A.T. Ariyaratne and the Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya (BJB)
Posted on April 20th, 2024

Senaka Weeraratna

I got disillusioned with politics. An idea was born in my mind that a social revolution minus political colouring should be staged. The Sarvodaya Shramadana movement was the outcome of this thinking”

A.T. Ariyaratne

The passing of A.T. Ariyaratne at the age of 92 years on April 16, 2024, removes from the national scene a colossus that straddled many spheres of local life and singularly gained international recognition for himself and his country to an unimaginable extent. Though small and diminutive in physical size he reached dizzy heights that should inspire the current and future generations to emulate him. A.T. Ariyaratne was an innovative thinker who consistently punched above his weight.  

Much has been written of him and much will be written of him in the future. Therefore, I will confine myself in this short essay to the lesser publicized aspects of his charismatic life.  

On a personal note, I became aware of him when I was in primary school when my cousins at Nalanda and Ananda College started to talk of him in the late 1950s. Ariyaratne was a teacher at Nalanda College and he organized a strike at School in protest against a palpable injustice, the news of which spread rapidly among school teachers and their students. In that era school strikes were unheard of.

My first encounter with A.T. Ariyaratne was in 1961.  I was then 13 years of age. The German Dharmaduta Society founded by Asoka Weeraratna (my uncle), decided to construct in one day a Boundary Wall around the perimeter of the land at its premises at No. 417, Bauddhaloka Mawatha (formerly Bullers Road). The Society called for volunteers as it intended to carry out this project on a purely pro bono basis. Ariyaratne and his students (members of the fledgling Sarvodaya Shramadana movement at Nalanda Vidyalaya) responded magnificently. There were others too including children of the Office Bearers of the GDS who participated in this erstwhile project by carrying bricks to assist the masons.

Ariyaratne, then a young Buddhist schoolteacher, began adapting Gandhian concepts and strategies of rural awakening (Sarvodaya) to Sinhalese Culture. It started small in the late 1950s at Nalanda Vidyalaya under this visionary teacher and developed in the 1960s into a widespread national movement with a philosophical underpinning. A Sinhalese Gandhi was in the making.  

However, there was another major involvement of Ariyaratne in a national Buddhist movement that is lesser known. The media hardly refer to it today.  That was the formation of the Bauddha Jathika Balavegaya (BJB) that came into being following the abortive ‘Catholic Army Officers’ coup in January 1962.  Had it succeeded Sri Lanka could have plunged into becoming another South Vietnam under minority control (President Ngo Dinh Diem) backed by the USA.  It was to prevent such a catastrophe in Sri Lanka that the Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya (BJB) was formed in November 1962. The inaugural meeting was held at the premises of the All-Ceylon Women’s Buddhist Conference (ACWBC) on the invitation of L.H. Mettananda to a select 100 persons. The topic ‘A discussion about the future of the Sinhala Buddhist Society’

In his autobiographical ‘Bhava Thanha ’ A.T. Ariyaratne gives a good description of the origins and birth of the Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya.

Bhava Thanha: An Autobiography Volume One

A. T. Ariyaratne

ISBN 10: 9555992371 / ISBN 13: 9789555992374

Published by Vishva Lekha, 2001

Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya (BJB)

The first Office Bearers of the BJB were:

L. H. Mettananda (President), Nissanka Wijeyaratne (Vice – President), Gunaseela Vithanage (Secretary), Ronnie de Mel (Treasurer).

A.T. Ariyaratne was a founder member of the BJB and served as a Committee Member. Gunaseela Vithanage was a highly learned and dedicated intellectual who did much of the paperwork of the BJB.

Ariyaratne speaks of L.H. Mettananda as follows:

Mr. L.H. Mettananda stands out among the Buddhist mentors that he was associated with. Mettananda was an exemplary character – humble, courageous, principled, living a simple lifestyle, and never bearing rancour. He spurned high posts offered to him by the State – even Ministerial and Ambassador posts.   Economically he was under pressure but would never give up principles for personal gain. He was almost my guru. Born on March 19, 1894, he passed away on November 01, 1967. We participated fully at the last rites of this great man”.

Pages 290 – 316 extracted from his autobiography ‘ Bhava Thanha’ and reproduced as an attachment (and pdf document in the web link below) are of historical value as they contain vital information on a National Buddhist movement i.e., BJB, which played a pivotal role in the affairs of the nation from 1962 – 1965. Social historians should take note of this description.

I though young of age (14 years) witnessed much of these events in the company of my father Dharmasena Weeraratna, whom A.T. Ariyaratne describes on page 298 as follows:

” Mr. Dharmasena Weeraratna, a businessman, was another untiring warrior in our movement” i.e., Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya. 

Dharmasena Weeraratna served as a Committee Member and Press Officer of the BJB. I remember occasionally visiting Ariyaratne at his home (‘under the Breadfruit Tree’) in a lane off the main road at Maradana to deliver BJB-related material given by my father. Our family shop ‘P. J. Weeraratna & Sons, was situated at 2nd Division, Maradana, Colombo 10 not far from where Ariyaratne then resided.

The official headquarters of the BJB was located at Galle Road, Kollupitiya, and declared open on June 04, 1963. However, it was our family residence that served more or less as an unofficial headquarters of the BJB in the 1962 – 1965 period.  The likes of L.H. Mettananda, T.U. de Silva, Gunaseela Vithanage, Nissanka Wijeyaratne,, Premachandra de Silva, A.N.S. Kulasinghe, W.J. Fernando, Ramsay Wettimuny (CTB Engineer and father of Sunil, Mithra, Sidath, Ranjan), Professor K.N. Jayatilleka, A.T. Ariyaratne, Wijayananda de Abrew, K.H.M. Sumathipala among others, were some of the visitors to our house including leading monks who congregated at our house before leaving in a convoy of vehicles for the public meetings they addressed.  My father’s vehicles among other vehicles given by others such as W.J. Fernando (Benz), and A.N. S. Kulasinghe (Benz) were deployed to help transport the speakers to the BJB meetings which were held in various parts of the country such as Polonnaruwa, Medawachchiya, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Kandy, Ratnapura, Kalutara, Galle, Beruwala, Matara, Nugegoda, and Kirulapone among others. I have attended some of these meetings.

The highly reputed monks who addressed these meetings were Ven. Kalukondayawe Pannasekera Nayake Thero, Prof. Ven. Bambarande Siri Sivali Thero, Dr Kotagama Vachissara Thero, Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Nayake Thero, Ven. Baddegama Wimalawansa Nayake Thero, Ven. Talpavila Seelavansa and Ven. Devamottawe Amarawansa Thero, among others.  The latter monk Ven. Devamottawe Amarawansa Thero was one of the finest orators at that time. He was kept as the last speaker at a meeting to retain the crowd and keep them enthralled.

People by the thousands flocked to our meetings ……..They used to come in processions. It was a Buddhist Resurgence at a Sizzling Peak” says Dr. Ariyaratne (page 299).

He further says that Mettananda used to delegate him (Ariyaratne) to speak first at these meetings because he always placed stress on Ahimsa (non–violence) a cardinal tenet of Buddhism.  The crowning public meeting of the BJB was held in front of the Ananda College building but within the school premises. Thousands of people attended this meeting in November 1963 and the demonstration with placards and colourful banners took two hours to pass a point. It was at the height of the Buddhist Protest in South Vietnam against the Catholic dictatorship of President Ngo Dien Diem. Mettananda was at the height of his popularity as a Buddhist leader. The Buddhist public of Ceylon showed utmost solidarity with the victimized Buddhists of South Vietnam.

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike who was the then Prime Minister alerted the United Nations via our delegate Mr. R.S.S. Gunawardena to the persecution of Buddhists in Vietnam. However, it was the worldwide publication of the photograph of self-immolation of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc (1897–1963) on June 11, 1963, that brought international attention to the suppression of Buddhists in Vietnam. President Kennedy called for the exploration of a regime change.   On November 02, 1963, President Ngo Dien Diem was overthrown by a coup d’etat of the Vietnamese army.

The special feature of the BJB meeting at Ananda College was the presence of leading Hindu nationalist leaders like Sir Kandiah Vaidyanathan, who joined hands with Mettananda in protesting against religious conversions by unethical means.


The Press Commission (1963 – 1964)

Ariyaratne says as follows:

Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government established a Press Commission. We utilized this Commission to highlight anti–Buddhist activities and focus attention on immoral acts treacherous to the nation. The Supreme Court Justice K.D. de Silva headed this Commission”.  (page 298)

 The Press Commission in its Report (1964) said as follows

 The Press is an instrument which is primarily meant to serve the real interests of a country. It can also be misused. If we were not satisfied that the newspapers of the Lake House and the Times groups were guilty of anti-national and anti–Buddhist conduct on a large scale, we would not have recommended a drastic change in the ownership of the newspapers belonging to these groups. From the evidence placed before us, we are satisfied that the existing newspapers did not hesitate to fabricate, suppress, slant, or distort news and views whenever it suited them. They have been further guilty of anti-national and anti–Buddhist activities, which are more serious than the earlier-mentioned lapses on their part. Indeed, the most vehement critics of the present activities of the Press were the Buddhists and some of their organizations, and we are satisfied that their grievances are genuine and should be removed.

Buddhist leaders have been falsely accused of being intolerant. Their hopes and ambitions receive scant consideration, and their rightful place due to their religion has been denied by the newspapers. This has been deliberately done to help the minorities, in particular, the Christian minorities, to perpetuate the unjust privileges acquired by them during the last four centuries at the expense of the Buddhist Majority.

Paragraph 212, Page 90 Final Report of the Press Commission (1964)

The following web link was found in a highly resourceful website dedicated to L.H. Mettananda.


The BJB made a major contribution to public debate by taking an important and brave stand on Catholic Action. Its publication ‘Catholic Action: A Menace to Peace and Goodwill– A Reply to the Catholic Union of Ceylon’ was published by the Bauddha Jathika Balavegaya in March 1963.


The other major publication of the BJB (September 1963) was the work of A.T. Ariyaratne himself entitled

 Ariyaratne, A.T. (1963) Whence? Wherefore? WhitherBauddha Jatika Balavegaya

Buddhist Social Order

He calls for establishing a Buddhist Social Order in a wide-ranging discussion about the challenges faced by Buddhism both within and from outside. The content of the Booklet has been reproduced in the ‘Bhava Thanha’ autobiography under the Chapter title ‘ A Path to Buddhist Resurgence’ (pp 302 – 316).

Photo – Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya – Opening of the Headquarters, Galle Road, Kollupitiya, Colombo 03

Date: 4th June, 1963

Picture Seated (left to right)

Ven. Baddegama Wimalawansa Nayake Thero and Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Nayake Thero.

Standing (left to right)

Mr. Wijayananda de Abrew (first from left), Mr. Ronnie de Mel (Treasurer,BJB( 4th from left),  L.H. Mettananda (President, BJB)(fifth from left), Nissanka Wijayaratne (Vice – President, BJB) (sixth from left) and Gunaseela Vithanage (Hony. Secretary, BJB) (bespectacled dark complexioned – eighth from left)


Senaka Weeraratna

April 19, 2024

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