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Heroes and monuments

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LTTE bulldozer destroyed by Gamini Kularatne, as seen soon after the war was over LTTE bulldozer destroyed by Gamini Kularatne, as seen soon after the war was over (Pics by Bushana Kalhara)

A person who passes Elephant Pass notices of a monument made of a bulldozer plated with armor, which silently reminds the heroic action of a soldier during the war that devastated the country for a period about three decades. It was when the Elephant Pass army camp came under attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorists in July 1991. A bulldozer was moving towards the camp was a strange sight for the soldiers, and it was obvious that it could cause serious damage to the camp. A valiant soldier named Gamini Kularatne took a decision and moved towards the bulldozer, and stopped its movement by tossing grenades inside it, amidst the heavy fire from the terrorists. Kularatne was successful in stopping the terrorist bulldozer, but he made supreme sacrifice in doing so. 

Gamini Kularatne is one of the heroes of the country who emerged as exceptional during the terrorist war of Sri Lanka. He was awarded with the Parama Weera Vibhushanaya Award, the highest award for gallantry which can be received by a military personal in Sri Lanka. He is the first person to receive the award, and became known as Hasalaka Weeraya, since he was from Hasalaka.

The bulldozer monument at Elephant Pass is the same bulldozer which was destroyed by Kularatne. It was there even after the fall of Elephant Pass some years later and during the time when the area was under the LTTE. Since the defeat of the terrorists, the bulldozer is an attraction for fellow Sri Lankan, who tour the area.

War memorials
This event was recalled here as a recent comment made by a left wing politician monk stating this monument should be removed as it belongs to the past, and can be a barrier in the post-war society. There was a discussion on this statement in the society and many condemned the statement.

Erecting monuments and memorials for war fallen is to commemorate them or the victory of the battle or the event is common all over the world. Ordinary people and authorities build monuments for their heroes, apart from the personal memorials often erected by the relatives. This can be seen in many countries of the world as all nations have heroes who braved themselves to face the enemies valiantly. Such monuments boost the morale of the fellow soldiers and of a nation as a whole.

The monument at Elephant Pass commemorates a hero, who fought to defend the country from separatist terrorists. Similarly, there are many monuments built to commemorate other heroes in various places of the country, who fought to safeguard the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. The largest of all is the “war heroes monument” situated near the Parliament in Sri Jayewardenapura, where names of all the fallen heroes of the Armed Forces and Police during the recent war are inscribed. There is another monument related to this war, built for the fallen members of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF), numbering more than 1,500, killed by the terrorists during their peace keeping mission in 1987-1990 near the Parliament.

Apart from those monuments of the recent war, there are few built to commemorate incidents such as the suppression of locals in 1817 and 1848 struggles of freedom, often interpreted as ‘rebellions’. One at the place where Major Wilson was killed in 1817 and where ‘rebels’ were dispersed in Matale are two examples for such. It should be noted that there are some other war-related monuments are there, which are not directly related to Sri Lanka, i.e. numerous World War I and II monuments and even the Boer War Memorial in Kandy.

Ancient tradition
There is an ancient tradition of building monuments for war heroes – known as weera gala (hero-stone), where a fallen war hero was commemorated and he is mentioned as born in heaven. 

A well-known hero-stone can be found at the Archaeological Museum at Anuradhapura. It was first discovered from a ruined site called Velana Damana in a forest in Vilachchiya Korale, Anuradhapura district in 1896 by HCP Bell. However, it was rediscovered 50 years later and taken to the museum.

This particular hero-stone is of interest due to the ideology behind it. The stone has two panels – the large lower panel consists of a battle scene. The hero is depicted as fighting with four enemies, with the support of a fellow comrade. The enemies are dead or dying while hero has been wounded fatally by arrows, but he continue to fight with the enemy facing undaunted up to death. The hero and his other comrade have vanquished four enemies, but at the cost of their lives. The upper panel consists of a noble figure which is being fanned by two nymphs. Prof. Senerath Paranavitana identified the figure as a Buddha, more precisely as Aksobhya Buddha and interpreted that the statue is the consciousness of the war hero, who was born in heaven. The stone bears a Sinhalese language inscription, belonging to the period between 10TH and the 12TH centuries, which is totally illegible. Prof. Anuradha Seneviratne differentiated from this explanation and argued that the fallen soldier is depicted as to attain nirvana after seeing the Buddha.

These hero-stones are a depiction of the belief that a warrior who died a hero’s death on the battlefield obtains bliss of heaven. This belief was strong in India, where Hindu beliefs supported the idea. There are many hero-stones found in South India. However, such a belief is not accepted by the Buddhist teachings which do not tolerate the killing of any living being. There are about five hero-stones found so far from Sri Lanka, and this tradition most probably had an influence of south India.
However, despite the fact that Buddhism rejected killing of living beings, many rulers of Sri Lanka fought war, emerged victorious and even were able to invade other countries. Some of such gallant rulers and heroes are stated to have been born in heaven. That is how the country’s sovereignty and the territorial integrity have been protected during the past.

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