Memorable lives that inspire

The Monk who shone at Heenetiyana


By Upali K. Salgado

Buddhist Jataka stories extol the virtues of Prince Siddhartha. All of them project the message which, Sakyamuni Gotama Buddha preached during a span of forty five years. His message to his followers was ethical and based on compassion and equNmity to all beings, including animal life. He also stressed the need to lead simple, disciplined lives, dispelling ignorance (avijja) and greed.

A pious Buddhist monk who cannot be forgotten , both for his learning and popular sermons was the Most Venerable Heenetiyane Dhammaloka Tissa Maha Nayake Thera, who passed away twenty years ago. In Sri Lanka’s Buddhist society, he was a colossus and much sought after father figure, residing at the Purana Potgul Vihare, Heenetiyane, Minuwangoda. Born on 23rd September 1990 at Katana, he was educated in a Missionary Methodist school at Katunayake. After listening to a talk delivered by Brachmachari Harischandra Walisinghe the spirited orator, who was known as the " Champion of Buddhist causes" Venerable Dhammaloka Tissa Thera, was ordained a Samanera bhikkhu, and learnet his Sinhala , Buddhism and Pali at the Vidyodaya Pirivena. He was blessed with a mellifluous voice an earned fame as the foremost Buddhist preacher who captivated audiences not only with the Dhamma, but in the manner of his delivery. It was because of that respect and admiration that, venerable Dhammaloka Tissa was called upon by the then government to deliver the first sermon to the nation over Radio Ceylon (there was no TV then) on our gaining independence from British Colonial powers in February 1948. His wonderful sermons often had a "punch" to be an effective thought rendering message to the listener.

This monk, often went in search of audiences to deliver his sermons. On one such occasion, he arrived a the Slave Island railway station platform to deliver a short 10 minute- sermon to the railway commuters who gather after work for the arrival of trains to go home. A man who was determined to take the life of another who was his enemy by stabbing him, also arrived at this railway station platform. At that moment he saw a small group of about fifteen people listen intently to a Buddhist monk’s sermon on "all life is precious" The cruel minded person was attracted to what was taking place and whilst listening intently, the next train too arrived (with his realizing so) but had also departed. Finally, there were only two people left on the Platform facing each other, the Venerable monk and the cruel minded person. When the short sermon was over,-visibly moved that he was- the man who had a cruel intention, on his own surrendered to the monk, a seven inch long kris knife, stating that he had "turned a new leaf in life" Thereafter, the Venerable monk became that man’s best friend.

There are numerous other stories about the life of this legendary Buddhist monk, who during the height of the great Malaria epidemic that brought misery to villages around Kegalle. Galigamuwa Rauwanwella, Dehiwowita. Many thousands of village folk died of Malaria in the years 1934-36. Venerable Dhammaloka Thera kept only one monk in each of his many temples to administer "Pan Sil" or to attend to funeral rites, and had all others of his monk fraternity worked tirelessly, in make shift cadjan structure’s which overnight became temporary hospitals. The Bhikkhus under his leadership, cooked in large cauldrons, porridge for the sick, washed their clothes, sponged patients and helped the medical staff on duty. It is known that to contain the malaria epidemic, the British colonial government had imported over six tons of quinine tablets.

Venerable Heenatiyane Dhammaloka Tissa Thera was the Father of rural development. In this 1930’s. With shramadana.He improved conditions of several villages in the Gampaha district. On his demise in 1981, this legendry bhikkhu was accorded a state funeral at the Independence Square, Colombo.

Mahamaya – A Great Story, Kandy’s Pride

In the nineteen twenties, female secondary education with English language was largely confined to three well established large schools in Kandy, managed by Christina missonaries. They were the Girls’ High School, the Kandy Convent and Hillwood College. Buddhist girls therefore had to be educated in a Christian atmosphere. It was in that scenario that Mrs. Sarah (Later "Lady") Soysa helped with unstinted support of her friend Chithravo Rathwatte, and guided by the Venerable Karandana Attadassi Thera of the Katukele Temple, established in 1924 The SADACHARA BAUDDHA KULANGANA SAMITIYA,, which task was to found a Buddhist Girls School that would teach students in the English medium of education. At that historic meeting were present Sarah Caroline Soysa, the prime mover as Secretary, Chithravo Katugaha Rathwatte (appointed President) and three other leading figures namely, Isobelle Wijegunawardane, lmmie Jayatillake and Henrietta Athukorala, who served as Hony. Treasurer. Sarah Soysa hailed from a well known family of Panadura. It is known that she often visited a large number of relatives and friends to appeal for donations for the new school, which in 1938 was formally named Mahamaya Girls College. Sarah Soysa was a "Human dynamo" who addressed a large number of public meetings and temple gatherings to introduce the work of the Kulangana Samitiya. With her friends, she organized several charity fairs (salpilas) during the Vesak and Poson festivals.

With a Fistful of Rice

Author Indrani Meegama, who was educated at Mahamaya Girls School, Kandy/ in her inspired writings (spanning 255 pages) with illustrations, in her book WITH A FISTFUL OF RICE stated, "The Kulangana Samitiya appealed to all Buddhist women to establish a Girls school in Kandy. Most women especially middle class women in the early 1920’s were not wage earners. Their contributions had to from the generosity of their husbands or from money set a aside after meeting household expenses. To give people an opportunity to participate in the finance drive for the new school, they were requested to set aside every day, a fistful of uncooked rice into a clay pot. These pots when filled, were later auctioned, at carnivals and during the Esala festival, and brought in much needed money for the school."

Irangani Meegama also records the biggest challenge the Founders of the school had was to convince the Buddhist middle class society of Kandy, that they should send their daughters to the new Buddhist school, and not to the well established Girls schools managed by Christian missionaries.

Sarah Soysa was by character strong figure. Her oratorical brilliance and great commitment made many accept her thinking. They were confident

that she would give Buddhist children a rightful place in education. Those who strongly supported her were the Ratwatte the Nugawela the Girahagama families. Before long, Mahamaya Girls College blossomed out, excelling in science education largely due to the dedicated efforts of several principals of the School, namely Hilda Kularatne, the first Principal, Bertha Rodrigo (1937-1949) Soma Cumaranatunga, Panditha Gunawardane, (1951-72) The latter was a good disciplinarian who stressed that children should be moulded in a Buddhist atmosphere listening to Bana sermons and observing sil during Poya days, in keeping with the aspirations of the founders. She had a vision to develop the school and recruited graduates to be on her tutorial staff, and teach Chemistry, Botany Mathematics and Geography. A major achievements of a her stewardship was the opening of a well-equipped Science Laboratory.

The Saga of founding of Maha Maha Girls College and hostel was one of collective effort. Whilst there were several "ANGLES OF HOPE" to support this Buddhist educational venture, the central iconic figure was Sara Caroline Soysa, whose efforts, over a span of 35 years was embellished with the success of the school overcoming many tribulations. Well known Buddhist Leaders namely Anagarika Dharmapala, Sir D.B. Jayatillake, S. Kularathne, N.E. Weerasuria, Vivian Withane, Harris Rathwatte, A.C.L. Rathwatte, Harishchandra Wijethunge had helped the school in numerous ways. Some served on the Board of Trustees. A few Philanthropists namely, Ayr. Physician W. K. Jinadasa, Anagarika Dharmapala, Helena Wijewardane, Mrs. Jeromias Dias, Doctor r Arthu Silva (State Councilor) and his wife, Catharine De Silva and the Sri Chandrasekara Trust of Panadura, made sizeable donations.

Lady Sarah Soysa was fortunate to have in Sir. Bennet Soysa her husband, who was also a Philanthropist and Buddhist leader. He served as the Secretary of the Mahiyangana Stupa Restoration Society in the ninetten forties He always gave his wife "Strength to her elbow" to manage the school. Finally, like many other Buddhist schools after a span of 71 years, the school became one more national school, a few years before celebrating her Golden Jubilee.

They Sleep Well Under the Turf

"Lives of great men all remind us

We must make are lives sublime

And departing leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time.

- Henry Longfellow

At the 42 acre General Cemetery Borella where the first burial took place in 1871, there are numerous epitaphs with beautiful verse, all referring to men and women of learning: of soldiers "gone home" at the battle front, also of not so well known people, who led simple and admirable lives. It reminds us death is great leveler. They were all the sons and daughters of this land who had helped humanity.

Amongst that lot are several members of the Dutch Burgher Community who lived in fairly large numbers until about 1965. Many of their progeny today reside in Australia. Lying under the green turf at the General Cemetery reference is made to few notable names, - Dr. James Loos, the first Principle of the Medical College founded in 1870, Dr. B.R. Blaze MD. , a well known Physician of the fifties’ , Dr. Noel Batholamuez FRCS, H.D. Jeans, an outstanding editor at Lake House, F.C. Speldewinde, Commissioner of Inland Revenue, Dr. R. L. Spite) FRCS, the "Father figure" of the Veddha Community over long years, Dr. R.L. Brohierthe OBE FRGS, well-known Author and Surveyor General, M.C. Sansoni, Chief Justice, and Pieter Keneuman, Politician.

Deloraine Brohier, daughter of R.L. Brohier has made special study of the Burgher Community. She herself is a well-known writer, and in her publication : ALICE DE BOER AND SOME PIONEER BURGHER WOMEN DOCTORS, has spotlighted several well-known names. They are Dr. Evelyn Davidson (1892) Dr. Winifred Nell (1862-43) Dr. Hendrietta Keyt, Dr. Claribel Van Dort Spittel (18761952) Rachel Christofelse (1885-1975) and Dr. Ursula Van Royen (1896) Special mention is made of Dr. Alice De Boer LRCP+S (Glasgow & Edin) was one of the better known and loved pioneer doctors. She lived in age when facilities for female higher education was non existent. She was the first to win a Govt. scholarship to study medicine in Britain; and later served with distinction for over 20 years at the Lady Havelock Hospital , Colombo. Dr. De Boer. was a popular figure especially with ladies of the Muslim community who refused to be inoculated by male doctors. This hardworking lady doctor migrated in 1926 to settle down in Britain.

Did notJames Shelly the Poet, say:-

"The glories of blood and state are shadows, not substantiated things. There is no armone against fate Death lays his hands on kings secpture and crown,

Must tumble down

And in the dust be equal made

With the poor, crooked saythe and spade.

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