by P.G.G. Palihapitiya
With the invasion of Ceylon, by three western powers, namely, Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, the lifestyle of Sri Lankans were changed drastically. Invaders imposed their religion, language, customs, dress, food and their culture on the peoples in the island. They adopted the divide and rule policy to gain supremacy in the country.
From 1505 to 1815, these invaders used their authority to make this country a safe haven for their ideals to flourish. However, in certain ways, they failed to convince or convert the whole community of islanders to satisfy their wants.
Native people fought with their limited resources from time to time to chase them away from the country. Until they were driven away, they used all strategies to destroy our cherished culture existed for more than 2,000 years. During the British rule, two uprisings took place in the country in 1818 and 1848. Uva uprising under the heroic leadership of Keppetipola and the Matale uprising under Gongalegoda Banda and Puran Appu made a great impact on the lives of people. Finally, the western powers left the island making an indelible mark on the political landscape of the country.
Some people in coastal areas and middle class preferred to embrace Christianity and Christian names giving up their traditional names and the religion.
David Hewavitharana was born to a rich, upper middle class family at a time like this. His father, H. Don Carolis was an accomplished furniture manufacturer, and the mother was Mallika, whose name was synonymous with a famous queen in Buddhist literature. As usual, David was sent to a missionary school for education. He grew up with the knowledge of history in the country. He lamented furiously over the cultural, religious and national decline and developed a firm determination to fight against the escalation of the foreign power in the country.
He took a new name with religious connotation; a name revered in Buddhist literature. He became known as Dharmapala. He pledged to be an Anagarika, one who doesn't have a home. (Na Agaram Yassa So = Anagariko). Homeless-ness means to dedicate oneself in leading a celebate life, treading the noble eight-fold path of the Buddha.
He advised others also to take native, Buddhist names and give up 'Thuppahi' (westernised) names. Thus, Uparis Silva became Piyadasa Sirisena, the famous novelist. George Pieris became Gunapala Piyasena (Malalasekera), the erudite Buddhist scholar of repute.
People listened to his message and were determined to assign Sinhala names to their children, instead of alien names. Native names, such as Piyasena, Piyadasa, Weerasena, Dharmadasa, Kamalawathie, Manel etc. became popular among native people. It paved the way, for people to maintain their national and cultural identities as a result of his patriotic message. Today, it is heartening to note that Sinhala people, irrespective of their religious faiths have assigned themselves with Sinhala names. Anagarika Dharmapala should be credited for this enormous change brought to the Sri Lankan society.
Due to his tremendous contribution in the fields of sociology, culture and religion, he made a great impact on day to day lives of the people. During the Sinhala-Muslim riots in the country, he was in India, however, he spoke against the grave injustices done to the Sinhala-Buddhists by the British Governor, Charmers. The Governor, himself was ironically a Pali scholar, Anagarika Dharmapala's contribution helped expedite bringing constitutional changes to the country.
His anti-imperialist message was later highly taken up by some politicians and they carried out their campaign in a different style with a different flavour to gain independence. Three past pupils of the premier Buddhist school, Ananda College, Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, Philip Gunawardene and Dr. N.M. Perera, fought with their tooth and nail against colonialism and imperialism. They not only campaigned, but also, educated the masses to make their motherland a free, sovereign and an independent nation. Their dream came true in 1972, under the premiership of late Mrs. Sirima R.D. Bandaranaike, making the country a Republic. She took the native name, Sri Lanka, instead of her alien name, Ceylon. Anagarika Dharmapala was one of the pioneers of this campaign.
As a teenager, David Hewavitharana was chosen by the Buddhist leaders to represent the Theravada Buddhism at the Parliament of world religions held in San Francisco in 1893. It was a wake up call for America, as the moral decline seen as a result of the civil war. It is believed, that his speech had been written by none other than the most venerable, Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Principal, Vidyodaya Pirivena.
Anagarika Dharmapala, in his prepared address at the conference, convinced the audience how it is important to follow the noble eight-fold path delivered by the Buddha, according to Buddhist Philosophy, Swamy, Vivekananda of India presented the Hindu Philophy at the conference.
Anagarika Dharmapala received invitations from the audience to make more speeches on Buddhism at various places in the US and he delightfully accepted each and every invitation. His name has been recorded in gold as the first Theravada Buddhist to bring the message of peace of the Buddha to this hemisphere. He came back with honours to the island.
He later started visiting villages all over the country, to wake up the Sinhala-Buddhist villagers and talked about the dangers of the spread of foreign culture. A teenager who was so eager to hear one of his speeches, walked for more than twelve miles in Tissamaharama, the deep down south of Sri Lanka to listen to this great speaker and was attracted to his ideals. With great difficulties, this young boy finished his education and became the colossus of journalism. He was none other than, D.B. Dhanapala, Principal, Journalist and the patriot par excellence.
Anagarika Dharmapala, called the spade a spade. He was against the consumption of liquor and advised people to avoid consumption. He also made speeches against the meat consumption and labelled those who consume meat as 'Vasalaya' (outcaste). He became the close associate of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, the Theosophist, who later founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society. The first Buddhist school, Ananda College was founded. Thereafter, the Buddhist Theosophical Society undertook establishing more Buddhist schools in the island.
Anagarika Dharmapala concentrated in spreading Buddha Dhamma in the world. He founded the Maha Bodhi Society in New Delhi with branches in London and New York. He started his own newspaper - Sinhala Bauddhaya - and opened the eyes of the Buddhists. The establishment of the Buddhist Maha Vihara in London, UK, was the greatest event that took place in the twentieth century in the annals of Buddhist history.
Three Theravada Buddhist monks, Ven. Paravahera Vajiragnana, Dehigaspe Pagnasara, and Hegoda Nandasara were selected and despatched to the London Buddhist Maha Vihara. They had been trained as Dhammaduta Bhikkhus. Before they arrived in London, an Englishman, who later became a Bhikkhu by the name of Ananda Metteyya, had been spreading the word of peace of the Buddha in UK. Ven. Paravahera Vajiragnana Nayaka Maha Thera, who later became the Vice-Chancellor of Vidyodaya University, wrote his most illustrious book on Buddhist Meditation and received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University during his tenure at London Maha Vihara. If, not for Anagarika Dharmapala, Buddhist world would have missed reading this great work.
This great man while earning his reputation as a whistle blower, also made enemies, who were unpatriotic, corrupt and westernised. They harboured grudges and petty jealousies against Anagarika Dharmapala. Anagarika Dharmapala left the island for India with a firm determination not to come back to the island. He was disappointed over the manner in which he was treated. He died at Mula Ghandhakuti Vihara, India, as a Bhikkhu, by the name of Devamitta.