Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, a tribute
on his 145th death anniversary

One of the greatest laymen who served the cause of Buddhism is Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, after the great kings of ancient Sri Lanka, like Dutugemunu, Valagamba and the great Indian king of medieval India, Dharmasoka. Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala was born on Sept. 17, 1864 and even after 145 years since his demise, the service rendered by him to the cause of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and in foreign countries, is still remembered with great appreciation.

Dr. Ambedkar, who is considered a person who started a mass conversion of Indian untouchables to Buddhism in Oct. 1956, though considered as the first mass conversion to Buddhism, there was a mass conversion of untouchables 58 years earlier.

Col. Olcott along with the Anagarika, brought a large number of S. Indians to Sri Lanka to Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena and got them converted to Buddhism. This is considered a very remarkable contribution for the propagation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

It is our duty to remember with gratitude our national heroes, who, in no small measure, contributed to our independence. One such great person who is recognized as a colossus who spread Buddhism, is king Dharmasoka of India. Locally revered as the person who spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the world over, is the Anagarika.

Anagarika's parents were Don Carolis Hewawitharana and Mallika Hewawitharana from Matara. At six years of age, he entered St. Benedict's Vidyalaya, and subsequently S. Thomas' and then Royal Collage. At these schools, he studied the Bible and was first in his examinations. The writer met the then mayor of Colombo in 1988 and persuaded him to change the name of Turret road in Kollupitiya to Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha. Anagarika Dharmapala was able to persuade a number of people to discard their Portuguese, Dutch and English names. He changed his own name to Dharmapala. Others following suite were George Peiris, who became Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekara, and many others who took Aryan names.

He diverted all his attention to create a national consciousness and a national identity. He fought to dethrone alien ways and habits and enthrone the national and indigenous culture. He launched a national reawakening movement which quickly spread throughout the country.

He established the Lanka Mahabodhi Society in 1891 and set up the Mahabodhi Society of India. The following year he launched The Oahabodhi, a monthly journal which he edited, being writer, proof reader, publisher, sub editor and distributor all rolled into one.

The downfall of Sri Lanka's culture, customs and practices, together with Buddhism was the result of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule. During the Dutch period, the village school was made the center of Christianity. Baptism was administered and marriage solemnized in the village school. Fines were imposed on parents if their children did not attend school. The British destroyed our tanks in Wellassa and the Uva Province, and uprooted villagers from their traditional homelands, forcing them to work on coffee plantations. The British opened up taverns in every village and distributed liquor free to induce our people to develop a taste for it. This transformed our sober and thrifty people into criminal masters, to whom Anagarika spoke very harshly to change them.

Anagarika practised what he preached, for he was a teetotaler and refrained from eating meat. He denounced drunkenness and encouraged vegetarianism. He was not against other religions or even foreigners, for, he encouraged the study of all languages. He himself was proficient in Sinhalese, English, Pali and some foreign languages and also encouraged comparative study of other religions.

Incessantly, he ruthlessly attacked unnecessary Western habits and culture. He had no fixed abode and hence was called "Anagarika". He sent our people to foreign countries to learn skills and they came back and set up cottage industries, ceramics, and toy and match industries.

Anagarika first visited India in the latter part of 1884 to particicipate in the All India Parama Vidhya Society in Madras, accompanying Mrs. Blatvasky, and returned in 1885.

Anagarika then began his service to the cause of Buddhism. He was the first person to carry our propaganda work on Buddhism to Japan. His mentor was Sri Sumangala Thero, who Anagarika's father consulted to secure permission for his eldest son to become an Anagarika.

We in Sri Lanka and the Buddhists the world over owe him much and remember him with deep gratitude.

May Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala be born in Sri Lanka again and again to serve the cause of Buddhism.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.

V. K. B. Ramanayake

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