Posted on May 5th, 2020


The first clash within the Sangha was between the Udarata Siyam and Pahata rata Siyam. Udarata monks ridiculed the Pahata rata monks. I think they saw them as ‘polluted’ since the Pahata rata was under Dutch rule.

Pahata rata monks were not crushed by this. They in turn, watched the sima debate between Asgiri and Malwatte. Asgiri had said the Malwatte sima was no longer acceptable. Malwatte had removed the sima stones to extend the sima and put it back wrong.  Asgiri also said that Malwatte had polluted its ordination, not because of sima but because of dishonest activity, such as conspiring to kill king Kirti Sri. Also Malwatte had seized lands belong to Asgiri.

Pahata rata Siyam nikaya watched this with interest. There is nothing about a sima in Buddhism and ordination without a proper sima is also valid, they said. Without getting permission from Kandy   they performed a higher ordination at Telwatte Raja Maha Vihara in 1773 led by Ven. Vagegoda Dhammakusala. Another ordination was performed in Tangalle in 1798   led by Induruwe Indrajothi.

There was a second clash on caste”. Malwatte flatly refused to ordain persons who did not belong to the Govigama caste. Malwatte was adamant about this. Malwatte said this was not their idea. They were simply following the katikavata issued by king Kirti Sri.

 This katikavata included in it a Pali phrase taken from Dambadeni Katikavata, Pabbajentapi sodetva pabbajeta sodetva upsampadadeta… jati gotra vicara kuladosa kriyadosa nati pratigna kala kala” (Kulatunge p 79).  Malwatte used this to confine ordination to those of the Govigama caste only. 

Malwatte said that when ‘low castes’, such as blacksmiths and gold smiths  were ordained they would still have to carry out their caste duties. Malwatte ended the argument saying that though in the time of Buddha, low castes were given ordination it was not possible to do so now.  Because now there was a royal decree against it.

According to Kulatunge, Karava and Durava communities of the low country    had written to       Malwatte asking for higher ordination and Malwatte said no”. Non-Govigama Buddhists were not prepared to accept this. They would probably have said that it was ridiculous to have the Maha Sangha confined to just one caste. And that this has not happened before in the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

They had to find their own way out of this. They did so, without hesitation. They founded their own Nikaya, the Amarapura Nikaya with a fresh Upasampada obtained from Burma.  The Amarapura nikaya arose due to the refusal of Malwatte to ordain ‘non Govigama’ into the Sangha.  

The Govigama caste was considered the elite caste by the British. But three non-Govigama castes, Durawe, Karawe and Salagama were also very well placed in the British administration. Their names, addresses and professions show that they had good status in the British administration, said Kulatunge. These three castes had money, position and contacts. Their money came from landholdings, arrack and professions. Going to Burma to bring back a fresh Upasampada, was not a problem for them.

The first bhikkhu to go to Burma and bring back the ordination was Ambagahapitiye Nanavimala Tissa (b. 1767) of Balapitiya. Nanavimala had been ordained by Sangharaja Saranankara. Re-ordination had been refused by Malwatte because he was of the Salagama caste. He decided to go to Siam to obtain higher ordination but was advised to go to Burma instead as Burma was more prosperous.

Ambagahapitiye went to Burma in 1799 accompanied by Ven. Madampe Uttamadhira, Bogahawatte Jayatujina Tissa and Waturegama Dammadhara. He met King Bodavpaya in his capital, Amarapura.  King Bodavpaya of Burma was no weakling. He had annexed Arakan in Upper Burma, secured control over the Tenarassim coast, and was also ruling over Manipur and Assam.  In 1783 he had made Amarapura his new capital.

King Bodavpaya was a fervent Buddhist. He welcomed Ambagahapitiye and his team and treated them well.  He built a vihara for them, the Lankarama. He arranged for the religious tuition needed, and took Ambagahapitiye in a palanquin, dressed in royal attire, for his ordination.                      

Ven. Ambagahapitiye was given Buddhist texts to take back with him, also two letters dated Jan 1802 in Burmese and Portuguese language. These probably certified the Upasampada. Four eminent Burmese monks led by Ven. Aggasara were sent with him.

On arriving in Ceylon, Ambagahapitiye and his team was taken in procession from Colombo harbour to Ambarukkaramaya at Balapitiya. Ambagahapitiye set up a sima in Madu Ganga and started Upasampada in 1803. This was the beginning of the Amarapura Nikaya.

Others followed his example and went to Burma, got higher ordination there, returned to Ceylon, and strengthened the Amarapura Nikaya. Kataluve Gunaratana of the Karawe caste was one of these bhikkhus. Kataluve had received   two questionable higher ordinations in Sri Lanka. He went to Burma in 1803, got ordained at Kalyani sima at Hamsavati in Pegu and returned in 1810 to Dodanduwa.  He set up the Amarapura Kalyani vamsa. Five other Amarapura nikayas sprang from this later on, in 1841, 1886, 1900, 1908 and 1915.

Bogahapitiye Dhammajothi of the Durawe caste, left for Burma in 1806 with a team   and obtained higher ordination at Suwannabumi sima. He returned in 1807 and worked in Uva and Sabaragamuwa.  He set up the Amarapura Dhammaraksita nikaya.

Ven. Attudawe Dhammaraksita and his team went to Amarapura, in 1807, spent five years there,    came back in 1813   to Devundara, and formed the Amarapura Dhammaraksita nikaya in 1818.  He was probably Karawe since he had joined Ven. Kataluve Gunaratana and carried out joint Upasampada. 

Ven. Kapugama Dhammaraksita went to Burma in 1807, travelled to Rangoon and Ava and retuned after ordination. He started the Dadalu faction of Amarapura in Matara. This was a nikaya consisting of monks from a sub caste of the Salagama.

Kapugama Dhammakkandha, of Salagama caste, went to Hamsavati in Burma for his higher ordination and   returned in 1809. He was based at Walukaramaya, Dadalla and the sima was on Gin Ganga at Gintota.  Kapugama Dhammakkanda converted to Christianity, gave up robes,    and took the name Nandoris Silva. This would have been a triumph for the Christians but the nikaya activities would have continued undisturbed.

Malwatte was very antagonistic towards Amarapura. Malwatte condemned these monks. Malwatte wrote to Siam saying that low country weavers have taken to robes from Amarapura. King Bodavpaya  had ruled that  both shoulders of a monk should be covered  and Amarapura monks( and later Ramanna) wore both shoulders covered. Malwatte objected to this too. But Malwatte was unable to dislodge Amarapura.

The Amarapura nikaya was very successful from the start. Kulatunge draws attention to the support given to Amarapura by the dayakas of the temples. The low country non-Govi gave whole hearted support to bhikkhus of their own caste, he observed.

 Kulatunge reported that eighteen Maha theras of Siyam Nikaya, including Puwakdandave Pannananda, Denipitiye Somananda, and Akmeemana Sobhita had assembled at   Katutimbiriyawe Maha vihara, at Kuruvita and with the assistance of Ekneligoda Maha Dissawe had obtained higher ordination with Tolangamuwe as Kammacarya and Delgamuve as preceptor and entered the Amarapura Nikaya. Date not given. (Kulatunge p 233)                

The bhikkhus who went to Burma belonged to Salagama, Durava, Karawe and Govigama castes.By 1861, according to a letter from Ven. Lankagoda Dhirananda of Ratgama Mandalaramaya, the   Amarapura   nikaya had   Sangha from Salagama, Karava, Durava and Goi. The caste divisions in the Amarapura nikaya were recognized by the British administration. In     1825, the British government   appointed Ven. Nanawimala Tissa as Nayake of the Bhikkhus belonging to the Salagama caste.” Chief priests were not appointed to the other caste nikayas.

The Salagama caste had two main divisions, and one section considered itself superior to the other. Therefore,   no sooner was the Amarapura nikaya created, there were two Salagama sima and two Salagama Amarapura sects.

There was a   serious controversy over the Salagama sima at Madu Ganga.  This argument started in 1851 or so and went on and on, with many   temples joining in. There were many unsuccessful attempts at settling the matter. Books and letters were written on it, by the monks on the two sides to show that they were correct.  This went on till at least 1871. There is no information on whether it was ever settled, said Kulatunge.

There was also another Vadaya. In 1908, there was a Banku vadaya” (bench). That arose because the westernized Buddhists did not want to sit on mats to listen to bana, they were not used to it.  They wanted to sit on banku.                                                                                       

Amarapura had many breakaway  nikayas. Eventually, Amarapura nikaya divided itself into 32  groups. The first Amarapura nikaya, the Amarapura nikaya of Ambagahapitiye, had many breakaway groups. Those who received the Upasampada  directly from   Ambagahapitiye  formed the Amarapura Mulavamsika Nikaya. Then two groups broke away from Mulavamsika, to form  Amarapura Maha Nikaya (1918), and  Amarapura Culagandhi nikaya. The leader of the second  nikaya had received ordination from  a Burmese monk  Ven. Ukkama vamsamala when Ukkama  came on  pilgrimage in 1886.

There was a string of breakaway groups from the Bogahapitiye Dhammajothi     group. From Udarata Amarapura nikaya came the breakaway group of Udarata Amarapura Sri Samagri Samgha sabha  (  1955 approx).  The Uva Amarapura nikaya(1844) divided into factions   of which one was Udukinda Amarapura nikaya (1932.) The Saparagamu Amarapura siri Saddhammavamsa nikaya,  produced  two divisions, an Eknaligoda faction  and a Pelmadulla faction. (1910)

Kapugama Dhammakkandha’s Dadella Nikaya  led to three breakaway groups, Dadalu paramparayatta Amarapura samagama,(1811) Amarapura siri saddhammavamsa Maha nikaya, (1863) and Sri Lanka Swejin Nikaya. (1952).  The breakaway Kalyani Vamsika Nikaya  came  from Amarapura Kalyani nikaya.

Here are  four more breakaway groups, listed by name only. Amarapura saddhamma yuktika Matara Maha nikaya. ( 1841.) Kalyanivamsika Sri Dhammarama Saddhammayuktika Matara nikaya. (1886). Amarapura Ariyawansa Saddhamma Yuktika Maha Nikaya (1900) Amarapura Mrammavamsabhidhaja Siri Saddhamayuttika Nikaya (1914)

The dates of breakaway indicate that most partitions took place  under British rule. The breakaways seems to me, (Kamalika Pieris) to  be related to three factors, the desire to maintain  teacher-pupil lineages, doctrinal disputes and thirdly, practical considerations such  as distance. The splintering of the Uva Nikaya would have been due to  the hilly terrain.

There is no indication of rival factions. There would have been disagreement on the pupillary succession, certainly, but this does not seem to have resulted in disappointed monks marching off with their followers. If so, the nikayas they set up would have had highly individual sounding names. Instead, the names   of the new nikayas clearly indicate the Nikaya they are breaking away from. With the result that all the breakaway nikayas have similar sounding names. I found it very confusing.

The breakaway nikayas all seem to me, to be stable nikayas, with unbroken lines of chief monks. They seemed set to go on forever. But the Sangha   had other plans. According to Kulatunge there was   an attempt to unite the different factions of Amarapura Nikaya in 1940. The senior bhikkhus involved in this attempt included Balangoda Ananda Maithri, Madihe Pannasiha, Kosgoda Dhammavansa, Bibilegama Abhayatissa, and Talalle Dhammananda  

The unification movement got a boost with the MEP victory of 1956. SWRD Bandaranaike when he became Prime Minister took steps to unite the Amarapura nikaya . He called a meeting of the Chief priests at Vajirarama, Colombo in 1957. This resulted in the creation of Samasta Lanka Amarapura Sangha sabha. Fifteen sub groups were amalgamated in to this Sabha.  

The longed for unification of Amarapura came  at last in 1967  with the  creation of Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha sabha which brought all the Amarapura nikayas  together. Balangoda Ananda Maitriya was its first chairman.

Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha samgha sabha  took strong action to stop any further  partitions. The constitution stated that to be accepted as a new faction, the applicant  should posses at least 20 viharas and 50 Upasampada bhikkhus. This immediately reduced the number of sub nikayas from 30  to 21.

This  organization had a Supreme Mahanayake for life and also a Judicial Conciliatory Council. The  organization was aware of the threats to   Buddhism  in   contemporary Sri Lanka  and the need to maintain a modern profile.  Assistant secretaries were appointed to deal with the subjects of Vinaya Karma, co-ordination among local factions, missionary activities,  census,  education, public relations and   social services.  This  Sangha sabha  has worked well, said Kulatunge(2018). ( Continued)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2023 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress