Jaffna library: 40 years on, memories of a violent past burn bright

When the Jaffna library was burnt down, it was not only the Tamil books that turned into ashes. The embers of hate also consumed some Sinhala Buddhist cultural assets | Photo - Wikimedia

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.

The iconic poem, Murder, written by Sri Lankan Tamil scholar and poet Prof MA Nuhman in the aftermath of the burning down of the Jaffna Public Library (JPL) exactly 40 years ago on a June evening, is more than just a testimony to the cultural genocide by the Sri Lankan forces.

Ironically, when the Jaffna library was burnt down, it was not only the Tamil books that turned into ashes. The embers of hate also consumed some Sinhala Buddhist cultural assets. (Thus, the reference to 'Cikalokavadda Sutta' and 'Dhammapada'—Buddhist scriptures—in Nuhman’s poem).

However, blinded by rage, the Sinhala nationalists perhaps never understood the inheritance of their own loss.

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