Ven. Welivita Saranankara Thera and revival of Upasampada
ESALA POYA: The Esala month is sacred for the Buddhists and Sangha,
it was on the Esala Poya Day that the Buddha preached Dhammachakka
Pavaththana Sutta to the Five Disciples, Baddhya, Vappa, Mahanama,
Assaji and Kondangna, the First Sanghayanawa and the dispatch of the
Sacred Bowl to Sri Lanka, Tunsinhale.
It was on July 14, 1753, Venerable Saranankara Thera received the
Upasampada or Higher Ordination from Siamese Maha Thera Upali and Maha
Thera Ariyamuni at Visungama in Kandy.
The events that led to the disappearance and the revival of
Upasampada were due to several causes mainly on account of internal
dissensions within the Buddhist Sangha Fraternity and the indifference
of the people to uphold and non observance of the Vinaya the sacred
rituals and practices.
By the dawn of the 17th century Buddhist practices, the discipline
and the Vinaya had been in disuse and
A painting which depicts king Kirthi Rajasinghe presenting a ‚Äėvata
pota‚Äô to Ven. Saranankara Thera
neglected. Of special significance was the threats, revolts,
disorder, fear and instability of the Monarchy and the social pressures
exerted by the Portuguese settlers in the maritime areas where the
Portuguese held away.
In Europe, Portugal and Spain shared the pre-eminence super powers
over other countries. Portuguese marauding sailors were pursuing Moor
traders in Asian countries for trading supremacy.
The Portuguese and Dutch influence in the Kanda Udarata over the
Sinhalese were such that the Sinhalese began to assimilate foreign
customs, ways of life, dress and language resulting in transformation of
their local life style. It was inevitable that these alien customs
seeped into the Bhikku Fraternity as well.
The Portuguese described the native Sinhalese and Buddhists as
‚Äúheathens‚ÄĚ and in the Sangha Fraternity, the concept, ‚ÄúGaninnanses‚ÄĚ were
often symbolised for the Bhikkus.
Upasampada or the Higher Ordination of the Samaneras who have
mastered the Pali and Sanskrit languages, the Vinaya Rules were not
unknown at the time King Wimaladharmasuriya I ascended the throne.
The deterioration of the Vinaya and discipline amidst the wars with
the Portuguese and the Dutch during the period of eight Kings ranging
for 153 years were the primary causes for the instability of the country
which directly affected the Sangha.
Realising this unhappy situation, King Wimaladharmasuriya despatched
a Mission to Arakan or Rakkhanga seeking the goodwill of the King to
send Maha Theras to perform the Upasampada.
In accordance with the Royal blessings Maha Theras Chandavilasa and
Chandivakka led a Mission to Sri Lanka. The Upasampada ceremony was
performed after a very long lapse of years.
The next King Rajasinghe II who ruled for 52 years had to confront
the Dutch in major battles in 1630 and 1638 at Gannoruwa and Randeniwela
against renowned Portuguese Generals and the country was unsettled that
the King had no time to give his utmost attention and devotion to
religious activities and again deterioration set in.
Being aware of the low standards to which the Sangha had fallen, King
Wimaladharamsuriya II with the help of local chieftains conversant in
Pali, another Mission was sent to Arakan to invite Preceptor and Teacher
Bhikkhus to Sri Lanka, where the Maha Thera Sanghaka and Locarge arrived
in Kandy and revived the Upasampada at Getambe.
This was followed by another Mission during the Kingship of King
Vijaya Rajasinghe under the leadership of Doranegama Rala to Rakhanga,
Siam and Pegu, but the ships were wrecked near Peru.
Ven. Saranankara Thera was not demoralised on account of the
unfortunate situation but persisted that he himself should go to Siam.
The King was not pleased but arranged with the Dutch to supply
sea-worthy ships, for by this time the Dutch had become friendly and it
was believed that the King had given permission to the Dutch to build a
Church in Colombo.
Ven. Saranankara Thera persuaded Doranegama Rala and Wilbawegedera to
lead the delegation. The Mission had been to Batavia and only
Wilbawegedera had met the King of Siam and even this Mission was
Undaunted by successive failures, Ven. Saranankara Thera was
determined to accomplish his - Mission to bring back erudite Bhikkus to
Sri Lanka and revive the Upasampada, he persuaded the new King Kirti Sri
Rajasinghe who was of Hindu parentage and married from a Nayakkar family
in Tanjore felt and acted in pursuance of the wishes of the Sangha and
people that if he were to rule in Sri Lanka, he should become a
King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe, aware of the local conditions followed the
visions of King Parakrama Bahu in making Sri Lanka and his kingdom
prosperous and also devoted his time in renovating anicuts and ruined
vihares, temples, shrines and Kovils.
Buddhism began to gain ground so much so that he encouraged the
successful Mission to Siam headed by Ellepola Mohottala, Wilbagedera
Naide, Pattapola Attapattuwe Mohottala, Eriyagama Muhandiram,
Attaliyadde Muhandiram with 67 persons left Trincomalee on August 1,
1750 to meet the King of Siam with Royal credentials.
Although the journey was perilous due to stormy weather the Mission
returned to Sri Lanka with Siamese Maha Thera Upali and Ariyamuni.
The King and Ven. Saranankara were very pleased and on the Esala Poya
Day in the presence of the King, Venerable Saranankara, Kobbekaduwe
Unnanse and four other Bhikkus received the Upasampada at Getambe Sima
The Siamese Nikaya founded by Ven. Upali Thera and the Bhikkus of the
Siamese Chapter owe so much to the indomitable efforts of Ven.
Saranankara amidst enemies within the Court which at one time got an
Order for banishment to Laggala, prevented only by Ven. Saranankara
Thera‚Äôs exemplary character, high standard of learning Pali, Sanskrit
Suttas and the devotion to uphold the Vinaya and scholarship.
Ven. Saranankara Thera began writing Buddhist books, such as Satara
Banavara Sannaya, Muni Guna Alankaraya, Maha Bodhi Vamsa Sanna, Rupa
Malawa and Pali Sandesa. The Gedige Viharaya at Asgiriya where Upali
Maha Thera resided holds the Katina Pinkama yearly. Gedige Viharaya has
been selected Vihare for Royal grant by the King of Siam.
Ven. Saranankara Thera was conferred the title of Sangharaja of the
Siamese Nikaya and thereafter the continuity of Vinaya and Upasampada
ceremonies are held annually.
Ven. Saranankara Thera passed away in Kandy on the Esala Poya Day in
1778 and cremated at Dalukgolle Temple Cetiya in 1778.
The Bhikkus of Sri Lanka and the Buddhists in general owe their
greatest respect and devotion on the preservation of the Buddha, Dhamma
and Sangha to Ven. Weliwita Saranankara Sangharaja Thera.