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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.