April 2012: In Dambulla, a bustling market town built around a crossroads on the northern cusp of Sri Lanka's central province, a mosque was attacked by a procession of protestors led by the chief priest of the nearby Buddhist temple. Ostensibly the protest was against the presence of the mosque on the grounds that it had been built in an exclusively Buddhist ‘sacred area’. Beginning with an empirical account of the attack on the Dambulla mosque, this paper argues that the preservation of what is deemed to be ‘sacred’ in Sri Lanka provides an effective idiom through which certain religious figures can intelligibly articulate political claims whilst maintaining critical distance from the dirty world of ‘Politics’. Corollary to this, and drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in Dambulla, the paper explores the various different meanings of politics locally: highlighting the interplay of everyday politicking and high-profile political performance.
- sacred ground