Tirupati Factor Sri Lanka's spiritual dependence on India

  • By Eshan Jayawardane
  • April 16 2019
  • This article is about the Unbreakable Symbol of Sri Lankan politician’s spiritual dependence of India. The symbols are Tirupati and Bodh Gaya.

Man’s association with faith is the most inexplicable thing in the world which gives no clue of comprehending its very nature. Even the most powerful men in world history were known to be shaky and crumbled before the creed they ardently believed. In the annals of Roman history we find emperors like Hadrian who was extremely obsessed with Hellenic culture and his political decisions were more or less affected from the Greek soothsayers served in Roman imperial court. There are dozens of examples showing how oriental rulers were fascinated with their faith for foreign deities and oracles. 


Being located geographically close to the Indian mainland, Sri Lanka shares an enormous cultural and spiritual legacy with the Indian civilization. Even though Sri Lankans tend to boast about their complete separate identity from India, it is a fact beyond dispute that the island’s political and cultural history is imbued with the influences gained from India. 


Since the day Asoka sent his son Mahendra to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism in 3rd century BC, the greater influences that came from India have had some profound impact on the island’s political map. Today, its impact is reflected when Sinhalese Buddhist politicians visit spiritual shrines in India often. 


In fact paying homage to Sri Venkateswara, a form of Vishnu, at the ancient Tirumala Temple at Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh India is common to both main political parties of Sri Lanka.


In tracing the recent history of the number of official visits made by prominent Sri Lankan politicians to Tirupati, it is evident how this spiritual mystic place has become a place of paramount importance to some key political characters of Sri Lanka.


Starting from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to current President Maitreepala Sirisenathe veneration of Tiru temple always have been crucial before they made any important political decision. It was reported even when president Rajapaksa went for presidential election in 2015 before his term legitimately ended, his decision was shaped by the predictions heard at Tirupati from its soothsayers.


On the contrary the outcome of the presidential election in Sri Lanka sent president Rajapaksa home and neither Tirupati temple nor its soothsayers saved him from this unexpected political debacle.


Ranil Wickramasinghe


Ironically the current president and prime minister of Sri Lanka have visited this Hindu temple several times as devotees. Most recently Sri Lankan prime minister paid homage to Tirupati after performing an aged old ritual called “Tulabharam”, which is a tradition where a devotee wishes to offer sugar, rice, and jaggery or amount equivalent to the weight of his or her body. 


Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe is known as a liberal minded statesman who is passionate in European liberal values, yet these actions demonstrate how spiritual belief, in South Asian temples, has influenced the mind of a sophisticated liberal leader.


The exact nature of Sri Lankan Sinhalese Buddhist mind for “Big Brother” India always remains an uncanny riddle as it is filled with love and hate. Sinhalese Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka always perceive India from a dualistic point of view.


Throughout the history of the Island, till Europeans arrived in 16th century, all the foreign invasions that struck Sri Lanka had come from India. Sri Lanka’s ancient kings had bitter encounters with the Chola Empire of South India and many Sinhalese kings sought the assistance from Pallava and Pandya rulers when Cholas attacked the ancient Sinhalese kingdom of Anuradhapura. 


Post-independence both states faced their own socio-economic and political chaos, yet Indian influence on Sri Lankan grew stronger actually in parallel to how the Tamil minority issue began to bloom in Sri Lanka’s politics.


Many Sinhalese believed and still do that India was the architect behind planting the seeds of separatist ideology amongst the Tamil minority. This antipathy reached its climax in 1987 when Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene signed the Indo-Lanka agreement with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This agreement caused an uproar in Sinhalese society.


Despite having such an antagonistic attitude towards India, it is rather strange how Sinhalese society venerates India from a different side.


It is a society that has nourished mainly due to Buddhism which Sri Lankan preserves as the biggest gift received from India and spiritual beliefs like worshipping deities and reading horoscopes that have spread across Sri Lankan society. These are part of Sinhalese Buddhist sub-consciousness and a result of larger Indian influence.


As a matter of fact Sri Lankan politicians’ utmost faith in Tirupati is a continuation of this deep psychological attachment to India even though they have bitter enmities on Indian policy making on Sri Lanka. 


For example when president of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa inked an important deal with China it made New Delhi suspicious of him. After his unexpected defeat at the hands of Maitripala Srisena, common candidate of the joint opposition, Mr Rajapaksa openly accused Indian intelligence agency RAW for planning his defeat in 2015 presidential elections. This however, did not reduce his devotion to Indian spirituality as he still visits Tirupati Temple and other holy places in India.


In fact Sri Lanka’s nature as a cultural and spiritual symbol of Indian civilization is the most important factor that India can always rely upon to expand its influence while China, having got involved in Lankan affairs recently, lacks such a privilege. 


In using Joseph Nye’s Soft Power analogy, one can say Indian influence upon Sri Lanka’s politics and overall social structure is highly unlikely to be diminished in future albeit the ongoing Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka’s economy. 


It may not be a hyperbolic remark to state that Tirupati ritual has gone beyond the stage of a mere cult worship by Sri Lankan politicians. India can proudly boast of it as a diplomatic strategy to shape relations between the two countries.


Being the regional power in South Asia India has used different approaches to keep its grip over countries in the region. For e.g. landlocked Nepal and Bhutan depend heavily on India and their destiny has always been imbued with India as their patron state.


Sri Lanka’s aged long spiritual dependence on India stands as a crucial factor in the relations between both countries and Tirupati symbolizes its unbreakable rigor.


Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe is a PhD Candidate in Public International Law at Institute of Law and Politics at Scuola Superiore Sant Anna in Pisa, Italy. Eshan Jayawardne graduated from Delhi University in BA Sociology and holds his MA in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

First published here. eSamskriti.com has obtained permission www.slguardian.org to share this article.

Also see

1 Tirupati Mandir Official Site

2 Bodh Gaya Temple

3 Ramgarh Fort Kashi that is visited by many Sri Lankans


5 Ratnagiri Monastery Odisha


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