Aussie Doctor reflects on 'Maveerar Naal'

November 26, 2009 § 1 Comment

An excerpt from “Teaching Tamil Tigers” by Prof. John Whitehall, Medical Journal of Australia, MJA 2007; 187 (11/12): 703-705

Why they continued to fight still puzzled me, especially as I visited war cemeteries and pondered the carnage in which over 17 000 Tamil young people have died in the past two decades. Understanding began on the afternoon of 27 November, their equivalent of Anzac Day. My students collected me and, for the first time, I observed them in uniform, making their way through the cemetery, squatting here and there with parents of the dead who had begun to arrive in droves to festoon the graves with garlands and food for their young men and women who “were living on in the spirit of Tamil Eelam”.

There were about 3000 graves and soon the cemetery was pulsating with grief. The burning sun sank beneath a row of palms and I anticipated some kind of communal eruption of emotion as candles were lit on the graves and flickered on distorted faces. But there was nothing. No hymns, no chants, no catharsis. Just a speech on the necessity for more sacrifice. Silently, the crowd shuffled away, leaving the garlands and the candles to the moonless night. I began to realise what some people are prepared to endure for freedom.

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An email from Tamil Eelam…

November 26, 2009 Comments Off on An email from Tamil Eelam…

An email about Maaveerar Naal (Remembrance Day, Heroes Day) sent to family and friends from Tamil Eelam by an Australian Tamil

Date: Tuesday 29th  November 2005
Subject: Vanakkam from Vanni

To all at home,

November 27 was Maaveerar Naal (Martyr’s Day). It was amazing. Decorations have been going up since almost 2 weeks ago. The roads were decorated with banners of red and yellow, the colours associated with the freedom struggle. Close to the sea they had blue banners as well, i think to commemorate the fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives whilst at sea. They had flags along the roads EVERYWHERE…Imagine seeing flags of red and yellow (2 metres apart) along all the streets of the city you lived in – that’s what it looked like. It was amazing. They had huge arches spanning the width of the road with decorations and pictures and paintings commemorating the fallen heroes so when you drove on the road you actually had to drive through/under these arches. It was awesome.

The Thuyilum Illam (Resting Houses) where the fallen heroes are laid to rest (known as cemeteries in other countries) were beautifully done. And the stretch of roads leading up to each of them was decorated beautifully and had lights put up as well. I was truly proud to see the Tamil nation celebrate in unity the sacrifice of 17,905 lives.

On the day, we went to Mullaitivu beach for a few minutes. We watched the parade of the Sea Tiger band. It was quite nice. But then we decided to spend the majority of the time at a Thuyilum Illam because that was where the relatives would be and that was where the true emotion of the entire day would be felt.

We went to Mulliyavali Thuyilum Illam – I think it is the second largest one in Tamil Eelam. I’m not sure but I think about 2800 heroes have been laid to rest there. Words cannot express the extent of emotions felt at the time of lighting the lamp. At the same time everywhere, one person lights the lamp in each of the thuyilum illams (I think there are 17 of them spread around Tamil Eelam). As they light the lamp, a loved one lights the lamp adjacent to the tombstone of a fallen hero. Just imagine watching 2800 lamps being lit in unison. It was close to sunset so there wasn’t much light, and amongst the crowd of atleast 20,000 mourners, suddenly there was glistening lights everywhere. Flames flickered all around me, as everyone in the Thuyilum Illam stood in silence. The only sound to be heard was the lighting of the thousands of matches and the crackling of the flames.

For a good 2 minutes I could hear nothingelse, then slowly, an Amma (mother) somewhere amongst the crowd started to whimper. Then slowly, more whimpers amongst the crowd, and within 30 seconds there were loved ones everywhere crying. Sisters were pleading with their dead brothers to come back. Fathers and mothers were calling out to their dead children asking them why they had left them. Wives were hugging tombstones and sobbing, telling their dead husbands to open their eyes and take a look at their children.

There were so many fighters standing by tombstones, a brave look on their face, but with tears streaming down their cheeks. I imagined that they must have witnessed their best friend die in the battlefield. It was really really sad, but I knew that despite the anguish, each of them was so proud of their loved one who had sacrificed their life in an attempt to get freedom for their people. The song playing in the background (via loud speakers) added to the emotions, and even I, who knew not a single person laid to the rest there, was brought to tears.

As I walked along the thousands of fallen heroes, I saw each resting spot decorated in flowers and garlands. Some family members brought foods that their loved one had liked when they were alive – biscuits, mangoes, there were even some bottles of soft drink. And within an hour or so, it was all over. Slowly relatives started to leave and by the end of the night, all that was left were the thousands of lamps lighted by loved ones, flickering away in the November night.

Nothing I can say will ever be able to express the feeling of Maaveerar Naal. I have always celebrated Maaveerar Naal abroad, and to actually know what sadness and pride combined would feel like whilst standing on the soil that we so long to own as ours, the soil on which thousands had shed blood and tears whilst fighting for self determination, the soil that we would one day call Tamil Eelam, was absolutely amazing.

It has been two days since Maaveerar Naal. The decorations are slowly coming down, to be put away until the same time next year when they will once again adorn the streets, of what hopefully by then, will be Tamil Eelam.

With love,

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