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Buddhist shrine on Jaffna islet raises fears of colonisation

The construction of a Buddhist shrine on the island of Katchatheevu, a notable place of pilgrimage for Tamil Catholics, has raised fears around the possibility of Sinhala colonisation. The shrine has been erected in a section of land cordoned off, around 500 meters away from the historic St. Anthony’s Shrine. Additionally, security has been put in place to prevent pilgrims from entering the Buddhist shrine. Locals are suspicious that the shrine has been erected in an attempt to encourage Buddhist pilgrims in the future.

Historically, the St. Anthony’s Shrine dedicated to Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of many fishing communities, has been the only site of pilgrimage on the island and many catholics from both India and Sri Lanka attend the feast annually. The three day celebration of the feast of St. Anthony was conducted on March 4 this year. It was reported that a few days before the festival, the head monk of the Buddhist temple in Nainativu conducted a ritual with a group of pilgrims. 

The ongoing project of Sinhalisation and Buddhistization of the Tamil homeland has hastened following the election of the now ousted President, Gotabaya Rajapakse. More recently, the Vediyarasan Fort on the island of Delft was declared an ancient Buddhist site by the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. In light of these events, both locals and the priest at St. Anthony’s shrine expressed concern and worry, especially since the controversy of this declaration has not been resolved by the authorities of Delft island. 

The Divisional Secretariat of Delft island commented that permission was not granted for the construction of this Buddhist shrine and that there has not been any official internal communication regarding this construction.

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