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Sunday, 3 October 2010





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Government Gazette

Rankoth Vihara - The hallowed Buddhist Shrine of Panadura

The total subjugation of Sri Lanka deprived the country of its independence. However, it gave the people the will and strength to fight the colonial rulers. The colonial rulers tried to drive a wedge between the people and the Buddhist clergy, for they realised that the alienation of the masses from the temple and the influence of bhikkhus is necessary to weaken any protest against them. Yet, the bhikkhus did not shirk the responsibility that had traditionally devolved on them.

The Rankoth Vihara

The bhikkhus gave leadership to the people and rekindled patriotism and religiosity. Many bhikkhus and monastic institutions played a key role in the national and religious awakening, the Rankoth Vihara in Panadura played a vital role in this endeavour.

Founding of Rankoth Vihara

Rankoth Vihara blossomed into what it is now from small beginnings. It was founded in 1810 by Ven. Batapola Kalyanatissa Thera, the chief disciple of the Most Venerable Sri Kataluwe Gunaratana Mahanayaka Thera, the founder of the Amarapura sect. The vihara was set up in a small hut in a quarry at Panadura. Hence it was known as the Galwale Pansala meaning 'the temple in the quarry', it was later called as Galkande Vihara.

In 1890 when the pinnacle of its Stupa was gilded it came to be known as Rankoth Vihara.

According to tradition the spot where the Vihara is built is a place of sanctity. There was a waterlogged place in the quarry which was inhabited by a large number of frogs. Cobras came to the spot to feed on frogs. One day the frogs attacked a cobra till it retreated. The carters who witnessed this miraculous happening, considered the spot suitable to construct a temple.

When Ven. Batapola Kalyanatissa Thera decided to settle down at this spot people applauded his courage to set up a temple. This was the time when there was a new rich class of Buddhists who were engaged in business, trade and other enterprises. With the generous support of the Buddhist entrepreneurs, the new temple was developed.

Subsequent developments

In 1821, a two-storied Sanghavasa was constructed; it was in 1863 that the Stupa was built on a huge rock, with the Bodhi tree just below it. The Buddhist devotees were so interested in developing the vihara complex that they lined up from the Panadura beach up to the temple and passed baskets of sand from hand to hand they had dug from the beach, so that the construction could be expedited.

It was in 1865 that the Buddha relics were enshrined in the dome of the Stupa. By 1894, a new shrine room was added to the temple complex. In 1930 the work of the "preaching hall" was completed. The new rampart around the Bodhi tree was completed in 1981. In 1987 the International Library was built to mark the academic contribution by Ven. Prof. Sri Moratuwe Sasanaratana Anunayaka Thera.

Most of the rapid development took place when Ven. Walpita Gunaratanatissa Thera headed this monastery, and the development work continues even at present.

Modern Buddhist revival

The Panadura Rankoth Vihara occupies an important place in the modern movement for Buddhist revival. Five great religious debates were held between the Buddhists and Christians in the 18th century. The fifth was held at a spot in close proximity to the Rankoth Vihara on August 26 and 28 1873 coincidentally its prime mover was Ven. Walpita Gunaratanatissa Nayaka Thera.

The chief spokesman for the Buddhists was the indefatigable debater, Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda Nayaka Thera.

The Christians were represented by Rev. David de Silva, and a catechist called Rev. Sirimanne. As a result of this debate the famed American, Sir Henry Steele Olcott visited Sri Lanka and guided the surging revivalist movement of Buddhists pioneered by the bhikkhus and the educated laity of Sri Lanka. This event itself has been significant enough to carve a special niche for the Panadura Rankoth Vihara in the annals of the modern Buddhist revivalist movement in Sri Lanka.

The Panadura Rankoth Vihara is remembered for securing the right of registering of Buddhist marriages by registrars of marriages which put an end to the colonial practice which made it mandatory that all marriages should be registered in the churches. Ven. Walpita Gunaratanatissa Nayaka Thera gave inspiration and leadership to the laity and collected signatures of the people and petitioned the British Government opposing the discriminatory law that was imposed on the Buddhist by the British authorities.

Sir Edwin Arnold, the author of "Light of Asia" visited the Rankoth Vihara and recorded that Henry Steele Olcott visited the temple and delivered a lecture.

Illustrious lineage

Rankoth Vihara has been fortunate to have the following eminent bhikkhus at its helm. Ven. Batapola Kalyanatissa Mahanayaka Thera (1810 - 1841), Ven. Walpita Sirisumanatissa Nayaka Thera (1841 - 1857), Ven. Walpita Gunaratanatissa Mahanayaka Thera (1857 - 1920), Ven. Panadure Gnanawimalatissa Nayaka Thera (1920 - 1929), Ven. Karagampitiye Jothiratana Anunayaka Thera (1929 - 1958), Ven. Prof. Moratuwe Sasanaratana Anunayaka Thera (1958 - 1981), Ven. Prof. Kahapola Sugatharatana Nayaka Thera (1981 - .....).

These prelates are illustrious members of the Sangha and some of them have been either the Mahanayakas or Anunayakas of the sect. The last mentioned two prelates have shown exceptional erudition as evidenced from the fact that both of them have attained professorial positions in the University of Kelaniya (formerly Vidyalankara University).

Ven. Prof. Moratuwe Sasanaratana is held in very high esteem as one of the eminent Buddhist scholars of modern times.

Monastic education

Rankoth Vihara has done yeoman service not only to the Buddhist revival activities but also to monastic education. The history of its Pirivena, Sri Sugatha Vidyalaya dates back to 1896. Its first principal was Ven. Weligama Sri Sumanagala Mahanayaka Thera. He was succeeded by Ven. Panadure Gnanawimalatissa Nayaka Thera. Some of the Mahanayakas of the Sect were students of this Pirivena.

Among its illustrious students are Aggamaha Pandita Beruwela Siriniwasa Mahanayaka Thera, Ven. Rajakeeya Pandit Kahanda Modara Sri Piyaratana Mahanayaka Thera, Ven Rajakeeya Pandit Ambalangoda Dhamma Kusala Mahanayaka Thera and Ven. Prof. Moratuwe Sasanaratana Thera. The fame of this Pirivena was such that in the early days the Most Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Mahanayaka Thera himself had conducted religious examinations at this centre of education.

Laity's contribution

The Buddhist laity of Panadura contributed immensely to the development and sustenance of this Vihara. While the public contributed their mite, the affluent and the educated generously shouldered its developmental projects. Thus, it could be rightly said that the Panadura Rankoth Vihara amongst its many facets serves also as a symbol of the religiosity and devotion of the Panadura Buddhist population.


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