This article focuses on the archaeological site of Kantarodai (Tamil) or Kadurugoda (Sinhala) on the Jaffna peninsula at the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka to examine the power of spatially embodied, contested histories within postcolonial and post-war communities. The Sri Lankan military who control Kantarodai view it simply as a Sinhala Buddhist site. However, when it is viewed through the lens of international archaeological scholarship, its multi-ethnic and multi-religious history becomes clear. Its present situation speaks of a failure to affirm the narratives connected with this history. In examining this case study, I first evoke the changing political and religious landscapes of the peninsula in the recent past, drawing on my own visits to Jaffna during Sri Lanka’s ethnic war. Second, I examine one dominant imaginary that is projected onto the peninsula, from the Sinhala Buddhist community, the most powerful community in the island. Thirdly, I move to Kantarodai, focussing on two recent representations of its history and the privileging of one of these in Sri Lanka’s post-war polity. I then assess the consequences for Sri Lanka of the failure to affirm multiplicity at Kantarodai, drawing out its wider relevance for the study of post-colonial and post-war societies.
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