The Aranthalawa Massacre was the massacre of 33 Buddhist monks, most of them young novice monks, and four civilians by cadres of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organization (the LTTE, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers) on June 2, 1987 close to the village of Aranthalawa, in the Amparadistrict of Eastern Sri Lanka. The massacre is considered one of the most notorious and devastating atrocities committed by the LTTE during the history of the Sri Lankan Civil War, and continues to be commemorated 20 years on.
The Aranthalawa Massacre took place on June 2, 1987, when a bus carrying Buddhist monks and a few unarmed civilians was ambushed by 20 armed LTTE cadres near the village of Nuwerathanne. They then ordered the driver of the bus, which was carrying the monks on a pilgrimage from their temple in Mahavapi to the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, to drive into the nearby Aranthalawa jungle. After the bus stopped, the LTTE cadres went on a rampage, attacking the monks with guns and swords and also shooting some of them with machine guns.
Among the dead were 30 young novice monks and their mentor, the Chief Priest of the Vidyananda Maha Pirivena, Hegoda Sri Indrasara Thera. Four civilians who were traveling in the bus were also among the dead.
This and similar attacks against Sinhalese civilians are carried out by the LTTE to antagonize the Sinhalese majority against the Tamil populace of the country, thereby creating rivalry between the two main ethnic groups of Sri Lanka. The LTTE hoped such animosity between the two races would result in attacks by Sinhalese against Tamil civilians, which would increase support and funding towards their violent campaign.
Theravada monks are incapable of defending themselves. The harming of monk is considered to be one of the highest offenses in Theravada Buddhism or even among Hindu. The massacre is considered to be one of the most brutal attacks carried out during the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Each year Aranthalawa Massacre is commemorated by a series of special programs. In 2007, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the massacre, commemorations were held over the course of four days in Colombo and Ampara, with the main ceremony led by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa taking place in Colombo with the participation of the Mahanayake Theras of all Chapters. An all night Pirith ceremony was held on the same night, and a Sanghika Dāna was offered to 200 Buddhist monks on June 3. An exhibition of over 300 photographs of LTTE attacks on Buddhist sites and other acts of destruction was also organized.
Throughout the course of the conflict in Sri Lanka, the LTTE has carried out a number of similar attacks against Buddhist sites. These include
- the assassination of the high priest of the famous Dimbulagala Forest monastery, Kitulagama Seelalankara Nayaka Thera, who gave moral support to people living in border villages to fight LTTE intrusions into their villages, eight years after the Aranthalawa Massacre.
- a suicide bombing of the Temple of the Tooth, the sacred Buddhist shrine where the Buddha’s tooth relic is enshrined, which killed 17 worshipers and seriously damaged the temple.
- a suicide bombing of a Buddhist temple in Batticaloa during celebrations of the Vesak holiday, killing 23 people including many children.
- List of massacres in Sri Lanka
- List of attacks attributed to the LTTE
- List of attacks attributed to Sri Lankan government forces
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