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MASAKAZU TANAKA :: Department of Anthropology, Gender & Sexuality Studies
INSTITUTE FOR RESEARCH IN HUMANITIES, KYOTO UNIVERSITY
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This is a painting of Saint Yogaswami of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. It must have been by his grace that I came to be acquainted with his American disciple, Gurudeva, at Chidambaram and went on to establish contacts with the headquarters of his religious activities in Hawaii and visit Yogaswami's Sri Lankan devotees residing in Toronto, Canada.
This encounter re-introduced me into an aspect of religious life similar to the one I had experienced earlier among the Bahais. That is to say, I met Western missionaries first, then went on to work with followers of the religion who had left their countries as refugees.
I had first met Bahais of the Western origin in Japan, then Iranian refugees in London in the summer of 1980. Having been acquainted with and accustomed to the rational thinking, intellectual North American Bahai missionaries in Japan, I was shocked and impressed by Bahai refugees in London who had escaped the bombing attacks of Iranian Muslim fundamentalists, under the Khomeini regime.
The encounter with the refugees made me realise that the Bahai Faith is not actually founded on its intellectual teachings but on the emotional experience of the religion through singing.
For the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who have been forced to leave their homeland after old age and move to a completely new country, Canada, the only comfort and support in the foreign land is the monthly gathering celebrating Yogaswami's maha sammadhi anniversary (the day he left his body). There too, the believers do not discuss the teachings of their saint in an intellectual manner but rather re-trace the world and time that he lived and sing the hymns that he composed.
On the last day of my visit to Canada in 1998, I met two old men. One had lost his wife and daughter (then 22 years old) in the bombing attack by the Indian Peace Keeping Force then deployed in northern Sri Lanka. His own right hand had become disabled in this incident.
The other old man was a devotee of Yogaswami. He recounted the evil doings of the Sri Lankan Army and the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Jaffna, and then repeatedly told me that the acquaintance with me could not have been a coincidence.
My quest for Tamil civilization which has taken me from Sri Lanka to Singapore, London, Hawaii and Toronto seems to be coming to an end, but my encounters therein continue to be more enriching than ever.