The identification of Maaveerar with gods – which would require a deeper analysis – is not rejected by the LTTE, in spite of their secular nature. During my fieldwork, I observed that not only civilians, but also some people involved in the movement, although not fighters, assert that theMaaveerar are gods and Tuillum Illam are temples. In my understanding the LTTE do not reject this interpretation because it is necessary in order to make acceptable the introduction of the new funerary rituals. In fact, as pointed out by Paul Connerton, in his book How Societies Remember,
All beginnings contain an element of recollection. This is particularly so when a social group makes a concerted effort to begin with a wholly new start. There is a measure of complete arbitrariness in the very nature of any such attempted beginning. […] But the absolutely new is inconceivable. It is not just that it is very difficult to begin with a wholly new start, that too many old loyalties and habits inhibit the substitution of a novel enterprise for an old and established one (1989: 6).
It is not surprising, then, to find out that Prabhakaran himself compares the fallen Tigers to ascetics:
Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, requests the people to venerate those who die in the battle for Eelam as sannyasis (ascetics) who renounced their personal desires and transcended their egoistic existence for a common cause of higher virtue (Chandrakanthan 2000: 164).
I would argue that the attitude of the LTTE with regard to the identification of the Maaveerar with gods emerges as an ambiguous but necessary one. On one side the Tuillum Illam are the places where the secular values of the future nation are displayed: the ideological rejection of all the differences among people (cast, class and gender differences) is symbolically carried out through the performing of the same funerary rituals and the building of equal tombs. On the other side, the idea that Tuillum Illam are temples where the Maaveerar/gods are worshipped allows the LTTE to avoid a break with the religious feelings of civilians, guaranteeing popular consent to the new project of nation-building.
1 Tamil Eelam refers to the separate state claimed by LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).
2 Christians sometimes are buried close to the area where Hindus perform cremation.
3 Personal interview, 7 December 2002.
4 In passing we may observe that Prabhakaran is supposed to take all central decisions regarding the fighters. The LTTE’s members themselves explained to me that, although many decisions are joint resolutions, actually is better to ascribe them to the leader. In this way people will accept them more easily.
5 Although the detailed description of all the interpretations is beyond the aim of this paper, it is necessary to mention that to some fighters (but not to civilian) the burial of dead fighters is considered as a return to the practices of the ancient Tamils, who in fact buried their fallen warriors. References to the custom of the Chankam period are quoted also in some of the LTTE’s publications. As Fuglerud points out, “The ideological project of the LTTE is directed towards homologising the pre- and post-colonial situation, of linking the present claim for statehood with the restoration of authentic Tamil culture” (2001: 203). For further details, see also Cheran 2001, Natali 2004.
6 Here has to be reminded that the destruction of Tuillum Illam is not officially acknowledged either by Sri Lankan government or by international organizations such as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
7 For further details on the ceremonies outside Sri Lanka, see Cheran (2001) for the Canadian case, and Natali (2002) for the Italian case.
8 This does not necessarily mean that the body is buried: sometimes it is indeed set adrift on a river (children too are often treated in this way).