A one-man cultural revolution
Posted on September 17th, 2016

By Dharma Hewamadduma(Former Act Secretary Ministry of Health and Adl Secretary Ministry of Justice.) Courtesy The Island

In memory of Anagarika Dharmapala, whose 152nd birth anniversary falls today

When he was born on Sept. 17, 1864 the Sinhalese had been deprived of their energy, confidence and spirit due to the colonial rule of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British in that order for about 450 years but owing to his mission awakening the Sinhalese they were able to stand on their own feet moving among other nations of the world with pride and respect.

Born as the scion of famous businessman Muhandiram Don Karolis Hewavitharana of Hiththatiya, Matara and Mallika Hewavitharana and having received his education at S. Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia, young Dharmapala (then Don David) joined the government service as a clerk, a respectable job a native could obtain at that time.
Instead of remaining in that position and later entering the much-coveted Ceylon Civil, an elitist circle among the Ceylonese, Dharmapala chose a mission for the cultural emancipation which inspired a weak willed nation to clamour for political liberation. After renouncing the luxurious life which he could have enjoyed fully he launched a mass reawakening movement.
Then, he resigned from the Public Service and came to associate erudite Buddhist scholars such as most Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Col. Henry Steel Olcott and studied Buddhism and the oriental languages such as Pali, Sanskrit, Hindi etc. and dedicated himself to social service.
Dharmapala was as brave as a lion and had no fear or hesitation in his mission and with great effort and enthusiasm, burning midnight oil he explored the ways and means of achieving aspirations of the Sinhalese. His was a ‘One man Cultural Revolution’. His service to the nation was nonpareil because he did all this work not for his own benefit but purely for the benefit of the nation with an honest motive.
Initially, joined the Buddhist Theosophical Society headed by Col. Henry Steel Olcott and ‘The Sandaresa ’ and The Bauddhaya’ newspapers to jolt the Sinhalese into fighting for their rights.
His mission, however, was not confined to Sri Lanka. In 1891, after visiting the places of Buddhist worship in India he saw with his own eyes the sad state of the sacred places like Buddha Gaya, Saranath, Lumbini , Kusinara etc. deserted and pillaged.
Although there had been hundreds of millions of Buddhists during the days of the Buddha, Dharmapala noticed that the Indians no longer remembered the Buddha.
He was shocked to see the activities of heretic Mahantha and the deterioration of the Buddhist Order and determined himself to re-establish the Buddhist Order in India. Accordingly, he set up The Mahabodhi Society. As a result of his services to the religion and the Buddhist Order, after forty years, millions of Indians were able benefit from the teachings of the Enlightened One.
Dharmapala’s mission in India to revive Buddhism and conserved places of worship associated with the Buddha compares with the introduction of Buddhism here by Arahat Mahinda Maha Thera in the 3rd Century B.C. There was no one of the calibre of Emperor Chakkravarti Asok or Devanampiyatissa to help him with that stupendous task. He laboured against numerous odds.
He used his own mode of expression to handle and attack whoever in Sri Lanka or abroad when such persons behaved improperly. Once a so-called noble Englishman travelling with him in the first class compartment in a train sipped a glass of liquor and smoked a cigarette and sending rings of smoke much to the consternation of Dharmapala, who politely asked the white man to refrain from doing so, but to no avail. At his tether’s end, Dharmapala sprang to his feet and threw out the glass and the bottle of liquor out of the window of the train while roaring: “If you continue to act in this manner you too will be thrown out.”
Another incident is etched indelibly in the minds of grateful Sri Lankans. He was summoned by the British Governor to the King’s House at 1.00 p.m. he had to wait for the Governor till 2.00 p.m. When the Governor came late he at once refused to stay with him. He thundered: “I lost my valuable time due to a fool like you who is not punctual. Therefore I do not want to have a word with you …” So, saying he walked away leaving the Governor red-faced.
He had to fight quite a battle to save Buddhagaya from the clutches of Mahantha. When his guardians at Buddhagaya were assaulted by unruly elements instigated by Mahanta he promptly resorted to legal action and launched an effective campaign to conscientize the world Buddhist population about the travails of Buddhists in India. With the help of the Indian National Congress, he succeeded in regaining the rightful place for the Buddhists in India.
When at the Chicago Parliament of World leaders of different faiths in 1893 he delivered an attractive and appealing lecture on Buddhism before a host of reputed intellectuals of the world and he was able to convert, to the amazement of everyone, a person from another religion to Buddhism.
On his return journey at Honolulu, where he met Madame John Foster after having a discussion on Buddhism she was so pleased to contribute lavishly for the propagation of Buddhism. On another occasion when he attended a religious festival abroad he met Madame Blavatsky, who also donated similar donation for the uplift of Buddhism.
Setting up Buddhist schools in place of Missionary schools, publishing newspapers such as ‘Bauddaya’ (The Buddhist”) and ‘The Mahabodhi, delivering lectures throughout the country, he began to arouse patriotism and religious conscience among the Sinhalese.
Due to the renaissance and reformation resulting from his activities many Buddhist leaders such as Ven. Walpola Rahula, Ven. Madihe Pannnaseha, Ven. Baddegama Wimalawansa, Ven. Bambarende Sri Seevalee, Ven. S. Mahinda, Prof. Gunapala Malalasekers, Henry Pedris, Piyadasa Sirisena, E. W. Adikaram, P. de S. Kularatna, Chandraratna Manawasingha, L. H. Metthananada launched a popular movement to bring about religious and cultural revival of the Sinhalese.
More than these services and the movement he started to awaken the Sinhalese and weaken the British domination, his forceful language coupled with his lion’s roar helped mobilise the masses and empower them.
“You Sinhalese people come forward to free the Buddhagaya ! Do not always lie down as an idiot or a bull … Rise up! Do not wear bent combs on your head like buffalos! Discard English names and use Sinhala ones! Don’t imitate aliens! Always sit upright! Have self-respect! You Sinhala ladies wear the Osariya (Kandyan sarees) instead of long skirts like the Portuguese! If you are scared of aliens make a scarecrow of such persons and hit them!” Dharmapala’s lectures were replete with such exhortations.
Hurt by the movement launched by him as described above, anti national elements with a colonial mentality started a campaign of slinging mud and insulting him with the intension of demoralizing him.
They alleged that he always travelled all over the world to promote the business of his father’s company e.g. Don Carolis & Sons co. But the people did not believe them. Anybody who visits India, England, America, Germany, Japan, and Honolulu can experience the service rendered by him for the Buddhist order.
When he met Madame John Foster in 1928 she gave him Rs.391, 032 to be spent for the uplift of Buddhism and later an amount of Rs.86.000/- was added to it as interest .He received 1/5 from his father’s company Don Carolis & Sons Co. Ltd. as his share and with that money he established a Fund in his name for the propagation of Buddhism all over the world.
After spending his valuable time, funds and energy for the religion and the nation he received respect and recognition from other countries. But while he was under arrest in Calcutta Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan he made a forceful speech behalf of the Sinhalese in the Legislative Council when the British were on a witch hunt against the Sinhalese following the 1915 riots.
When he received insults from such people he was thoroughly disgusted and said “… After sometime Sudda fellows (English people) will leave this country but they will create an alien, anti national class which will ruin the country even more gravely than how Suddas did it …” Today we see that his prediction has come true!
His disgust was so severe that, he ultimately said “… Due to my some previous Karmic force I had to live with such wicked people here. My wish is not to either be born in this country or even to die within this territory. After my death ungrateful people of this country will not even get an opportunity to see my dead body.”
So saying Anagarika Dharmapala left for Dambadiva (India) and passed away at Isipathana. Those who went to bring his dead body could only bring his ashes to Sri Lanka.
Looking at the present scenario in the country one can say that the degeneration of the Sinhalese commenced from the date the Anagarika Dharmapala left this country. This state can be rectified on with the birth of a capable leader who is strong enough to awaken the nation in a state of stupor.
Grateful Sri Lankans will never forget their mentor, Anagarika Dharmapala, who accomplished his mission to inspire them with patriotism and morality similar to those of national heroes such as Dutugemunu, Gajaba, Dhatusena, Vijayaba, Perakumba, Rajasingha, who fought foreign invaders to protect this land. Without genuine heroes how can a nation survive?


One Response to “A one-man cultural revolution”

  1. Nimal Says:

    I don’t agree with the above article which is a distortion of historical facts.To start with if he did not agree with the Colonial type culture then was he educated in the first school ever to have in the island which is the Christian collage Kotte,built in 1822.Then he moved into other Christian missionary schools?
    When one of our headmasters retired he was speaking about this person,who was very critical of Rahula whose Salaneeli sadasaya was not proper where Kotte women were described in an strange way.The Na tree where Rahula sat was in the collage and he to have commented about the Dravidan rule even in Kotte were theb rulers and the women had to avoid the Sinhala -population that arrived in to that area from the South after the Portuguese ruled the area.They were the Artigalle,Jawardene,Basnayajkes,Paravitharans,Adihettiys.
    The Dravidan rulers were so scared of the locals they used a tunnel to get to the Diyawadana lake and one could see this tunnel by the lake of the Christian collage.Sadly we seem to distort our recent glorious history,where our collage names were changed and all the good work of the colonials were distorted in preferance to tyrants of the Dravidian type and shamfully call our selves Sihalese.
    We have distorted our history,sadly the recent history.We have made true patriots into traitors and criminals into heroes.
    My late mother told that it was very fashionable for -people in the south to come and live in Mirihana and Kotte and the recent arrivals to that area was the Dissanayke family(jungle and Jingle)both DIGs and one got caught with the 60s coup,relatives of mine.
    Also along with this migration was the Rajapaksas from the south and one of them frequent our homes on Sundays.He brought me and my twin brother the powdered milk when the Japanese war was raging in 1943 and I was told that they moved to Kandewatte in Nugegoda,could be Mahinda Rajapakse’s family.Hope MR read this and visit our house of birth in Mirihana,close to Jubilee post.Our only last relative to live there was Arthur Basnayake where his house is an upstairs very English Style house where I was born in the upstairs.I wrote to him to visit my cousin Arthur but sadly he died recently.
    So kotte was invaded by the Sinhalese from the South and the Brits Converted the devles to temples.But you still see the Devale lanes and roads in Kotte.Unless we met Angakarika,it’s not fair to write about him.

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