The giant behind the revival of Buddhism

Our Most Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera was born on January 20, 1827. It was a dark era in the history of Sri Lanka where the country which suffered tremendously under the suffocating rule of Portuguese and Dutch colonists at the time, was forced to officially surrender itself to the British Empire. Thus on March 2, 1815, Sri Lanka lost its 2,538 years of independence by becoming a colony of the British Empire. Governor Robert Brownrig who signed the Kandyan Convention by promising to preserve the status of Buddhism as the country’s main religion went back on his words once he came to power, by making it a priority to spread the word of Christianity throughout the country.

Several decades after that, the Buddhist faith among the people started deteriorating. To salvage the situation, Ven. Weliwita Sri Saranankara Sangharaja Thera started a religious revival which brought all the Sangha in the country together. However, the attempt was not successful due to various disagreements among different sects of the Buddhist Sangha. The situation became so bad that in 1852, James De Alwis who translated Sidath Sangarawa into English, predicted that by the end of the 19th Century all Sinhala poets would begin their work by asking for the triple blessings of the Lord instead of the blessings of the Triple Gems. As was published in the Journal of the Pali Text Society on October 25, 1861, he had stated,….

It was in such a dark period of time in Sri Lanka that a precious baby boy was born to Dandegoda Gamage Christina and her husband Don Johannes Abeyweera Gunawardhana Liyanarachchi. The boy was baptised at four years of age and was given the name Nicholas. If he was not given such a Christian name, he wouldn’t have been allowed access to any of the schools established at the time. In 1840, he was ordained as a Buddhist monk at the Temple of Thotagamuwa , Thelwaththa, Galle, under the supervision of Ven. Mabotuwana Rewatha Thera and Ven. Malagoda Siriniwasa Thera.

As a monk, he was given the name Hikkaduwe Sumangala. He was fortunate enough to study under the guidance of many erudite monks such as Ven. Walane Sri Siddhartha Thera, and he studied hard till he mastered several languages including Pali, Sinhala, Sanskrit, and English. In 1848, Province of the country, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thera established a printing press named “Lankopakara,” and started printing books – and most importantly, the Buddhist newspaper “Lankaloka.” Further, several Sinhala Buddhist schools were founded under his patronage and they were provided with all the required facilities. In 1871, Ven. Thera moved to the Maligakanda area, and in 1873, he initiated the establishment of the treasure house of knowledge, “Vidyodaya.”

Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thera who participated in the famous Panadura debate in 1873, made sure that Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thera also came along to assist him with the debate. The debate became so famous that information about it was also published in a magazine called “The Truth Seeker” in America (Thomas Paine who played a major role in creating the Constitution of the United States was also one of the patrons of this magazine). As a result of the published article about this debate, many important persons such as Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and the Russian philosopher and author, Helena Blavatsky, were encouraged to visit Sri Lanka. On May 17, 1880, they both embraced Buddhism as their religion at Vidyananda Monastic College in Galle, and started studying the Pali language and Buddhist philosophy under the tutelage of our Ven. Thera.

They understood the importance of education and how it could be used to salvage the pitiful situation that the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka has fallen into. As a result, Parama Vignanartha Corporation was established in Colombo. In 1895, this corporation established Ananda Vidyalaya in Colombo with the Cambridge graduate A.E. Bultjens of American descent as its principal. This was followed by the establishment of several other schools in the country such as Nalanda Vidyalaya in Colombo, Dharmaraja Vidyalaya in Kandy, and Mahinda Vidyalaya in Galle.

Most Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera:
BY Aggamaha Panditha Ven. Dr. Walpola Piyananda Thero.

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