Why have we forgotten this great monk?
Sri Lanka should have celebrated the 309th birth anniversary of Sangharaja Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thera as much as the introduction of Upasampada to Sri Lanka in 1753. If not for Sangharaja Welivita, Sri Lanka would not have been a Buddhist country. But, it was insignificant event in the country. The only place that it was celebrated to any extent was in a school at Weliwita where a statue of the Sangharaja was unveiled by the Governor of the Central Province Tikiri Kobbekaduwa. Weliwita is about 20 km from Kandy.
But, the story does not end here. Sometime ago the birthplace of this saintly monk was in ruins and on and off, this was brought to the notice of the authorities. The property is said to be owned by a relation of the Venerable Sangharaja and the original house has been renovated to such an extent that one cannot discern whether it is the original house where the Sangharaja was born.
Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thero was born at Tumpane in June 1698 of the Christian era, but the birth date cannot correctly be fixed. The birth is referred to as the fifteenth year during the reign of Vimaladharmasuriya II on the seventh day l 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.
But, there is no doubt that Buddhism’s renaissance commenced with the entry of Venerable Weliwita Sri Asarana Sarana Saranankara as a monk, who was later bestowed with the title of Sangharaja by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe
During the celebrations of the 250th year of bringing Upasampada to Sri Lanka millions were spent, but no attention was paid to the birthplace of the Sangharaja Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thero. This site should be made a national monument or as the residents of the area point out, the entire complex , which includes the Cultural Centre, the pansala, the Budhu-ge and the premises where the the Sangharaja and Kirthisri Rajasinghe had planted two Bo-trees should be made into a sacred area.
It is time that the Government or archaeological authorities took some action in this regard.
Sangharajapura is located in the village of Weliwita in the Tumpane Divisional Secretary’s Division on a road that is in need of urgent repair. The house that Sangharaja Asarana Sarana Saranankara Weliwita was born is in the most dilapidated condition. Some of the wooden pillars have been replaced by concrete pillars, but the doorways are intact. However, the building needs repair and conservation.
The present owner S.B.Weliwita who lives in Kandy and is working at the Universtiy of Peradeniya has a tale of woe. He says that a number of government servants and others have come over the years to write articles and also to see the place, but he is the one who even puts up a Buddhist Flag at the Sangharajah’s birthplace during Vesak, Poson or other Poya days.
He said last week he would be going to Sangharajapura to put up a flag so that the younger generation would know that “here lived a monk to whom credit should be given for the upliftment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka”.
Ven. Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thero was instrumental in the renaissance of Buddhism in the country, when there was not a single member of the Sangha who was ordained in the ‘Upasamapada Karamaya’ or Higher Ordination. Several attempts to bring Upasamapada failed until the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe when Upasampada was brought by a delegation headed by Maha Thera Upali.
Venerable Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thero was born in this remote village of Weliwita and named Kulatunge Banda. His father was Kiri Banda, a farmer. At the age of 12, the younger Banda was entrusted to Ven. Suriyagoda Rajaguru to be ordained as a monk at Suriyagoda in the now Yatinuwara electorate. It is from here that he learnt Buddhism and went in search of an inner dimension of Buddhism, when there were no books or scholars.
He used a cave at Balane to meditate in while living in another cave close by. The two caves are separated by the Kandy -Colombo railway track. On Poya day of 1753, the first Upasampada was bestowed, first on a member of the Thai delegation and second on Mahanayake Kobbekaduwa and later on Weliwita Asarana Sarana Saranankara Thera. The Asgiri Sangha was not present for the first Upasampada. There were five pupils of the Sangharaja the first being Venerabe Tibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Buddhraksitha Thera followed by four others.
The temple at Weliwita which is in a most dilapidated state is surrounded by new buildings, but the old temple still stands. Credit must be given to the present members of the Sangha, as they have not touched this ‘old’ building although a new building has been built close by. But, the ‘old ‘Viharege’ and the pansala need conservation.