Anagarika Dharmapala - a noble son of Sri Lanka
There are a few patriots, whose names live in our memory, even after
their death. Anagarika Dharmapala is one such outstanding National Hero.
Like Mahatma Gandhi of India he too fought in a peaceful manner
against the colonial rulers.
Many Buddhist devotees pay homage to
the Buddhagaya Temple and the Jayasiri Maha Bodhiya.
Anagarika Dharmapala was born on September 17, 1864 at Hittetiya in
Matara to Don Carolis Hewavitharana and Mrs. Mallika Hewavitharana. He
was named David Hewavitharana.
David had his early education at S. Thomas College, Mutwal which was
later shifted to Mount Lavinia, St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena and
Royal College, Colombo 7. He learned the Bible and sang hymns. His
mother, Mallika Hewavitharana, sent him to Vidyodaya Pirivena,
Maligakanda, the great seat of Buddhist learning, where he learned
Sinhala, Pali and Buddhism. This changed his entire lifestyle.
During his childhood and thereafter as a ebullient youth, he came
under the influence of the great bhikkhus such as Hikkaduwe Sri
Sumangala Thera, and the fiery orator Vadibhasingha Migettuwatte
Gunananda Nayaka Thera. He also pursued his studies
under erudite scholar bhikkhus such as Walane Siddhartha Thera, Ven.
Ratmalane Dhammaloka Thera, Ven. Waskaduwe Sri Subhothi Thera and Ven.
Bulathgama Dhammalankara Thera.
The great religious debate, the - Panadura Vadaya between the
Christians and the Buddhists took place during this time.
This debate was reported internationally and after reading it in the
foreign media Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, an American, and Madame
Blavastky, a Russian came to then Ceylon to study Buddhism.
They were mainly instrumental in setting up the Buddhist Theosophical
The arrival of Olcott was a landmark in the history of Buddhist
renaissance in Sri Lanka. There were a few schools in Sinhala areas of
the country at that time. Together with Colonel Olcott, and W.
Ledbeater, a great Buddhist leader, Anagarika Dharmapala set up Buddhist
schools such as Mahinda in Galle, Dharmaraja in Kandy and Ananda,
Nalanda in Colombo.
Later Buddhist education flourished under the patronage of P. de S.
Kularatne, Dr. Gunapala Malalasekere, L. H. Mettananda, Billmoria and S.
A. Wijetilleke. He wanted Sinhala children to be given Sinhala names and
not British names. He changed his own name David to Dharmapala. He
campaigned against cattle slaughter and advocated the abolition of the
liquor trade in the country.
In 1891, when Anagarika Dharmapala was on a pilgrimage to India and
Buddhagaya Mahabodhi, where Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained the Bliss
of Buddhahood, he was shocked to see the Mahabodhi Temple in a
Under the administration of the Saiva priest Mahantha. Dharmapala,
was accompanied by a Japanese bhikkhu, Cojin. They went to India at the
invitation of Henry Steele Olcott. They arrived in Saranath - Isipatana
via Chennai and Buddhagaya on December 7, 1890. They found that a Hindu
priest, Hemanarayana, the Mahantha held sway at Buddhagaya. From then,
he campaigned to save Buddhagaya from Mahantha. He returned to the
island, on March 31, 1890, and set up the Lanka Mahabodhi Society on May
31, 1891, a landmark in the history of Buddhism.
Welcome plaque at
Bodhgaya - Buddhagaya International Airport.
The resident Bhikkhus of Isipathana
Migadaya Sarnath recite the
Dhammachakka Pavaththana Sutta.
The entrance to the Anagarika
Dharmapala Museum constructed by the Mahabodhi Society at
Isipatana in memory of this great religious leader.
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera a much renowned scholar bhikkhu
was the first President of the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka and
Anagarika Dharmapala himself, the Secretary.
Dharmapala visited Buddhagaya with bhikkhus such as Ven. Lunuwila
Chandrajothi Thera, Ven. Galle Sudassana Thera and Ven. Anuradhapura
Pemanande Thera on July 10, 1891.
The Hindu priest, Mahanta, opposed the presence of the bhikkhus who
had been assaulted.
Anagarika Dharmapala pursued legal action against Mahanta.
He was resolute in his struggle to achieve his life-long ambition of
opening the doors not only of the Buddhagaya Temple, but also Saranath,
Kusinara and Lumbini to Buddhists world over.
His battle to take possession of Buddhagaya launched in 1893
concluded in 1935, When the Bihar Parliament passed the “Buddhagaya Act”
which conferred equal rights to the Buddhists in the administration of
the sacred Buddhagaya.
Due to Anagarika Dharmapala’s untiring efforts, eventually the
administration of the great temple became the sole right of the
Buddhists. Dharmapala who was gifted with a powerful voice tought
whenever, he saw injustices being meted to Buddhists. Sinhalaini
Avadiweyan, Buddhagayawa Beraganiw was his famous slogan.
After the great emperor Asoka, it was Anagarika Dharmapala who
propagated Buddhism throughout the world. A great missionary, he made a
magnificent contribution in the literary field having launched an
English, Buddhist journal in 1930, to educate Buddhist the world over.
The main objective of the Mahabodhi Society which he pioneered was to
restore Buddhist control over Buddhagaya, the site of the Buddha’s
footprint. He established a trust in 1930 and launched the Buddhist
journal, Maha Bodhi . He toured Japan and later participated in
Buddhist seminars in the USA, London and Japan.
A man of principles he was also a strict disciplinarian, a
perfectionist and a man of integrity.
In the history of Sri Lanka, Anagarika Dharmapala’s name is written
in letters of gold. Sri Lankan Buddhists are ever indebted to Anagarika
Dharmapala who championed the cause of Buddhism.
It is interesting to note that, Mulagandhikuti Vihara - the Buddhist
temple - a place of worship was constructed by Bodhisatva Anagarika
Dharmapala, a noble son of Sri Lanka, Founder of the Maha Bodhi Society
of India in the Isipatana Deer Park, Saranath at the very site where
Sakyamuni Buddha preached His first sermon.
The construction work on the Vihara commenced in 1904 was sponsored
by Mrs. Mary Foster of Honolulu, USA and it was opened on November 11,
1931. This vihara, the pride of the Buddhist World, enshrined with the
Sacred Relics of the Sakyamuni Buddha, were discovered by the
Archaeological Survey of India during the excavation at Nagarjuna Konda
of the Madras presidency and Taxila of Punjab, presented to the
Mahabodhi Society of India during British rule by the Earl of
Wellington, Viceroy of India representing King George. The
internationally famous wall painting of the vihara was done by the
renowned Japanese artist Josetsu Nosu assigned by the Emperor of Japan
at the request of Shri Devapriya Walisinghe who was the General
Secretary of the Mahabodhi Society of India after Anagarika Dharmapala.
It was opened to the public in 1936.
The exposition of the sacred relics enshrined in this Vihara for the
public is followed by a procession carrying the casket containing the
relic around the city of Saranath annually on the Mulagandhikuti Vihara,
anniversary day which falls on the full moon day in November.
Grateful Buddhists in India, honoured Anagarika Dharmapala.
If not for the great sacrifice, commitment and the efforts on the
part of Anagarika Dharmapala, Buddhist in Sri Lanka or abroad would have
been denied an opportunity of visiting important places of Buddhists
worship in India.
Anagarika Dharmapala, who was ordained Ven. Sri Devamitta Dharmapala
passed away on April 29, 1933 at the age of 63.