Death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej evokes recall of memorable 700 year old Sri Lanka – Thai ties
Posted on October 30th, 2016

Senaka Weeraratna

The passing away of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand on September 13, 2016 at the age of 88 years has caused immense sadness particularly among Buddhists the world over.

The Regional Centres of the World Fellowship of Buddhists based in Sri Lanka namely the Sri Lanka Regional Centre of WFB, All – Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC), German Dharmaduta Society, Secretariat for the Uplift and Conservation of Cultural, Economic and Social Standards (SUCCESS) and Sri Lanka Dharma Chakkra Child Foundation will undoubtedly join the writer in expressing our profound sorrow and sadness over the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and conveying our heartfelt and deepest sympathies to members of the bereaved family of His Royal Highness, the Government and people of Thailand.


 His Majesty the late King Bhumipol was the ninth monarch of the Chakra Dynasty. Being a devout follower and Patron of Buddhism he has played a pivotal role in the protection and promotion of Buddhism. He has been ordained in a Thai Monastery in 1956. He has abided by the Dasa Raja Dhamma (The Ten Virtues of the King) principles in Governance. In Thai culture the ruler must act like a Dhamma Raja (Righteous King). He has called for the use of Dhamma principles in economic affairs by espousing Sufficiency Economics for appropriate conduct and way of life. He has funded the re-construction of the Buddhapadipa Temple in London to serve as a residence for Theravada Monks from Thailand when they are engaged in Dharmaduta work in Europe. The late King has also patronized the construction of the King Rama IX Golden Jubilee Temple in Bangkok, such that it could become a model for Temple constructions that match the standards of community and environmental protection.


 One of the notable gifts of Thailand to the progress of Buddhism worldwide is the sustenance of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) movement by maintaining its Headquarters in Bangkok and funding its activities. This is largely due to the keen interest and support given by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the Thai Royal family for the ongoing work of the WFB. It was during the early part of King Bhumibol’s 70 year old reign (1946 – 2016) that the WFB was formed in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1950 under the vision and able guidance of its founder Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera. The Headquarters was moved from Colombo to Rangoon in 1958 and thereafter to Bangkok in 1963 and it has continued to remain in Bangkok pursuant to a decision taken by the WFB in 1969 to make Bangkok the permanent venue of the Headquarters of the WFB.

Sri Lanka and Thailand have forged strong and long lasting ties that go back to over 7 centuries. They share a common faith in Theravada Buddhism which is the predominant belief system in both countries. Both are heirs to a proud history and high achieving Buddhist civilization. However there is one significant difference. Sri Lanka was subject to European colonial rule for almost 450 years (1505 – 1948). Thailand was very fortunate being the only country in Asia that was never invaded or occupied or came under the jackboot of colonial rule. Consequently, the Thai people were never uprooted from their Buddhist heritage, customs and traditions. The monarchy, civil and military Governments of Thailand have continuously supported Theravada Buddhism.

The historic Sri Lanka – Thai relationship covers religion, arts and culture. When Buddhism in Thailand was in recession, assistance was offered by Sinhalese monks from Sri Lanka and this goodwill was reciprocated when the situation changed a couple of hundred years later. In other words, the highlights of the Sri Lanka – Thailand ties are the rendering of unequivocal support on a viable give and take basis at critical moments in the history of the two nations. It was Sinhala Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka then resident at Nakhon Si Thammarat in the South of Thailand  at the invitation of King Ramkhamhaeng that introduced the Sihala (Sinhala) Sangha Sect (also known as Lanka Wongse Buddhism or Lankavamsa) to Thailand when it had its capital at Sukhothai. Sinhala Sangha sect rapidly spread to Chiangmai, Lamphun and Sajjanalaya – all in Northern Thailand. This undoubtedly was Sri Lanka’s greatest gift to Thailand. Lanka Wongse Buddhism thereafter spread all over Southeast Asia.

The ties between these two sister Buddhist nations reached a decisive moment 263 years ago (1753) when the Thai people had an opportunity to return the favor to Sri Lanka when King Boromkot based in Ayutthaya sent Phra Upali and others to revive the higher ordination tradition in Sri Lanka, after the ordination lineage in this island had been broken by the Portuguese Inquisition  which included wholesale destruction of Buddhist Temples, construction of Catholic Churches on top of sites of destroyed Buddhist Temples, killing of Buddhist monks and forbidding the practice of Buddhism in the Portuguese occupied territories of Sri Lanka. The Dutch too promoted their religion using both stick and carrot. All this had the effect of weakening Buddhism’s hold on the Sangha and public. Through the great sacrifice of Phra Upali, the higher ordination tradition was reintroduced to Sri Lanka and it was followed by the establishment of the Siam Nikaya. We have to be grateful immensely to Thailand for this huge contribution. It is left to one’s imagination to determine what the position of Buddhism would have been in Sri Lanka without properly ordained monks when the British occupied Sri Lanka in 1796.

Historical chronicles record the frequent nursing of this fraternal relationship by a number of Thai Kings at a time when Sri Lanka was under colonial rule and was lacking in an effective and proper Buddhist leadership.

A former Thai Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hon Thakur Phanit wrote a book entitled ‘ Thai – Sri Lankan True Friendship: Close and Cordial Relations in Buddhism’.

Thai Buddhist writer Pairuth Plangdee says as follows:

” It is interesting to learn that where as the major nikaya of
Buddhism in Sri Lanka is known as Siam Nikaya, Buddhism in
Thailand is called Lankavamsa. This is due to a historical fact that
Thailand received Theravada Buddhism from Sri Lanka during the
Sukhothai period in the 12th Century of the Common Era, and has
maintained a canonical tradition and an unbroken ordination lineage since.
In contemporary Thailand , Buddhism is the state religion of
the country . Under the Constitution, the King , as a symbol of the
nation, must be a Buddhist. The Crown and the State have always
been involved in supporting and assisting the Ordained Sangha and
in promoting Buddhism among the people. According to the latest
census, with a total population of 63 million, approximately 94%
of Thais are Buddhist. as of 2002, there were 32,000 monasteres,
265,956 monks and 87,695 novices in the Kingdom. Besides
numerous forest monasteries where monks may go for extended
meditation,there is a monastery in nearly every village and there
are many more monasteries in the cities, Schools are often located
on monastery grounds, and the sangha is actively involved in the
efforts of the State to raise the educational level of the people as
a whole. Buddhism and the Sangha, therefore, are deeply
interwined with the daily lives of the people of Thailand.”

Dipaduttamaramaya Temple in Kotahena

This is the oldest Temple within the Colombo city limits being built in 1775.  It was the temple of the famed orator Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Maha Thera and Ven. Waskaduwe Subuthi Maha Nayaka Thera. Migettuwatte Thera was the Chief Incumbent of the temple.

Dipaduttamaramaya also enjoys the status of being considered the official temple of the Thai Monarchy in Sri Lanka.  Ven. Waskaduwe Sri Subhuthi Maha Nayaka Thera was a great Pali Scholar. The scholar monk was highly respected both within and outside Sri Lanka. He served as an advisor to Kings of Siam and Burma while being the Chief Monk of the Abhinavaaramaya Temple in Waskaduwa (later renamed as the Sri Subuthi Viharaya in his honour). Sri Subuthi Maha Nayaka Thera exchanged letters with the governing elite of these two countries.

It was Sri Subuthi Maha Nayaka Thera who was instrumental in getting the British Vice – Roy of India to place the bones of the Buddha complete with inscriptions found in the premises occupied by Mr. Peppe, the English land owner, under the care of King Chulalongkorn of Siam.

Prince Prisdang Chumsai, grandson of King Rama the Third of Thailand after reading the letters from Ven. Sri Subhuthi developed a serious interest in Buddhism.

Prince Prisdang (rtgs: Pritsadang); 23 February 1851 – 16 March 1935) became a Thai diplomat for some time. He was born in Bangkok, as M.C. Prisdang Xumsai, a grandson of Rama III. He was educated in Singapore and in England, subsequently graduated with all the top awards from King’s College London in 1876. The event was reported in The Times of London, July 7, 1876.

In 1881 he established the first permanent Siamese Embassy in England presenting his credentials to Queen Victoria in 1882. Over the next  five years he became Ambassador to eleven European countries and the United States of America. King Rama V sought from Prince Prisdang his opinion on how to deal with predatory European countries consistently seeking new colonies for exploitation. In response Prince Prisdang and his associates prepared a draft democratic constitution which required the monarchy to be subject to constitutional law and formation of a cabinet of Ministers. Siam was not yet ready for such radical a proposed change and the Prince was therefore recalled to Bangkok where he worked as a civil servant until 1890.

He fell into disfavor with the monarchy subsequently and decided to go into exile. He went to Sri Lanka to become a Buddhist monk under the watch of Sri Subuthi Maha Nayaka Thera who acted as his preceptor. Prince Prisdang Chumsai was ordained in 1896 as Ven. P.C Jinavarawansa Thera -a disciple of the Nayaka Thera- eventually he was made the Chief Incumbent of the Dipaduttamaramaya Temple in 1904, thus becoming the first foreign monk to become an incumbent of a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. He also laid the foundation for the construction of the Rathna Chaitya.


Ven. P.C. Jinavarawansa Thera

Dipaduttamaramaya became known as the ‘Thai Temple’. Ven. P.C. Jinavarawansa Thera established a close rapport and friendship with the people of the area and was referred to as the ‘Kumara Hamuduruwo’ (Prince monk).

The Prince monk returned to Bangkok in 1911 to attend the funeral of King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn) where he was forced to disrobe as a pre-requisite to view the remains of the late King and lived thereafter in relative obscurity until his death in 1935.

The Life and Time of Prince Prisdang

The biography of Prince Prisdang has been published in a book entitled ‘Bones around My Neck – The Life and Exile of a Prince Provocateur’ by Tamara Loos ( Cornell University Press : 2016)

 Excerpts from the Blurb

Prince Prisdang Chumsai (1852–1935) served as Siam’s first diplomat to Europe during the most dramatic moment of Siam’s political history, when its independence was threatened by European imperialism. Despite serving with patriotic zeal, he suffered irreparable social and political ruin based on rumours………….Tamara Loos pursues the truth behind these rumours, which chased Prisdang out of Siam. Her book recounts the personal and political adventures of an unwitting provocateur who caused a commotion in every country he inhabited.

Prisdang spent his first five years in exile from Siam living in disguise as a commoner and employee of the British Empire in colonial Southeast Asia. He then resurfaced in the 1890s in British Ceylon, where he was ordained as a Buddhist monk and became a widely respected abbot. Foreigners from around the world were drawn to this Prince who had discarded wealth and royal status to lead the life of an ascetic. His fluency in English, royal blood, acute intellect, and charisma earned him importance in international diplomatic and Buddhist circles. Prisdang’s life journey reminds us of the complexities of the colonial encounter and the recalibrations it caused in local political cultures.”

Various members of the Thai Royal Family have over a period of time visited and extended patronage to the Dipaduttamaramaya Temple. Former rulers, King Rama VIII and King Rama IX, the Princess Mother, Queen Sirikit, Queen Rambhai Barni, Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luang Naradhiwas Rajanagarindra, Princess Chulabhorn and Prince Prem Purachatra are some of the Thai dignitaries to have visited the Temple during the last century. Several Thai government officials and Prime Ministers e.g. Yingluck Shinawatra, and other eminent Thai professionals have also made it a point to visit the Temple.

Another Thai connection to this Temple are the Saplings planted by King Ananda Mahidol, King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Princess Chulaborn on three different occasions. These Saplings gracefully epitomize in a natural and non – harm manner, the depth and feeling of the Thai links to the Temple.

Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara in Galle

Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara is situated in Elliot Road, Galle (lately renamed as Woodward Road in honour of F.L. Woodward, a former Principal of Mahinda College). It is also known as “ATAPATTAM VIHARAYA” because of the octagonal shaped roof. The Vihara was founded by Ven. Bulathgama Sri Sumanathissa Dhammalankara Thera on a beautifully located piece of high land overlooking Elliot Road and over one acre in extent. This land was gifted by Buddhist Philanthropist D.F. de Silva to the monk.

Atapattam Vihara (alternate name for Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara) because of the Octagonal shaped roof.

Ven. Bulathgama Sri Sumanathissa Dhammalankara Thera

A Pioneer of the Buddhist Revival Movement in Sri Lanka

Corresponded with two Thai Kings (King Rama IV and King Rama V)

Buddhist Philanthropist  D.F. de Silva

Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara is situated on land donated by D.F. de Silva to Ven. Bulathgama Thera in Elliot Road, Galle to build the Temple. D.F. de Silva died in 1904.

This framed photograph with damaged glass was found at the Sri Paramananda Temple.

Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara is of high historical importance in the bilateral relations between Thailand and Sri Lanka. In 1897, King Chulalongkorn of Thailand paid a visit to Sri Lanka, on his way to Europe. While in Sri Lanka, he visited a number of Buddhist Temples and one of those was Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara Temple. On April 19, 1897 King Chulalongkorn of Thailand laid a foundation stone for the construction of Chulalongkorn Dharmashala (Memorial Hall) at this Temple. This unique Hall with wood carved pillars is considered as the largest Dharma Shäla (Dhamma Hall) in South Asia.

Portrait of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V)

at the Temple

Framed Picture of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V)

with his wife Her Majesty the Queen

Two Framed Pictures of Ven. Bulathgama Sri Sumanathissa Dhammalankara Thera (left)

and King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) (right) stand next to each other.

Chulalongkorn Dharmashala (Memorial Hall)

Chulalongkorn Dharmashala

Wood carved pillar in the Chulalongkorn Dharmashala

The Thai King also visited the Gangarama Purana Viharaya in Galle on the same day. The Chulalongkorn stone pillar was erected at the Temple to be a monument that would remind both Thais and Sri Lankans of the King’s memorable royal visit to the Gangarama Purana Viharaya in Galle.

The Chulalongkorn Dharmasala at the Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara is now used for various significant religious ceremonies. In 2007, to commemorate the 110th anniversary of King Chulalongkorn’s visit to Europe via Ceylon, Ven. Phra Rajrattanabhorm of the Intraviharn Temple, Bangkok, presented King Chulalongkorn’s statue to the temple which has been installed in front of the Chulalongkorn Dharmashala.

The Temple is also important to Thai – Sri Lanka relations because of King Chulalongkorn’s (Rama V) visit to the Temple. A large number of Thais regularly visit these two Temples in Galle and have become dayakayas.

In January 1993, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (son of the late King King Bhumibol Adulyadej) paid an official visit to Sri Lanka, and also visited Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara Temple where he planted a tree to commemorate his visit.

On 5 February 2015, at the Royal Thai Embassy, Colombo, H.E. Mr. Nopporn Adchariyavanich, Thai Ambassador to Sri Lanka, handed over a donation of nearly 4 lakhs of Sri Lankan Rupees or equivalent to 100,000 baht from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand to Ven. Mederipitiye Somarathana Thero, Chief Incumbent of Sri Paramananda Raja Maha Vihara,for the maintenance and upkeep of the Temple.

Press that printed Sri Lanka’s oldest newspaper in Sinhala ‘Lanka Lokaya’ 

The Printing Press that printed Sri Lanka’s oldest newspaper in Sinhala, the Lanka Lokaya”, over 156 years ago in Galle, is now a burnt wreck at the Purana Giniwella Viharaya in Kathaluwa. The fire that brought this historic equipment down is a subject of wide ranging speculation. Was it an accident or an act of arson? Whatever the explanation it has caused sadness among Buddhists in both Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Getting down the Printing Press to Sri Lanka from London was the brainchild of Ven. Bulathgama Sri Sumanathissa Dhammalankara Thera, the founder and Viharadhipathi of Sri Paramananda Vihara in Minuwangoda, Galle, who, with the whole hearted backing and financial support of King Rama IV (King Mongkut)  of Siam, had got down the machine from London with the help of a friend. The first issue was printed in June 1860, from a house in Fort, Galle. It was at a time when Buddhism in Sri Lanka was at the cross roads.

The British Colonial Govt. was giving encourageent to Christian missionary activity in setting up missionary schools and converting Buddhists to Christianity. James de Alwis in his writings in the mid – nineteenth century speculated that Buddhism in Sri Lanka would collapse within 50 years. It was faced with overwhelming odds. The press was totally in the hands of Christian Missionaries and the colonial establishment. Derogatory Attacks against Buddhism and Buddhists went unreplied.

It was at such a stage that the Press virtually gifted to the Buddhists of Sri Lanka via Bulathgama Thera by the Thai King Rama IV played a key salvaging role. The disspirited Buddhists saw in the coming of help from Thailand a huge morale boost. Besides printing the Lanka Lokaya”, the press was used to print answers and replies arising from the Panadura vadaya” and ‘Badegama vadaya’ controversies. A copy of the first issue can still be seen today at the Kumara Maha Viharaya in Kumarakanda, Dodanduwa.

The Press and ‘ Lanka Lokaya’ gave the spark for the Buddhist Revival Movement. Bulathgama Thera also played a key role in this revival. He understood the necessity for a Sinhalese publication to revive Buddhism in the country. In 1860, the first Sinhalese newspaper in Ceylon, Lankalokaya, was published in Galle by the newly established Lankopakara Press.  Though it is recorded in the newspaper edition that the first editor was a lawyer, William Perera Ranasingha and that Mudliyar DWK Jayawardena was the publisher, the spirit behind the enterprise was Ven. Bulathgama Sri Sumanatissa Dhammalankara Thera who had the blessings of the Thai King Rama IV. The Lankalokaya was priced at six pence and was published on the 10th and the 24th of each month.

It did a salutary service for the cause of Buddhism at that time. This historic printing press which played a significant role in the Buddhist revival movement later ended up at the Kathaluwa Giniwella Purana Viharaya, until a fire destroyed the building in which the printing press had been housed. It occurred in November 2012. Although it was said that an electricity leak caused the fire, some locals say that there is considerable doubt about this explanation especially because of an earlier attack on the Temple in year 2004

According to a Report in the Island Newspaper

Vandals had entered the Giniwella Purana Vihara in Kataluwa, Galle, and destroyed a set of murals that had been recently painted with sponsorship from the Royal Netherlands Embassy. The vandals had entered the temple through the roof on April 15, 2004 and desecrated the murals. The paintings had been part of the Giniwella Temple Project, in which three Dutch artists together with over 70 people from the area had combined skills to depict sacred Buddhist events on the temple walls. Buddhist clergy had also been involved in painting the murals, described as a stunning mixture of classical Sri Lankan fine art and Western (Renaissance) techniques. The artists had been working full-time for more than six months and had painted the murals on a voluntary basis. The damages were estimated at four million rupees. A press release from the artists said that the destruction was irreversible and that it was unlikely that restoration would take place at a later stage.

“Hence, a valuable piece of artwork, unique to Sri Lanka and the entire Buddhist world, has been lost to the Buddhist people of Sri Lanka,” the statement lamented.

Vandals had hacked away parts of the wall in at least 83 places, causing damage particularly to the heads of painted people. Images affected include depictions of Buddhist monks”


Vandals destroy murals at Giniwella Purana Vihara

Such acts of arson and destruction are directed at destroying the Buddhist heritage of Sri Lanka which is taking place on an increasing basis without raising public alarm or suspicion.

Although the printing machine was damaged, it is said to be in a repairable condition. The Dayaka Sabha of the Temple is reportedly planning to house the printer in a new building.

A former Thai Ambassador to Sri Lanka Hon. Thakur Phanit in an illuminating article entitled ‘ What happened to the printing machine that King Rama IV gave to a Sri Lankan monk 155 years ago’ published in the ‘ WFB Review’ Vol. 5 No. 2 May – August BE 2559 (2016) says as follows:

” It can be said that from BE 2404 – 2405, the Sri Lankan Sangha and Buddhists had a modern printing machine in Sinhala language for propagation of Buddhism and also to fight against the attacks on Buddhism by the missionaries in Sri Lanka. This was possible because of the royal grace and intuition of King Rama IV who had spent his personal asset purchasing the printing machine from England and sent it to Sri Lanka. “

Hon. Thakur Phanit when he was Ambassador to Sri Lanka wrote a Book entitled ‘ Thai – Sri Lankan True Friendship: Close and Cordial Relations in Buddhism’ which carried a picture of this Printing Machine that King Rama IV (King Mongkut )had gifted to Ven.. Bulathgama Sri Sumanathissa Dhammalankara Thera.  King Rama IV (King Mongkut) had exchanged letters with Ven. Bulathgama Sri Sumanatissa Dhammalankara Thera as early as November 17, 1851, only six months after the King’s accession to the throne.

Phra Upali Maha Thero Museum, Wat Thammaram

Thailand and Sri Lanka, Siam and Ceylon, Ayutthaya and Kandy. The ties between these two sister nations go back 260 years. In 2013, Museum Siam, the National Discovery Museum Institute, in collaboration.with the Thai Foreign Ministry, opened an exhibition entitled “Origin of Siam-Lanka Wongse: Upali’s Pilgrimage, 260 Years of Siamese Heritage In Sri Lanka”, to honour the Dharmaduta mission of Phra (Ven.) Upali Maha Thera.

“Beyond commemorating the 260th anniversary of the establishment of Siam Nikaya [Siam-Lanka Wongse] in Sri Lanka, the exhibition reveals the history between two nations that have aided each other and created.a long-lasting relationship through a common religion,” Prime Minister’s Office Minister Santi Prompat said at the opening ceremony.

The exhibition elucidated this historic expedition, recounting Phra Upali’s perilous five-month journey across the Indian Ocean. The story of Phra Upali’s epic voyage across the Indian Ocean and his Dharmaduta Services in Sri Lanka is a part of the folk lore of both Thailand and Sri Lanka. Phra Upali passed away in Sri Lanka after spending three years to revive the higher ordination tradition in Sri Lanka.

In a seminal article on this subject entitled ‘Buddhist Relationship between Sri Lanka and Thailand: A Case Study of Exhibition Design of Phra Upali Maha Thero Museum, Wat Dhammaram, Ayutthaya, Thailand’ Dr. Sarunya Prasopchingchana (History Department, Burapha University, Thailand) explores in depth the perilous journey of Upali Maha Thera and his entourage to Sri Lanka.

It can be clearly ascertained that the Siamese deputation of monks tasked with performing the Upasampada (higher ordination) in the island of Lanka, made a huge sacrifice to the point of endangering their lives on an arduous journey in the cause of the Buddhist Dhamma (Law, or Truth).’ Their achievement, lauded for its subsequent record of vitality, was seen in the firm regrounding of Buddhist Religion on this earth. Of the 18 monks making up the Upali deputation, only 7 monks returned to the homeland.” (His Highness Prince Damrong Rajanybhab, on the Establishment of the Siam Nikaya Sangha on Lanka, 1914, Upali Maha Thero Museum, Wat Dhammaram,)

Wat Dhammaram in Ayutthaya sent Upali Maha Thera to Sri Lanka along with 17 other monks. The Royal decree of King Boromkot called upon Upali Maha Thero to lead a group of Thai monks to Sri Lanka. Their mission was to restore Buddhism which was in a sharp decline owing to many problems including the lack of a well established Buddha Sasana which by that time had been largely destroyed by foreign invasions and colonial rule which forbade the practice of Buddhism in Portuguese occupied territory. The Dutch also discouraged the practice of Buddhism adopting more subtle means to lure Sinhala Buddhists to turn against their religion, culture and indigenous heritage.  In such a context Upali Maha Thero had a very important role to play in restoring Buddhism and re-establishing the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka.

For eleven of the 18 Thai monks it was a one way street as they never returned to Ayutthaya. But the Buddhist mission from Thailand was a resounding success. Upali Maha Thera and his brother monks established Sri Lanka’s largest Buddhist order i.e. Siam Nikaya. During his mission in Sri Lanka, Upali and his brother monks ordained several thousand monks and novice monks which helped to strengthen and consolidate Buddhism in the country. He also founded the Siam Nikaya in Sri Lanka which has continued until the present day.

To mark the commemoration for the 260th anniversary of the establishment of Siam Nikaya in Sri Lanka by Upali Maha Thero, in 2013, the Thai Government donated 10 million baht to construct the Upali Maha Thero’s Museum in a  renovated Wat Thammaram Temple in Ayutthaya. The Government of Sri Lanka donated a wooden statue of Upali Maha Thero which is 180 centimeters high to the Museum.

What are the other accomplishments of Upali Thera’s Mission in Sri Lanka?

Phra (Ven.) Upali reintroduced the study of the Pali language as well as many other monastic practices such as Buddhist lent, or Khao Phansa. The Buddhist revival, thus, contributed to a literary resurgence and a dissemination of the Buddha’s teachings”.

”Origin of Siam-Langka Wongse” underscores the similarity in religious practices between Thailand and Sri Lanka, including preparing new bhikkhu robes in one day”.

”Not many Thai people know of Phra Upali’s efforts in bridging our two countries. The exhibition serves to inform the public of the starting point of a strong relationship bound by the Buddhist faith”.

Thai Scholar Sarunya Prasopchingchana lists them as follows:

 Phra Upali Maha Thera and his monastic mission accomplished a great many deeds of resuscitation of Buddhism. Among the important accomplishments are: (Phra Upali Maha Thero Museum, Wat Thammaram) Upasampada:

1)The higher ordination was performed for over 700 monks and 3,000 samaneras for Lankan faithful.

2) Laying of boundary (Sima) stones: Previously the upasampada ordination in Lanka was performed on a watercourse, using watery surface as the boundary, or so-called Nadi-sima or Udaka-Khepa-sima.

3) Restoring rites and rituals: Examples included such rites as long disappeared in Lanka, which were Vassavasa (Rains Retreat), pavarana-kamma (voicing of one’s supposed offences at the end of the Vassa), and Kathina robes ceremony.

4) Advice on the Tooth Relic Procession: The big change was made from the deities leading the procession to the Tooth Relic, a most precious symbol of the Buddha, leading both gods and men instead.

5) Reviving Paritra prayer recitation: The prayer Theravada-style, which had long disappeared, was reintroduced, worthy of the land which was the prime mover of the tradition in the first place.

6) Mastering the Khmer scripts: Because all Siamese sacred scriptures were written in Khmer letters, and in order to accurately translate from Khmer to Sinhalese there is the necessity to learn the Khmer scripts first.

7) Developing Buddhist education system: The development was geared towards all bhikkhus (monks) of Lanka. Introducing the vipassanadhura: Siam’s Phra Visuddhacariya Thera and Phra Varananamuni Thera, experts in vipassanadhura (burden of insight meditation), taught the responsibility and techniques.

8) Introducing Sangha administrative system: The administrative hierarchy from the Sangharaja as head of the Buddhist trinity. Ven. Welivita Saranankara Thera was honoured as the first Sangharaja of Siam Nikaya in Lanka”.

In 1755 a second Thai monastic mission led by Phra Visuddhacariya Thera and Phra Varananamuni Thera, was sent to Sri Lanka as a replacement of the first mission. King Boromkot  also sent another 97 set of scriptures with the mission to make sure that Buddhist scholarship remained the pillar of Buddhism.” (see article by Sarunya Prasopchingchana)

The exhibition of Phra Upali Maha Thero Museum, Wat Thammaram at Ayutthaya clearly showed that Thailand and Sri Lanka have been despite many challenges including foreign interference, maintaining healthy Buddhist religious and cultural ties for over 700 years from the Sukhothai period to date.

His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej earnestly helped to maintain and foster these Buddhist links between Thailand and Sri Lanka, and Thailand and the rest of the world. He won the hearts of the entire Buddhist community with his noble work and services. The Buddhist public of Sri Lanka stand side by side with the people of Thailand in this hour of sorrow. 

May the Great King Bhumibol Adulyadej attain Nibbana

Senaka Weeraratna


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