There would have been no Buddhism in Sri Lanka: If not for Ven. Saranakara Thera

Published : 12:10 am  August 13, 2018 | No comments so far |  | 


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On the Esala Poya  day of 1778, two hundred and forty years ago Sangharaja Welivita Asarana Sarana Saranankara Thera departed from his life on earth. If not for this Thera there would have been no Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Propagating and safeguarding Buddhism was no easy task as he was nearly beheaded by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, for an alleged conspiracy, but saner counsel prevailed with the intervening of the Nilames at Malwatte Maha Vihara.
Trekking twenty kilometres on the Kandy – Murutalawa Road, I was invited by the Principal of Welivita Junior School D.R.W.B. Hennegama, where they had organised a Pirith ceremony in honour of the Sangharaja on the Esala Poya Day.
I took this opportunity to visit the birthplace and the temple where he lived and the Viharege, where he prayed, built by his mother for the Thera.
The sight of the Viharege made me wonder about the callous attitude of the Archaeological Department, where over for one year, the Viharege has been covered with zinc sheets leaving it open to inclement weather. The original paintings are fading away with the damage caused by rain while the nearby Buddha Statue has no arms. The original Sedent Buddha statue through some miracle remains intact.


The Viharege made me wonder about the callous attitude of the Archaeological Department

Millions were spent, but the birthplace remained in the state of disrepair

The present incumbent Venerable Aluthgama Medananda Thera lamented that he had to plead with the Archaeological Department to erect a covering over the Viharege, so that rain would not further damage the building and its paintings. 
The Thera also said that the former Governor of the Central Province Ms Nilluka Ekanayake allocated Rs. 700,000 to cover the roof of the temple where the Sangharaja lived.
They covered the roof with unsuitable roof tiles and as a result, the walls have been damaged due to the leaks in the roof.
Venerable Medananda Thera said that before long the entire Viharege may collapse and also the valuable paintings dated over two hundred years ago may be lost forever.

It is indeed a sorry state of affairs. 

The Sangharaja was born at Tumpane in June 1698 of the Christian era, but the date of birth cannot be verified. The birth is referred to as the fifteenth year during the reign of Wimaladharma Suriya II on the seventh day in the dark half-moon of the month of Poson. Some say it is the 16th and others say it could be the 19th of June 1698
However, it is well known that Venerable Welivita was born in this remote village of Welivita named as Kulatunge Banda, whose father was known as Kiri Banda, a farmer. At the age of 12 years, this young Kulatunge Banda was entrusted to Venerable Suriyagoda Rajaguru to be ordained a monk at Suriyagoda in the now Yatinuwara electorate.

It is from here that he learned the fundamentals of Buddhism and went in search of an inner dimension of Buddhism at a time when there were no books or scholars to learn from.
Before he was handed over to Suriyagoda Priest, he meditated in a cave at Balane with an equally young boy. There are two rocks one above the railway line and one below. 
They used the rock above to bath and the one below to live and meditate. Both could be located even today. The two caves are separated by the Kandy -Colombo railway track. But, unfortunately, even during the 2,500-year celebrations, no one took any notice to erect a sign to indicate that this Venerated member of the Sangha lived or meditated in this cave, nor in the places he visited to preach.

It is to his memory that Buddhism remains in this country, but little is said or done to remember him, not for the present generation, but for the future generations to come.
The fact remains that the birthplace of the Sangharaja should be made a National Monument or as the residents of the area point out that the entire complex, which includes the Cultural Centre, the Temple the Buddha-ge along with the surrounding premises where the Sangharaja and Kirthisri Rajasinghe had planted two Bo trees.
Thanks to the foresight of the then Minister of Cultural Affairs Lakshman Jayakoddy, a cultural centre was constructed and the entire area was demarcated as a holy site. Yet only the Pansala and the Viharege remain as protected monuments.


"Venerable Aluthgama Medananda Thera lamented that he had to plead with the Archaeological Department to erect a covering over the Viharege, so that rain would not further damage the building and its paintings."


There was a time when the officers of the State banished Venerable Asarana Sarana Welivita Thera without the knowledge of the King due to jealousy. The Thera was banished to Laggala and was also almost beheaded for an alleged crime against the King at Malwatte Chapter.
However, when a wisecrack Brahmin arrived in the Kandyan Kingdom with uncontested words and arguments against Buddhism, the King sought the help of Venerable Welivita.
The King was informed that the Thera had been banished to Laggala, whereon, the King sent his own Palanquin to bring back Welivita Thera to face the wisecrack Brahmin.
There is no doubt that Buddhism’s renaissance commenced with the entry of Venerable Welivita Sri Asarana Sarana Saranankara as a monk, who later was bestowed the title of Sangharaja by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe.

During the celebrations of the 250th year of bringing Upasampada to Sri Lanka, millions was spent, but the birthplace remained in a state of disrepair  It is time that the Government or the Archaeological authorities took action to preserve the Birthplace of this monk, without whom there would be no Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
The Sangharaja established the Silvata’s Association the forerunner to this renaissance. It was a time when there were no monks who have had Upasampada and Welivita Saranakara was determined to bring Upasampada from Siam or present Thailand.

There had been Burmese monks who had come to Sri Lanka and performed Upasamapda on the banks of Mahaweli River at Getambe, but that too had faded away.
Welivita Saranakara was bent on bringing Upasampada and approached King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, through a Hindu, he arranged to bring Upasampada from Siam or present Thailand.
As a last resort, the King called upon a meeting at Poya Maluwa Vihare in Malwatte and selected the persons who should proceed on this errand to Siam (Thailand).
In this five were selected was Wilbagedera The Dutch released a vessel named Tharaka.
There were two ships which were sent on this mission, one was the ship supplied by the Dutch Tharka and the other was a Thai ship.

Wilbagedera travelled in the Thai ship while others travelled in the ship provided by the Dutch.
After the arrival of the Thai delegation headed by Elder Upali Thera, they stayed at Godapola before they proceeded to Kandy and at Godapola. The Siamese Priests taught the Sri Lankan Priests how to don the robe and the finer points of the Upasampada ceremony.
On the Poya day of 1753, the first Upasampada was held, firstly on a member of the Thai delegation and secondly on Mahanayake Kobbekaduwa and later on Welivita Asarana Sarana Saranankara Thera.

On this day, one member from the Asgiri Chapter received Upasamapda for the first time. There were five pupils of the Sangharaja and the first being Venerable Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Buddhrakitha Thera.
It is time that the government and Ministry of Buddhasana seriously viewed to Gazette this area as a Sacred area and restore its 
forgotten glory.