On the Sacrificial Ideology of the Liberation Tigers

by Peter Schalk, TamilNation.org, November 24, 1993

…The concept of tiyakam, abandonment (of life), i.e. a rather specific Indian form of martyrdom, is cultivated by both male and female fighters. A martyr of the LTTE has not chosen like the Christian martyr to suffer in the mind the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He has taken up arms against the sea of troubles trying to end them by opposing them. The concept of tiyäkam that has its roots in the last section of the Bhagavadgitä was revived in the struggle for independence of India…

The LTTE counts more than 5000 martyrs that died from 1982 onwards. More than 300 of them are young women. What motivates the fighters to become martyrs is their ideology, but very few Westerners know about it. I have therefore given here some key concepts in their context.

In the sacrificial ideology of the LTTE the following terms are highly frequent:

அர்ப்பணிப்பு – arppanipu
வீரர் – virar
மறம் – maram
தியாகம் – tiyakam
சாட்சி – catci, martyr 

The word  arppanippu (alternatively arppanam or arppanam) comes from Sanskrit arpana. We have translated it with sacrifice. It belongs to a religious ritual context to the libation offered to the god in the temple or to any gift presented to the god. We have the word tèvãrppnnam, offering that is acceptable to gods. Arppi, to offer, could include the totality of a human as expressed in the Tamil composite ivvutampai unakkarpanam ãkkinên  – I have sacrificed this body to you . This sacrifice becomes in the context of the LTTE a sacrifice for the realisation of Tatnililam. [1]  Not being aware of the religious sacrificial connotation of this Hindu term, the reader misses the point that is communicated to the reader of the Tamil text: like a libation or any gift is sacrificed to a god, so you sacrifice yourself totally for the sake of the holy aim. The sacrifice on the battlefield is rationalised by reference to a well known sacrifice to a god.

The word virar is an honorific masculine form for viran. That means »Hon. hero<. There is no feminine form *viral, but another form viri. A heroine can be designated in literary Tamil also by other names like talaivi, female leader, and vira ananku, heroic woman. Only the epicene form virar is applied for women in LTTE texts. Viram or viriyam means bravery, heroism, fortitude.

The LTTE leadership bestows posthumously exclusively the honorific title virar, Hero, or mä-virar, Great Hero, to all men and women, cadres of the LTTE. These are the persons who have succumbed to their wounds in battle or who have anticipated getting killed by killing themselves with cyanide in battle (or in battle like situations) to avoid capture and torture. The dead fighter is sometimes called vira maranamatainta virar, hero who attained heroic death Tamiilam November 89, li24).

The word virar in a LTTE context is complex because it refers to different historical traditions about heroes and to different types of heroes.

The word maram is connected with valor, bravery, anger, wrath, enmity, hatred, strength, power, victory, war, killing, and murder. Not only a warrior can have maram but also a whole army and a horse. This can be made evident by the two turai, themes, of heroic so called Cañkam poetry, tanaimaram, valour of the army, and kutiraimaram, valour of the horse. The maravar in the so called Cañkam literature can be described as an aristocratic libertine with access to worldly pleasures. Up to the end of the first millennium the word maravar referred to a function, the warrior’s function, that could be taken up by mercenaries in different armies. Usually this group of wariars was spoken of as a functional group by the term of mara-k-kuti.

Kuti does not mean caste like cãti, Sanskrit játi, or like kulam, Sanskrit kula. Kuti, a Tamil term that has become a loan word in Sanskrit, means house, abode, home, family, lineage, town, group of tenants. It refers to an allegiance of people with the same interest, here to a allegiance of mercenaries that was open to all who sought their livelihood in war-fare. Only after the first millennium the term developed into a caste name.

Today the word maravar has developed into a caste name for a hunters’ and robbers’ caste in South India, for dacoits, i.e. a criminal caste. The maravars were declared a criminal caste in 1911 by the then Government of India. Their political ambition since 1911 is to get rid of this bad reputation that discriminated them in public life. This succeeded only in 1947.

Their ambition was taken up by the South Indian Branch of the Forward Bloc. That was founded by Muttirãmaliñkam Tëvar on behalf of Cupas Cantira Pos in 1938. What connected them immediately was their anti-Congress position. There is then a close connection between the maravars and the Subhasists in recent times from about 1938. This connection is also clearly visible by the fact that a part of the Indian National Army (INA) under Cupas Cantira Pos to 1945 consisted of maravars. Maravar ambitions and South Indian Subhasism were co-ordinated. The self-image of the maravars of having a glorious history, and their political ideology classified as Subhasistn influenced strongly the mind of the young Veluppillai Pirapãkaran [2]

Among all the words given here, the word maravar only seems to be gender related. Even if it is seen as an epicine form and even if Veluppillai Pirapãkaran when seeing men and women as one fighting collectivity, all defines as maravar, the present author has not yet found a single text written by women in which female fighters call themselves by the most male designation of a maravar. They do not hesitate to call themselves virar because there is already a female tradition of virar, but evidently they hesitate to use maravar. When this hesitation has been overcome, the desired gender distinctions have been overcome.

When the LTTE speaks about martyrdom, it translates often the word tiyakam. It does not lexically mean martyrdom. It means abandonment. Implied in this concept is the meaning of voluntary abandonment of life, the conscious choice of possible death to reach an aim that is declared holy.

The very specific meaning of the LTTE of tiyãkam is the voluntary abandonment of life in the very act of taking life, in the act of killing. The getting killed whilst killing (in rage), having been confronted with the death of a comrade, is tiyãkam. Likewise, a tiyãki is one who is killed whilst killing (in rage), having first been confronted with the death of a comrade. It is of uttermost importance to understand the concept of tiyäkam as a reaction on encountering death. Tiyakam is a specific type of aggressive mourning behaviour in the martial culture of the LTTE. A killed male and female LTTE fighter is regarded as a tiyaki.

The concept of tiyakam, abandonment (of life), i.e. a rather specific Indian form of martyrdom, is cultivated by both male and female fighters. A martyr of the LTTE has not chosen like the Christian martyr to suffer in the mind the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. He has taken up arms against the sea of troubles trying to end them by opposing them. The concept of tiyäkam that has its roots in the last section of the Bhagavadgitä was revived in the struggle for independence of India. The concept itself implies the taking up of armed struggle. The ideal tiyagi (Sanskrit) is Arjuna who kills even his kin and teachers in dedication to Visnu. The LTTE tiyãki (Tamil) is then not a misunderstood creation of a Christian martyr, but stands in the tradition of the revivalist martial concepts that were emphasised during the Indian struggle for independence in the 20th century, especially in the sacrificial ideology of the Subhasists.

No living fighter, male or female, is called virar or tiyaki. These epithets belong to the veneration of the dead.

The idea of the tiyaki suffering a representational death for the people of  Tamil Ilam, is highly developed in the LTTE. This idea comes close to certain traits of representational death in Christendom. The tiyãki concept has been taken up by some of the representatives of the Catholic and Protestant Church. The Catholic Church of Yãlppanam has very deep roots in the population and has established itself as a folk religion alongside with Hinduism. It’s Bishop chairs the Citizens Committee of Yãlppänam and many priests are involved in organising relief to the physical and mental suffering of the people. Some priests have suffered death in their work for the community and some have suffered torture in Sinhala prisons.

The concept of tiyäki has, however, a negative side. It rationalises the use of violence. The tiyäki gets killed in the act of killing. What the priest wishes to emphasise is the representational dying, and not the killing. Therefore we find this tiyãki concept sometimes replaced by another concept, by the concept of LTTE, cãtci. That word means witness.

Some of the priests have taken up the idea of the killed young man or woman being a cãtci (caksi), and this term has also found it way into the idiom of the LTTE arid its supporters and sympathisers. This brings us to a new concept that emphasises strictly the aspect of representational death.

This word catci or cäksi is a Tamilised form of Sanskrit sãksin which means witness. The word cãksi (catci) is normally related to the legal sphere and has also a specific meaning within the speculative philosophy of Caivacittänta. There it refers to a mental ability in the mind of man, but it did not have the meaning of martyr in an indigenous pre-colonial Tamil tradition. From colonial times the word cãksi is also related to persons who died for their conviction. The word then gets the special meaning of irattacãksi, blood witness or cattiyaccäksi, truth witness.

When did this meaning of caksi as blood witness arise and who gave this meaning? The answer is simple: The Christians. When the Christian missionaries had to translate the Greek word martyr, witness, in the New Testament into Tamil, they translated the classical formula for the meaning of martyr in for example Matthew 18, 16 and many other places with caksi [3]

Through the translations of the New Testament into Tamil, this usage of the word came intoChristian preaching, became common knowledge and was spread by the Christians (Catholics) to the LTTE of which a very strong Catholic contingent is in Mannãr.

In one official Tamil document of the LTTE, the present writer has found the word cãtci and he also knows that the LTTE author, who wants to remain anonymous, is a Catholic. The poet said in his poem concerning killed LTTE cadres:

Truth (shall be) your witness [4]

That alludes to the technical Christian term of a cattiyaccäksi, truth witness.

Further, a Tamil play writer who is also a Catholic, finds it apt to use even the word vetaccãtsi, witness (martyr) of religion, as a term for a LTTE fighter.[5]

More important than this stray information is that in preaching and in literature by Tamil Catholic priests some LTTE cadres who have been killed are called cãtci in Tamil. Taking up this strand, we leave of course the corpus of official LTTE texts and turn to Catholic interpretations of LTTE fighters dying on the battle-field. They lack and they do not request the imprimatur from the LTTE. By using the term cãtci a special Christian meaning is introduced into the understanding of a  martyr, that separates it from the other terms of Indian origin.

A cätci in the Christian sense submissively endures all sufferings to the end without using violence. Submissive endurance in suffering is the main virtue of a Christian martyr who really hands himself over in complete faith to God as a truth witness’ of agape in the steps of Jesus Christ. By calling a killed LTTE cadre a cãtci, the element of self sacrifice for others is selectively emphasised, not at all armed heroic killing. This is said here as a rule that has exceptions. Even a priest is a human who may be tempted to blend the martyr with the hero.

The whole semantic field word cätci, implying submissive endurance in suffering to death, is of course an anomaly in the martial idiom of the LTTE, and is de facto very rare in documents that carry the imprimatur of the LTTE. Only once, the present author could find it in printed form. The author of it is a Catholic. The LTTE emphasises instead the killing of the fighter before he is killed himself. It does so with the help of the two terms virar and maravar. These two terms are also part of the semantic field of the LTTE concept of a tiyäki. A tiyaki is a virar or inaravar or both. Again, it is important to emphasise, that the martial aspect of the tiyáki is not an addition, but that it belongs organically to the concept of a tiyäki. It is not a misunderstood concept of the Christian concept of a martyr.

In English texts distributed by the LTTE one can find the word martyr, rather frequently. This is then additional term in the sacrificial ideology of the LTTE. In the first proclamation of the Heroes Day in 1989, we can read:

Every freedom fighter who sacrifices his or her life is a martyr..![6]

The LTTE appeals then to a Western understanding of what a martyr is, but does not reckon with that the West has a differentiated comprehension about this matter. Some would blankly deny that a LTTE tiyãki is a martyr because he uses violence. Others would say that he is a martyr because of his representational death on behalf of others. Some again would associate this word to a suicidal behaviour only and acknowledge the tiyáki to be a martyr alongside with kami kaze warriors. There are some who will say that the word martyr has no meaning at all in a LTTE context, that it is only a persuasive term. Finally, there are the enemies of the LTTE who say that the LTTE has no martyrs, it has only terrorists, and only the soldiers from the own side can be called martyrs.

True enough, the word martyr, creates a hermeneutic problem for the LTTE in the West. The reader should, however, know that this problem is not new. In the English speaking stream of the struggle for independence in India, this word was used already for the victims of British suppression. The LTTE has inherited this term like most of the other terms pertaining to its sacrificial ideology from the Indian freedom struggle for independence. This tallies completely with the early conceptualisation of the young Velupillai Pirapakaran who was strongly influenced by the martial terminology of South Indian Subhasism formed in the Indian struggle for independence. One dominant configuration of his thinking is the homologising of colonial occupation and Indian freedom struggle (as performed by Nétãji) to Sinhala occupation of Tamil homeland and the freedom struggle of the Tigers.

LTTE’s sacrificial ideology and its ritual expression during Mavirarnãl, Great Heroes Day, has also inspired other Tamil groups like EROS, EPRLF and PLOTE who have taken over much of LTTE terminology. The LTTE has acknowledged the martyrs of the EROS and of the early TELO and integrated them in their body count.

1. About the sacrificial ideology of the LTTE, see the forthcoming book P Schalk. Tiyakam
2. This statement will be elaborated upon in the book P Schalk, Tiyâkam…
3. Áò§¾Ô 18,16: …º¡ðº¢¸Ù¨¼Â š츢ɡ§Ä [garbled in original on TamilNation]
4. Anonymous Mavirar Naal, (Tamil Eelam: LTTE, 1989) 4 li
5. Recorded statement by the writer Taci 1. 4. 91 in London.
6.Tamil Eelam Heroes Day. London.. Central Committee, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,19.11.1989.

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  1. SingaraVelan

    Peter Schalk made a minor career out of Tamil Tigers. He fails to carry much weight among academic circles. Talking of Eratha Catci (Martyrs) we Tamils have had a constant loss of Tamil brain drain = we lost the best Tamil young minds throughout our history. Killings, alien rules, standardization, and more recently Tamil liberation warfare. People who instigated such blood-rhetoric have held comfy positions in politics. During and post war some of these rhetoricians left the land seeking refuge in comfortable Western countries. Eela Venthan – the so-called Gandhian was paradoxically urging young hot heads to become gun toting killing machines. Only today, I read that LTTE Women’s wing leader S Sivakamy (aka Thamilini) is to be nominated as UPFA candidate. So many young women died under her command valiantly as Eraththa Catci – in vain!!

    Great Bharati’s words resonate: Nenju porukuthillaiye intha nilaiyatra manitharai ninaikayila. Tamils can’t dwell in the past…