Cultural Renaissance : A Lesser Known Pioneer Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Maha Thera

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This rare article on the Dodanduwe Piyaratana Maha Thero, a leading revivalist of Buddhism in Sri Lanka who also honoured with starting the first ever Buddhist School to compete with the Christian Schools setup by missionaries in Sri Lanka, appeared on the volume 25 (new series) of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Sri Lanka Branch. The article is written by Professor M. B. Ariyapala.

Tremors of a cultural set-back were felt as far back as the early part of the 12th century A.C. Though Parakramabahu I united the whole island under. his sceptre, internal strife began once again and the next ruler, Vijayabahu II was hardly successful in establishing a lasting peace.

His successor, Nissanka Malla, boasts of his campaigns within and outside the island and has laid down in his inscriptions that he stamped out lawlessness and established peace. On his death, the Kalinga and anti-Kalinga factions fought for the throne, and Magha, the last of the Kalingas, a bigoted Hindu, ravaged the country, destroyed temples, and ill-treated the monks thus ruining cultural heritage.

Vijayabahu III now succeeded him, did all within his power to restore peace and revive our culture, literature and religion; but it cannot be said that he was able to undo what Magha had done during the 21 years of his reign. The setback under Magha was so great that our culture and civilization never regained the lost glory of the past. The gradual decline continued in spite of the valiant efforts by successive rulers until the advent in the island of the Westerners, under whose domination our culture and civilization declined rapidly so much so that it was almost wiped out.

The Portuguese arrived in 1505, and were followed by the Dutch and the British. Within a few years of their arrival, the Portuguese commenced their proselytizing activities through their missionaries, and soon the people were turning Catholic for material gain and advancement. It was most unfortunate that these activities coincided with the anti-Buddhist activities of Rajasinghe I of Sitawaka who embraced Hinduism. Thus the hostile activities of both these parties thoroughly weakened and denationalised the Buddhists.

In 1656, the Portuguese were thrown out by the Dutch, who established their own Church (Dutch Reformed Church) here. Through educational and other missionary activities they propagated their religion. Some Dutch Governors advised their men to promote God’s glory and root out heathenism.

The Dutch capitulated to the British, in February, 1796, who though adopting a more conciliatory policy had the same objective – “the religious and moral improvement of the people and the propagation of the Gospel”.

Subtly anti cleverly the British carried out their policy which ultimately denationalised the Sinhalese and almost completely weaned them from their culture and religion, so much so it is said, that the “disappearance of Buddhism from Ceylon was imminent

In the words of Rev. J. D. Palm. their objective is amply brought out: “… but no less to endeavor. in obedience to certain official instructions to the clergy, to propagate Christianity among the aborigines, in order, as one of the Classes expresses it, that God may make instrumental the conquests of Netherlands’ arms to the extension of His name and kingdom among benighted nations”.

Thus it is seen that the conversion of the heather to Christianity was the main aim of all the missionaries that arrived in the island under the Western Powers. The medium through which Ikey proposed to achieve this end was education. The ancient system of Pirivena Education had almost died out. Only a few Pansala
Schools, mainly in the hill country, remained.

The Dutch had their Parish Schools and the British, to begin with, revived this system. They continued their interest in this medium and by the 1840’s had 325 schools – 21 English, 15 bilingual and the rest Swabasha’. There were also over a hundred Roman Catholic Schools. The “heathens” of course though in a majority in the country had no place in this exclusive Christian Club. They could seek entry to government schools, but must be prepared to get “civilized” in the process. So any “heathen” who dared to get an English education ended necessarily as an “.. enlightened” Christian as well.

Education was still (1850) entirely in the hands of the Christians and the Commission gave no encouragement to the non-Christians to enter this exclusive field. The temple schools which still functioned in the villages received no grant and in fact according to the regulations framed on February 5, 1861 by the Commission, schools that taught the Bible alone were eligible for a government grant’.

The educational facilities for Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims still continued to be bleak. For nearly six decades Christian missionary activities were penetrating to almost every nook and corner of the country. In fact the Christian missionaries maintained by the Ecclesiastical Department of the government were guiding the rulers. They were the power behind the administration. But by 1865 for the first time Buddhists and Hindus alike had begun to realise the danger.

It should row be clear as to how the foreign powers completely denationalised the Sinhalese nation, so much so that the Sinhalese were ashamed to call themselves Buddhist. They embraced all the western ideals, customs and manners and gave up their religion for material gain. They discarded their language and took to English in fact talking in Sinhalese at school was an offence – came to be married in Church, their children were baptized and grew up to be Christians. Thu:. the culture and religion of our people ware almost stamped out.

Literary activity was at its lowest ebb. Religion had sunk to the depths of degeneration that the Upasampada Higher Ordination) itself was rooted out.

Amidst alt this denationalising, demoralising activities of the Western Powers that were, there appeared a Samanera, Weliwita Saranankara (later Weliwita Saranankara Sangaraja, 18th century) in the halls of Kandy who was destined to revive the culture and religion of our people. It was through his untiring and devoted efforts that lhe Higher Ordination was re-established m the Kandyan kingdom and learning and literary activity began to spread once again.

This torch of learning lighted by this noble Sangaraja, was kept burning by men of learning especially in the Low Country right through the years that followed. These revivalist and resurgent activities seen also to have inspired the learned in the small hamlet called Dodanduwa, which felt the impact of the Christian activity directed from one of its early strongholds, namely, Baddegama.

The Upasampada was revived as mentioned earlier by the efforts of the Ven. Welivita Saranankara Sangaraja with the assistance of King Keerthi, Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy (1747-1782). But unfortunately this higher ordination was denied and it continues to be so even today, to certain sections of the Maha Sangha, and as a result a number of monks representing those aggrieved sections went over to Burma, received the Upasampada, and came back fully qualified to confer it on others who deserved to receive it.

Foremost among them was the Ven Ambagahapitiye Gnanawimala Tissa Thera, who established !he Amarapura Nikaya ( 1803) which later came to be called the Amarapura Mula Nikaya.

Another who followed in his footsteps was the Ven. Kataluwe Gunaratana Tissa who left for Burma in the year 1808 from the little harbour of Dodanduwa. With his return to Dodanduwa, was established the Kalyaniwansa Nikaya with its principal seat at Sailabimbaramaya, Dodanduwa. Several others, after him, went thither to Burma also seeking Higher Ordination, and on their return established various sects.

Contemporary to these events, there was also seen the emergence of a band of spirited monks who took the forefront of the cultural revival that was gathering momentum-some of them were Ven. Bulatgama Dharmalankara Sri Sumanatissa, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Ven. Vaskaduwe Subhuti, Ven Weligama Sri Sumangala, Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda and Ven. Dodanduwe Piyaratana Tissa.

This band of Thera’s were later joined by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, President of the Theosophical Society of New York, One other personage, who, a little later on carried the entire nationalist movement on his shoulders, was Anagarika Dharmapala. He, as a boy of 16, met Colonel Olcott in 1880 and carried on the nationalist movement from where Olcott and his band left it.

This paper is intended as a tribute to a Maha Thera who, from the background, worked silently and steadily, with great courage and zeal, The Maha Thera I refer to, is the above mentioned Dodanduwe Sri Piyaratana Tissa on whom was conferred the title Ariyawansalankra Sasanadha ja Vinayacariya in recognition of his services to the Sasana and the society.

Little or nothing is heard or recorded of this Maha Thera who spearheaded the national movement in its very early stages. The annals and records that are available say nothing about him. Hence this attempt to bring to light the inestimable role played by him in the national struggle, The Theras mentioned above worked in close association with one another and everybody in the field always valued Ven. Piyaratana Tissa‘s advice and guidance as will be shown later.

This Ven. Thera was born to the Weerasooriya family of Dodanduwa, on 12th December, 1826, and was ordained at the age of nine at Sailabimbaramaya under Ve. Koggala Susamnata Dhammasara, the Chief Incumbent of the vihara. The young Samanera received his education al the feet of Ven Mirisse Dhammananda, Head of the Aggarama Vihara at Polwatta, Ambalangoda, and received his Higher Ordination in June, 1846, with Dhammananda Maha Thera, as his Preceptor.

In course of time, Ven. Piyaratana Tissa, the young monk, turned out to be an able exponent of the Dhamma and soon achieved fame and recognition as such, He is said to have carried the message of the Buddha even to far off places in the island such as Kandy, Ratnapura, Pelmadulla and Tissamaharama.

Records of a redaction of the Buddhist Texts in Sabaragamuwa, under the Dayakaship (patronage) of Iddamalgoda Disava and organised under the able guidance of Ven. Bulathgama Sri Sumanatissa, who, the records available at the Dodanduwa Sailabimbarama show, always sought the advice and counsel of Piyaratana Tissa Thera‘s teacher (then chief incumbent of Sailabimbaramaya), Udugalpitiye Siri Sumanatissa, and also of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa himself. The correspondence between Bulathgama Thera, Iddamalgoda Disava and Piyaratana Tissa Thera at the Colombo National Archives bear ample testimony to this.

A letter (1869 August 4 – No 53), addressed to Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera from Bulatgama Thera who was spending the vas season at Kataluva, shows the friendship that existed between them. The letter also informs him of the various activities he proposed to launch to revive Buddhism and its culture. A notice es released by the Dayakas organising the Sabaragamuwa Redaction shows that Ven. Piyaratana Tissa was amongst the scholars who were invited to participate in the Redaction at Pelmadulla, the scholars invited being:

For the 1st book of the Vinaya Pitaka

  • Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala
  • Puwakdandave Sumangala
  • Pandit Batuwantudawe.

For the 2nd book

  • Lankagoda Siri Saddhamma Vansapala Dhirananda
  • Welitara Dharmalankara
  • Vaskaduwe Subhuti
  • Kodagoda Pannasekera

For the 3rd book

  • Hikkaduwe Sumangala
  • Mulleriyawe Gunaratana

For the 4th book

  • Weligama Sumangala
  • Dodanduwe Piyaratana

For the 5th book

  • Walane Siddharta.

This is ample evidence to prove that the Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera was one of the leading, recognised scholars of his day. The Theras above named formed a band of patriots, working for the upliftment of Religion and Culture during this dark era. It is most fortunate that Ven. Kalukondayawe Pannasekera Maha Nayake Thera included the above ‘press release’ in his History of the Daily papers, Journals and Magazines of this country, deeming it of such importance.

The most valuable literary work produced by Ven. Piyaratana Tissa was an exposition of the Vinaya rules (Vinaya Neetiya) which exposition of the Discipline, no doubt, filled a great need of the day. He also edited the Polonnaruwa and Dambadeni Katikavatas, Heranasikha and the Dina Cariyava all of which works were distributed amongst the Sangha on the day of the festival held to celebrate the Maha Thera’s 80th birthday and his completion of seventy years as a bhikkhu.

That a few places like Panadura, Kalutara and Dodanduwa were hives of revivalist activity could be gathered from the letters, communications, periodicals and past Daily papers that have been preserved at the Kumara Maha Vihara, Sailabimbaramaya and the National Archives. It was noted in the foregoing pages that Baddegama was a centre of Christian missionary activity.

At Dodanduwa too there was much activity by the Christians. Here they had established a church and four schools, two for boys and two for girls which actively carried on proselytization. Colonel Arnold Weerasooriya, who later became the Head of the Salvation Army in Asia, was a native of Dodanduwa and in fact, a first cousin of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera. Hence there is no doubt that Dodanduwa reacted most naturally and zealously to these and that Ven. Piyaratana Tissa was at the vanguard of this counter-movement.

The records at Dodanduwa and the National Archives show that the Buddhists of the village called Horetuduwa in Raigam korale formed themselves into an informal Samaja (society) promising on their words of honour to follow the tenets of Buddhism and also to refuse to be baptised or marry in the church etc. and also not to embrace a different faith even if one were to contract a marriage with a woman who was not a Buddhist.

That a similar society had been formed by the people of Dodanduwa and its outskirts as early as the middle of the 19th century (i. e. about 1848), is brought to light by another document in the same collection.

It is evident that the leading figure behind this religious cultural movement was no other than Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Maha Thera. The objectives of a society known as the Samyak Drsthi Sedhu Samagama are set forth in a document available amongst the above mentioned papers.

Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera seems to have organised his counter-offensive through another association which seems to have been known as Dharmaratha Siddhi Samagama. It was through this organisation and its membership that the Ven. Maha Thera appealed to the Buddhists not to abandon their faith and culture for material benefit and personal gain.

The Maha Thera exhorted the people to follow the path declared by the Buddha and appealed to them not to marry in church or get their children baptized. He admonished the people to lead the Buddhist life and impressed on them the value of Pancha Sila. Handbooks and pamphlets were published. These were handed out and distributed amongst the people to wean them away from non-Buddhist and anti-national
behavior and actions and thus creating in them an awareness of their own culture and religion.

Such was the leading role played by the Thera in the cultural renaissance of the recent past. Reference is also made to a religious debate at the Sailabimbaramaya, Dodanduwa, about 1869 – a discussion on Buddhism and Christianity between the Buddhist monks and two English Christian missionaries and the padre of the Church at Baddegama. A report of this debate appeared in the Lak-riviktrana Supplement on 9th October, 1869.

The report of the debate seems to have been sent by an onlooker who was present on the·occasion. Hence it carried first-hand information thus placing on record news regarding an event of historical significance. The Lak-rivi-kirana also carried a report sent by one of its correspondents on 28th May, 1869, of a conversion to Buddhism affected at the Sailabimbaramaya by Ven. Piyaratana Tissa. This report relates the story of a christian teacher, Cornelis Alwis by name, who debated with Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera for a number of days and embraced Buddhism at the end, on 10th May, in the presence of a large gathering, by taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha.

According to Dr. Ananda Guruge, the Buddhist-Christian controversies seemed to have started about 1863, Reference was made in the foregoing pages to the formation of informal societies in which the members undertook to lead the righteous life and agreed by signing a document to abide by Buddhist principles of righteousness. A document purporting to be a reply to a Christian publication in 1849 called ·Kristiyani Pragnapti‘ is available for reference. This being incomplete, one is unable to trace the author and its date. Another similar fairly long pamphlet signed by a person of Dodanduwa seems to have been published in May 1862.

Many more pamphlets urging the Buddhists and admonishing them not to retract from the path of righteousness seem to have been published by the Buddhists at various times in reply to Christian propaganda. These publications were, no doubt, the forerunner of face-to-face debates of later years.

Referring to the religious debates. one cannot help referring to Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, the orator par excellence on account of which ability he earned the title Vadibhasimha and who played the leading role in the combats against the Christians. He spearheaded the cause of Buddhism in debate with Christian missionaries on public platforms. What is important to be recorded here is the fact that he was a contemporary of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa and both of whom, along with a few others, carried on the ‘battle’ on many fronts.

It also must be mentioned here that the Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera had his connections with Dodanduwa and as such there is no doubt that both Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera and himself, both being more or less of the same age met each other and discussed their plans and compared their notes for counter action. Both were inspired by the same love and devotion to their religion and culture.

Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda was born on 9th February, 1823, and received his early education at the Sri Subhadrarama Viharaya, Balapitiya, from Ven. Balapitiye Gunaratane, who later ordained the boy. This teacher of his is also acclaimed as a vigorous preacher, and there is little doubt that the young samanera (novice) followed in the footsteps of his teacher, who himself had started to whip up Buddhist public opinion against the missionaries who were making preparations to build a Catholic church at Balapitiya.

After the death of both his father and teacher he disrobed and is said to have been admited to Wesley College, where he, it is said, learnt Christianity and English which stood him in good stead in his later battles. On hearing from Ven. Seenigama Dhirakkhanda of his mother’s great desire to see him, he set forth to come home, by which time his mother too had died. At this time there was being held at Kumara Maha Vihara, Dodanduwa, a festival for the writing down of the books of the Tripitaka. The young Migettuwatte went to Dodanduwa to see this festival and having not only a good tongue, but also a good fist, undertook the task of copying some of the texts, which he completed admirably. The patrons of the temple started on a series of sermons, expositions of the Dhamma, which at the time was no doubt a grave necessity. Suddenly, being inspired, so to say, the young man got himself ordained again under the incumbent of the Vihara, who was known as Telikada Hamuduruvo (Ven. Telikada Sonuttara).

Ven. Polwatte Buddhadatta in his ‘Kalyani–Sasana-Vamsaya‘ records that Sipkaduwe Ratanapala Thera was a pupil of Telikada Sonuttara (Hamuduruvo) and that Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thera is seen from the record to be a pupil of Sipkaduwe Ratanapala. Soon after he received the ordination he is said to have expounded the Mangala Sutta, which exposition won for him the praise and recognition of all assembled at the time, thus auguring as it were of things to come.

The Ven. Thera Saddhammavansa Vinayalamkara Nanaloka who wrote in the book on Velitota on the life of the Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda mentions at this point that the young priest gave up the idea of disrobing (it is said that he was harbouring such a thought again) and went back to Dhirakkhandha Thera under whom he is said to have entered the order again and received his Ordination (may be Higher Ordination) in 1844 under the preceptorship of Ven. Bopagoda Gnanalankara. He met his opponents in public debate for the first time in 1865 at Waragoda. These debates culminated in the Panadura ‘Vada’ in August, 1873, an account of which was published in America. Colonel Olcott, who read this book, says Vinayalankara Gnanaloka, being pleased to the utmost came to Ceylon to meet Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda and to embrace Buddhism’.

Commencement of a Buddhist Educational Movement:

It is well known that the denationalisation movement by the Christian rulers and missionaries was carried forward through a well-organised system of Christian and Government schools. The counter-offensive to this campaign, it was wisely and far sightedly thought, too had to come through a similar movement. Therefore a Buddhist Educational Movement, to meet the Christian challenge was soon set afoot. Ven. Thera Piyaratana Tissa who inaugurated the Lokartha Sadhaka Samagama established through it the first Buddhist School in the island, at Dodanduwa in the area known as Degalle, in the year 1869. This, it should be noted, was before Colonel Olcott set foot in this Island.

The School, Jinalabdhi Visodhaka Pathasalava, was registered as a grant-in-aid school under the Government in 1872, after much effort and agitation. The delay in registration seems to have created doubts in the minds of educationists whether this school was actually the first Buddhist school to be started in the Island.

K. H. M. Sumathipala. in his History of Education in Ceylon, 1796 – 1965 questions this position:

The Diamond Jubilee of the Buddhist Theosophical Society souvenir issued in 1940 says. “In 1880 when the society started there were only two Buddhist schools in the island – one at Dodanduwa, conducted under the supervision of Piyaratana Nayake Thero and the other at Panadura under the supervision of Gunaratane Nayake Thero. This statement stands questioned as the Administration Report for this year classifies four schools as Buddhist, none of which were at either Panadura or Dodanduwa. To the above four a few privately managed Buddhist schools also have to be added. Thus the number of grant-in-aid Buddhist schools in 1880 may have been anything between 4 and 11. As the two schools at Panadura are referred to as Buddhist schools in several sources – the girls’ schools which received its first grant in 1872 can be deduced as the oldest Buddhist school’.

He continues:

The B.T.S. Souvenir also says that the Dodanduwa Buddhist Boys’ School, started by Ven. Dodanduwa Piyaratana, 1869 was the first of its kind. This school, however, does not appear in the grant-in-aid lists of the seventies. But the Anglo-Vernacular School at Dodanduwa managed by Mudaliar J. Peiris had received a grant from the Department in 1872. [t has, however, ceased to appear in the grant-in-aid list after 1874. If this is the school started by Ven. Piyaratana, (which looks un-likely), then the claim that Panadura and Dodnduwa built the first grant-in-aid Buddhist school may be accepted. The other possibility is that the Dodanduwa Buddhist school remained an unaided school for at least a decade or two’.

Though Sumathipala says that this school at Dodanduwa does not appear in the grant-in-aid lists of the seventies, he admits that ·an Anglo-Vernacular school at Dodanduwa managed by Mudaliar J. Peiris had received a grant from the Government in 1872, and says that this school ceased to appear in the grant-in-aid lists after 1874 If it is proved, states Sumathipala, that the school managed by Mudaliar Peiris was the same as the school started by Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera, he accepts the claim that Panadura and Dodanduwa built the first grant-in-aid Buddhist schools in the island. Sumathipala does not of course say as a certainty which school was established first, What is important in this connection is not whether this school received a grant from the Government, but whether this was the first Buddhist school to be established in the Island. It is most illogical to say that the Girls’ School at Panadura which received its first Government grant in 1872 is the oldest Buddhist school. The fact that Dodanduwa established the first Buddhist school, does not seem to be disputed.

Even Sumathipala’s contention that the Panadura Girls’ school received a grant from Government before any other Buddhist school in the Island cannot be maintained because both Dodanduwa Boys’ School under Mudaliar J. Peiris and the Panadura Girls’ school received their first grants in 1872.

The reports from the correspondents of the Lak-rivi-kirana published on 4th June, 1869, and 17th December, 1869, establish beyond doubt the dates of commencement of the two schools, the one at Dodanduwa and the other at Panadura. The Lak-rivi-kirana of the 2nd July, 1870, also reports that the Head Teacher of the school at Dodanduwa was Palliye Gurunanselage Don. Carolis Alwis, the very same person who was once a Christian but had embraced Buddhism later.

The Lokartha Sadhaka Samagama, also established a girls’ school named Yasodhara Balika Pasala at Dodanduwa and a report on this school published in 1902 states that the Jinalabdhi Visodhaka school was established 32 years before and that the patron of the said society was Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera. The report also recounts briefly the attempts made by the said society to get this school registered and how it was ultimately registered as an A’ grade school.

It says that grants were paid on the appointment of Mudaliyar Peiris (the Mudaliyar in charge of the Wellabada Pattu) as Manager of the school and of Messrs. Don Johanis Weerasooriya, Patabendi Arachchi of Dodanduwa and Bastian Mendis Rajakaruna Wijesekera of Ratgame as Trustees of the society on a security of Rs. 3000/-.

This reference to the receipt of a grant by Mudaliyar Peiris should remove the doubt that arose in Sumathipala’s mind as to whether the Anglo – Vernacular school managed by Mudaliyar J. Peiris, that received a grant in 1872, was the same as Jinalabdhi Visodhaka. The Yasodhara Report itself is sufficient evidence to clear this doubt. Sumathipala also says that this school, that received the grant in 1872 under J. Peiris’s management ceased to appear in the grant-in-aid list after 1874. This is true for the grant to this school ceased to be paid on the transfer from Galle of Mudaliyar J. Peiris.

The school being thus deprived of the grant was reduced to its original state This fact is indeed additional evidence to convince us of the identity of the school. The Arachchi above referred to who was an active and energetic member of the Society, approached Mr. Gunatilleke, then Kachcheri Mudaliyar of Galle, and intimated to him the sad plight the school had fallen into. Being impressed with the activities and objectives of the society especially their efforts in conducting a Buddhist school, he agreed to help. The grant was restored on the appointment of Deputy Colonel (the Sarasavi Sandaresa’ says Coroner) Isaac de
Silva Weerasooriya of Dodanduwa as the Manager of the school.

This fact is established by the Administration Report of the Department of Public Instruction for the year 1893. It is here recorded that there were two grant-in-aid Anglo -Vernacular schools at Dodanduwa during this year. Both are termed Dodanduwa Boys’ and the management of one is given as C. M. S. (Christian Missionary Society) and the other as Private.

The practice of the Department of Public Instruction regarding the recognition of private schools upto about 1879 had been to classify them as boys’ or girls’ and as Vernacular, Anglo-Vernacular or English, and not as Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist.

However, from about 1879, when a school happened to be managed by a recognised body like the C. M. S., the name of the managing body was given in place of the name of the Manager and when the name of a private individual appeared as the Manager, the management seems to have been given as ‘private’, to whatever denomination the school may have belonged. It was several years later that private schools were recognised as Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Christian. Hence there is no doubt as to the identity or this school managed by Mud. J. Peiris, as the one established by Ven. Piyaratana Tissa in 1869.

It may be noted here that in the years 1872-74 the Managers of the two Anglo-Vernacular boys’ schools at Dodanduwa were given as Rev. J. Allcock and Rev. R. T. Dowbiggin (1874) for one school and Mudaliyar J. Peiris for the other. Between the years 1875 – 1882 the Administration Reports mention only one Dodanduwa Boys’ school – this is undoubtedly the Missionary School, the management of which is recorded as C. M. S. in 1879.

In 1880 this Anglo-Vernacular school disappears from the Administration Reports and in its place comes a C. M. S. English school under the same management. This English school seems to have existed till about 1925 when it had to be closed down, unable perhaps to compete with a Buddhist English school which came into being at Dodanduwa in 1915 by the name Piyaratana English School.

This is ample evidence regarding the restoration of the Government grant to the Dodanduwa Buddhist Boys’ school, Jinalabdhi Visodhaka. However, it is worthwhile noting here that the Sinhalese Journal Sarasavi Sandaresa of 17th March, 1882, carries a letter from a reader of Dodanduwa, giving a brief account of this School, to ups and downs and its ultimate revival during this period.

The Lak-rivi-kirana records the establishment of three other Buddhist schools which followed the establishment of the Jinalabdhi Visodhaka. The news report of a subscriber from Kehelwatte, Panadura, was published on 17th December, 1869. This news item refers to the establishment of two schools, a girls’ school and a boys’ school at Pattiyagama, near the Galvala Viharaya at Panadura, by the Dharamaneethi Society of Panadura with Mailenthina Coory and Johannes Peiris as their Heads respectively. (It is this Girls’ school that Sumathipala deduces to be the oldest Buddhist school).

Ven. Polwatte Buddhadatta Maha Thera, in his book above referred to states that the. boy’s school at Panadura known as Upadhyaya Pathasalawa was established through the efforts of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera. The Ven. Buddhadatta also refers to the fact that the Galwala Viharaya is identical with the present Rankot Viharaya.

The Viharaya was founded by W. H. Francisku Soysa and six others and handed over to Ven. Batapola Kalyanatissa in 1824, who was, the chief pupil of Ven. Kataluwe Gunaratana Tissa, the founder of the Kalyanivamsa Sect, with whom he proceeded to Burma. Ven. Koggala Dhammasara, the third pupil of Ven. Kataluwe Gunaratana Tissa, was the teacher of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera.

The Lak-rivi-kirana of 11th January, 1870, also reports the establishment on January 1st, 1870, of the sister school of the Jinalabdhi Visodhaka School at Dodanduwa. It is fortunate that the Lak-rivi-kirana has kept on record these important historical events which otherwise would have been lost to posterity.

The Yasodhara Balika report referred to above was published in 1902, only 33 years after the establishment of the Jinalabdhi Visodhaka school and we have no reason to doubt the veracity of what the report states. In this connection, it must be borne in mind that Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera, who passed away only on 20th May 1907, was the person who was responsible for the establishment of this school, as much as he was the moving spirit behind the school celebrations, in connection of which the report was issued.

It cannot be said that the people connected with the establishment of the Yasodhara Balika Pasala and its activities were ignorant of or did not remember the events that preceded it. It must be accepted that they had a knowledge of what they were talking about and surely there must have been at that time, quite a number of people (other than the Maha Thera himself) who were connected with the Lokartha Sadhaka Society from its inception and who lived not only to see the establishment of the Jinalabdhi Visodhaka Pasala but also its progress.

Hence, one cannot but accept the statements recorded in this Report as correct. Thus there cannot be any doubt that Jinalabdhi Visodhaka was the first Buddhist School ever to be established in the Island, nay, the first Buddhist school, according to Professor Malalasekera himself, to be established in the world.

Professor Malalasekera made this statement from the Chair when he addressed those assembled to celebrate the centenary of the scl ol in 1969, which I myself had the opportunity of attending. We noted above that the B. T. S. in its Diamond Jubilee Souvenir said that there were only two Buddhist schools in the Island in 1880 when the Society itself was started. May be that the B. T. S. inadvertently referred to the two schools at Dodanduwa as one school and the two schools at Panadura too as one school. But Sumathipala says that none of the Buddhist schools at this time were at either Dodanduwa or Panadura.

Perhaps the Buddhist schools at Dodanduwa and Panadura were not referred to as Buddhist schools at this time. Even in the earliest Government records (1872) they are not referred to as Buddhist schools. No schools were then referred to as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu etc. but as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ and as English, Vernacular or Anglo – Vernacular, and the Dodanduwa and Panadura schools continued to be so named even after the classification as Buddhist, Hindu etc. started.

The Lak-rivi-kirana of 7th June, 1873, reports the establishment of a Buddhist school at Koggala, Malalagama in September, 1872, as a rival institution to a Christian school which was put up there by the missionaries of Bouna Vista near Galle. This school, the report says, was inspired by the Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera and it was under his direction and guidance that it was put up.

The establishment of this school is evidence that the devoted national-minded Buddhists in the country took up the challenge of the Christian schools and followed the example set by this Venerable Thera. Hence there is no doubt that Ven. Dodanduwe Piyaratana Tissa Thera was the Father of Buddhist Education’ in Sri Lanka.

It must now be said that it was under the guidance and counsel of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa that Colonel Olcolt himself took up the cause of Buddhist education after his arrival in the island in 1880. Now, having launched on a system of Buddhist education, these enthusiasts, next faced the problem of providing some form of text books to be used in their schools. To meet this need, the Ven. Piyaratana Tissa prepared two Readers –Neyyartha Dipani and the Jina Dharma Vikasini. dealing with the life of the Buddha and Buddhist ideals and principles of the lay life respectively.

He also prepared a reader, Buddhist Thoughts perhaps the first of its kind, to be used by the beginners. Dodanduwa was also the cradle of a literary revival at this time. The two viharas, Kumara Maha Viharaya and Sailabimbaramaya were the centres of this revival. The Pirivena at Kumara Maha Viharaya seems to have been established by Ven. Tuduwewatte Pannasiha under the patronage of Ven. Hikkaduwe Ratanapala, the Chief Incumbent of the vihara. It is at this Pirivena that the famous Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera studied for sometime. The Pirivena at Sailabimbaramaya was presided over by Ven. Udugalpitiye Siri Sumantissa Thera and was assisted by Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera, who later assumed its principalship.

The latter pirivena was later greatly improved and enlarged under the name Sarasvati Mandapa Pirivena by Ven. Bauddha Siddhantacarya Candrakirti Sri Seelaskandha Thera, who even surpassed his Guru, Ven. Piyaratana Tissa, as a great Sanskrit scholar and earned much fame and recognition within as well as outside the island. Among Ven. Piyaratana Tissa’s other pupils who won recognition in the field of learning and scholarship were two other Samskritists, Telwatte Sri Ariyawansa and Siri Amarawansa and his chief lay pupil was Pandit Sri Dharmasena Vidyasagara of Dodanduwa.

Amongst the other reputed alumni of this Pirivena were Ven. Pitiwelle Medhankara, Ven. Batapola Dhammapala and Ven. Welipatanwila Deepankara.

Associations with Colonel Olcott

The first letter that I could lay hands on as coming from Col. H. S. Olcott to the Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera is dated, New York, 29th August, 1878. Reference, however, is made in this fairly long Jetter to previous correspondence between them.

In this letter, Colonel Olcott gives an account of the work he was engaged in, and of the objectives and aims of the Theosophical Society. This letter shows that they had been for sometime ‘adittha sahayas’ (pen friends). The Ven. Piyaratana Tissa, in his letter, seems to have extended an invitation to Colonel Olcott to visit Ceylon, for the latter says: the hand of welcome you extend to us is most cordially and warmly grasped’. He also informs the Thera of his unanimous election as a Fellow of the Theosophical Society and states that the Fellowship Diploma was enclosed.

The Colonel also makes mention of the fact that Buddhism and Christianity face to face which is an account of the Panadura Vada of 1873, had gone into a second edition. It was this account which when first published that brought to the notice of Col. Olcott the vigorous nature of Buddhist activities in Ceylon.

It was on the 17th of May, 1880, when the Colonel landed at Galle, the two friends met for the first time. The party of visitors, including Colonel Olcott, Madam Blavatskey and others, were first taken to the Vijayananda Temple in Weliwatta, Galle and it was here that they observed the Five Precepts for the first time.

The Colonel himself, in his Diary (P. 170) records his very first visit to Ven. Piyaratana’s temple ·Our first stage was to Dodanduwa over five miles, the seat, the grand vihara and Pansala of our friend Piyaratana Tissa Terunnanse – a Monk of erudition, energy and high character … at Dodanduwa we were greeted with such a downpour of monsoon rain as had not been seen in years. During a lull we were conducted to an immense shed, the Piyaratana Tissa had erected and I gave the expected address to 2000 people.After that we visited his temple, which we found scrupulously tidy and well kept, an unusual circumstance in the island. We saw a huge standing image of the Buddha, more than a century old. We passed the night in a bungalow provided for us by Mr. Weerasooriya and friends.

It is unnecessary here to recount the services rendered by Colonel Olcott in reviving our religious culture as these are too well known; but it has to be stated that the Maha Thera, Ven. Piyaratana Tissa was always associated with all the activities launched by Colonel Olcott and with the Colombo Theosophical Society and its affairs since its inception.

Correspondence (preserved at the National Archives and also at the Dodanduwa Temples) between Colonel Olcott, the Secretaries and others connected with the Buddhist Theosophical Society and the great Thera, provides ample evidence of these associations. Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera, it is brought out in these letters, was always consulted, not only by the Buddhist Theosophical Society, but also by the great Anagarika Dharmapala (who joined the group in 1880 as a boy of 16) himself.

As the contribution of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa in the cultural renaisance of this period has often gone unrecorded, it will be pertinent to include a few references to this monk’s continuous associations and connections with the fellow workers in the field:

(l) A letter written by Mr. D. J. Subasinghe (dated 1902 Aug. 25, Galle) to Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera imploring his help in reviving the Theosophical Society of Galle and also in taking steps to put Mahinda College on a sound footing. The letter also states that the Galle Theosophical Society was inaugurated by Colonel Olcott on the advice of Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera, 23 years before.

(2) Mr. D. S. Wickremaratne, Buddhist Theosophical Society, Colombo, writes to the Ven. Thera on 11.9.1902. The English version of the letter is as follows:

No. 151.
Buddhist Theosophical Society,

Salutations to you Ven. Sir,
It is our intention to hold a meeting at Karagampitiya of both the lay and the ecclesiastical to establish unity amongst the Buddhists and to consider the formulation of a way of rejecting the four-fold requisites from those who, not heeding the righteous advice of the monks, send their children to Christian schools, thus harming the Buddhist schools. This meeting will be held on Sunday the 21st instant.

I gather that, by launching of a similar movement you have been able to render much service to your area. I, therefore, humbly request you to be present on. the said day to help us to launch a movement in this area as well.

Yours obediently,
sgd. D. S. S. Wickremaratna.
A reply is solicited.

(3) On 10th August, 1895, Anagarika Dharmapala wrote to the Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera from the Mahabodhi Office asking him to send any letters that Gunananda Thera who had died in India had, presumably pertaining to the activities of the Society.

(4) On 8th March, 1894, Anagarika Dharmapala wrote to the Ven. Thera seeking his blessings and looking forward to a meeting to discuss the affairs of the Mahabodhi Society.

(5) On 20th August, 1894, A. Uluwita, Secretary, Ceylon Mahabodhi Society invited the Maha Thera to a meeting of leading Buddhist monks to discuss certain important affairs of the Society.

(6) He was also invited by the same Secretary to attend a meeting, on 14th September, 1895, to discuss what steps should be taken to restore Buddha Gaya to the Buddhists.

(7) The Theosophist (Vol. I. Aug. 1880) refers to a few Maha Theras who will be gratefully remembered for their services: ‘But there are certain priests whose names will ever be held in grateful recollection in the Society since it is to them that the magnificent fruits that crown our mission is mainly due. These are the Rev. Hikkaduwe Sumangala, Mohottiwatte Gunananda, Potuwila Indrajoti, Bulatgama D. Sumanatissa and
Piyaratana Tissa.’

In addition to all this correspondence, many are the letters and communications available at the Dodanduwa Temples and at the National Archives themselves, to establish the contributions made to the varied religious, cultural and national movements of this and the 19th centuries by the Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera and also to establish his associations with the leading national leaders both lay and clerical who were in the fore-front of the revivalist movement during this period.

All these and the foregoing facts are ample testimony to the leading pioneering role the noble Ven. Piyaratana Tissa Thera played in resurrecting the dying culture and religion in this island.


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