Michael Roberts on the Eelam Struggle, Tamil Tigers and Their Commemoration of Maaveerar (Great Heroes)
In response to a request from two friends I post a list of my academic writings on this subject for the benefit of those with the capacity to access such resources and the patience to read long essays.
Bodies that Fight On
This icon was built in 2004 and commemorates the Tigers who fell in recapturing the Kilinochchi locality from the Sri Lankan army a few years previously. The title is my invention and is intended to capture the sense of empowerment and defiance embodied by its signs, notably the black power symbol with gun. Note however that, in a fusion of ‘tradition’ with modernity, this icon is encircled by the karthigapoo or glory lily (the LTTE’s emblematic flower) in the manner of a Hindu rite of ārati. Vaitheespara remarked that it conveyed the idea of a ‘resurrection,’ a perceptive reading that is supported by one of the themes – that of renewal and regeneration — coursing thorough LTTE poetry studied by Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam (South Asia 2005).
Tuyilam Illam or “Resting Place” at Kopay late in November 2004. Photo by Michael Roberts, late Nov. 2009.
- “Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites,” Social Analysis 2005, 49: 67-93.
- “Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite of Commemoration,” Social Analysis 2006a, 50: 73-102.
- “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.
- “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 2007b, 30: 857-88.
- “Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Online publication within series known as Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP), 2007c, ISSN: 1617-5069.
- “Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, 24/3: 22-23.
- “Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture 2010, 1/1: 25-41, due next month.
ALSO in association with Arthur Saniotis: “Empowering the Body and Noble Death” as editors of symposium in Social Analysis, Spring 2006 50: 7-24, which has articles by Douglas Farrer, Marie Lecomte-Tilouine, Michael Roberts and Jacob Copeman.
Female Māvīrar surrounded by Tropes of Abundance,at VVT Shed, November 2004
The corpulent and healthy lady is not only arrayed in traditional gear but bears a pot, thereby symbolising generative overflowing. Moreover, this picture is complemented by vessels bearing goods, a setting appropriate to the sea-faring little town of Velvittaturai. Sanjay Srivastava has informed me that the image of a woman with pot was widely deployed in India during the era of socialist state planning to “represent the ideology of plenitude through the planning process;” and that this image has always been common in Indian calendar art where it is “associated with ideas of a fecund nation state and the fertile woman” (email note, 30 March 2008).
Palatial Settings for Māvīrar, Tirunelvely, November 2004
From 1989 the LTTE began commemorating their fallen on 27 November each year, in what they refer to as Māvīrar Nāl, or “Great Heroes’ Day”. This event grew increasingly more elaborate. Temporary sheds at different sites displayed photographs of the dead fighters. The frontage, drapery and posts marking the segments within each shed together evoked a milieu reminiscent of a Hindu kōvil (temple). Chapter 4 within this book provides descriptions of the atmosphere in the week leading to this event in 2004, but can hardly capture the multi-sensual effects of this massive exercise.
This image is from within the shed at Jaffna University Campus, Tirunelvely, in November 2004. This type of backdrop was not an isolated case. While this painting reminds one of a chateau in Europe, other backdrops at the sheds in Velvittaturai and Tirunelvely resembled a Swiss chalet and an urban European palace. From the ideal houses depicted in architectural pattern books available at market level in Tamilnādu, it would appear that the colonial bungalow has been indigenized into contemporary bourgeois aspirations within Tamil culture. It is significant that these attractive familial settings are now deployed to soften the grief of kinfolk of the māvīrar. Whether the attractive setting conveys a suggestion of idyllic afterlife for the māvīrar is an issue that requires careful investigation. That is, one needs to investigate whether the images evoke the idea of swarnalōham, or heavenly place, that figures in Tamil culture as an abode of the deities and/or a warrior’s heaven.
Lt. Col. Bork’s “Nadukal” worshipped by LTTE official, 5 July 2003
“LTTE’s Vavuniya Political head Mr. S. Elilan is seen garlanding Black Tiger Lt. Col. Bork’s “Nadukal” at the Eachchankulam Maveerar Thuyilum Illam. Lt. Col. Bork (Mapanapillai Arasaratnam of Arumuhathan Puthukulam Vavuniya) was killed on 23.11.1990 when he helped destroy the entrance to strategic Mankulam SLA camp.”
I have been informed that the tuyilam illam at Kopay, Vadamaratchy and Kodigamam in the Jaffna Peninsula were crushed into the ground at some point this year. Since this happened at both Kopay and Vadamarachy in late 1995 or os, it follows that all the tuyilam illam have been bulldozed this time round as well. I will be composing anindictment in the next few days.