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【KINDAS】 2016 3rd Seminar on Sri Lanka “The Galebandara Cult in North-western Sri Lanka”

February 2 @ 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

2016 3rd Seminar on Sri Lanka (50th South Asia and Indian Ocean Studies Seminar)


【Date & Time】 Thursday, 2nd February, 2017   15:00~17:00

【Venue】 Room AA401, Research Bldg No.2, Yoshida Main Campus, Kyoto University


(Building no.34 on the map)


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

【Title】 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.


【Speaker’s profile】

Kalinga Tudor Silva holds BA from the University of Peradeniya and PhD from Monash University, Australia. He assumed duties as director research ICES Kandy office in May 2016. He is professor emeritus at University of Peradeniya where he served the Department of Sociology and Faculty of Arts in various capacities for almost 40 years.  He served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Peradeniya from 2006 to 2009, Head, and Department of Sociology from 1986-1992 and 2005 to 2006. As the Executive Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies during 2009-2011 and the Executive Director of the Centre for Poverty Analysis during 2002-2003 he has played an active role in applied social research in Sri Lanka. He held short-term teaching and research positions in a number of overseas institutions including University College London, Bowdoin College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, University of Connecticut, Monash University and de Lasalle University in Manila.  He is the author of “Decolonization, Development and Disease: A Social History of Malaria in Sri Lanka” published in 2014 by Orient Blackswan and a joint author of Checkpoint, Temple, Church and Mosque: a Collaborative Ethnography of War and Peace. Published by Pluto Press in 2015. Currently he serves as Editor in Chief of the Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences published by the National Science Foundation, a member of the Board of Study of Social Sciences in Post Graduate Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Peradeniya and a member of the Board of Study of the Faculty of Social Sciences in South Asian University in Delhi.


※ This seminar is free of charge.

【Contact】 Sae Nakamura (nakamura[at]asafas.kyoto-u.ac.jp)



February 2
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Event Category:


Room AA401, Research Bldg No.2, Yoshida Main Campus, Kyoto University