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Gunanandahimi-Migettuwaththe:

Cinematic tribute to a great Buddhist activist

The Muhurath ceremony of the film Gunanandahimi-Migettuwaththe was held recently at the Dipaduththamaramaya Raja Maha Vihara at Kotahena. The film is based on the biography of Ven. Migettuwaththe Gunananda Thera.


Director Sisil Gunasekera

Sisil Gunasekera, the director of the movie said, "I have taken a bold step to direct the movie that has a historical value". The Minister for Buddhasasana, Public Administration and Good Governance. Karu Jayasuriya was the chief guest on the occasion. He said, "Producing a film like this is a great service to the country. There is great value and importance in this film than earning money."

Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera or Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thera was born on February 9, 1823 in Balapitiya. He was a great orator. He is known for leading the Buddhist side in debates that took place between the Buddhists and the Christians in Baddegama, Udanwita, Waragoda, Liyanagemulla, Gampola and in Panadura. As a result of the debates Buddhism in Sri Lanka saw a revival. After reading a pamphlet on the debates published in the United States, Henry Steel Olcott arrived in Sri Lanka in 1880.

Ordination

Before his ordination, he was taught first by his parents. He exhibited oratorical skills from a young age. He had close contact with a Roman Catholic priest who resided in a nearby church. He gained the knowledge of the Bible and Christian doctrine.

He wanted to become a Christian priest but changed his mind after coming into contact with Bhikkhus of the nearby temples. He was ordained while in his twenties in Dodanduwa Gala Uda Vihara by Ven. Thelikada Sonutthara Thera, the chief incumbent of the temple. His first sermon was given in the night he was ordained.

The people who gathered in the temple exclaimed that the young Thera would cause Buddhism to prosper in the country and pledged their support of his religious work. Subsequently, he gained proficiency in Buddhism and oriental languages.

One day while he was reading a magazine Bauddha Sahodaraya (Sinhalese Buddhist Brotherhood) he learned that Buddhists in Colombo were subject to religious discrimination by the Christians. Disturbed by the news Gunanada Thera decided to move to Colombo, and reside in Deepaduttaaramaya in Kotahena, the first Buddhist temple in Colombo with a history of 300 years. From there the Thera began his speeches defending Buddhism against the arguments of the Christian missionaries.

Impact

The impact of the debate was phenomenal, both locally and internationally. Locally it was the principal factor behind reviving the identity and pride of Sinhala Buddhists. Internationally, it was instrumental in raising awareness of Buddhism in the West.

The editor of Ceylon Times, John Cooper, arranged for Edward Perera to write a summary of the debate. Thousands of copies were published. This translation was also published as a book, Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face by J.M. Peebles in United States with an introduction in 1878.


A cross section of the participants

After reading a copy of the book Henry Steel Olcott, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society came to Sri Lanka on May 17, 1880. With the arrival of Col Olcott the activities of the revival movement accelerated.

Olcott had described Gunananda Thera as "the most brilliant polemic orator of the Island, the terror of the missionaries, with a very intellectual head, most brilliant and powerful champion of the Sinhala Buddhism."

Ven.Gunananda Thera continued has work to revive Buddhism in the country and published many Buddhist periodicals which included Riviresa, Lakmini Kirana and Sathya Margaya. The thera also served in the committee that designed the Buddhist flag in 1885. Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera passed away in September, 1890 at the age of 67.

Minister for Mass Media and Information, Gayantha Karunathilaka in his message said, "At a time when Buddhist values were on the decline under the imperialist yoke, Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera through his talent debunked the false beliefs propagated against Buddhism. His indomitable voice helped revive Buddhist renaissance."

He said, "Sisil Gunasekera's efforts at making a film based on the life of Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera will provide the opportunity for both the Bhikkhu fraternity and the laity to understand the correct image of a renowned personage. I wish him all the best."The film is directed by Sisil Gunasekara and produced by him and Kamal Karunanayake. The cast includes Roger Senevirathna, Suranga Ranavaka, Priyankara Rathnayake, Lucky Dias, Wimalindra Kumari, Wasanthi Chathurani and Buddadhasa Vithanaarachchi.

The line producer is Suranga Ranavaka, the cameramen is Kapila Sugath, the art director is Upatissa Akurambada, the make-up is by Harsha Manjula, the music director is Nilantha, the production manager is Gayan Deshapriya and the assistant director is Lasanka Madushan.The costumes for the movie done by Mahinda Bandara Dissanayake and the lyricists are Nilar M.Cassim and Harshana Dissanayake. The vocalists are Sunil Edirisinghe and Harshana Dissanayake.

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