Enshrined revolution | Daily News

Enshrined revolution

The Kandyan Chiefs and Buddhist monks met the British rulers at an assembly to officially pass on the reins of the rule on March 2. Both parties entered into an agreement by way of treaty, where a clause was introduced guaranteeing the protection for Buddhism. The ‘new masters’ declared Buddhist rites and ceremonies sacred and inviolate.

But the British were not keen to go by the book. On the contrary, they were more interested in converting people to their own faith. That was very much to the dismay among the Sinhalese chiefs. That triggered what is now known as the history of Independence Movement: the Buddhist monks of high calibre took the lead, for the rest to follow suit.

Venerable Wariyapola Sri Sumangala Thera (1795)

A rebellion started in the uplands of the country against the British rule in 1818. As the rebellion was in full swing, Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thera took the Relic of the tooth of Buddha from the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and went into hiding in Hanguranketa. He later handed it over to Keppetipola Disawe, the rebellion leader. The possession of the Tooth Relic has been regarded as a symbol of the right to rule the country. That said, the acquisition of the relic was a morale boost to the rebels. However, the British captured the Venerable Thera in November 1818 and retrieved the Tooth Relic, which they ceremonially brought into Kandy again. The rebellion ended soon after this. Venerable Sri Sumangala Thera was convicted for treason and imprisoned in Jaffna. Some accounts say that he was released on April 13, 1821, by order of the then Governor of Ceylon.

Venerable Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera (1823 – 1890)

The Christian missionaries made use of pamphlets and books to spread the religion. Reverend D J Gogerly of the Wesleyan mission published Christian Pragnapthi in 1849. Venerable Gunananda Thera replied with Durlabdi Vinodini in 1862 for Buddhists. Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera authored Christiani Vada Mardanaya and Samyak Darshanaya in 1862-63. Subsequently, the public debates were to replace the publications.

The Baddegama debate originated from an argument arising between a young monk and a Christian priest in the temple of Baddegama. Venerable Gunananda Thera, with a coterie of erudite monks including Venerable Bulatgama Dhammalankara, Sri Sumanatissa, Kahawe Nanananda, Hikkaduwe Sumangala, Weligama Sri Sumangala and Pothuwila Gunaratana Theras took an active part in the debate. The debate was not held face-to-face. This is because if the manner of the behaviour of the Christian debaters had led to conflicts, the Buddhists, as the majority, would naturally be blamed. Taking this situation into account, the two parties agreed to execute the debate in writing. Originally the texts were produced in Baddegama. Later, the writings were performed in Galle. The Waragoda debate was also held in 1865.

A third debate was conducted in Udanwita in Hathara Korale, present-day Kegalle District. The Creator, the Redeemer and the Eternal heaven were the debating topics. The debate was held on February 1, 1866. John Edwards Hunupola (Hunupola Nilame) represented the Christian side. He was a Buddhist monk turned Christian convert. As agreed before the debate, Venerable Gunananda Thera published the summary of the debate. In response, the nilame also published his version. Venerable Gunananda Thera issued more publications to counter the nilame's summary. No records exist of the Liyanagemulla debate. The only known fact is that it was held in 1866.

Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera (1827-1911)

The Venerable Thera chaired Colombo Committee which originally designed the Buddhist flag in 1885. He also pioneered Buddhist newspaper journalism. He founded Lankaloka and afterwards assisted the local Buddhist community to publish papers such as Sarasavi Sandaresa and Sinhala Bauddhaya. He was well honoured and awarded many titles by Sri Lankans as well as the people of many other countries in the East and the West. Reputed and renowned institutions in Ireland, Italy, Hungary and Germany also bestowed felicitation degrees on him.

Venerable Ratmalane Sri Dharmaloka Thera (1828 – 1885)

An educationist and revivalist of Sri Lankan Buddhism, the Venerable Thera was reputed for his knowledge of Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhist Philosophy. He was the founder of Vidyalankara Pirivena, Peliyagoda, which was granted the University status later by the government in 1959, and presently known as University of Kelaniya. Sri Dharmaloka College in Kelaniya is named after him.

Venerable S Mahinda Thera (1901 - 1951)

Hailing from Sikkim, a state in northeastern India, Venerable Mahinda Thera established himself as a Sinhalese poet and author. As the author of more than 40 books, Venerable Thera’s poems inspired patriotism. His first book was Ova Muthu Dama, which was written around 1921. His final book is believed to be Sri Pada. He also appears to have created a number of unpublished works. In his works, he has focused on the past glory of the country, and the weaknesses of its people in the present, urging them to work towards their freedom. He wrote several books for children as well, and in these too he has tried to inspire patriotism upon the reader. His most famous works include Nidahase Dehena, Nidahase Manthraya, Lanka Matha, Jathika Thotilla, Ada Lak Mawage Puttu, Nidahasa, Videshikayakugen Lak Mawata Namaskarayak and Sinhala Jathiya.

Venerable Mahinda Thera was also a member of the temperance movement, which served as the basis for the independence movement of Sri Lanka. After the country gained independence in 1948, he was acknowledged as a national hero for his literary works inspiring the independence movement.