Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kuragala Lessons 2 Using PR to obliterate heritage

Published in my column in The Nation on Sunday, 02 June 2013 and in Colombo Telegraph on the same date.

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

I surmise that Dennis McGilvray came into the orbit of the Aboosally family through his researches into the matrilineality of the Tamil and Muslim communities of the east coast of Sri Lanka. M.L.M Aboosally’s wife came from the matrilineal east coast town of Kalmunai. My hypothesis is that on the strength of these connections, this American scholar was hired by the Aboosally family to write a PR article on Dafther Jailany. What confirms this hypothesis is the fact that he wrote a PR article based on the client’s book; Aboosally M.L.M: 2002. Dafther Jailany: A Historical Account of the Dafther Jailani Rock Cave Mosque.

The client brief he received was to negate the fact that there ever was a Buddhist layer in the site. This he executed in 2004 saying “There are Brahmi inscriptions at Jailani dating to the second century aca, but they appear to assert territorial claims by local political chieftains. According to Aboosally (2002: 62-3) there is no evidence that the site was ever dedicated to the Buddhist Sangha.”

McGilvray makes this statement as a footnote to “The Archaeology Department nevertheless erected a permanent trilingual signboard near the Jailani mosque, also visible today, stating that the location, known as Kuragala was the site of a Buddhist monastery dating to the second century BCE.”

In 2013, a journalist called Latheef Farook would execute the same client brief by making a statement strikingly similar; “The 1971 version (of the inch map) depicts the area only as a Buddhist monastery of the 2nd century BC (the only evidence of which is a board placed by the Archaeological Department in 1972.)”. Note however that unlike McGilvray and Aboosally, Farook (either through ignorance or an intention to deceive) keeps the Brahmi inscriptions relentlessly out of the picture.

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