Posted on July 10th, 2011

By Shirley P Tissera

Soma Maha Thera was born on 23rd December 1898 in Kotahena, Colombo, his father was Emmanuel Marian Pererapulle and his mother Theresa Rodrigo Babapulle, his name was Victor Emmanuel Pererapulle. He received his entire education at St Benedict’s College, Kotahena, which is the premier Catholic school in Colombo and a school that also produced such great Buddhist leaders like Anagarika Dharmapala and Ven Narada Nayake Thera.

He belonged to the Colombo Chetty Community. The Colombo Chetty Community known historically as Situ, Sitana or Setthi originally inhabited areas in and around Coorg and Benares, their involvement and contribution to Buddhism dates back to very early times, it was a Setthi of SƒÆ’-¾vatthi named Sudatta who became famous because of his unparalleled generosity to the Buddha and was known to all as Anathapindika.

Ven Soma Maha Thera’s contribution to Buddhism in Sri Lanka started sometime in 1920 when he met Mr. W J. Oliver Soysa, one of the founder members of the “servants of the Buddha”, the well known association which has its headquarters at Laurie’s Road, Colombo 4, and of which the Ven Kassapa Thera was the founder Patron, he was actively involved in the publication “blessing” which was edited by Dr Cassius Pereira, he along with Mr. Soysa founded the “Fort Study Circle” and was elected the first Secretary, later Mr. W Don Michael was elected Joint Secretary to assist him. In the late twenties, having heard from the late Mr. Wong Mow Lam, the Chinese scholar, who was in Ceylon for sometime, that there was great possibilities for spreading the Theravada in his Country and that there was much that could be translated from the Mahayana literature of China.

He together with his great friend and companion Ven Kheminda Thera went to Burma in 1934, and began their journey to China by way of Kawkerik, over the misty Dawna Mountains and across the border for 04 days on foot to Raehaeng in Thailand and thence by bus, river boat and train through Svankaloke, Pisaloke and arrived in Krum Teb which is Bangkok, and then through Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong to arrive at Shanghai in China, they spent one year at Kawatana-Machi and translated for the first time the Chinese translation of the “Vimuttimagga” to English.

On the invitation of Sir Baron Jayatilleke he visited Bangalore in 1939 again in the company of Ven Kheminda and Ven Naravila Dhammaratana Maha Thera, they were able to secure from the Government of Mysore a site for a Buddhist Centre. Due to ill health he had to rest and was invited by the Ven Nyanaponika Maha Thera to the Island Hermitage in Dodanduwa. He lived in this hermitage from 1940-45 and from 1948-54, and it was from here that the first edition of “The way of Mindfulness”(1941) and “His last Performance” 1943 were written, he also edited the “Anapana Sati” of Dr Cassius Pereira in 1943. At the invitation of Ven Tai Tsu, the well known Buddhist leader of China, He accompanied the Ven Madihe Pannasiha Nayake Thera (later Maha Nayake) to China to establish a Pali College in Sianfu, the ancient Buddhist Centre in Shensei Province the home of Fa Hsien the famous pilgrim. The Shanhai YMBA which was founded by him had nearly 300 members and his radio talks were very popular, he delivered lectures and sermons to large gatherings in Singapore and Malaysia and then on returning he initiated the founding of two important Buddhist Associations the “Sasanadhara Kantha Samitiya” and the Banks “Asoka Society” in 1950 and 1956 respectively, he was the founder patron of the latter.

Most of the editorials on the dhamma in the “Buddha Jayanthi” and a large number of translations from Pali and German, besides original articles, and the “Jayanthi Miscellany” were written by him. His masterly articles “The greatest Maha Nayake Thera of our time” and the editorial “A maker of Good Men” on the passing away of the Ven Paelaene Siri Vajiranana Maha Nayake Thera was well accepted and written from his sick bed at the hermitage. Ven Soma was well known to English speaking audiences in Ceylon, many will remember his thoughtful talks over Radio Ceylon, he translated and edited the “Satipatthana Sutta”. Ven Soma participated in the making of the “Sima” chapter house at the Maha Bodhi Society’s centre in Bangalore during the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations in 1956, on his return in 1957 he was invited by the German Dharmaduta Society to lead the first Buddhist Mission to Germany in June that year, the other members being Ven Vinita Thera, Ven Kheminda Thera and. Mr. W. J. Oliver Soysa.

Ven Soma Maha Thera had written over 30 books on Buddhism, he lived a life of a devoted follower of the Buddha, he was loved and respected by all those who knew him and many thousands benefited from his sermons and teachings. His passing away at Vajirarama, Bambalapitiya on Tuesday, 23rd February 1960 was a great loss to the Buddhists and also to the Colombo Chetty Community in Sri Lanka.

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