By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan in Kilinochchi
The commemoration of Maveerar Naal, or the Great Heroes’ Day, for the second time since the LTTE was wiped out in 2009 is set to be held tomorrow (27 Nov) as the clock strikes 6:06 p.m. At various burial sites in the North and East, where LTTE combatants lay buried, thousands of torches will be lit invoking blessings on them. A larger crowd than last year is expected to take part in the rituals with flowers and food offered to the dead. They will also hoist the red and yellow flag that depicts the Tamil identity on the land.
The torch (pandam) will be lit precisely at 6:06 p.m. in remembrance of Lt. Shankar Sathiyanathan, who was the first to be killed in a battle with the security forces on 27 November 1987. Shankar was wounded and succumbed to his injuries in Tamil Nadu.
During this entire week there were pocket events held to commemorate the dead LTTE cadres.
Ceylon Today visited the biggest burial site, the 15-acre Thuyilum Illam (resting place) in Kilinochchi, which was demolished in 2008 by the military in fear that it would revive the LTTE’s struggle for a Tamil Eelam.
The army built a camp on the burial site but came under severe criticism by international human rights activists for their action.
However, in 2015 the military quit the site. The Tamils re-entered the premises last year and picked all the pieces of broken tombs piled up in a corner and placed them neatly in time for last year’s remembrance day, where more than 10,000 attended.
Getting ready for tomorrow
Some volunteers were seen at the site Friday, enthusiastically cleaning up the place for this year’s commemoration. They looked rather in a festive mood as the time was nearing for them to reconnect with their departed loved ones. This is also the burial ground where senior LTTE member Tamilselvan was buried after his hideout was shelled, the watchman says.
“It’s our children who perished and we cannot forget their sacrifice,” says Sivendran, one of the volunteers who took up cleaning of the three burial sites in Kilinochchi. He adds that combatants were part of their family, their flesh and blood who went to school and ate the food their mothers cooked, before they became fighters.
“True, it is part of Tamil history now and their sacrifices on our behalf will be remembered for generations. It’s our duty to respect the dead. Tamils have rituals for the dead and we consider it to be a ceremony that is close to our hearts. This does not mean we are going against a country’s leadership. It’s the politicians who are twisting it for their political future,” says Velan. It’s an ordinary religious ritual that is being planned, he adds.
Several locals were seen cleaning up the 15-acre land, which was known at one time as the most beautiful burial site in South Asia constructed by the LTTE. This time they expect a crowd not less than 30,000 to attend the commemoration. No VIPs are invited nor given prominence at this ceremony, they tell us.
The people visited the burial ground last year after a lapse of nine years and they wailed and cried at the cemetery. They did not know where their loved ones were laid to rest. But, they were at peace that they could visit the site to pour out their grief.
When the commemoration was banned, some had secretly held prayers behind closed doors. One young man says, a few years ago, on his street they lit an oil lamp and left it by the road side and went into hiding.
This year’s commemoration seems to have been planned well. Already a well-wisher from Kilinochchi has donated two solar powered lampposts to the burial site worth nearly Rs 340,000. About eight persons offered their tractors, some offered their bulldozers and backhoes to clean up the place so that flowers and food could be offered to the dead.
Volunteers say that 3,000 oil lamps will be lit tomorrow covering about eight acres of this particular burial site. There also will be 3,150 stones (as tomb stones were destroyed) placed where the loved ones can grieve over. They add that in the near future they may not see a complete cemetery as the land is owned by the Pradeshiya Sabha.
The slain LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran declared a week to commemorate fallen heroes from 21 to 27 November, but even though it coincided with his birthday on 26 November he commanded there should not be any celebrations.
On the remembrance day of 1989, Prabhakaran said if he ever betrayed the Tamils, he should be killed.
We met Thiyagu, who has been the watchman of Thuyilum Illam for over 20 years.
He says he is a dedicated man who is willingly to take care of the site where the martyrs were laid to rest.
“What’s the purpose of life but to be by the dead ones who sacrificed their lives for us,” he says emotionally.
He still fears letting others know that he was the watchman. “It can be misunderstood and as you know we are being watched and questioned.” Apparently, some police officers had visited the place asking what was going to take place tomorrow and who was going to be the chief guest.
Fear and doubt have not disappeared fully despite people are allowed to remember the dead after pressure applied by the UNHRC on the Sri Lankan Government, another man says.
“We thank the West for telling our own brothers to let us remember the dead. In fact, this should have been told to us by our own brethren,” he adds.
Thiyagu never worked for a pay, he says. “When the burial site was demolished I was not here. I had been displaced at that time so I never saw it happen.”
Regaining former beauty
Hailing from a nearby village, Thiyagu wants Thuyilum Illam to regain its beauty. Thiyagu claims that the LTTE spent millions of rupees to construct the burial site for its combatants, each tombstone costing
Rs 18,750, and there were 3,150 tombs. It was Lt Theepan who constructed the Kilionchchi Thuyilum Illam, he claims.
After the burial ground was demolished, Thiyagu had been doing menial jobs till the Maveerar Naal was allowed to be commemorated openly last year, and that was when he had resumed the watchman job. Thiyagu (43) was only 16 years old when he first took over the job. He says that at the inception they used to cremate the dead, and nearly 346 bodies were cremated there. But, with the death of Lt Pilahari on 9 August 1991, the LTTE decided to bury the bodies so that they could be remembered by their loved ones. She was the first combatant to be buried.
In Kilinochchi, a group of 21 has been formed to take charge of all three Maveerar burial sites. In Veravil, Viswamadu 5,000 tombs were built mostly for Eastern fighters. Today, one part of the ground is a military camp. And, there’s another in Mulliyawela, Mullaitivu. Ceylon Today also visited a village named Rudhrapuram in Kilinochchi where combatants’ parents were honoured. There were old parents who were weeping while several organizers spoke about the parents’ sacrifices. They were recollecting their days with their children solemnly. A tree planting ceremony was held too where mothers and fathers took coconut saplings home to name them after their dead sons and daughters.
The Tamils are not going to stop with these commemorations. They intend to turn these burial sites into botanical gardens and hope to take care of them for generations. (firstname.lastname@example.org)