Achievements and challenges of a nation
Mr. David Hussey, M.A., in his book, Ceylon and World
History, summarises twenty centuries of Ceylon history - the period from
Vijaya to the coming of the Portuguese.
“The coming of Vijaya and his followers, about 486 B.C., began a
reign of prosperity which reached its height in the reign of Tissa and
Duttha Gamini. After that, Ceylon entered upon a long period of slow
decline, due largely to Tamil invasions. The decline was averted for a
time by vigorous Kings, chiefly by the great Parakramabahu, but it soon
set in again.
Culled from ‘The Revolt in the
Temple’ composed to commemorate 2500 Years of the Land, the Race
and the Faith, published in 1953.
“By 1505, the wars with the Tamils were over. The long and fierce
struggle had spoiled the glory and destroyed the prosperity of the
Sinhalese Kingdom; but at the end of it the Sinhalese had the two things
which they most valued, their religion and their distinct nationality,
still in their hands. They had gone through a terrible struggle to keep
them, but they had kept them, and to that extent they had won.”
Building of Independence Hall.
Now, this is altogether a singular and outstanding achievement for a
small nation like the Sinhalese. For twenty centuries they stood up
manfully against powerful foes in the face of overwhelming odds, with
varying success may be, but with matchless courage and determination all
the time. At the end they definitely preserved the national religion and
their distinct entity as a nation.
For a large measure of this triumph credit it due to the Sangha. It
was they who, since Mahinda Thero converted the country to Buddhism,
acted with unsleeping vigilance as the guides, guardians and the
sponsors of the future of the Sinhalese nation. It was they who, as the
upholders of religious and moral authority through alternative travails
and triumphs, preserved the unity of the Sinhalese as a distinct people.
The discharge of this dual responsibility, that of acting as the
religious as well as social guides of the Sinhalese, is in terms of the
last words of the Master on his deathbed, a service which devolves even
today on the Sangha of Lanka. He prophesied that Lanka would be the
repository, for full five thousand years, of the pure doctrine.
For the effective fulfilment of that prophecy two parties were and
are necessary, the Sangha to keep the Torch burning, and the lay people
to bear that Torch. Both parties did not fail to shoulder that
responsibility for the last twenty centuries, and the nation, if it is
to justify its existence, will have to continue to shoulder that
responsibility in the same way, during the next twenty-five centuries as
From the time of Mahinda Thera, the great procession of spiritual
elders who followed him have been continually keeping this dual
responsibility in the fore-front of their thoughts and actions.
Is it necessary to add that this nation should fit itself in every
possible way to bear the great Torch in the future? For a similar reason
therefore, the Sangha of old, through their influence with the kings of
Lanka, took it upon themselves, as a duty incumbent on them, to do
everything possible to elevate the living conditions of the Sinhalese
The temple, for centuries, was not only the centre from which
radiated the spirit of religious devotion, but was also the force which
invigorated the people and held them together. We are at present being
unconsciously carried on by the momentum of twenty centuries of
Buddhism. Our duty today, however, is to see to it that the lofty ideals
of service to our fellow beings, which are an inherent part of our
mission, are vividly realised and deliberately placed in the fore-front
of our policies.
Happily for us, our national chronicles have recorded for posterity
the manner in which the Sangha of old not only wielded influence in the
election, coronation, and conduct of kings and sub-kings, but also,
whenever the occasion arose, directed and actively participated in the
work of the emancipation of the country and its people.
The Mahavamsa describes with much feeling how five-hundred members of
the Sangha accompanied the army that Dutugemunu led to liberate the
nation from the galling thrall of a foreign yoke. The Mahavamsa has
references not only to what we may call these periodical “Revolts in the
Temple,” but also the exercise by the Sangha of their influence in the
direction of the every-day life of the State.
The same chronicle mentioned (Ch. 24) that, when King Kavantissa (2nd
century, B.C.) died, Tissa, the younger son, crowned himself King.
Dutugemunu came with armed forces and fought his brother who, when
defeated, appealed to the Thera Yodhagatta Tissa - “I have done ill,
Sire, I will make my peace with my brother.” The Thera took Tissa in
order to effect a reconciliation and, leaving him on the stairs, went
into the presence of Dutugemunu and pleaded for the penitent prince, and
the brothers were reconciled.
We find it recorded in that same chronicle (Ch. 33) that, on the
death of Saddha Tissa (2nd Century, B.C.) a younger brother of the late
King was elected as Sovereign, with the consent of the Sangha, at a
meeting held at the Thuparama.
It next mentioned that Aggabodhi I (6th century, A.C.) “Kept piously
to the instructions of the Bhikkhu Dathasiva.”
A more positive reference to the political influence of the Sangha
appears in Chapter 57 where it is stated: “Since that time (7th Century,
A.C.) the Sovereigns of Lanka act according to the counsel of the
Bhikkhus who hold the leading position.” Again the same chronicle (Ch.
60) records the bestowal of the office of Sub-King, and later of King,
on Jayabahu (11th Century, A.C.) by the Sangha of the eight Chief
Viharas together with the Chief Officers of State, etc.
An 11th Century Tamil inscription states that Vijaya Bahu I wore the
Sacred Crown with the sanction of the Sangha.
The Mahavamsa further tells us that when Parakrama Bahu, after a long
campaign against his cousin Gajabahu II (12th Century, A.C.) the King of
the Rajarata, had brought his adversary to the end of his resources and
the prize of the sovereignty of the whole Island was within his reach,
the Sangha of the three Fraternities of Polonnaruwa intervened and
brought about a reconciliation between the two princes. As a result of
this, the dominions of Gajabahu were restored to him, and Parakrama Bahu
retired to his own principality of the Dakkhinadesa, on the
understanding that, upon the death of the former, he would become
entitled to the sovereignty of the Rajarata.
It is also stated in the same Chronicle that, immediately after the
cessation of hostilities, Gajabahu went to Madirigiriya Vihara and had
the fact of his bequest of the Rajarata to Parakrama Bahu written on a
stone in that place.
One of the most important epigraphical discoveries of recent times is
this rock inscription recording the “Peace Treaty” between Gajabahu II
and Parakrama Bahu I, at the ancient Vihara at Sangamuva, near Gokaralla,
in the Hiriyala Hat Pattu of the Kurunegala District.
Again the Mahavamsa (Ch. 87) says: “Hereupon he (Parakrama Bahu II,
13th Century A.C.) summoned the Great Community (Sangha) in great
numbers, and the King asked them: ‘Which of these six princes, my
sister’s son and my own sons, is worthy of the Royal Crown?’ “
Coming to later times (15th Century A.C.), when one of the Kings fell
a victim to a ruse by a Chinese general and was carried away as a
prisoner to China, and the country was in a state of confusion resulting
from the absence of a rightful Sovereign, it was a Hierarch of the
Sangha, Vidagama Maha Swami, who put an end to the attempts of ambitious
Chieftains to seize the Imperial power, by placing on the throne
Parakrama Bahu VI of Kotte.
It was the Sangha who saw to it that, in that Treaty by which this
Dhamma Dipa, (“Isle of the True Doctrine”) was transferred to a
Christian Crown, were embodied those clauses by which the indigenous,
political and religious institutions were carefully preserved and
expressly safeguarded. And it was again a member of the Sangha,
Wariyapola Nayaka Thera, who protested when an attempt was made to haul
up the British flag before the signing of the Convention.
This rapid survey of history shows that the claim of the Sangha today
to be heard in relation to social, political and economic problems and
to guide the people is no new demand, but a reassertion of a right
universally exercised and equally widely acknowledged, up to the British
occupation of the country.
We are passing through such an era of change as has never been seen
in the past.
To realise high aims, to be unselfish, to do good - these
opportunities are offered to the present generation.
It is within your power and ours to usher in the birth of a new
nation and to realise a new vision of the true meaning of life, for the
vast multitude of the sons and daughters of Lanka.
We must now ever be mindful that twenty-five centuries of history are
looking down upon us, and that the privilege of moulding and setting
into motion another twenty-five centuries of history is in our hands.
Let us not fail to cherish our heritage, nor ignore this great
Thus do we declare