The Inseparable Relationship between Buddhism and the Sinhala Nation and the Role of the Monk in Sinhala society
Posted on November 30th, 2015

Sudath Gunasekara BA. PhD. SLAS,

President Sinhala Bauddha Movement Mahanuwara, Retired Permanent Secretary to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike,   29.11.2015



According to Mahavamsa (the Great lineage of the Sinhala nation) the Sinhala Nation was founded by Vijaya, a north Indian Aryan Prince in 543 BC. Since then, it had been one Kingdom and one Nation for 2358 years with an unbroken lineal succession of 186 Kings, a world record no other nation can claim. This Kingdom was known as Sihale or Sihala deepa, meaning the Land of the Sinhala people, until it was ceded to the British on 2nd March 1815 by a Convention singed between the United Kingdom and Sinhale by intrigue cleverly manipulated by D’Oyly. It was also called Lanka or Lankadeepa from very early times by the Indians. But the people in this country were known as Sinhalayo as a nation. So obviously the land of the Sinhalayo was called Sinhale. Even the word Ceylon used by the British to refer to this country is nothing but a corrupted anglicized version of Sinhale.  The fact that the Kandyan Convention used the word Sinhale in the Sinhala translation clearly authenticates the name of the Country by which it was known at that time to the native people (the word Sinhale appears in 11 places in the Sinhala version of the Convention). The term Sinhala also had been used to refer to the people of this country by Indian Purana literature. For example Garuda Puranaya (4th CE) and Jotistatva had referred to the people of this country, as ‘Sinhala’ when they said ‘tat dveepavasin Sinhalan’ (the inhabitants of that Island are Sinhala).  Sinhala was the language they spoke. As such they were called Sinhala people. Buddhism on the other hand was introduced to this country in 307 BC by Mahinda Maha Thera and remained as its state religion up to 1815.

In the last leg of its long history it was ruled from Senkadagalapura (1474-1815) the last capital of the Kingdom excepting a narrow maritime belt (covering about 5% of the total area of the Island), which was occupied by Western invaders, Portuguese (1505-1638), Dutch (1638-1796) and British (1796-1815) respectively until 1815 (See Map 1 p2). The British called this country Ceylon- a corrupted version of Sinhale and they named the Kingdom as the Kandyan Kingdom and the capital as Kandy using a shortened and corrupted version of Kanda uda Pasrata, a term used to describe five territories in the immediate vicinity of the capital. The term Kandy simply meant Kanda in Sinhala (hill). Robert Knox called the King ‘King of Conde’ and the Kingdom ‘Conde Uda’. Later Knox himself spelled it as ‘Candy’ and finally it ended up as Kandy. Even Portuguese have called it Candia. This in short is how Senkadagala nuwara, the capital of the Kada uda  Pasrata, came to be known as Kandy and Sinhale as the Kandyan Kingdom to the world. The Sinhala version of the Kandyan Convention of 2nd March 1815 has used the word Sinhale to refer to this country throughout its pages. What more proof is needed to prove that this country was called Sinhale at the time of cession? As a tragic blunder of history, authorities failed to restore the legitimate name of the country ‘Sinhale’ that was ceded to British, at the time of Independence in 1948. Instead they adopted the name Lankawa from Lanka’ the name baptized by ancient Indians. Since then the nationality of this country became ‘Lankika’ instead of it being called Sinhala as it had always been prior to 1815. In 1972 when we became a Republic, again the name of the country was changed as Sri Lanka and the nationality became Sri Lankan.  Thus the concept of the Sinhala nation was buried forever by our idiotic politicians who were ignorant of their own history, thereby betraying the nationality of one of the greatest nations in the world. The tragedy is even today the country is being ruled by the same genre of politicians.


Lanka and Sri Lanka                                                                            

Early Indians called this country Lanka. The word Lanka had two meanings, resplendent or centrally situated country. Ancient Indian works like Puranas (e.i.Vahni purana) called it Lanka for its beauty and splendor. ‘Raman (beauty) thesyamiti Lanka’ Sri Harsha said. Both Ramayanaya and Mahabharataya consistently use the word Lanka or Lankapura perhaps in the same sense to refer to this country. Some historians say the name Lanka first appeared in the legendary Skanda Purana (6th CE).

According to ancient Indian astrologers it was called Lanka dvipa/dipa (island) as it was centrally located on the planet.   ‘Lankeeyati Bhu madhyaye ankeeyatiti Lanka’ was how it was defined in those sources. Lanka also may have been adopted from lakshaya meaning centre. The author of Mahavamsa referred to it as Lankadeepa may be burrowing it from the Indian usage.  But at no stage in history the nationality had been referred to as Lankika. Instead in all sources it had been referred to as Sinhala. This country was also named Tambapanni, as Vijaya and his people found their palms had got copper coloured when they touched the ground on their arrival. It was probably from this that Ptolemy also called it Taprobane. However the word Tambapanni also appears in Garuda Purana and in Valahassa Jatakaya among the Jataka Stories. These evidence show that even Tambapanni had been in use long before Ptolemy committed it to writing.

This country had been known by many other names such as Heladiva, Serendib, Ceilio. Cerendib, Seilan, Palaesimundu, Hsia-lan-san, Salica, Sarandib, Seeladib Seng-kiya-la, Sylun, Ilam, Seyllen and Taprobana by different people from different countries. A closer study of all these names, except Taprobane, Lanka and Serendib clearly shows that they all have been derived from the word Sinhale.

Regarding the origin of the word Sinhala there are three interpretations. First, the new nation was called Sihala, since Sihabahu the legendary father of Vijaya is said to have slain his father the Lion”. Second, as Vijaya descends from the Sinha clan, the nation founded by him was called Sinhala. Third interpretation is that it is so called as it is the nation which was formed by the integration of the four (Siv=four) ancient tribes, namely Yaksha, Raksha, Naga and Deva (Sivhela) who lived in Heladiva. It is also pertinent to note here that these four tribes along with those who came with Vijaya formed the new Sinhala nation along with the establishment of the Vijayan regime in the 6th Century BC.

Thus all historical evidence of the classical period, including, those of South India, undisputedly point to the fact that they all have referred to this country as the Land of the Sinhala Nation even from the time prior to the dawn of history. Therefore firstly, it is established beyond all reasonable doubts that this land had been the land of the Sinhala people from the beginning of history, even extending beyond historical times. Secondly, it is even more important to note here that this country had never been called the Land of the Tamils as present day Tamils so vociferously claim. South Indians Dravidayans including Tamils called it Eelam simply meaning the land of the Sinhala people from very early times. This is clearly proved by the Malayali saying ‘Eelam Kandavar Illam kanukka illei’(which means man who saw the Eelam (land of the Sinhala people) will never come home).


The Sinhala nation a historical outline

As stated before the Sinhala Nation was born in 543 BC with the arrival of a North Indian Prince called Vijaya of the lion clan of the Aryan stock with a retinue of seven hundred people. Interestingly this date coincides with the date of passing away of the Buddha.

It is recorded that the Buddha lying on his death bed had foreseen the arrival of Prince Vijaya in this Island and that his Doctrine will be preserved for 5000 years on this Island, Lankadipa as it was called by them at that time. Therefore the Buddha had instructed Sakka to protect the Prince and the Island and its people. Thus this Island is the only land on earth which has received his protection and blessings. Buddha himself has visited this Island thrice. First visit to Mahiyangana nine months after enlightenment 1st c BE/528 BC; the second in the 5th year of Buddhahood BE to Nagadeepa in the north (523BC) and the third to Kelanniya (9th year BE/519th BC). On all three occasions people of this country have offered this Island to the Lord and hence this country also had gone on record as the only country in the world that was offered to Buddha. That is why the people of this Island call it the ‘Land of the Buddha’’.

Though there had been social and religious intercourse between the two countries before, according to records Buddhism was formally and officially introduced only in 307 BC by Arahat Mahinda during the time of King Devanampiyatissa (307-267) who ruled Lanka from Anuradhapura. Soon after the whole Island embraced Buddhism it was declared the State religion and remained so up to 1815 AD for 2122 years and continues up to date as the religion of 70 % of the people in this country. The Sacred Bo tree was also brought by Sanghamitta Theiri (288 BC), Mahinda Thera’s sister. Mahinda was the son and Sanghamitta was the daughter of Asoka the Great Emperor, a close friend of Denampiyatissa. Buddha laid his foot print on Mt.Samanala (Adam’s Peak) on his third visit and has sanctified sixteen other spots in this country. Of all the stupas in the world, the Great Stupa Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura is said to contain the greatest number of Buddha relicts in the world.  All these events have made this Island the most sacred Buddhist country in the world.

Introduction of Buddhism in 307 BC marked the birth of a new nation ‘Sinhala Buddhist nation’. And it was the  beginning of a great and unique civilization, one of the greatest in the medieval world. This marked the emergence of a unique oriental civilization that dawned a period of political, social, economic, cultural and religious renaissance and stability in this country from the 4th century BC onwards. The peak of this great civilization was reached during the Anuradhapuraand Polonnaruwa periods. Enriched by the influence of the spiritual inspiration of Buddhism, religious monuments like stupendous stupas going up to 400 feet high, kissing the sky were built; colossal and masterpiece sculptures on stone like those of Samadhi statue in Anuradhapura, Avukana on the banks of Kalaweva, Galviharaya in Polonnaruwa and Maligavila in the south with no parallel in any other country were carved on stone and myriads of sculptures on stone and world wonders like Sigiriya frescoes were accomplished by these great people.

This period gave birth to a unique Sinhala Buddhist civilization like no other anywhere else in the world. It could stand along with any great ancient civilization like Roman, Greek, Egypt or Chinese, even surpassing them in hydraulic and stupa building technology. The great wealth of architectural and archaeological legacies spread throughout the country bear witness to that pristine glory that was Sinhale. 12,000 massive man made water bodies, some of them covering 5-6 thousand acres that provided water for paddy fields for three seasons in the year were built to store both rain water and that gushes down the perennial rivers to the sea making use of every drop of water, keeping to the words of one of their great kings Parakramabahu the Great, who advised us ‘not to allow a single drop of water that falls from the heavens to go to the sea without being used for the benefit of man’. The entire Dry Zone was interconnected and interwoven with a marvelous network of big and small irrigation canals; no land where ever water could be taken, from north to south, and east to west, was left unconverted to a paddy field. Even on the hills, lands were terraced in to paddy fields except where paddy could not flower due to shorter hours of sun shine. Human settlements began sprawling upstream by the 3rd c BC along the main river basins like Mahaweli and Kalaoya as the population increased and land became scarce in the lowlands. Having made it the granary of the East this country was also made a major trade hub with a thriving international trade of the then known world.

The invention of the Bisokotuwa by the Sinhala hydraulic engineers more than 2180 years ago and the construction of gigantic irrigation canals 40 and 50 feet wide and more that 50 miles long like Jayaganga and Minipe Yoda ela with a gradient of 6 inches to a mile and even constructing an underground trans-basin irrigation canal like the Bhoo Ela on the highest mountain country, nearly 100 feet long,10 ft in diameter and 40 ft below ground level across the Pattipola ridge, that diverted the waters of west bound Kotmala Oya headwaters to Uma oya in the east against the rules of nature, the Sinhala irrigation engineers invented a hydraulic technology par-excellence in the world. Eminent scholars in the fields of hydrology and irrigation like Parker, Prof Josehp Needham, Tennent and R.L. Brohier have eloquently vouched for this statement.

Blessed with bounties of nature like a perennial supply of rain and 12 hour sunshine, valuable gems under the earth and pearls in the ocean and elephants with tusks in the ever green jungle, not witnessed in other country in the world and an industrious multitude of people impregnated with ingenuity and imagination had put this country in par with all the great civilizations in the ancient world like Egypt, Greece and Rome in the west and China and India in the East. In fields like hydrology and irrigation and stupa building Sri Lanka has no peers. Sri Lanka’s geographical location right at the centre of the Indian Ocean lying midway on the Great east west oceanic Silk route, its economic prosperity, bountiful wealth and enchanting natural beauty have made it the meeting point of all Westerners and Easterners of the then known world. Throughout the medieval world it was known as the Granary of the east, Paradise on earth and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Enticed and captivated by this prosperity and grandeur Marcopolo had said that this Island was only 40 leagues from the heaven. That in short was the wonder that was Sinhale then. The golden period of Sinhala Buddhist civilization came to an end at Polonnaruwa in the 13th C with the advent of the barbaric Magha invasion, the most disastrous and devastative South Indian Tamil invasion ever experienced in the history of this country.

Sinhala Society and Political system

None but a Bodisattas would become King of Lanka (Mahinda 1V: Jetavanarama galpotha). Thus only a Buddhist could be a King of this country. The same slab-inscription says’ though Kings appear in human form, they are human divinities’. That was the concept of King in this country. We cannot speak of an ancient Sinhala culture without realizing how vitally permeated it was, by religion, says Prof M.B. Ariyapala. Kingship was based on Mahasammataya- that is popular acceptance. Kingship was hereditary. Although the King was the head of the State the Buddhist monk for all intent and purpose played the lead role in this social system. Thus the monks had been popularly accepted as the ‘Guardian Gods’ of the Nation. The monk more often than not made and unmade the Kings in Sinhale. They also protected and supported the King in war against invaders and in internal dissentions. The King followed the Buddhist practice of the Tenfold Kingly Virtues (Dasaraja Dharma) and adhered to the Dharmasokan tradition of Statecraft in discharging his duties. He treated the subjects as his own children ‘Save purisa mama paja’ (all subjects are my children) was his dictum.  The relationship between the King, subjects and the Dhamma was aptly demonstrated when author of Mahavamsa said, in Sinhale, the ‘King was one with the people and the religion’.  Welfare of the subjects was his primary concern. Thus King Siri Sanghabo said ‘Iman sarattan pisitan sariiran-Dharemi lokassa hitatta meva’(I bear this fragile body of mine with flesh and blood solely for the benefit of ate power. Buddha Dhamma provided the guiding principles and the solid foundation of statecraft that was consistently followed and never abused by the rulers of this Island. Thus the state of Sinhale was firmly established as ‘de facto and de jure’ Sambuddha Rajya on this planet.

The concept of, one Kingdom, one King, one Nation, one Language and one Law for the whole country was the corner stone and the secret of the political stability of this State since beginning. The Kingdom was divided in to three Ratas or sub kingdoms namely Ruhunu, Pihiti and Maya, under the King ruled from the capital at Anuradhapura in the Pihiti Rata. Ruhunu and Maya were ruled by viceroys. It was in 427 BC in the 10th year of his coronation King Pandukabhaya who first laid down the village boundaries for the whole country and laid the foundation for the Tun Rata political division as Rajarata, Dakkina desa and Ruhunurata, which was firmly established in the 12th c and lasted for 2242 years up to 1815 AD without a break.

Dasavassabhi sitto so – gamasima nivesayi

Lanka Deepamhi sakale-  Lankindo Pandukabhyo

(At the completion of his 10th year in office King Padukabhaya laid down village boundaries all over this Island 103 Chapter X. MV Buddhadatta Edition)

Thus Sinhale perhaps was the earliest known Federal State (to use a modern terminology) in the world and the only country in the world that had 186 Kings ruling over one country for 2242 years with an un-broken succession

The Kings ruled from Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (from 6th BC -1200AD) in Rajarata, and the other two Ratas were administered from Magama and Kelaniya by two sub-kings. After the fall of Polonnaruwa the capital was shifted to Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Dambadeniya Gampola, Kotte and finally to Senkadagala (Kandy) in 1474. The Sinhale Kingdom was ceded to the British on 2nd March 1815.Throughout this entire period of 2242 years the whole country was administered under the village councils system and the village was the smallest unit of administration in that Kingdom. The village temple functioned as the nerve centre of the country’s administration, under the guidance of the village monk. The following Pali stanza succinctly describes the socio-economic and politico – religious philosophy of the Sinhala social system that was there prior to 1815 in this country.

Devo vassatu kalena –sassa sampatti hetuca

Pito bhvatu lokoca –raja bhavatu dhammiko

(May there be rain in due season – may the crop be bountiful

May the people be prosperous – may the King be righteous!)

What better wish than this, people living in an agrarian society could ever be made?

Besides protecting the country from the external enemies and maintaining law and order within the country the king had to provide land and irrigation facilities to farmers and sustenance to temples as the monks did not engage in any production process and manual labour. The King in Sinhale all ways had to rule righteously and peacefully (Dehemin Semin).  He was more a benefactor to his subjects than a ruler and never a despot. There was no fulltime warrior army in Sinhale. Everybody was given training in warfare and they were summoned when and where required under the command of the local chieftains called Dissawas, Rtateralas  , Mohottalas and Gamanis.

The main economic activity of its people being agriculture, husbandry was regarded as the most honourable of all occupations in Sinhala society. Robert Knox said if they wanted a King, they may take any man, of either of these two countries (referring to Udunuwara and Yatinuwara) from the plow and wash the dirt off him, and he by reason of his quality and descent is fit to be King”. The King himself got down to the paddy field with his subjects and this is how he became ‘one with the people and the religion’. The social structure of the Sinhale Kingdom has been described as a ‘Farnmer Aristocracy’by Devaraja. Though there was a caste system based on an occupational basis, it was never severe as in Indian society. Again though land formed the basis of the means of production there was no strict feudal social system in this country at any time. The tenants were free to leave at any time they wished to do so. They were not bonded to the landlord as in medieval European feudal societies. The state service was maintained at the lowest level without making it a burden unlike it is done today. There were no political parasites in ancient Sinhala society unlike in modern society. Everyone had to be engaged in one or other occupation to earn his living. Those who work in the Royal household were employed on a shift basis. They were hired in turns and released for farming in time.

Foreign invasions

Though there were many attempts made by South Indian elements from the 2nd c BC to capture this country, only two of them, Elara 2nd BC and Magha 13th AD had some marginal success. Elara held sway over Anuradhapura and its hinterland for 44 years while Magha ruled from Polonnnaruwa only for a short period of 21 years (Kalinga Magha the tyrant 1215–1236).  Though Vijayabahu 111 was able to defeat him, Magha established the Jaffna Kingdom and remained there until 1255. But no invader could capture the whole Island at any time. Though Maga was defeated and chased out of the country, the lost pristine glory that was Rajarata never returned. No ruler up to date  could recover the pristine glory of the Sinhala Kingdom we had before.   Following the Magha devastation that was so devastative and barbaric the Sinhala Kingdom had to shift to the South West resulting in the complete fall of the Rajarata Sinhala Civilization for a long period. All irrigation works, human settlements and religious monuments sprawling all over the northern plains from the central hills to the ocean, built by the Sinhala kings were vandalized and destroyed by Kalinga Magha and the jungle tide invaded the entire Rajarata in leaps and bounds. Only few descendents of the captured Chola invaders survived in sporadic settlements along the eastern coastal belt and Jaffna peninsula. The rest of the entire Rajarata remained under dense jungle until it was opened up in the 20th century.

After a long and dormant period of seven centuries, attempt at restoring this lost great civilization were made only in the early 20th century. This renaissance was marked by two movements; one a religious and literary movement led by Buddhist monks like Hikkaduwe Sumangala, Ratmalane Dharmarama and Mohottiwatte Gunananda and the other economic, social lead by patriotic men like Anagarika Dharmapala HarischandraWalisingha and D.S. Senanayaka. A third agitation movement for political reforms and freedom was also   deployed by the western educated elite that finally resulted in nominal political Independence in 1948.

Revisiting the lost Rajarata civilization began with a massive restoration programme of ruined irrigation works and religious monuments. This was followed by a massive resettlement and agricultural development programme under restored irrigation schemes. This was a commendable success programme and it was spearheaded by D.S. Senanayaka.  It was an attempt made by the government to send back and resettle the descendents of those original Sinhala peasants who were either murdered by the Chola army or who died in battle against the invaders or left the Rajarata for survival to the South West and the Hill country, to their own ancestral land. The fallacy and the irrelevance of the argument advanced by the present day Tamil politicians that the Sri Lankan government is trying to ‘colonize’ their Traditional Tamil Home land, a thing which never existed on the soils of this Island in known history is thereby disproved.

Anagarika dharmapala was the most outstanding layman who spearheaded the religious and socio-cultural renaissance movement among those who took the initiative in this patriotic movement. In spite of the national awakening he created he died on 29 April 1933 before he could see with his own eyes the Sinhale he wished to recreate. Two decades after his death, in the year 1956, a new government under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike opened the gates for the Dharmapala chintanaya to flow.  But it was short lived and the 1956 expectations never saw the light of the day. Although we saw some new hopes of 1956 renaissance reappearing again in 2005 and a climax with the elimination of LTTE in 2009 under the heroic leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this country had produced since Independence, his lapses in the post war years and defeat in 2015 have put everything on a full reverse gear.

It is a tragedy that even after 67 years of so-called Independence we are supposed to have got in 1948, those who ruled the country since then have not been able to even restore the legitimate name of this country (Sinhale) that we lost to British in 1815.We are still to see  the emergence of a Diyasena Kumaraya or at least another patriotic Sinhala Buddhist leader of the caliber of Anagarika Dharmapala who could take this country out of the present quagmire and the Augean mess in to which it has been put by the vicious British Colonial rulers and those succeeded them in 1948, and take it back to the pristine golden period of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

Invasions by the Western colonial powers a turning point in the Islands history and culture

Invasions by western powers began in 1505 with the advent of Portuguese followed by Dutch in 1638. Both these powers were able to occupy only a narrow maritime coastal belt but none could capture the core Sinhala Kingdom which operated from Senkadagala Kandy , that had its sway up to 2nd of March 1815, over more than 90 % of the territory of the Island. (See Map1). ‘If such a Sinhala Buddhist Kandyan Kingdom had not fought and retained its independence in the central highlands of the Island this country would have been denationalized and its indigenous religion, language, economy and cultural institutions totally destroyed as it happened in many other countries and Sinhale would have ceased to exist and it would have been named after a sea pirate or a western colonial invader as it has happened many other lands.

The final fall of the Sinhale took place with the ceding of the Kandyan Kingdom on 2nd March in 1815 under the Kandyan Convention signed between the United Kingdom and the Sinhale. Thus it was the British who captured the whole country by deceit, though not by conquest, for the first time in its long history.  This brought to an end the proud saga of a 2358 year old Sinhala nation that was defended valiantly by our ancestors against South Indian invaders up to 1215 AD and then by the Kandyan Sinhala patriots from 1505 to 1815, at the last leg of heroic battles against the invasions by the Western Colonial invaders.  After the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 the valiant people of the Sinhale, again revolted in 1817-1818 but was brutally and savagely suppressed by the British violating all the undertakings given and agreed upon by them under the Kandyan Convention.  On 21st Nov 1818 Brownrigg issued a Royal Proclamation unilaterally violating the Kandyan Convention and thereafter the country was ruled by them up to 1948 under such Royal Proclamations while the Kandyan Convention still held valid. To that extent, all what the British have done in this country since then should be deemed to be unconstitutional and illegal since the legality of the Kandyan convention stands still valid. 1840 British introduced one of the most draconian pieces of legislation called the Encroachment on Crown Land Ordinance and all land belonging to the natives especially the Temples and Devalas and all uncultivated forest lands were declared as Land belonging to the British Crown.

The second freedom fight was deployed by the Sinhalese in 1848 which was called the Matale rebellion by the British. That too was suppressed ruthlessly using the most savages’ methods of blooded mass murder and arson under Torrington for which Torrington finally had to forgo his Governorship and leave to UK. Having suppressed both freedom struggles of 1818 and 1848 they devastated native irrigation network, agriculture and all native institutions.  hey divided the country initially in to 5 Provinces as North, South, West and East and Central in 1832 and laid the firm foundation for a long term divide and rule mechanism on ethnic and regional basis to destroy the Sinhala civilization.

In 1853 they took over all lands belonging to Temples and Devalas and again in 1887 all other uncultivated lands were also taken by force under the Waste Land Ordinance. After taking over of the physical possession of the land the British deployed a multifaceted strategy to destabilize and divide the Sinhala nation and kill the native system and consolidate their hegemony over their newly netted ‘Big Fish’ as a British official had once referred to this country in 1814 in one of his correspondence to the Colonial Secretary.

1 Destroying the forest cover, on the central hills the source of all rivers that provide water to sustain the entire life system in the whole country

2 destroying the irrigation network including wevas and canals to cripple local agriculture so that people will die of starvation and others will submit to them

3 Opening up the central impassable hill citadel by rail and road which has kept the enemy at bay for 310 years

4 Destroying the native administrative, legal, social and religious institutions that mobilized the natives against the whites and replace them with their own systems

5 Introducing Malabar coolies to the central hill country and settling South Indian Tamils in the North and the East who were sworn enemies of the Kandyans and who will have an excellent effect on suppressing the Sinhalese, were the main steps among them.

With their experience in India they immediately saw the value of the central highlands as a potential gold mine for their ambitions in coffee plantations. So they first decided to open up these virgin forests with the duel objectives of building up a plantation economy and destroying the native economy along with its people. They first destroyed the entire forest cover on the central hill country about 600,000 acres of virgin jungle that was there from the dawn of history that provided the source for all the rivers in the country which sustained the entire life system in the Island and opened it up for coffee and thereafter Tea plantations.

British faced a serious labour problem as the Sinhala people refused to work for their enemies as labourers. Initially there was a proposal to get down the required labour from China. But they hesitated arguing that they might pose a problem in their long term empire building as the Chinese were also Buddhists. Therefore Torrington pleaded for South Indian labour as they had been sworn enemies of the Sinhala Nation throughout history and got down nearly 1 m and settled them on the hills as a separate ethnic enclave to tame the Sinhala nation.

The following quotation from Torrington’s letter dated Aug 11 1848 addressed to the Colonial Secretary clearly illustrates their vicious motives of bringing Malabars to this country. ‘I am most anxious to be allowed to introduce and locate on some of these very lands, Malabars, allowing them to cultivate and pay a portion of the produce to government. This would have an excellent effect. A population would soon spring up that would act as a check on the Kandyans, and gradually be the means of giving us a supply of labour without sending to the coast. The Kandyans hate the Malabars and on some of the states near Matale the coolies fought well for the protection of their master’s property. Pray give the plan some consideration-I need not remind you that the colony has been put to some expense in suppressing this outbreak” (The Great Rebellion 1818 Tennakoon Vimalananda 1970)

Concurrently Tamil labourers were also brought to work on roads and railways and other government works all over the Island particularly in the North adding to the already present Malabar population in Jaffna peninsula brought by Dutch to work on tobacco plantations.

Meanwhile they also adopted a cunning policy of educating and training Tamil elites in Jaffna. For example by 1843 out of the 105 English schools they had opened up in the Island, 45 were in Jaffna. This is how British persuaded a policy of empowering and promoting Tamils right from the beginning while discriminating against the Sinhalese. Everything was done to promote Tamils and suppress the Sinhalese. They introduced their political, administrative and legal systems and technology to destroy the native Sinhalese and their traditional institutions. They continue the same vicious policy even today.

They destroyed the Sinhala language, temples, Ayurveda and native education. Spread their own education programme through a state sponsored network of Missionaries all over the Island, particularly in Tamil areas and Western province. Promoted and encouraged division between Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims and even dividing the Sinhalese as Kandyans and Low country they also promoted a western oriented educated Sinhala Elite group who would support them to achieve their goals and whom they were expecting to take over the administration of the Island as their successors one day.

The rails and roads they built and the indirect contribution by Civil Servants like Parker, Bell, Codrington and Tennant have contributed substantially for introducing Sri Lanka to the west but the negative effects like plundering our valuable books, artifacts and archaeological masterpieces far exceed the positive side. It is said what they have robbed and plundered and now lying in their museums are far more valuable than what we have in this country.

In this age of allegations and counter allegations being made jointly by the British government in collaboration with the entire West and India against human rights violation by this country, I would like to make an open plea to those patriotic Sinhala Buddhist leaders of this country and those living outside, to take up the issue of these historic violations against a nation at least from 1797 onwards and claim compensation and ask for repatriation of all what they have robbed.

Buddhism in modern world

Buddhism is described as a major world religion by modern writers. But in this essay I deliberately avoid calling it a religion and describe it as a ‘way of life’, as the Buddha himself has called it, and also as a philosophy, a philosophy deeper than any, ever known to man.

The word religion is a Western concept. Boquet a renowned scholar on comparative religions quoting from Cicero has said the word religion has come from a root ‘leg’ meaning to take up, gather or observe. i.e to observe the sings of a Divine communication or read the omens. Servius on the other hand held that it come from another root ‘lig’ to bind, so that ‘religio’ meant a relationship, i.e. Communication between the human and the Super Human”. Both these definitions clearly link religion with a divine or a superhuman element. But since Buddha has clearly described his Doctrine as A Middle Way (Majjima Patipada) Buddhism cannot be described as a religion. More over Buddhism does not include any divine or superhuman concept. Discarding the two extremes Self Indulgence and Self Mortification (Kamasukhallikanuyoga and Atttakilamatanuyoga) Buddha discovered the Middle Path (Majjima Patipada) which he described as a way leading to Chakkhukaranai, Gnanakarani, Upasamaya Abhinnaya, Sambodhaya Nibbanaya sanvattati. The Noble Eightfold Path he described as the Middle Path. This was the essence of his Doctrine.

The final objective of his doctrine was Nibbana, the eternal bliss,that is complete cessation of craving and re-birth. But it also has laid down the Way to be followed by one to lead a righteous life until he finally attains Nibbana. In Japan their religion is called Shinto the Way of the Gods. Therefore it is more appropriate to describe Buddhism as a ‘Way’ or ‘Path’ rather than a religion as described by the West.  At the same time it is also recognized as a deep philosophy, deeper than found in any other religion. Buddhism is also the only Doctrine that does not collapse before modern scientific analysis. Its openness and freedom of thought is not found in any other religion. It does not call for blind faith either. The Buddha laid down the salient features of his doctrine as swakkhato Bhagavata Dhammo, sanditthiko, akaliko, ehipassikko, opanaiko, paccattam veditabbo vinnuhiti’. It is well said, has to be realized by oneself, timeless, it has to be understood only by the wise”. This is the most rational and valuable quality of Buddhism something not found in any other religion. In Buddhism man is supreme and not the God. Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest) says Islam. So is it in all other religions. Buddha has admonished his disciples succinctly what to be followed by his followers in Kalama Sutta in this regard.

Sabba papassa akaranan-Kusalassa upasampada

Sachitta pariyodapanam –Etan Buddhanusasanan

‘Abstain from all evils, ordain in Good, purify your own mind and that is the admonition of all Buddha’s’. What better admonition any sage or religious Teacher has preached for an exemplary way of life? What better prescription one can think of for world peace?

This is the most precise answer Buddha has given to a certain Brahmana, one day, when he was asked as to what his Doctrine is all about?

So in this backdrop Buddhism being the only world ‘religion’ cum philosophy that will remain in this that will survive beyond 2050, as eminent sears like Sir Arthur Clerk has forecast and this country being its head quarters, Sri Lanka is destined to hit new horizons in world history provided we Sinhalese succeeds in protecting the Sinhala Nation and Buddhism.

Role of Buddhism and the Monk in making a Nation

It has been said that in this country the Casket that carries sacred relicts of Buddha on the elephant is the Dispensation; the elephant that carries the relicts casket is the Sinhala nation and the Monk is the elephant keeper (Etgovva) of that elephant. I don’t think there is a better way to describe the ‘Role of Buddhism and the Monk in making a Nation’ than this all time truism. There was also an age old tradition in Sinhala society that every family must have three sons: one to guarantee the continuity of the family tradition; one to be given to the state service (mainly army to protect the country) and the other to be given to the Sasana, in other words to be ordained as a monk. This tradition too illustrates the unique place occupied by the religion and the monk within the fabrics of the Sinhala social system

The monk’s position in Sinhala society is therefore supreme. Everyone including the King has to worship him and rise from his seat and is not expected to sit on a higher seat or a seat of equal height. But the monk never rises from his seat or never worships anybody other than the Buddha and a monk who is senior to him in higher Ordination, which is mandatory. Even the mother and the father have to worship their own son once he becomes a monk. That is the social status of a monk in Sinhala Buddhist society. He is above the people and above the King as well. He is the King as well as the king maker and un-maker. He is the key figure in protecting the Kingdom the King and the sasana. That is why he has been duped as the Jatiye muradevatava– the Guardian God of the nation. Robert Brownrigg in a note to Bathurst the State Secretary in1816 said that in the Sinhale ‘the Buddhist monks are the chief conspirators of every conspiracy against the Whites’. Therefore he stressed on the need to destroy the Buddhist institutions and their influence on the people if the new regime is to contain the Sinhala people. Isn’t this statement epitomizes and put in correct perspective the role of the monk in Sinhala society?

Each village in the past had a temple that functioned both as the hub of spiritual and worldly affairs of villagers. It was the centre of leaning and the monk was the wellspring of all arts and sciences that had ramifications extending in to all aspect of human life in the village. He was the custodian and disseminator of both spiritual and worldly knowledge base of the people while he held the monopoly over the spiritual domain like bana preaching, pirith chanting, alms giving and performing the religious rituals (pansakula) at burial ceremonies. His role in worldly affairs such as astrology, medicine, education, literature and sciences in sustaining the society was far flung. The village Temples were the schools and the Pirivenas were the Universities of the nation. It was the village monk who casts auspicious times for all agricultural activities and social events and functions of all type. He sets the horoscope of a newly born child, gives the name and also reads the first letter in the alphabet to a child and set all auspicious times for all other occasions in domestic and social life. The monk was thus involved in one’s life from the womb to the tomb and even thereafter. The Monk was the preceptor, teacher, physician astrologer, guide, friend and advisor not only to ordinary villager but also to the King who protects and rules the country.

Fortunately even today, though in a different form, the same situation continues. The tradition that a monk is always named after the village where he is born (i.e. Aluthgama Dhammananda) speaks volumes on the role he plays within the Sinhala social system. To my knowledge I know of no other country in the ancient or modern world where such tradition exists. In short the history of this country from the pre-Christian times to 1956, the modern turning point of Sinhala Buddhist resurgence, is nothing but the story of the struggle by the temple and the heroic monks to protect the land, nation, language and the religion (Desa, Resa, Basa saha Samaya).

Unlike in the present day society there were no political monks in the ancient times.  In the past they stood above everyone including the King. The monk was the advisor to the King in both mundane and spiritual matters. He not only provided leadership to his people in spiritual and worldly liberation but also in national liberation; in state affairs, he gave leadership to his people both in war and peace.


No other country in the world has such a strong and well organized monastic cum statecraft institutional network. For all what he does to his people and country, whether it is spiritual or worldly the Sinhala Buddhist monk never expects any gain in return. But he expects and demands the King to protect and rule the land keeping to the Dasaraja Dharma and Satara Sangraha vastu for the good of the many and for the happiness of the many. The Buddha’s admonition to his disciples ‘charatha Bhikkhave charikan Bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya attaya hitaya sadeva manussaya’ is the guiding light that illuminates his arduous path.  King depends on the monk both on spiritual and worldly matters for advice and guidance on all affairs of statecrafts and the Monk on the other hand expects the King to protect the country and the Sasana and work for the wellbeing of the citizens.

Buddhism and the Sinhala Nation are one.  They were so closely interconnected and interdependent from the day Buddhism was introduced to this country in 307 BC. One cannot treat them as two distinct entities.   So much so the Nation in this Island had been known as the ‘Sinhala Bauddha Jatiya’ right from the beginning. To use a famous Sinhala adage it is ‘like the bark unto the tree’ (gahata potta wage). The inseparable bond between Buddhism and the Sinhala Nation should certainly remain at least for another 2500 years to come,  to fulfill that prophesy as the Buddha had predicted. Protecting the Dhamma therefore, I think is the bounden duty of the Sinhala Buddhist monk than anyone else’s in this world. If they continue to be divided as they do now, neither Buddhism nor the Sinhala nation will last for more than few decades. Therefore it is high time that they discard their political, sectoral and all other non monastic affiliations and get united under the ‘banner of the Arahat’ (the robe) only, to fulfill their historic task of protecting the Sasana and the Sinhala nation. Meanwhile we also note with concern some unwelcome and rapid changes taking place in monastic culture in this country due to foreign influence. For example some novelties like lay devotees partaking meals after a dane offering in a temple and keeping women as secretaries in certain temples like in Thailand, Korea and Japan and the West pose a serious threat to the Sinhala Buddhist monastic traditions. It is high time for the Mahanayaka Nayaka Theras and concerned Buddhist scholars to take suitable measures to arrest this situation before it is too late. Theravada Buddhism  in Sinhale like no other” should be our motto and the goal of Mahasangha of Sinhale.

If they fail to do so immediately, preserving the Sasana for another 2500 years might end up a day dream.  Updating the Buddhist Temporalities Ordinance alone may not help to protect the Sasana. Similarly those who underestimate or do not recognize the Monks legitimate role in this country, and promote dissension among them for political or personal gain, whether he is subject, King or monk is also destined to be doomed sooner or later.

In the light of this background, today on this sacred grounds of Sri Sumatindarama/Sadananda Pirivena founded by Minister Sumatinda of King Devanpiyatissa in 307 BC, I appeal to the Mahasangha in this country on this historic occasion to begin ‘the Revolt in the Temple’ to protect the Sasana and the Sinhala nation, as successors to the Theraputthabhaya tradition of patriotic monks of this sacred land. ‘Kalo ayan te Bhante’! Arabhata ! Nikkhamata! Yunjata Buddha Sasane!

Further reading

Society in Medieval Ceylon 1968 Ariyapala M.B.

D’oyly John. A sketch of the Constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom Tisara Publication: 1975. Introduction

Vimalananda Tennakoon. The Great Rebellion 1818.

Walpola Rhula  History of Buddhism in Ceylon: The Anuradhapura period, 3rd Century BC–10th Century AD (1966)

Walpola Rhula  The Heritage of the Bhikkhu: A Short History of the Bhikkhu in Educational, Cultural, Social, and Political Life (1974, ISBN 0-394-49260-9)

Walpola Rhula  The Heritage of the Bhikkhu: The Buddhist Tradition of Service (2003, ISBN 0-8021-4023-8

6 Responses to “The Inseparable Relationship between Buddhism and the Sinhala Nation and the Role of the Monk in Sinhala society”


    Dr. Sudath, as usual, it is excellent investigative journalism. Please also refer to Books by Late Professor, Kotagama Vacheessara and Professor Hawanpola Rathanasara. Both Taught me at Ananda College. At Ananda College we used a class book “Bududahama” by Kotagama Wachcheesara where the author clearly state Buddha state is achieved and not given by birth.

    King Vijya, of North Western Maha Baratha, Came to populate this great land. It was also called Lanka Deepaya. When King Parakrama Bahu was ruling the nation, we Sinhala were ruling all of Tamil Nadu. At that time TAMILS were a nomadic race who lived in the Jungle! When the great Parakrama Bahu empire dis integrated, British were there to destroy Lanka Deepaya and get Tamils to rule Lankawa. King DUTU GAMUNU finally got rid of them. Today we cannot find where the Palace of General Lanka Deepa and General Lanka Puthra (My ancestor). No Indian Government and the US state Department and the CIA will ever allow to locate these historical sites. As you can see what is happening. An Army of MUSLIM OBAMA is occupying the great Lankawa. Can Sinhala understand this ? NO. ARE THEY UNITED; NO. They will read your article but immediately forget the purpose of your article. Can this Illegal entity that rules Lanka Deepay be defeated: I do not think so because it was created by Mentally restarted President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and a Criminal, the Election Commissioner. Can they understand what the “Prevention of Terrorist act IS?” My answer is NO.

  2. Jag Says:

    What a fantastic write up Dr.Gunasekera. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with the readers, especially the younger generation who needs to be taught with our great heritage, in order to preserve our identity and values.

  3. SA Kumar Says:

    Sinhala Nation as always Sinhala Lanka (inside Red line) & Demila Nation as always TE ( out side bold red line) !!!

    I do not what We both Kalla Thonis (Eg :the Sinhala Nation was founded by Vijaya, a north Indian Aryan Prince in 543 BC & We Tamil walked to cross 16 miles from TN ) Nation are fighting for last 2,000 years or more & will fight for another 2,000 years more .

    Sinhala Theevukku Oru Pala amaippom (we will a bright to Sinha Island ) – poat Bharathiyar !!!

  4. Cerberus Says:

    Thank you Dr. Gunasekera for enlightening us on the history of our country. CBK stopped teaching Sinhala history during the time she was President. As the result today we have the mongrel culture of the west which has no real values. They exploit sex, people, countries for the sake of money. I guess in this Kali Yuga as the Lord Buddha predicted everything is topsy turvy. I saw a news item where the Cabinet has decided to pay CBK the same salary as for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. When you compare the two it is like chalk and cheese. CBK did everything possible to harm the Sinhala Buddhists. She did nothing worthwhile during her tenure. She and RW plotted to hand over the North and East to the LTTE. Whereas President Mahinda Rajapaksa saved the country from LTTE and developed it so much. The economy was doing so well when he handed over to the Yahapalanaya. Now the economy is in tatters and one eyed rogue queen is moving My3 like a puppet.


    She recently in January engineered the downfall of the hero of the nation President Mahinda Rajapaksa by using the think tanks of the West and telling the people lies which have subsequently been proven to be baseless. She is so full of hatred and anger that it distorts her face where she looks like a Yakshani when she talks about MR. She may be harboring anger towards Sinhalese since her father and her husband were killed by Sinhalese. The Bandaranaiyake family has been a blot on the Sinhala people. It is a curse we have had to suffer for so long.

  5. mario_perera Says:

    The relationship between religion and society is a very complex one.

    That a religion is born from within a society if obvious. Even if brought from abroad, religion quickly seeps into every strand of the society that accepts it. The osmosis is so thorough that its origin ceases to have relevance to that society. But a religion never filters through the fibers of the society concerned in its pristine purity. It has to play its role from within the structures of that particular society.

    The society into which Buddhism was absorbed was a very rigid hierarchical constructed feudalistic one. The power that emanated from the royal throne filtered through to the least of the rural administrators. That meant in concrete a society ruled by feudal lords, their relatives, henchmen, stooges and whoever, and served by servile serfs. The wonder works of our ancient civilization reveal to us the power of the Lords, the monks were assimilated into that class, and the physical force of the vast servile sector of the community, a sector born to labour to uphold the feudal lords. This rigid structure Buddhism could not modify or undo. quite simply because it cannot do so. With the constitution of independence for the first time with the definitive abolishing of the feudal society, the servile labour force received some semblance of relief especially with the introduction of universal suffrage and free education.

    With independence even though social tags were removed, the realities persisted under new names. The final differentiation seen today broils down to one between the rich and the poor. The rich ‘the new feudal lords’ from the ruler downwards, impose their will, and the new ‘serfs’ the urban and the rural poor execute that will. Even today it is to a great extent the shoulders of our migrant worker women that the governing classes thrive and prosper.

    This structure of our society has not changed and Buddhism (the subject of the article) cannot change it. Indeed Buddhism thrives on the system. Our traditional political and social heritage which is the feudal system of lords and serfs continues in a new form. Buddhism must see the unfolding of such a society. It has to go along for its survival.

    This consideration is equally valid for every other society-religion relationship.

    There are many forces that rule over the destinies of nations and religion is one of them. It is never the absolute and ideologized factor that it is made to appear.

    Mario Perera

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    In any society, irrespective of religion, the able & educated (usually), the smart, the knowledgeable and the opportunistic, become the leaders and become those who become ‘have’. The rest work for them. Govt Service jobs are very popular because the ‘boss’ is the government, carries fair perks, and the boss is not feudal or business owning families.

    It is a good thing to honor that desire in people – that they are able to work in large numbers for the govt. However, the political party system spoils it all – as favoring of party members, able or not, happens.

    The Buddhist Teachings have a tempering effect on harshness in leadership as proved for King Asoka of India. But Buddhist countries have fallen victim to Communism too as seen in some SE Asian countries. These countries were bombed and have yet to recover after WW II. In Sri Lanka, the JVP suffered immensely due to going Communist and lost some 80,000 cadre in two insurrections.

    We have to find balance in governance. Too much Capitalism or Communism will not work. The Middle Path in Economics and Political Ideology is required. Most Economic gurus agree that all Essential Services be owned or at least part owned by Government.

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