UNIQUE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE SINHALA BUDDHIST NATION
Posted on March 24th, 2020

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane    

  • Sri Lanka is the only country in the world that was visited by the Buddha on three different occasions. During these visits, the Buddha set foot on 16 different places within the country which are still venerated as sacred sites (for details see Deepawamsa written in the 3-4th century CE).
  • Sri Lanka and Thailand are the countries with the largest collection of relics of the Buddha. The most venerated among these relics are The Tooth relic, the right collar bone and the Alms Bowl of the Buddha are enshrined in Sri Lanka. All stupas found across the island contain relics of the Buddha.
  • Sri Lanka’s Sangha Sasana or the organization of the ordained Buddhist community is the world’s oldest institution, which is unique in being still active and operational in Sri Lanka for over 2250 years.
  • The Sangha Sasana has survived in Sri Lanka for a continuous period that is longer than all dynasties of Chinese emperors, and much longer than the Roman and British Empires. It is noteworthy that it has survived without armies and weapons, but merely through the power of virtue and wisdom.
  • The oldest recorded tree in the world, the Sri Maha Bodhi, is in Sri Lanka. It is the southern branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Gotama Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was planted in 288 BCE and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. It is respected by Buddhists all over the world.
  • World’s oldest Buddhist, architecture, sculpture, monuments, dagabas, shrines and monasteries are found in Sri Lanka.
  • World’s oldest Buddhist paintings, literature including poetry are found in Sri Lanka.
  • Remains of world’s oldest royal palaces and landscaped gardens are found in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.   
  • There is widespread evidence that Sri Lanka’s ancient Sinhala Buddhist builders and planners were quite familiar with the principles of building construction or structural engineering, and some of their structures have lasted for over 1600 years.
  • The Lovamahapaya (Brazen Palace) was the world’s oldest skyscraper, 145 feet high with nine stories and the building was about 400 feet in length. It took six years for the construction and accommodated about 1000 monks. Ruins of this building are found in Anuradhapura. 
  • The largest known brick structures of the world are the ancient Buddhist stupas or dagabas of Sri Lanka, prominent among them being Jetavanaramaya, Abayagiriya, Ruvanweliseya, and Tissamaharamaya. The Jetavanarama Stupa is about 400 feet high and is the largest brick structure in the world.
  • The high degree of sophistication in engineering technology and skills in surveying are well reflected in Sri Lanka’s ancient Buddhist structures and monuments. These skills were transferred to Buddhist architecture, sculpture, and other works of art.  Brickmaking, plasters for reinforcing bricks and rocks used in buildings and making of huge statues, both indoor and outdoor, are of special significance.
  • Engineering technology of the ancient irrigation system of the island is of special significance. The vast man-made reservoirs and irrigation systems that were developed by the nation’s Buddhist royalty in the past, which even today defy engineering interpretation. The earthen and stone dams and reservoir systems, the canal network and related water control and management structures and techniques display the skills of ancient Sinhala people. The canal system is characterized by minimum siltation. The Jayaganga is 54 miles long and its first 17 miles gradient is ONE inch per mile. Our ancient irrigation engineers, more than 2100 years ago, were the first inventors of both, the hydraulic surge chamber and the valve tower and to incorporate both principles in the same structure called the “bisokotuva”
  • Sustainable agriculture based on irrigation technology operational even today, some reservoirs being more than 2000 years old. Adoption of environmentally friendly and compatible Water and Watershed management systems where the protection of forest land, soil and water resources were given high priority, thereby promoting environmental protection and biodiversity.
  • The brilliant surveying tradition of the ancient Sinhala people is well reflected in the laying of the island’s sophisticated irrigation system and related agricultural land management system. A sound understanding of the topography, geology and structure of the land was necessary to plan and implement such sustainable water conservation and transfer systems and to identify where reservoirs to be located and associated irrigated lands to be developed.
  • Mathematics and Astronomy were highly developed in ancient Sri Lanka. The ‘Sandesha kavya’ (poetry) written in the 15th century refer to the teaching of Mathematics in Sri Lanka. Geometry would have been a highly developed science in the past, because all the massive and complex structures designed and built in the past had to utilize principles of geometry.
  • The sophistication of ancient City Planning is well evident in ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa in particular. It includes an amazing system of well laid out buildings and road network bridges, parks etc. Sigiriya had a system of underground canals.
  • A wealth of information on the country’s past scientific and technological history lies hidden in the numerous ancient ‘ola’ palm-leaf manuscripts stored in Buddhist shrines across the country, and in the National Archives and Museums.         
  • Special types of plasters were developed and used on rock and on brick wall surfaces to effect paintings, ensuring their durability.  Some paintings found on such ancient plasters are 1500 to over 2000 years old. Notably, the Hindagala, rock surface paintings are over 2000 years old, and those of Sigiriya are more than 1500 years. Pigments used in paintings are based on natural products and are used on varied surfaces – walls, ceilings, statues, wooden, cloth, earthenware.
  • Ancient Chinese reports refer to Sinhala ships”. The biggest ships that called at Chinese Ports during 4th-5th centuries were from Sri Lanka. This is evidence of the marine engineering skills of the ancient Sinhala people. Sinhala ships crossed the ocean to Java – as Indonesia was known at that time. The present Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Maldives islands, and a good part of India were predominantly Buddhist in ancient times, and there were close interactions and travel between these countries. Sri Lanka was the ideal stop-over of the Ancient Sea farers sailing in the Indian Ocean to East Asia and Pacific. The ancient port of Mantota is reputed to have been an important port of call between China and Rome.
  • There was remarkable achievement in metal work industry – there were iron implements during the 4th and 5 century BCE. The Tara statue and the Avaloketheesvara statue of Sri Lanka exhibited in several European, British, and American museums are considered among the best metal works of the past – outstanding aesthetically.
  • Sri Lanka’s traditional pottery, ivory works, brass works, lacquer work have a long history of development in the island and are popular household items even at present.
  • Medical Science – Ayurveda was highly developed in Sri Lanka in the past. King Buddhadasa was a famous Ayurveda physician. Many books on diverse aspects and issues pertaining to medical science and health were written in Sri Lanka, in Sinhala, Sanskrit and Pali languages. Among books compiled by King Buddhadasa on medicine is the famous Saarartha Sangrahaya”. 
  • Sri Lanka is the first country in the world to have established a dedicated hospital in Mihintale, in the 3rd century BCE. There were several other hospitals built in other ancient cities. The ruins of the hospitals in Mihintale and Polonnaruwa are still well evident. Several surgical instruments were discovered in the ancient Polonnaruwa hospital premises.
  • There were great physicians and surgeons in the past including Veterinary surgeons and animal hospitals. There is reference to elephants being treated for various health ailments. The world’s first recorded animal hospital was at Mihintale, established by King Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century BCE
  • The world’s first recorded wildlife sanctuary was at Mihintale, established in the 3rd century BCE, by the Sinhala Buddhist king Devanampiyatissa.  
  • Popular traditional food ingredients of Sri Lanka, especially the combination of spices popularly used in processing food namely ‘thunapaha’ including turmeric, ginger, garlic, curry leaf, cinnamon, coconut milk are among the recommended healthy nutritional items of contemporary times across the world.   
  • Sinhala language and literature originated in Sri Lanka. From historical times, the Sinhala language has been the defining element of the nation’s culture.  Sinhala is one of the world’s oldest living languages.  There have been a wide range of languages in the world, particularly in Asia which lived and died without leaving evidence of their existence, because they were never written down. This is not the case with the Sinhala language.
  • The Sinhala language grew out of Indo-Aryan dialects and exists only in Sri Lanka and has its own distinguished literary tradition. Overwhelming majority of people of Sri Lanka are distinguished by their language – Sinhala, which even today has a strong unifying effect in our motherland helping to reinforce the solidarity of our people as a unique cultural entity in the world. Almost all place names of the country from historic times, are in the Sinhala language – in the North, South, East, West and Central regions.
  • There is a rich tradition of Sinhala Literature  – prose , novels, poetry, lyrics, meaningful names, Sinhala Songs, Sinhala Films and Sinhala jokes, Sinhala ‘baila’ songs. Sinhala Dances, Sinhala Drama, Sinhala motifs, designs, decorations, costumes, jewellery, sculpture,  architecture, handicrafts, clothing, food and drinks. 

RECORED HISTORY OF SRI LANKA

A good part of the long history of the island, has been recorded in an unbroken continuous manner. This written history goes back to over 2500 years and is described chronologically, in detail, in the ancient chronicles namely, Deepavansa (3rd-4th century CE), Mahavamsa (6th century CE), Chulavamsa, besides the Rajavaliya, Pujavaliya, Dhatuvamsaya, Elu-Attanagaluvamsaya, Elu-Bodhivamsaya, Maha Bodhivamsaya,  Thupavamsaya, Daladavamsaya and Viharavamsaya. This written history is supported by archaeological evidence, and reports of foreign travelers of ancient times. Among archaeological evidence substantiating recorded historic information are rock inscriptions.  The written history of Sri Lanka is regarded as the second-most remarkable recorded history in existence of an ancient and cultured civilization. It is second only to the records maintained by the Shang dynasty of Chinese emperors. The historical chronicles narrate in detail the history of the country since the arrival of Buddhism in 237 BCE or 3rd century BCE or about 2246 years ago.

The accuracy of this historical record of ancient Sri Lanka is generally accepted by means of other numerous local and Indian edicts such as the  rock edicts of Indian Emperor Asoka and records of the Fa Hien the Chinese pilgrim monk, Roman historian Pliny and several others who have already been referred to. Also, by means of inscriptions, historical works, and literary works as well as by way of ruins, renovated historical and Buddhist monuments, ancient yet sophisticated irrigation networks, which extend the lifeline to date.  

HISTORIC MOTHERLAND OF THE SINHALA PEOPLE

Compared to the other 196 countries of the world, Sri Lanka, the motherland of the Sihala or Sinhala people, is small, in terms of area (65,610 sq. km) and population (21 million).  Sinhala is the ethnic group native to Sri Lanka, forming the mainstream or the dominant indigenous community of the island for more than 2500 years. In fact, Sri Lanka is the only national sovereign motherland of the Sinhala people. Their culture, way of life and their Sinhala language originated and developed in Sri Lanka. Sovereign national rights of Sri Lanka rests with the Sinhala people who form the original dominant community of this country.

The national culture of Sri Lanka is the Sinhala Buddhist culture, where Buddhist norms and principles and the Sinhala language form the foundations. With the arrival and spread of Buddhism in the island, there came an era of unsurpassed attainments and achievements.The island’s civilization achieved an individuality and identity that distinguished it from its neighbors. Sri Lanka’s identity is based on the Sinhala Buddhist culture and the Sinhala language which is the defining element of Sinhala culture. Despite foreign invasions, threats and various forms of challenges and atrocities, Buddhist culture has remained intact in the island, unlike the case with many ancient cultures in most other countries in the world.  Throughout most of its history, Sinhala kings and Buddhist institution of monks, played a major role in the development and maintenance of Buddhist culture and institutions in the island. The world recognition of the greatness of this unique Sinhala Buddhist culture is reflected by the UNESCO designating ancient sites, including the ancient royal capitals of the Sinhala people such – Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Mahanuwara (Kandy), Sigiriya and Dambulla as World Heritage Sites.

There is only one nation in this island of Sri Lanka or Sinhale. A ‘Nation’ is a self-identifying group of people who share a common history, a common language, a common culture and most importantly a homeland. In other words, a nation is the most persistent alliance or organization of three main social components -people-culture- territory. Culture can be defined as the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning.  In a broader sense, a subculture is any group within a larger complex culture who has interests that vary from those of the mainstream culture. In a more specific sense, it is a group with a distinct style and identity. Even though it is obvious that there are large number of sub-cultures within any given national culture, People live and think in ways that form finite patterns that can be mutually constructed through a constant process of social interaction. The country’s predominant culture is Sinhala Buddhist. Over the centuries, both Hindus and Buddhists have co-existed well despite occasional politically motivated power struggles. One should not be confusing the issue of citizens’ rights with that of a nation’s identity.

VICTORY OVER TAMIL TERRORISM

The historic victory over Tamil terrorism, with the elimination on 16 May 2009, of  Prabakaran, the ruthless terrorist leader, led to a spontaneous elated reaction on the part of all patriotic citizens of Sri Lanka. There was countrywide lighting of firecrackers and ringing of temple bells, and roadside gatherings of people serving and sharing traditional ‘kiribath’ in jubilation of the victory over terrorism and the dawn of peace in the country after nearly thirty years of terror. It was a spontaneous expression of the overflowing thrill, ecstasy and gratitude of ordinary people who were overwhelmed by this great victory over terrorism, a menace that plagued Sri Lanka for some three decades. Roadside banners and posters highlighted pictures of our gallant Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Defence, Police and STF personnel, especially of those heroic ones who sacrificed their lives, fighting to save our nation from Tamil terrorists so that peace and stability would be restored in the country. They were expressions of the overflowing appreciation, joy and gratitude of our people towards the saviors of the nation – our heroic sons and daughters of the nation’s military and security forces.

Two weeks after the fall of Prabakaran, on June 03 009, our Nation celebrated on a formal basis, in a glorious manner, at the Galle Face grounds, our nation’s Victory over racist Tamil Terrorism,  the grandeur of which was perhaps never witnessed in our land in its living memory. Here, then President of the country in his speech said that … this great and glorious victory was achieved because of the younger generation …. Young men and women from the four corners of Sri Lanka joined the Security Forces to free their Motherland. Some mothers and fathers gave their children to the Armed Forces and the police. When the eldest child had already sacrificed his life for the country, they gave more children to the Armed Forces. He said, if anyone were to ask me what the secret of the victory is, I would extend my hands and show our beloved people, who include these mothers, fathers, wives who gave their closest and dearest for this battle. Our entire nation owes an immense debt of gratitude to these mothers, fathers and wives. They sacrificed their children and loved ones for the nation, to save the lives of others. In order to defeat racist terrorism, the people of the country have a mature knowledge of the threat before them. The fortune of a nation lies is such knowledge and maturity…”

VIOLATION OF NATIONAL INTERESTS                                                                                      

Patriotic Sri Lankans will not tolerate any person or community whilst living in this Sinhala Buddhist Nation and considering it their home, deliberately misusing such privilege by scheming and adopting violent and extreme actions or contributing to such actions violating the sovereignty, dignity, and territorial integrity of the Sinhala Nation. This includes the ridiculously false and unfounded claims made by Tamil and Muslim leaders in pursuit of carving out ethnic or religious enclaves within the Sinhala Nation, merely because some of them had lived in some specific places in the country for extended periods of time. Persons with such self-serving objectives and attitudes are traitors of the Nation and should be tolerated under any circumstances. There is no place in the Hela Nation for such traitors, double crossers, renegades, turncoats, collaborators of enemies, criminals and terrorists, conspirators, connivers, schemers and emissaries, spies, secret agents, undercover agents, and double agents of the enemies of the Sinhala Nation. The nation’s patriotic forces, including Buddhist monks who have from historic times been in the forefront in promoting and protecting the Sinhala Buddhist culture of the island will not tolerate any disintegration of the national sovereignty, the cultural integrity, and the long established territorial integrity of the country. 

Genuine and practicing Buddhists of our country, or in general, those who strictly follow the Five Precepts, should be more actively involved in politics either directly or indirectly. Most of the ills of our nation’s political life could be attributed to the absence or withdrawal of genuine Buddhists from the nation’s political arena and the domain of the media where they could be quite influential in bringing about necessary changes in public opinion of issues that are of national importance. Genuine Buddhists have a duty by the nation, which is founded on Buddhist principles, to be fully involved and participating in organizations working for the welfare of the nation. This is particularly relevant today because our nation is severely threatened at present by diverse negative forces both local and foreign. It is the realistic Buddhist perspective to public life and decision-making, that is most needed today, especially in the country’s political domain. We need well educated, upright and patriotic politicians and professionals with unselfish and mindful interest in the welfare of the country to get to the forefront today.

The nation is fortunate to have a leader with such qualities and foresight, in her popularly elected new President of the country, but he needs an equally sound support base to  bring about needed positive changes in public life which at present is increasingly infected with dishonesty, crime, and corruption. The impact and influence of patriotic and dedicated  politicians and professionals can make a big difference. They can help to generate a wholesome political culture, characterized by Buddhist approaches and attitudes and a truly Buddhist atmosphere conducive to the development of a healthy political climate in the nation, so that all nationals will benefit irrespective of their diverse origins and cultural-religious inclinations. It is time that our practicing Buddhists entered the public arena in various influential capacities. Buddhism has always been engaged in various socio-political contexts. The idea of interdependence is widely associated with Buddhism. Engaging in the lives of others through compassion, sacrifice and service is the worthy spiritual path that the contemporary world needs to observe. Buddhists should organize themselves or join legitimate organizations to become more socially engaged. They need to be better able to identify and understand social hardships, misery, and perils in their country, and do something tangible to relieve them.

Dr. Daya Hewapathirane                                                         

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