South Asia and Indian Ocean Studies Seminar



The Galebandara Cult in North-western Sri Lanka: A Buddhist Islamic Interface or a Religious Contestation Reinforcing the Ethnic Divide?



【場所】京都大学本部構内 総合研究2号館第1講義室(AA401)

【報告者】Prof. Kalinga Tudor Silva
        (Dept. of Sociology, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka)

The Galebandara Cult in North-western Sri Lanka: A Buddhist Islamic Interface or a Religious Contestation Reinforcing the Ethnic Divide?

        Much of the existing literature on popular religion in Sri Lanka has highlighted the interaction between Buddhism and Hinduism as reflected in the incorporation of Hindu deities in the religious pantheon in Buddhism (Obeyesekere 1966, Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988, Holt 2004) and Hindu-Buddhist interaction in ritual complexes in Kataragama and Kandy (Pfaffenberger 1979, Seneviratne 1978). Some attention has also been paid to the Buddhist Christian interaction and the emergence of ‘Protestant Buddhism’ capturing the ambivalent relationship between these two religious traditions during the colonial encounter (Obeyesekere 1970). Even though Buddhism and Islam has co-existed in Sri Lanka at least for 1000 years and the economic and social interaction between Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims over this period has been well documented (Dewaraja 1994), we know little about the inter-religious contact between these two communities. This is all the more significant given the anti-Muslim sentiments disseminated by the militant Bodu Bala Sena since 2012 in an all-out effort to target Muslims as the new face of a global onslaught against Buddhism also emanating from suspected conversion efforts by evangelical Christianity.
        Against this background, the paper examines the Galebandara cult jointly invoked by Buddhists and Muslims reportedly from the 13th century onwards. As typical of Bandara cults popular in Sinhala Buddhism, Galebandara is understood as a reincarnation of local king named Vathhimi who ruled in the Kurunagala period and who being the son of a mixed union between a Sinhala king and Muslim queen, was part Buddhist and part Muslim in the popular conception. According to the origin story of Galebandara, Vathhimi was mysterious killed in a coup hatched by his enemies in the Sinhala elite, inclusive of the Maha Sangha. The assassinated king was first reborn as a ferocious demon who responded by brutally attacking humans who killed him. Later he became a deity with supreme powers to assist whoever who invoked his help. What is unique to this cult, however, is that the Buddhists as well as Muslims invoke the same deity though interpreted in their own way, for success in pregnancy and child birth, business, agriculture, family unity and for achieving divine justice. There are two separate shrines of Galebandara controlled by Buddhist and Muslim priests respectively. The devotees of Galebandara, however, visit one or the other shrine and sometimes both irrespective of their ethno-religious affiliation. While Buddhist treat Galebandara as a Bandara deity having influence over a distinct territory (adaviya), the Muslims view Galebandara as an Awliya (saint) who achieved this status by virtue of his exceptionally good work when he was alive, present in his sacred tomb (ziaram) in the Sufi Muslim tradition and able to appeal to the almighty on behalf of those who invoke divine intervention. Drawing from the popular Sinhala folk poetry narrating the legendary origin story of Galebandara, the paper analyzes the complex interface between popular Buddhism and Islam, characterized by the recognition of a common history and a shared cultural heritage, on the one hand, and moral contestations, on the other. In spite of this truly ambivalent character and the recent efforts by extremist groups on either side of the religious divide to exploit these resentments for their own advantages, the cult continues to serve as a binding interface between the two religious communities.