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The Ritual of Devol Māduā: Problematizing Dharma in the Ethnic Conflicts of Sri Lanka

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 October 2003


Western consciousness of Sri Lanka tends to be limited to bracketing the secessionist ‘Tamil Tigers’ among the ‘terrorist threats’ facing the world community. In truth, tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities of Sri Lanka go back two millennia, and Syed Jamil Ahmed argues here that the conflict is reflected in the myths of origin of both communities and the rituals through which they are still re-enacted. He believes that one of these, the ritual of Devol Māduā, offers a possible resolution to the problematic relationship between religious and moral law, or dharma, and the pragmatics of statecraft in Sri Lanka. After examining the historical context of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the myths of origin associated with the three key deities in the ritual, he offers an episode-by-episode description of the event, and goes on to suggest that the function of the ritual in Sinhalese–Buddhist society is revealing in terms of the dialectics of pacifism and violence that Buddhism faces in Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. Syed Jamil Ahmed is a director and designer based in Bangladesh, where he is Associate Professor at the Department of Theatre and Music in the University of Dhaka. In 2001–2 he was a visiting faculty member at King Alfred's College, Winchester. He wrote on ‘Decoding Myths in the Nepalese Festival of Indra Jātrā’ in NTQ 74, and his full-length publications – Acinpakhi Infinity: Indigenous Theatre in Bangladesh (Dhaka University Press, 2000) and In Praise of Niranjan: Islam, Theatre, and Bangladesh (Dhaka: Pathak Samabesh, 2001) – catalogue the wide variety of indigenous theatre forms in Bangladesh.

Research Article
© 2003 Cambridge University Press

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