The first Maaveerar Naal was held on 27 November 1989.The date was chosen as it was the anniversary of the first LTTE cadre to die in combat, Lt. Shankar (Sathiyanathan alias Suresh), who died on 27 November 1982. On 27 November 1989 around 600 LTTE cadres gathered secretly in the jungles near Nithikaikulam in Manal Aru, Mullaitivu District, to remember their fallen comrades who at that time numbered around 1,300. In his speech LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran told the gathering that if he ever betrayed Tamil Eelam they must kill him.
Following the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1990 the LTTE gained controlled of large areas of territory in the north and east of Sri Lanka.The LTTE started developing ways to commemorate its dead heroes. They built thuyilum illam (resting place) for their maaveerar (great heroes) in territory they controlled.In 1991 the week leading up to Maaveerar Naal was declared Great Heroes’ Week. This resulted in Prabhakaran’s birthday, which falls on 26 November, being included in the commemorations. The celebration of Prabhakaran’s birthday began to overshadow the Maaveerar Naal commemorations to an extent that some even believed that Maaveerar Naal was a celebration of Prabhakaran’s birthday. This resulted in Prabhakaran banning any celebration of his birthday. Commemorations eventually started amongst the growing Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.
Over the years the commemorations became more elaborate, involving meetings, religious rituals, processions and exhibitions with cut-outs, posters and handbills of the dead cadres being distributed widely. Every village and every school were expected commemorate their dead cadres. Families of the dead cadres would gather at thuyilum illam to mourn their dead relatives. The culmination of the commemorations was a great function at a special location at which the reclusive Prabhakaran gave a speech which started at 6.05pm, the precise time Lt. Shankar died. The highly anticipated speeches began to take on the form of an annual policy statement by the LTTE and were broadcast on LTTE affiliated radio and TV stations in LTTE controlled areas and abroad.
After the Sri Lankan military recaptured the Jaffna peninsula in 1995 they destroyed LTTE cemeteries – thuyilum illam – in the area including those at Chaadi, Ellangkulam, Kodikamam and Kopay. Following the start of the Norwegian mediated peace process in 2002 the LTTE started rebuilding their war cemeteries.Maaveerar Naal commemorations were allowed in government territory. In 2004 Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs were allowed to light oil lamps in front of the Parliamentto commemorate Maaveerar Naal.However, after the peace process stalled the Sri Lankan military started imposing restrictions on Maaveerar Naal commemorations and destroying LTTE cemeteries
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