Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism

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Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism is a political ideology which combines a focus upon Sinhalese culture and ethnicity with an emphasis upon Theravada Buddhism, which is the majority belief system of most the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. It mostly originated in reaction to the colonisation of Sri Lanka by the British Empire, and became increasingly assertive in the years following the independence of the country. Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has also been a driving force of interest in the Sri Lankan Civil War against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Contributions of Anagarika Dharmapala

Anagarika Dharmapala was one of the contributors to the Buddhist revival of the 19th century that led to the creation of Buddhist institutions to match those of the missionaries, and to the independence movement of the 20th century. He illustrated the first three points in a public speech:

"This bright, beautiful island was made into a Paradise by the Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric vandals. Its people did not know irreligion... Christianity and polytheism are responsible for the vulgar practices of killing animals, stealing, prostitution, licentiousness, lying and drunkenness... The ancient, historic, refined people, under the diabolism of vicious paganism, introduced by the British administrators, are now declining slowly away." [1]

He once praised the normal Tamil vadai seller for his courage and blamed the Sinhalese people who were lazy and called upon them to rise. He strongly protested against the killing of cattle and eating of beef.

Relationship with other religions in Sri Lanka

Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has a fractious relationship with other religious communities like Christians, with protests often being organised by Buddhist nationalist organisations against the perceived interference of Christians in the country.[2] Relations between Buddhist nationalists and Hindus are more peaceful and friendly, with numerous Hindu figures, including Kandiah Neelakandan and T. Maheswaran working with Buddhist groups on the anti-Conversion bill.[3] Also, D. B. S. Jeyaraj noted that both Sri Lankan Hindu nationalism and Buddhist nationalism rose as reactions to Christianity.[4] Hindu-Buddhist collaboration is growing more prevalent in Sri Lanka, with the rise of groups such as the Hindu-Buddhist Friendship Society.[5] Since the time of British rule of Sri Lanka the Sinhala Buddhists nationalists have been in a contentious relationship with Muslims, with the Muslims being at the receiving end of racially incited riots.[6] With the conclusion of the civil war with the LTTE in 2009, the Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists' campaign against the Muslim population has become prominent. Incidents of vandalism of Muslim shrines[7] have occurred.


See also


  1. Guruge 1965:482
  2. Sri Lankan Buddhist monks protest against proselytizing Christians AP Worldstream - January 22, 2004
  3. Lanka Buddhists take on Church Daily Pioneer - June 9, 2009
  4. Maheswaran threatens Tamil religious unity The Sunday Leader - January 18, 2004
  5. Hindu-Buddhist Friendship Society soon Sunday Observer - May 30, 2004
  6. Chapter 3: Muslim riots and communal rumblings Asia Times - August 25, 2001
  7. Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine, BBC News - September 15, 2011


  • Anagarika Dharmapala, Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala, ed. Ananda Guruge, The Anagarika Dharmapala Birth Centenary Committee, Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Ceylon 1965
  • DeVotta, Neil. "The Utilisation of Religio-Linguistic Identities by the Sinhalese and Bengalis: Towards General Explanation". Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, Vol. 39, No. 1 (March 2001), pp. 66–95.