By Christina Fossa, Boston University
My name is Christina Fossa and I am a Virtual Student Federal Services (VSFS) intern for the academic year of 2017-2018. As a VSFS intern, I am currently working together on the Conflict Culture Research Network Georeferenced Site Damage Dataset (CCRN-GSDD). The purpose of this dataset is to record news article reports of incidents of damage to cultural heritage sites in a variety of countries that are experiencing conflict. After a few weeks of teamwork with VSFS interns researching different periods of time, we are able to combine our collective work into one dataset for each country.The country that I am currently documenting incidents of damage in is Sri Lanka. One site of particular significance that I came across is the Temple of Tooth, or Sri Dalada Maligawa. This temple is located in the Sacred City of Kandy which was inscribed to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, World Heritage list in 1988 (UNESCO). This means that the site is internationally recognized as being culturally important. World Heritage sites are important because they are culturally meaningful to people all over the world, not just in the country in which they are located. The Temple of Tooth is a Buddhist temple, but it is also meaningful to many people, who do not practice Buddhism, for cultural rather than religious reasons. This site is important because it is believed to hold a relic of the tooth of Buddha. This tooth relic has been significant to politics in Sri Lanka and plays a role in many stories and legends. The tooth relic is also a central part of the Esala Perahera, or the Festival of the Tooth which is held every year in Sri Lanka and includes traditional dances, which makes up some of the rich intangible cultural heritage in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the Temple of Tooth was bombed by the Tamil Tigers in 1998, which means recording this incident, along with many other incidents of damage to cultural sites during times of armed conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, are a separatist militant organization that fought for an independent state for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. From 1983 to 2009 the LTTE attacked individuals and groups who did not support their goals, which led to their classification as a terrorist group by the Department of State (Cassman). The bombing attack on the Temple of Tooth is just one example of many violent attacks carried out by the LTTE against both culturally significant sites and against people.
The Temple of Tooth is a well-known site, but there are many other sites that are locally significant in Sri Lanka, including smaller temples. Cultural sites are important to a person’s sense of identity and are often deliberately targeted and damaged during times of armed conflict. One benefit of the work that VSFS interns are doing is that we will have a collective dataset that includes a large percentage of the damage or destruction of sites that are important to the identity and cultural heritage of many countries, including Sri Lanka. In the future, this project might be useful in helping us better understand why specific cultural sites are damaged during times of armed conflict and protest, and how this impacts the cultural identity of individuals who feel connected to these sites.
Cassman, Daniel. “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.” Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam: Mapping Militant Organizations, web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/225.
UNESCO World Heritage Centre. “Sacred City of Kandy.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre, whc.unesco.org/en/list/450.
Living Heritage Trust. “Sri Dalada MaligawaTemple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy.” History of Sri Dalada Maligawa, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy, daladamaligawa.org/asiaexplorers.htm.