Reverence revisited | Daily News


 

Reverence revisited

Sikkim descendants of Venerable S Mahinda Thera
Historical letter dated September 30, 1920 sent by Venerable S Mahinda Thera.
Historical letter dated September 30, 1920 sent by Venerable S Mahinda Thera.

A relative of a national hero and never-to-be-forgotten poetic genius of Sri Lanka, who had inspired the entire Sri Lankan nation to love their motherland and stand up for their Independence from British colonial rule (1815-1948), visited Sri Lanka on its Independence Day, February 4, 2020.

The visitant is Dr TR Gyasto, the grandnephew of great Venerable Sikkim Mahinda Thera, or Tibet Jathika S. Mahinda Himi as he is popularly known in Sri Lanka. Dr Gyasto arrived in the country without arousing any publicity. He hails from Venerable S Mahinda Thera’s ancestral home, Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.

In Gangtok, Dr Gyasto is a general physician, who is known to take care of patients with a great deal of sensitivity.

When inquired about the unannounced visit to Sri Lanka, Dr Gyasto said: “It was indeed a very pleasant and harmonious experience. We are very grateful to the people of Sri Lanka for their love, support and affection for Venerable S Mahinda Thera and keeping his legacy alive.”

He added: “The visit to the Sudharmaramaya Maha Bellana Temple, where our granduncle Venerable S Mahinda Thera lived until his death, and to see the exhibits in the museum dedicated to him, were the highlights of our visit to Sri Lanka.”

It was in this humble temple that their grand-uncle, Venerable S Mahinda Thera lived until his death on May 16, 1951. The temple shelters a statue of Venerable S Mahinda Thera. The objects he used during his monkhood are treasured in a small museum found in this place of worship.

Dr Gyasto and his wife, Wangmo Tobden, paid homage to Venerable Sikkim Mahinda Thera at the temple in the presence of Chief Incumbent Venerable Ambakolawewa Dhammadassi Thera.

Venerable Mahinda Thera, born around 1901 in Gangtom, was named Pempa Tendupi Serky Cherin. Serky arrived in Sri Lanka on a scholarship with an annual allowance of six rupees circa 1912 (or 1914). The scholarship was to study and practice Buddhism in Ceylon. He set foot in Ceylon with his brother Sikkim Punnaji, who was already a Buddhist monk.

Although originally from Sikkim, Venerable Mahinda Thera identified himself as Tibetan, probably because that was how it was generally known in Ceylon at the time. This could be presumably because the British Empire sought to establish commercial routes with Tibet in the early 18th century, which led Sikkim to come under British suzerainty until independence. Sikkim merged with India in 1975 after a decisive referendum.

Ordination

Venerable S Mahinda Thera was ordained into Mahasangha at Sailabimbaramaya Temple in Dodanduwa under the supervision of Venerable Gnanaloka Maha Thera from Germany. The ordination was performed by Venerable Piyaratana Nayaka Thera. He was ordained into the Amarapura Nikaya and was later re-ordained into the Shyamopali Nikaya on June 16, 1930. He obtained Upasampada later that year.

According to historical records, the German-born Venerable Gnanaloka Maha Thera provided him with the opportunity to come to Sri Lanka to study Buddhism. The Venerable Maha Thera also gave him his Bhikkhu ordination name, Mahinda. Venerable S Mahinda Thera and his brother studied Buddhism in Polgasduwa hermitage in southern Sri Lanka under Venerable Gnanaloka Maha Thera.

Letter to Chogyal

Dr Gyasto is in possession of a letter from the 1920s. It was from Venerable S Mahinda Thera to the 11th Chogyal (Dharma King) of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal. The letter is dated September 30, 1920.

“I think the Maharaja had requested Venerable Mahinda Sananero to come to Sikkim and teach Dhamma there in the local language,” Dr Gyasto noted.

“Additionally, Venerable Mahinda Sananero, who did not know the local language of Sikkim or the Tibetan language, nor was he too fluent in English, asks that he be excused before he goes to Calcutta to pick up the Tibetan language and brush up his English as well,” he added.

“In his letter, Venerable Mahinda Sananero also asks Maharaja to sponsor Rs 30 per month for three years during his stay in Calcutta to learn Bhutia, the local language,” he said.

The brother professor

Dr Gyasto mentioned something about Venerable S Mahinda Thera’s brother here, referring to the said Calcutta link. He said, “It may not be out of place to say Venerable S. Mahinda Thera’s eldest brother, who is my grandfather, was a Tibetan professor at the University of Calcutta from 1919 to 1922, where he died not accustomed to the humid conditions of the plains.”

“He translated many books from Tibetan to English including the History of Sikkim 1908. He compiled the first English – Tibetan dictionary in 1919. He provided his services to the political officer of Sikkim in the Simla Convention of Indo-Tibetan Border in 1914, which defined the boundary between Tibet and British India, which is known as the McMahon line,” he explained.

This sheds light on S Mahinda’s genetic basis for his particular talent for the study of history and his sophisticated language skills, which made him a top drawer poet and author in Sri Lanka.

He went to Vidyodaya Pirivena in Maradana and entered a school there to learn English. He studied Pali and Sinhala languages. Venerable Mahinda Thera served as a teacher in the Nalanda College, Colombo.

Patriot, poet, historian

Venerable Mahinda Thera had authored over 40 books. His first book Ova Muthu Dama was written around in 1921. His final book is said to be Sri Pada.

The Venerable Thera, a beacon of light of the country’s freedom and independence, still stands to confer comfort on its nation and culture through his prowess of verse and prose of Sinhala language.

His poems will always bring joy and will instil patriotism in Sri Lankans. They bring to light the past glory of the earth.

Those who read his poems will surely become fearless and alive. His poetic work instils patriotism in the reader, influences boldness in timidity, diligence in neglect and the will to fight for one’s freedom.

Sri Lankan mothers in villages often sing his poetry as lullabies to make their children sleep. The teachers have made children sing theses poems in their classrooms. His poems are in education curricula of national schools.

Among his famous works are Nidahase Dehena, Nidahase Manthraya, Lanka Matha, Jathika Thotilla, Ada Lak Mawage Puttu, Nidahasa, Videshikayakugen Lak Mawata Namaskarayak and Sinhala Jathiya.

Venerable S Mahinda Thera’s poems are imbued with exquisite Sinhala-language prose backed by his superior knowledge of Sri Lankan history, Theravada Buddhism and Pali language. After the country gained independence in 1948, he was recognized as a national hero for his literary works that influenced the independence movement.

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Q: Venerable S Mahinda Thera’s Freedom Songs, literary work still means so much to this country. Schoolchildren learn them and mothers sing them to their children as lullabies. Do you understand the meaning of these poems and his work?

A: Sorry, I do not. However, I understand that he fiercely and passionately urged the Sri Lankans to wake up from their slumber and fight for what is rightfully theirs.

Q: How does your lineage see Sri Lanka as a country?

A: Our line of descendants is spread across Sikkim, Bhutan and other parts of India. We are unanimous in our appreciation and gratitude to the Sri Lankans for honouring Venerable S Mahinda Thera even after Independence.

Q: What’s the most likeable facet of Venerable Mahinda Thera?

A: His abhorrence of publicity, his honesty, his courage, his zeal, and his commitment to motivating the country.

Q: What are your most cherished Buddhist stories, stanzas or discourses?

A: As Buddhists, we believe in impermanence. As such, I feel that if you are prepared for death, overcome the fear of death it is only then that you truly live a life worth living!

Q: How do you find the ways of Sri Lankan folks and their way of life and their love for your grand uncle?

A: The Sri Lankans, in my short interaction across all sections, are a very simple, cultured and deeply religious community-very proud of their heritage. The love and veneration of Venerable S Mahinda Thera is touching.

Q: Are you a poet like your granduncle? Do you write about freedom, about people, and the good qualities that men should cultivate?

A: Unfortunately not. I do not know of any family member with a poetic bent of mind yet!

Q: How do you compare Sri Lanka today to the period of your grand uncle?

A: I feel that the Sri Lankans today are much more confident, outgoing and a proud race.

Q: Would like to convey a message to the Sri Lankan public?

A: On behalf of all his family members would like to thank the Sri Lankans for their immense love and veneration for Venerable S Mahinda Thera.


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