Accepted Paper:

Roadside Buddhas: a religious response to social change in contemporary Sri Lanka  


Shinsuke Suzuki

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on Sri Lankan new popular movement of building Buddhist shrines on the roadside. Discussing backgrounds of the movement, it clarifies that the movement is a manifestation of people’s reaction to the fragmentation of their lives under the rapid socio-economic change.

Paper long abstract:

During the last decade, Sri Lankan rural and urban landscapes have distinctly changed because of newly built Buddhist shrines on the roadside. Those shrines (Budu Madura) are generally small in size and built by working with voluntary initiative of local residents. It is ascertained that the sites of enshrining Buddha's images have historically spread out: from temples to the inside of laymen's houses (around 1950s), and from houses to roadside (around 2000s). But why did people begin to build them on the roadside? My Recent research in Kandy city reveals two peculiar facts about the movement. One is that the movement rarely entails explicit individualistic motivations, such as this-worldly profit that strongly underpinned other outstanding religious movements in the 20th century, e.g. the Bo-tree worshipping. Rather, people find the significance of 'collectiveness' in the process of building them. The other is that the roadside Buddhas are rarely to be seen in the high-end residential areas where the residing people relatively lead independent lives. These facts indicate implicit correlation between exponential increase of the roadside Buddhas and socio-economic conditions of the contemporary Sri Lankan society. The fragmentation of life is now accelerating, and extending even to the living of ordinary people. Herein lies the significance of the movement, for those who find difficulty in moving up in the society, namely to re-connect social ties from below, against dominant neoliberalist ideology that causes the fragmentation. Roadside turns to be a site for symbolic resistance against socio-economic encroachment on people's collective lives.

Panel P004
A challenge of street anthropology