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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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90th birth anniversary of Madihe Pannasiha Maha nayaka Thera today : The beacon of the Buddha Sasana

by Dr. K. D. G. Wimalaratne, Director, National Archives

Most ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha nayaka Thera

Born in the village of Madihe within the four gravets of Matara district in the ancient Ruhuna, to a Sinhala school master named James Carolis Pujitha Gunawardhana, better known as Madihe Maha Iskole Mahatmaya, descending from the Pujitha Gunawardhana family circle, which had produced eminent scholars such as Ven. Madihe Siri Sumitta Dhammakanda Thera, author of the poetical version of Ummagga Jataka, Sutana Jataka, Dalada Puda etc. and Carolis Pujitha Gunawardhana, who was associated with the designing of the Buddhist flag on 17th April, 1885.

James Carolis Pujitha Gunawardhana married a grand daughter of another Sinhala scholar of the same period, named Bella Angelina Dhirasekera. Her father, Disneris Dias Dhirasekera was the store-keeper of the salterns at Hambantota, Kirinda and Bundala.

Although Pujitha Gunawardhana and Dhirasekera families were devoted Buddhists, James Carolis Pujitha Gunawardhana, head teacher of the Methodist Mission School, Paramulla, Matara, happened to be a Christian. The Methodist father spent his full time for his teaching profession, while the Buddhist mother was engaged in bringing up her children according to the Buddhist way of life.

There was no Buddhist temple at the locality at that time. The present temple is situated in a premises, a portion of which has been gifted by the Methodist father. As there was no place close by for worship, a separate Buddhist service room was in existence in the house of the Methodist father and periodical reciting such as all night pirith and the preaching of the Dhamma and alms giving to Bhikkhus were done.

Occasionally, Methodist priests made visits to the house and they performed their religious observances in the house without creating any problems.

The happy parents produced 2 sons and 3 daughters and according to the father's wishes named them Charlotte Stella, Charles Lindon, Thames Sansi, Arlotte Kinsor and the youngest, Benson Wilmot, who was born on June 21, 1913. All the others have passed away except the youngest.

Benson Wilmot started his education in the English medium at St. Thomas' Girls' High School, Matara, till 10 years of age and received admission to St. Thomas' Boys High School, Matara. Arrangements were made to send him to Mahinda College, Galle, where his elder brother was attending, but owing to a sudden sickness he could not hence remained at St. Thomas' Matara.

At the age of 13 years he showed an interest to enter the Buddhist Order. The news spread and leading Buddhist priests were after him. It became a problem to the mother, who was anxious to give him over and rushed to Devagiri Vihara, Kamburugamuwa and explained her problem to Ven. Weragampita Revata Maha Thera, the Guru Deva of Ven. Palane Siri Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera, who jumped at the idea and stated that Devagiri Vihara was founded by Ven. Madihe Siri Sumitta Dhamakanda Maha Thera, descendant of the Pujitha Gunawardhana family and as such the only place to which the boy should be entrusted was the Devagiri Vihara and not anywhere else.

The mother agreed happily remembering the forecast of the astrologer, who cast the boys horoscope that one day this boy would be a renowned leader, either as a Buddhist priest or a laity.


The ordination was held at Devagiri Vihara, Kabmurugamuwa on June 24, 1926 in the presence of a gathering of relations and well-wishers. The noted absentees were the father, who had disappeared and the elder brother, who was on the sick bed. He was named Madihe Pangnashiha at the ordination.

Vidya Visaradha Title

The Colombo University College opened a course of training for the degree of Vidya Visarada. All those who had followed the course were holders of the title "Rajakeeya Panditha" and Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Thera happened to be an exception. However, at the final examination he fared better than some of his colleagues in the class.

Elected Maha Nayaka

An election by secret vote was held on November 27, 1955 at Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya, to select the Maha Nayaka Thera to succeed Ven. Palane Vagiragnana Nayake Thera. At the election those 141 Bhikkus of the Nikaya who had cast their votes, Ven. Madihe Pannasiha received 109, and the other contended 32 votes. Accordingly, Ven. Madihe Pannasiha was elected the Maha Nayaka Thera of the Amarapura Sri Dharmarakkhita Nikaya by a clear majority vote.

The certificate of appointment of Maha Nayake was handed over by the most elderly Maha Thera of the said Nikaya at Vajiraramaya Bambalapitiya, in the presence of a very large gathering of Nayake Theras of the 3 Nikayas, viz. Siam, Amarapura and Ramanna and leaders of the Buddhist laity presided over by Ven. Kiriwattuduwe Pangnasara Maha Nayaka Thera.

A few days after the appointment, Sir Cyril de Soysa and R. Premadasa the late President, an MMC Colombo at that time had called on the Maha Nayaka Thera individually and after conferring his good wishes had made a request which has come to effect and that was to incorporate all sects of the Amarapura Nikaya to one. The first Vinaya Karma was held at Maharagama on 13.07.69. It has not only united the Nikaya, but also made him the head of the united Amarapura Nikaya.

Buddhist Committee of Inquiring

In April 1954 a committee was appointed by the all Ceylon Buddhist Congress composed of members from Buddhist clergy and laity in order to ascertain salient facts about the conditions and ways of Buddhist life. Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Thera was among the members of that committee which issued its report on 4th February 1956.

Buddha Sasasana Committee

Sir Oliver Goonetilake, Governor-General appointed a Buddha Sasana Commission on March 4, 1957 under the chairmanship of Ven. Kalukondayawe Pangnasekera Maha Nayaka Thera and Ven. Madihe Pannasiha was also a member of that Commission, which issued its report after visiting Buddhist countries abroad.

After this report was issued it was Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera, who took up the issues such as taking over all assisted schools to the government and making all Poya days public holidays instead of Sundays. Both these issues were given effect to on December 1, 1960 and January 1 respectively.

Propagation of Buddhism

The Thera visited China in 1946 for the propagation of Theravada Buddhism. He had to return after a stay of 9 months owing to internal disturbances in China.

He also visited Khatmandu in Nepal for a higher ordination of Bhikahkus in 1951 and in 1954 to establish a Seema Malaka in Lalith Pura, Nepal and renamed the Buddhist Vihara.

There from "Young Sumangala Vihara" to "Sri Sumangala Vihare". Ven. Thera visited Burma on 4th January, 1954 and attended the Dharma Sangayanava and in 1956 during the 2500 Buddha Jayantiya took part in the establishment of a Seema Malaka .

The Maha Nayaka Thera left for America on 27th March, 1964 on an invitation from the Asia Foundation to gain an idea of the educational training prevailing there, ways and means of rural development, and also for the propagation of Theravada Buddhism in America. He spent 5 months there and made arrangements to establish a Vihara in Washington in 1964. Other places of his visit were England, West Indies, Scotland, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Singapore. On his return he established the Buddhist Information Centre at Greenpath, Colombo, the first of its kind in order to furnish information to any interested in Buddhism. The World Buddhist Directory is published by this Information Center.

Thurunu Saviya

After returning from USA the Maha Nayaka Thera organised the "Thurunu Saviya" at Maharagama to organise and train the youths of this country. The Maha Nayaka Thera considered that the young generation in Sri Lanka should be directed in the correct lines. This movement attracted many youths and this resulted in a society called "Samma Ajeeva Sangamaya" in 1974. This was necessary to counter the increasing rate of drug addiction and alcoholism among the youths of this country. The Ven. Maha Nayaka Thera played an important role in the rehabilitation of youths after the insurrection of 1971.

Dharma Vijaya Foundation

The Dharma Vijaya Foundation established in 1979 under the patronage of the Maha Nayaka Thera has noble objectives. To make Sri Lanka a Dharma Deepa or a country where righteous people live, to develop the economy and the culture of the country simultaneously and also to serve the poor in their social needs and education.

Temperance Movement

He succeeded the Ven. Kalubondayawe Pangnasekera Maha Nayaka Thera as the president of the Sri Lanka Temperance Movement, to carry out the good work commenced during the early part of the 20th century.

The Thera was conferred an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Peradeniya in 1987, and the honorific title Agga Maha Panditha from Burma in the year 1996.

The Maha Nayaka Thera is a popular preacher and also a prolific writer who has enlightened many hearts. He has many publications and articles which are thought provoking and containing a mine of information.

His fearlessness in expressing view on national matters and his devotion to a cause has made him a respected personality by all here and abroad.

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