Saturday Magazine

Temple that keeps Thai - Sri Lanka ties strong

by Saman Indrajith

Pix by Gayan Amarasekera

The pristine Theravada Buddhism has been the golden string tying the Kingdom of Thailand to Sri Lanka for the past three centuries. The common religious heritage leads to cultural and social bonds between the two nations and has been further bolstered by the relationship that existed between Thai Royal family and the Deepaduttaramaya Temple in Kotahena, which is known today as the 'Thai Temple.'

Deepaduttaramaya is the first Buddhist temple in Colombo with a history of over 300 years. Today Deepaduttaramaya is commonly known as Thai Temple since a member of the Thai royal family had been ordained by Waskaduwe Subhithi Mahanyake Thero and the Thai priest lived at this temple from 1904-1911. Thai royals have visited this temple on several occasions.


The Present Chief Incumbent of Deepaduttaramaya Waskaduwe Mahnidawansa thero
 

Furthermore the Deepaduttaramaya Thai temple gained significance in colonial and post colonial Sri Lankan history as a place of renaissance.

Located in Colombo, the "Thai Temple" has attracted the attention of the Thai Royal family and several of its members have paid visits to the temple.

Chandi Gunatilake, Secretary of the Vihara Development Association, narrating the history of the temple said that Thabrew Ubhaya Kulathunga Wijesiriwardene of Kotahena Ratagiya Walawwa known as Ratagiya Mudiyanse, established a small Buddhist shrine room in his land as Buddhists in Colombo had no other place except the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, which is about eight kilometres away, or the Kotte Raja Maha Vihara. It is said that due to his close friendship with the then Dutch Governor J. V. Engalback, Mudiyanse was able to establish the shrine room in the highest place of Kotahena. On an invitation from Mudiyanse, Seenigama Dhammakkandha Thero became a resident monk in the shrine room and assisted in religious duties the relations of Walawwa and other devotees in Colombo who used to pay visits to this shrine room. Later, the shrine room became a temple open to every body. The successor of the Dhammakkandha Thero, Seenigama Dheerakkandha Thero brought a sapling of the Jayashree Maha Bodhi through a Hindu priest called Mahantha in 1789 and planted it here.


Thai prince Prisdang Chumsai before ordaination.
 

When Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thero came to this place in 1844, it is said, this place had almost destroyed. Gunananda Thero renovated the temple and built the parapet wall around it.

Architecture of the temple indicates that the first structures were done during the Dutch period. The year marked in the oldest building is 1785. The upper building has the Buddha varsha 2416 (AD 1872), Gunatileke pointed out.

The present Chief Incumbent of the temple, Ven. Waskaduwe Mahindawansa said that in 1881 Prince Prisdang Chumsai (Jumsai) of Rama III had visited Deepaduttaramaya and met Migettuwatte Gunanda and Waskaduwe Shree Subhithi, the chief incumbent to discuss religious matters. Then Prince Chumsai was the Siamese Ambassador in England.


Rathan Chetiya built by the Jinawarawansa thero in Deepaduttaramaya, Kotahena.


 

"He had continued correspondence with the Chief Incumbent Subhithi Thero and showed his willingness to be ordained as a Buddhist monk. Fifteen years later, in 1896, relinquishing his duties as prince and ambassador, he returned to Deepaduttaramaya and sought ordination. The Prince was ordained on November 05, 1896 at Waskaduwa as a novice monk by the name of Jinawarawansa but came to be known as Kumara Hamuduruwo (Prince Thero)," Thero said.

It was the first occasion when a Thai prince entered the priesthood in Sri Lanka. The building in which the Thai monk lived is popularaly known as a ‘Maligawa’ (The Palace) among the devotees while locks of hair, shaved from his head when he was ordained, the robes and other parapharita and hand written documents and articles written by the monk are museum pieces at the temple.

His time was mainly spent on learning Thripitiaka and practising meditation. He started ‘Gunanada Vidyalaya’, in memory of Migettuwatte Gunanada Thero, in the temple premises and Rathna Chetiya, which is a unique structure in Sri Lankan soil.


Kumara Hamuduruwao (Prince Monk)
Jinawarawansa thero as seen by an artist

To commemorate the centenary of the Prince Monk, Jinawarawansa’s ordination, the present chief incumbent Ven. Waskaduwe Mahindawansa Thero ordained two princes belonging to the same dynasty as Buddhist monks on the November 1, 1996 under the auspices of Dr. Sumet Jumsai and Mrs. M. L. Anung Nilubol.

Later on the Gunananda Vidyalaya was upgraded as Kumara Vidyalaya.

At this temple, Vesak Poya Day was declared a Holiday. It was at this temple that a Buddhist flag was hoisted for the first time in the Island on April 28, 1885.

The place was considered as the Sri Lankan temple of Thai dynasty. Whenever a Thai Royalist or a diplomat visits Sri Lanka he or she visits the Deepaduttaramaya. "It is a tradition that every ambassador from Thailand to pay a visit to this historic temple and the present ambassador has taken a keen interest in the affairs of the temple and has always been there to assist the temple in numerous ways," the present chief incumbent says.

 
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