The Burning of the Jaffna Library

illustration by Joshua McMaster

-June 1st, 1981-

Built in 1933, the Jaffna Library was a symbol of education and tradition to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. The library was home to original versions of historical documents, palm leaf manuscripts, and other archival material documenting the rich political and academic history of Sri Lanka.

While Tamil riots against the Sinhalese government began in the early 70s, the turning point came on May 31st, 1981, when a political rally held by the Tamil United Liberation Front became violent, killing two Sinhalese policeman.

The very next day, an organized mob of Sinhalese (rumored to be police and government sponsored militias) set fire to the library in retaliation.The burning of the library was a devastating symbol of extreme hate towards the Tamil people, and displayed one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the 20th century. 

Four Four Bravo

illustration by Joshua McMaster

-July 23rd, 1983-

By July 1983 tensions between the Tamil militant groups and the Sinhalese government were high. Several violent protests and shootings were occurring throughout the Jaffna Peninsula carried out by several different organized Tamil groups.

On July 23rd, 1983 the Sri Lankan Army was set to ambush a Tamil leader known for terrorist activities. Army patrol Four Four Bravo, consisting of 15 Sinhalese soldiers, was sent to do a routine patrol of the area. That night, 25 militants from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ambushed the patrol, killing 13 Sinhalese soldiers. This attack became a pivotal moment of the ethnic conflict, giving rise to the LTTE and igniting the flame for the Sinhalese people. 

Black July

illustration by Joshua McMaster 

-July 1983-

The Sri Lankan government ordered the bodies of the 13 Sinhalese patrol men of Four Four Bravo to be brought down to the capital city of Colombo for a mass public funeral. After the Sinhalese people observed the bodies of these soldiers, riots erupted in the streets. Before, the ethnic conflict seemed to be contained within the northern region of Sri Lanka, near the Jaffna Peninsula. However, this marked one of the first times violence occurred in the southern region of Sri Lanka, which was considered one of the safer and more stable parts of the country at that time. Instead, Sinhalese rioters targeted Tamil families, burning down houses, flipping cars and murdering people in the street. Any family with a Tamil last name was in danger. Riots began to spread from Colombo to other parts of the country, and over seven days mobs pursued Tamils. Black July was the start of the horror that would become the Sri Lankan Civil War. 

Eelam War I


Eelam War I is the name given to the first phase of Sri Lanka’s 25 year civil war. Stemming from the ambush of Four Four Bravo and the Black July riots, Eelam War I signified the start of the full-scale war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. During this period, the LTTE launched several civilian massacres against the Sinhalese people, including the Kent and Dollar Farm massacres.

As a start to gain their independence, the LTTE began an ethnic cleanse in the North East region of Sri Lanka to create their Tamil homeland. In 1984, two tiny farm villages in the area were ambushed, killing several Sinhalese families.

In 1985, the Anuradhapura massacre left 150 Sinhalese men, women and children dead as the LTTE hijacked a bus entering the area. The Tamil militant group gunned down innocent civilians, nuns and monks. The attack was meant to further provoke the Sinhalese majority against the Tamil population.

Phase I of the civil war was brought to an end in 1987 when the Sri Lankan government pinned LTTE forces in Jaffna bringing a hopeful end to a deadly four years. However, the Indian government intervened and called for a halt to the offensive, sending aid to the Tamil civilians in Jaffna and blocking Sri Lankan forces, paving the way for the eventual re-emergence of the LTTE. 


illustration by Delaney Kuric

-May 1st, 1993-

Ranasinghe Premadasa was the third President of Sri Lanka. During his tenure, the main goal of his Presidency was to bring an end to the ethnic conflicts that had ravaged the country for the past decade. However, he was met with some opposition. Up in the North, Tamil militant groups had started rioting against the Indian peace-keeping forces that brought an end to Eelam War I. Down South, a Sinhalese-led marxist party known as the JVP was aiming for an overthrow of the Sri Lankan government to bring an all Sinhalese power.

During a May Day parade in 1993, Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber, giving rise to a resurgence of the ethnic war. This attack came two years after Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was murdered by an LTTE suicide bomber and two weeks after the leader of Premadasa’s opposing political party was gunned down. 

Boxing Day

-December 26th, 1995-

Sri Lanka’s venture into international cricket started around the same time as the civil war. In 1981, Sri Lanka was given Test Cricket status by the International Cricket Council. In 1985, two years after the start of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Sri Lanka received its first Test victory against India. Ten years later, they achieved their first overseas test victory against New Zealand in March, 1995 under the captaincy of “Captain Cool”-- the legendary Arjuna Ranatunga.

The year leading up to the 1996 World Cup was when Sri Lanka took the next step in international cricket. In December, 1995, Sri Lanka travelled to Australia to play a 3-match test series. They found themselves unmatched against a high powered Australian front, yet this series was different. Under the captaincy of Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka fought hard and played with confidence. While they lost the test series 0-3, Sri Lanka found their groove during the next few One Day matches. They challenged Australia to the brink and used that momentum to carry themselves into the World Cup. They had found their identity and they had found their direction.

During the Boxing Day Test match, up and coming off-spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled by umpire Darrel Hair, paving the way for one of the most controversial storylines of the World Cup. 

Ross Emerson vs Sri Lanka

illustration by Delaney Kuric 

-January 5th, 1996- 

Muttiah Muralitharan was a center-piece figure to the new and improved Sri Lankan squad. He shocked the world in 1992 in his debut against Australia with his unconventional bowling action. Because of an unusual hyperextension during delivery, a bend in Murali’s arm created the illusion of an illegal bowling action. However, this was not called into question until four years after Murali’s debut.

On January 5th, 1995, debut Australian umpire Ross Emerson no-balled Murali for an illegal bowling action during a One-Day International game against the West Indies. Murali obliged and bowled a different way, but Emerson continued to no-ball him.

An unrest began to unravel amongst the team and amongst the Sri Lankan population. Sri Lanka’s best bowler was being called into question by what seemed like the entire world. Since the first time he was no-balled during the Boxing Day test a month earlier, Murali had been marked by some as a cheater. Opposing fans sent hate mail and yelled obscenities on the field. A few opposing fans even threw bottles and other debris at the team as they walked on the field.

After Ross Emerson no-balled Murali, the International Cricket Council opened up an investigation to study Murali’s bowling action. He passed all tests and was cleared to play internationally.

Ranatunga and the rest of the Sri Lankan team rallied around Murali and supported him throughout it all. The people of Sri Lanka did the same. It didn’t matter than Murali was Tamil--on the field and at home he was Sri Lankan.

Although he was cleared to play in 1996, Murali was no-balled again by Ross Emerson in 1999, instigating another investigation. Murali was cleared again and later ended his career holding the world record for the most wickets in both test and one-day cricket, widely regarded as the best Test bowler in the history of cricket. Ross Emerson never umpired again, later admitting that he was pressured by an unnamed Australian official to no-ball Murali.

January 31st, 1996

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka existed as the country’s place of commerce and as a symbol of financial stability. On January 31st, 1996 an LTTE truck filled with around 400 pounds of explosives blew past security and crashed through the main gate of the Central Bank in the capital city of Colombo. Bank security and Tamil militants exchanged gunfire as a suicide bomber detonated the bomb, tearing through the center of the bank and destroying eight buildings nearby. Gunman followed up the blast by driving in a three-wheeler and gunning down any survivors. The Central Bank bombing coupled with a bombing on a train earlier in the year caused tourism in Sri Lanka to drop nearly 40%. Weeks before the start of the Cricket World Cup, Sri Lanka tried desperately to show the world that their country was stable. Instead, teams like Australia and the West Indies refused to play on Sri Lankan soil, leaving the country wounded as the tournament of the century approached.