Brahmachchari Walisinghe Harischandra
saved sacred city of Anuradhapura

Edward De Silva, turned Brahmachchari Walisinghe Harischandra, was born on July 09, 1876, at Mahahunupitiya, (a suburban village of Negombo), to the family of Walisinghe Hendrick de Silva and Pehandi Marthnanda de Silva Gunasekera. He had been a law student at the age of 22 years.

His 96th death anniversary fell on Sep.13

After the end of the one, before the last century there emerged a number of National Heroes of whom one was Brahmachchari Walisinghe Harischandra. They had a common goal which was to regain freedom from foreign domination for the purpose of gaining political freedom.

Young Harischandra had his elementary education at the Hunupitiya Junior School under the guidance of the late Ven. Dharmaratnetissa Nayake Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Maha Hunupitiya Sugatharama Temple, and studied English at St. Mary’s College, Negombo. His parents wanted to make him a lawyer, and so he was admitted to Wesley College, Colombo. Later he was admitted to the Law College.

As an itinerant preacher, he travelled the country to the other, speaking on topics such as ‘Downfall of the Sinhala Buddhists,’ and ‘Temperance and sacred sites and shrines of the ancient city of Anuradhapura and Mihintale.’ At his age of 23 the Buddhist shrines of Anuradhapura had no land attached to them. All that land was claimed by the government.

The Government allowed dingy boutiques to spring up in the very front of the Sacred Bodhi Tree. They built shabby markets, allowed taverns and liquor shops, butcher stalls and all the paraphernalia of an unplanned little shanty town.

One great contribution by him was to make Anuradhapura a sacred city. His heart sank when he saw how Anuradhapura looked like in those days. Anuradhapura - the cradle of Buddhist culture, a city hallowed by visits from Mahinda Thero and Sangamitta Theri. His mind might have gone centuries back to the glorious times of King Devanampiyatissa and King Dutugemunu. What an ignominious contrast:

Catholic-dominated colonial masters showed no respect to Buddhist shrines and monuments of archeological interest.

The Kingdom of Anuradhapura came to be abandoned in 1017 with her capture by the Cholas. However, King Vijaya Bahu 1, by a supreme effort, expelled the invaders and restored freedom in 1070. After his consecration the King shifted to Polonnaruwa.

The greatness of the Anuradhapura era, the days of her achievements and glory were extinguished for ever, Until the British rulers virtually rediscovered her in the early decades of the 19th century, she lay abandoned and forgotten in the deep slumber, as it were, buried under a cover of impenetrable jungle.

The sacred places of worship, particularly the sacred Bo-tree were entirely neglected by the Buddhists. Even in those forgotten days, in the months of Wesak and Poson, particularly, in the month of Poson, at least a handful of devotees from the neighbouring villages continued to visit it, even in the darkest times, when the place was the untrammelled haunt of wild elephants and other denizens of the wild. A few devoted Bhikkhus always lived close to the sacred Bo-tree, eking out a precarious existence, attending to the daily rituals of worship without a break.

However, with the dawn of the 20th century, the Sinhala Buddhists began opening their eyes to the great heritage of religious and cultural remains lying buried under the forests of Anuradhapura. At this juncture, a Buddhist monk, who had come from the deep South - Naranvita Unnase - had taken upon himself, single handed, the impossible task of restoration of the Ruwanveliseya which at the time was no more than a mis-shapen mound of bricks, overgrown with trees; there was another monk named Singharakhita who had taken up the rehabilitation of Isurumuniya; then there was the case of a Siamese Buddhist Prince who thought he should restore the Mirisavetiya dagaba and had handed over a sum of Rs. 12,500/- to the Governor for the project.

Another monk - Pilagamuwe Rewatha - undertook the repair of Thuparama. But none of them had the required resources, either in labour or finance, and more than that, in the technical knowledge, how to get far with such massive undertakings and so, in a short time, their enthusiasm petered put and the monuments were left in worse condition than they were, for, under the cover of forest, nature had provided these structures a certain protection in its own way.

It is about this time that Walisinghe Harischandra appeared on the Anuradhapura scene. He devoted his time, energy and substance for the revival of Buddhism and restoring the sacred city of Anuradhapura which he identified with the departed glory of the nation, to its rightful owners, the Sinhala Buddhists.

He set up the Anuradhapura Buddhist Defence Committee for the protection and rehabilitation of the Buddhist monuments and, generally to promote Buddhist interests there.

Witnessing the senseless depredations that the British administrators were committing on the ruins of the sacred places under the guise of archeological excavations, Harischandra, as secretary of the ABDC, vehemently protested to everyone who, he thought, could stop this vandalism. He had other grievances, too; he took strong objection to the opening of an arrack tavern just opposite the sacred Bo-tree and foreign liquor shops in other places; he objected to the presence of beef stalls and market buildings amidst the sites of religious monuments; he objected to building of government offices and quarters within the sacred area.

With his numerous protests, petitions and memorials and other related activities, Harischandra soon become a marked man as a trouble-maker among the officialdom who thwarted him at every turn and, in fact, was waiting for an opportunity to nab him. He protested to the legal authorities when he found the Police unwilling to entertain his complaints; when that failed, he petitioned the Governor and when that, too, failed, he got Anagarika Dharmapala who was at this time abroad, to appeal to the King in England. All his efforts were of little avail for, even the King was misled. The only result of all this was reprisals and persecution.

The Government Agent of Anuradhapura was unwilling to recognise the rights of the Buddhists and Buddhist organisations of access to, and the use of, the Buddhist sites and lands of the sacred city:

Every attempt by the Buddhists to use this land for religious purposes ie., the area of the Mahameuna Yuana and the Mahamaluwa of the sacred Bo-tree, was thwarted by the authorities, influenced by the Catholics, and they were driven out from such lands. Further, the authorities said that the Buddhists had no claim on that land and that it all belonged to the Crown.

The Government Agent obviously proceeded from the promise that all land that had not been declared by the Temple Lands Commission under ordinance No. 10 of 1856, as temple land, was automatically vested in the Crown. There was at the time on ‘Atamastana Committee’ which had been set up to manage the sacred sites at Anuradhapura and to advise the GA on them when necessary but Harischandra was not prepared to accept its authority or its bona fides because, he argued, it was composed of the subordinates of the GA, namely, the three Ratemahatmayas, the seventeen Koralemahatmayas and the Chief of the Nuwarawewa family who would all be loyal always to the GA and never be willing to incur his displeasure; it would be useless to the Buddhists in the event of interests clashing between them and the GA.

It was when matters were simmering in this state that certain events took place to aggravate the already tense situation. On the Poson Poya day, 1903, a crowd of people had gathered on the Mahamaluwa opposite the sacred Bo-tree and through this crowd a certain Mr. Amarasekera, a Mudliyar of the Kachcheri, was riding his horse when the exited animal knocked down an old woman and injured her. The old husband of the woman ran behind the Mudliyar and remonstrated over what he had done; thereupon, the Mudliyar got down from his horse and severely assaulted the old man. Feelings of the crowd, who witnessed this act of brutality, ran high and there was a commotion: The infuriated crowd then ran amok and attacked a church and the Mission House and wrecked them and thereafter destroyed the meat stalls that stood close to the Sacred B-tree that had always been an eye-score to the devotees.

The police were called in to quell the uproar which they failed to do; first the Police Magistrate and then the GA intervened but the crowd refused to be quietened. It was then that the GA appealed to Harischandra who was there, to address the people which he did, and only then did the crowd quieten and soon peace was restored.

The Police Magistrate who heard the case against the Mudliyar found him guilty and fined Rs. 60/- but on appealing to the Supreme Court, the proceedings of the lower court were quashed and the Mudliyar was acquitted.

A few days later Harischandra was arrested on charges of having led a riot and committed arson and secrilegal. Though it was only a few days earlier that the Magistrate had occasion to praise and thank Harischandra for helping him to restore order when people were rioting.

However, sometime back he wrote to the local authorities who were under pressure from Catholic Missionaries. But it was in vain. Subsequently he wrote to the colonial office in London, explaining that the residential and commercial places, including non-Buddhist elements, should be shifted from the vicinity of the sacred places in Anuradhapura. It was later granted.

Harischandra organised a ‘Anusasana’ commencing from his home town, Negombo, and carried on a long struggle to wake up Sinhala people and review Buddhism. His appeal to the Nation was enriched with great Buddhist Value and thought.

He published a book entitled ‘The Sacred City of Anuradhapura’ where he described the adversities and abuses caused by the British. He also sent a copy of this book to King Edward VII to appoint a commission to inquire into the grievances of the Buddhist population of the country.

Harischandra protested at the detached attitude of the early archaeologists who were under the influence of Catholics. When the whole of Mihintale was about to be declared a Crown Land under the Waste Land Ordinance, he agitated on behalf of the Buddhists and was successful in getting a part of it as temple property.

He decided to take the life of a ‘Brahamachchari’ at the General meeting of Maha Bodhi Society held in January 1899 presided over by the Parivenadhipathy of Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Thera.

He rendered a yeoman service for the restoration of ancient Buddhist shrines in Anuradhapura and Mihintale. His efforts caused the restoration of Ruwanveli Maha Seya and other ancient ruins in Raja Rata.

Further he was actively working in India for two years for the Maha Bodhi Society.

He had published a considerable number of books such as ‘Description of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura,’ ‘Great Story of King Dutugemunu,’ ‘Lumbini’, ‘Mahabodhi’, ‘The Significance of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi’, ‘Life of King Devanampiyatissa’, He was also the editor of the magazine ‘Mahabodhi’.

He breathed his last on September 13, 1913, with the satisfaction that he had been able to save the sacred city of Anuradhapura.

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