Posted on June 24th, 2024


It is absurd to argue that Sri Lanka has to wait for three hundred years to receive Buddhism.  Buddhism would have come into Sri Lanka in the time of the Buddha (6 BC). There was close contact between the Ganges area (Gangetic plain) and Sri Lanka during this time.  Buddhism was officially installed as the state religion later on, in the 3rd century BC.  From 3 BC onward, up to the present day, Sri Lanka was able to show a continuous Buddhist civilization.

Sri Lanka’s Buddhist civilization was recognized in Asia as something special. In the ancient and medieval periods India, China, Burma, Thailand sent emissaries to   Sri Lanka to learn more about Buddhism. In the modern period Buddhism went to the west from Sri Lanka.

Buddhism   is a living religious tradition in Sri Lanka today.  Buddhists flock to temples for Wesak, Poson and other poya days. Poson Zones across the country were full of devotees on Poson Full Moon day in 2023, reported the media.

In 2023 Hundreds of thousands of people came to worship Buddhist shrines across the country including Anuradhapura and ‘Dharma Rashmi’ Homagama-Pitipana Poson region on Poson full moon day. Buddhist devotees came in thousands to visit the Temple of Tooth, Kelaniya, Kataragama, Mahiyanganaya, Kalutara, Kande Viharaya, Muthianganaya, Polonnaruwa, Bellanwila, Seruvavila, Dimbulagala Buddhist shrines.

 Temples in Moneragala district Buddharuvagala, Okkampitiya, Dematamal Viharaya, Maligavila, Yudaganawa, Bibile, Piyangala Rajamaha Vihara, Moneragala Bukkiriyagolla, Buddama Rajamaha Viharaya were also crowded with devotees.  There were dansalas near the main roads.  All age groups participate in these ceremonies.  The crowds are a mix of young and old.

The Poson crowds seem to have increased in 2024. Poson festival at Anuradhapura included Anuradhapura, Mihintale and Tantrimalai. Anuradhapura was bursting with worshippers. There were more than one million. This is the highest number of people who have come to Anuradhapura during Poson in recent times said officials.

Dalada Maligawa, Hantane Sandagiri, Kelaniya, and Gangaramaya too had many worshippers in 2024.  The Homagama Dharma rashmi Poson zone was conducted this year too. For the first time, a Bhakthi Gee Recital was held from a specially prepared train carriage operated from Homagama to Malapalla and Padukka Railway Stations.

But Buddhism is not confined only to temple- going”, there is also an abiding interest in the Buddhist philosophy and the benefits of   meditation. The audience at Poya  bana preaching shown on You Tube   consists of mature  adults and their children, not senior citizens, which means that the tradition will continue for another  two  generations at least.

Buddhism is recognized in the Constitution of Sri Lanka .It is mentioned in both 1972 and 1978 Constitutions.   Clause 6 of the 1972 constitution stated The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism , while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(l)(e)”.  

Clause 9   of the  1978 constitute stated  The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(l)(e).”

The 1978 Constitution has retained the 1972 clause word for word but substituted the word Buddha Sasana’ for Buddhism”. This is a very significant change. It has widened the scope of the clause immensely.  Clause 9  now means the  total  social  institution of Buddhism not the  religious philosophy alone, said Sunil Bastian.  This clause must be respected and retained in future constitutions.  

In 1994, Supreme Court  gave a detailed   interpretation of the term Buddha Sasana. This interpretation makes the clause on Buddhism even more relevant and important.  The Supreme Court (in SC Determination 1/94 (1994) held; The expression ‘Buddha Sasana’ is wider than ‘Buddhism’ and includes the entire establishment together with objects and places of religious practices and worship of Buddhists”. Hence the term Buddha Sasana could be further extended to include Maha Sangha, archaeological sites, villages, lands and properties owned by  Buddhist temples. Buddha Sasana includes both tangible and intangible feature,” 

The notion of a Civilization State” is now gaining support. Civilization state” means a state that has a unique  civilization , historical continuity and cultural unity, a Jathika Chintanaya. The first state to be accepted as a civlizational state is China. China is   planning to lead an International Civilisational Dialogue soon.

The Buddhist  civilization in  Sri Lanka is  also special. Sri Lanka preserved the Theravada doctrine vocally,   then put it in writing, and supplied commentaries.   Sri Lanka influenced Buddhism in several Asian countries, including Tibet. After some 2000 years which included 450 years of Christian rule, 70% of the population is still Buddhist.  There are 1284 Buddhist temples registered with the Department of   Buddhist Affairs. There is an active Sangha whose ordination is traceable to Arahant Mahinda and a growing Bhikkuni Sasana.

 The local temple has always played an important role in the village. The head priest has much influence in the village even today.  The temple has been a source of solace and refuge in addition to its function as a place of worship. This is well depicted in teledramas. During natural disasters or periods of social unrest, the temple becomes a shelter for those who need it, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion. During the 2004 tsunami the  Sangha were the first on the  scene after the tsunami  ended.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka is not ‘heritage’. Heritage means something that is handed down from the past.  Buddhism    is part of the contemporary, living culture of Sri Lanka . Sri Lanka has many ancient sites with a long record of historical continuity.  Most of the monuments of    Sri Lanka belong to a living religious tradition, said Gamini Wijesuriya.

Kurundi is part of this vibrant civilization. It is the latest discovery in a continuous process of conserving our ancient Buddhist monuments.   Kurundi is the largest Buddhist shrine in the Northern Province and it is in a strategic location in Mullaitivu. Kurundi vihara is about 20 kilometres from the sea coast. It was part of the Mahayana belt in the east coast.

We must insist that Kurundi be given the recognition it deserves. An extensive Kurundi reserve must be created, covering the 400 acres of ruins with an additional buffer zone.  The law provides for a buffer zone to the site. We should be proud of Buddhism and proud of Kurundi.

 It is outrageous that we should have to fight for the Buddhist monuments in the north and east and be asked to make out a case for Buddhism in the north and east, as though it is something new and alien.

The north and east, including Mullaitivu and Vavuniya, were part of Sri Lanka‘s Buddhist civilization. North and east were a part of the Rajarata in the ancient period. Inscriptions show that Abhayagiri Nikaya had monasteries at Kantarodai in Jaffna, Nedunkerni and Ottimalai in Vanni.[1]     

The north and east were part of the Sinhala kingdom in the ancient period. The major part of the north and east continued under the Sinhala king in the medieval period. The  north and east were a recognized as part of the Udarata Kingdom in the last phase of Sinhala rule. Trincomalee and Batticaloa ports were under the Sinhala king in Udarata time. The British and Danish envoys arrived at these two ports.

After independence, the public were reminded that Mannar and Vavuniya was once Sinhala. Ceylon Observer 14th October 1949 said There is ample evidence carved in stone all over the Mannar and Mullaitivu districts that the Sinhalese had occupied these districts”.

Later surveys confirmed this. A map drawn up by the Dept of Archaeology in 1980 showed 109 sites in Vanni, mostly in Mullaitivu and Vavuniya. In 2010the Department of Archaeology initiated a survey of the Buddhist sites in the north. They found 175 sites in Mullaitivu and 80 in Vavuniya.

The north and east became Tamil during British rule. The British allowed the Sinhala villages in the east to die out by depriving them of water. The British     refused to renovate the small village tanks, despite the pleas of the British Government Agent who said these villagers are dying due to lack of water. All they need is a little help to renovate their tanks.

This deliberate action of the British rulers can be described as Genocide. The Genocide Convention (1948) says genocide may take place not only in war, but in a peaceful situation. Deliberately inflicting on a group conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction is considered genocide, Genocide Convention said, but there must be a proven intent to physically destroy a group.

As the Sinhala villages in the east died out, due to genocide, so did Buddhism. After the Sinhala villages died out the British administration brought in Tamil settlers from Tamilnadu.  They were Hindu, but converted to Christianity after settling here. This means that the Ceylon Tamil” is simply a 19th century settler brought in by an alien administration.

Therefore the argument that there are no Sinhalese and Buddhist in north and east today and   it must stay that way cannot be accepted. The creation of an exclusive Hindu north and east cannot be accepted either. Buddhism was erased from north and east  through   Genocide.  The return of Buddhism to the north and east is legitimate.

Further, the Northern Province and Eastern Province are artificial provinces created by the British .They have no historical validity whatsoever. But the eastern coast which faces the Bay of Bengal all along its way is very important for the Indian Ocean politics of world powers like USA.

The north and east are also important for Sri Lanka‘s economy. Much of the future economic zone of the Indian Ocean which will belong to Sri Lanka is in the Northern and eastern sea coast.

A strong Buddhist lobby should now be set up for the return of Buddhism to north and east. That lobby should also ensure the protection of Buddhist ruins in north and east. I suggest that the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress take up the matter. (  CONTINUED)

[1] TG Kulatunge Buddhist Nikayas in Sri Lanka .( author pub) p 16

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