevailed on King Datusena
and King Kashyapa to embrace the Catholic faith there were no proof
recorded in Stone Inscriptions to show that these Kings acceded to the
request.

Ananda Thera's book of lineage shows when Mugalan came to power, he took
advice from a wicked Brahmin named Marga Jr. of Murundi regiment creating
disension among the Sanga. Mugalan embraced catholism to expiate the sins
he committed against the Sanga. He also built a sign of the Cross on top of
the Sigiriya Rock.

The Maurya Dynasty came to an end with the King Kumarasena's son
Keeththisena's (Christusena) reign and the power of Murundi regiment in
Kings Courts waned. The Catholic faith remained dormant from the Sigiri era
to Portuguese era in Sri Lanka.

Courtesy: Sunday Observer


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[B. Tikiri Banda's Refutation of Mendis]

I can not believe the fictitional fantasy that you have quoted from the Sunday
Observer. It is childish linguistically, a fable historically and an
insult to anyone with any intelligence or knowledge of history. As to how such
nonsense could be published in a recognised journal escapes me.

For instance Persians were not Arabs - they are Parsees (Indo-Ariyans) and
ethnically very different from the Arabs who are Semitic. Until the Islamic conquest, the
Parsees were Zoroastrians or Buddhists. (The Greek King Milinda's descendants, the
Bactrians and the Hunas (Huns) from central Asia, ruled most of this land, and Afganistan of today
until the Islamic expansion in the late 7th/8th centuries)

It i! s indeed tedious to refer to Jude Thodeus as Jude Tedious.

The sound Chr did not exist in the ancient Sing Hela language as is clear
from all the rock inscriptions.

Keeththi in rock inscriptions is the Hela form for the Sankscrit Keerthi =
victorious. Modern Hela refers to Christ as "Kithu".

The term Catholic did not appear even in the West until much later, leave
alone at the time of the Nestorian Christians (Syrian Christian traders)
who did have a church in Anuradhapura. I wonder what gospel these Sinhala Christians
used given that until about the 4th century there were around 128.

The lineages cited could be checked against the Rajavaliya and the Mahanwansa.

If I had the time, I could rip this piece apart.

Sincerely

Tikiri Banda
( Pseudonym
- Identity withheld upon request )


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[C. Posts by Wimal Ediriweera]

From: Wimal Ediriwira [mailto:sinhalacentre@yahoo.com]
Sent: Saturday, 25 September 2004 11:40 PM
To: Victor Gunasekara; 'Ranjith Soysa'; 'Chand Wije'; pol_sambola@lankamatha.com; 'Senaka Weeraratna'; Buddhist-News@yahoogroups.com; 'lankaviththi daya'; sinhalacentre@yahoo.com
Subject: RE: [BNC] Re: Fictional History in the Sunday Observer - Please avoid using pseudonyms


I wish to respond to Victor's letter.

As regards the first point, perhaps someone can provide him with the appropriate evidence. In any case, there is much apart from the cross to reply to regarding the Sunday Observer article.

As far as the second point, most of us have known for the past twenty-one years that most of the intelligentsia resident in Sinhalé are either not interested, or are not willing (for whatever reasons), to attend to these things (unlike the intelligentsia in other countries).

This is why all the Sinhela expatriate patriots have had to sacrifice much of their personal lives to attend to such and allied matters during these two decades. And that is also the reason why Ranjith has requested Victor to write this.

Maybe Victor will re-think his decision on this matter and attend to this very important and urgent matter.

Wimal Ediriwira



From: Wimal Ediriwira [mailto:sinhalacentre@yahoo.com]
Sent: Sunday, 26 September 2004 11:56 AM
To: pol_sambola@lankamatha.com; Victor Gunasekara; 'Ranjith Soysa'; 'Chand Wije'; 'Senaka Weeraratna'; Buddhist-News@yahoogroups.com; 'lankaviththi daya'; sinhalacentre@yahoo.com
Subject: RE: [BNC] Re: Fictional History in the Sunday Observer - Please avoid using pseudonyms



Further to my earlier letter.

Victor should not fall into the trap that the Christians at the Sunday Observer are trying to push us into. We should not be concerned EVEN IF a Christian cross is found in our country - and even if it was dated exactly from the date Jesus was crucified!!

Would the British Isles be handed over to Buddhists - or Buddhism declared the state religion overnight - if a Buddha Chakra dated from 2,500 years ago was found in Oxford or elsewhere?

This is the same trap that the Tamils are eternally trying to spring - by claiming that Tamils were living in the Island long BEFORE the Sinhelas arrived. (Indeed, they also claim that Tamils are the original inhabitants of Australia as well - but I cannot see the Australian government making haste to declare Tamil as the state language there, let alone to declare it a Tamil "homeland", on the strength of that claim).

To draw another parallel, England was in fact occupied by the Romans for more than 450 years BEFORE the Anglo Saxons arrived on the Island after the Roman withdrawal - but the English are not in a hurry to declare it an Italian homeland.

The fact that needs to be considered is not even whether the WHOLE of Sinhalé was at one time conquered by Tamils, and thus a "Tamil kingdom". This would not give Tamils a right to the Island - BECAUSE they already HAVE a Tamil country, Tamil Nadu. Otherwise the British also could demand Sinhalé as a British "homeland" by virtue of their own conquest of the Island.
The PRIMARY criterion is, therefore, whether any nation already has its own country. If so, then its conquest of any other country is an INVASION - an exercise in imperialism. Otherwise various nations would be permanently invading the countries of other nations.

If a nattion does NOT have its own country elsewhere, then it would be entitled to claim a land as its homeland if it is not occupied by another nation - that is, if it is a no-man's land. If, like in Palestine, more than one nation has been occupying the same area, then that area belongs to ALL those nations - and they have no choice but to share it, or divide it among themselves in some acceptable (rational and fair) proportion.

Wimal Ediriwira





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