The Religious World of Kirti Sri: Buddhism, Art, and Politics in Late Medieval Sri Lanka

By John Clifford Holt | Go to book overview
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1
Kīrti Śrī's Predicament

This book is primarily about how Kīrti Śrī Rājasinha expressed a classical understanding of Buddhism and appealed to various paradigmatic discourses of kingship through the religious works he sponsored. As I detail his enterprising program of reform, reestablishment, and renewal in chapters 2-4, the specific parameters of his classical Buddhist perspective will become quite apparent. Initially, it would be helpful to know why he expended such great effort and wealth to revive what had become essentially an institutionally moribund religious tradition.

In short, the answer lies in two related factors. First, Kīrti Śrī faced very serious outside threats to his reign by an imposing European Christian colonial power, the Dutch East India Company. Because the overwhelming majority of his countrymen were Buddhists by birth, his public proclamations in support of Buddhism were therefore expedient, a religio-political rallying cry in the face of a grave external danger to tradition. Second, from the inside, he faced a serious challenge to his authority by an elitist section of the aristocratic Sinhalese nobles of his court, a faction of this medieval society whose families also dominated the Buddhist religious establishment of his time. For various reasons that will be explored, some in this privileged group were cynical regarding the king's public proclamations in support of Buddhism, called into question his fitness to rule a nation primarily composed of traditionally Buddhist people, and unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate him.

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