Ven Agga Maha Panditha Rajakeeya Weligama Gnanaratana
Mahanayake Thera completes 97 years:
Erudite monk in country’s history
The appointment of the Most Venerable Rajakeeya Panditha Weligama
Gnanaratana Mahanayake Thera as the new Mahanayake of the Amarapura
Dharmarakshita Mahanikaya was unanimously announced by the Executive
Sanga Committee of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya on September 12, 2003, a
position vacated with the demise of the Most Venerable Agga Maha
Panditha Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayake Thera. The prelate was until then
the Anu Nayake Mahanayake Thera for 47 long years.
This prestigious event in the contemporary Buddhasasana was
felicitated at a solemn ceremony at the BMICH in the presence of huge
gathering of monks, devotees, dayakas, dayikas and VIPs. The Thera
received the Aktha Patrafrom the then Prime Minister, Ranil
Wickremesinghe. This paper traditionally depicts and discloses the
origins and elaborates in detail on the Thera’s immense contribution to
Buddhism, the Sasana in particular since he was ordained on November 30,
1925 for a period spanning 85 years.
For the enormous services rendered to the Sasana, the prelate was
conferred with the title Agga Maha Panditha by the Myanmar (Burma)
Government in the year 2008. The accomplishment of receiving this title
was felicitated under State patronage.
The most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Weligama Gnanaratana Mahanayaka
Thera was born on October 14, 1913 to devout Buddhist parents at
Welliweledeniya in Weligama in Southern Sri Lanka about eight miles to
the city of Matara.
He was the youngest in a family consisting of 12 children, seven
brothers and four sisters. The Thera obtained his primary education at
Weligama Siddhartha Maha Vidyalaya, a well-recognized school in the
South. He was ordained under Devundera Sri Dharmananda Maha Thera, Chief
Incumbent of Devundera Sri Dharmaraksita Pirivena at the tender age of
just 12 years at Ahangama Eluketiye Bimbarama Maha Viharaya.
The Thera was nurtured initially in his primary monastic training
education at the feet of his first mentor Most Venerable Palwatte
Dhammatilaka Mahanayaka Thera and subsequently at the monastic college
Sri Dhammaraksita Pirivena at Devundara where the Thera completed his
primary monastic education.
In the year 1931 he entered the Vidyodaya Pirivena, Maligakanda, one
of the leading monastic centres recognized even internationally.
The Thera acquired from the renowned academic centre the required
higher education to receive the higher ordination Upasampadain 1933 from
the Maha Sanga.
He simultaneously commenced learning oriental studies, which he
completed successfully. He passed the final examination in traditional
studies obtaining a Pandith degree in 1948 mastering Sinhala, Pali and
Sanskrit languages. This is the highest qualification one can obtain in
Sri Lanka to be conferred as a honorary ‘Panditha’.
The Most Venerable Gnanaratana’s most important milestone in his
distinguished prolonged career in the Sasana was the invitation he
received from the Most Venerable Palene Vajiragnana Thera, who was the
foremost of the modern erudite monks in Sri Lanka, The Chief Incumbent
of the Sri Vajiraramaya temple to stay at the temple.
The Vajiraramaya is undoubtedly the most famous monastery in the
country even up to then had many renowned monks viz. the Venerable
Narada, the Venerable Piyadassi the pupils of Palene Vajiragnana
Mahanayake Thera. The Venerable Panditha Weligama Gnanaratana was
invited to Vajiraramaya as he was one of the most learned monks in the
Dhamma and Oriental languages to nurture and fathom the young monks at
Indian Buddhist heritage
As a stern disciplinarian, an ardent and a very staunch Buddhist the
responsibility bestowed on him was an exercise, he grabbed with great
pleasure and immense satisfaction as the opportunity arose for him to
impart his wide and profound knowledge in the preaching of the Buddha.
In addition he had learnt well the important aspects of natural culture
and heritage which he always cherished and willingly gave it his highest
In the year 1950, the Venerable Panditha Gnanaratana Thera was
considered a matured monk to accompany the Most Venerable Madihe
Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera to India on pilgrimage and study. During this
tour which lasted for six months the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha
Mahanayake Thera was recognized by the Myanmar Government by conferring
the title of Agga Maha Panditha.
This tour gave the opportunity for the Mahanayaka Thera to acquire
the required knowledge about the Indian Buddhist heritage. A very
significant milestone in the Prelate’s career in the Sasana was his
visit to Nepal during his tenure at Vajiraramaya, the birthplace of
Buddha in 1951 along with a group of monks.
This pioneering effort was aimed to reintroduce the Theravada
tradition to Nepal and in conducting the higher ordination the
Upasampada ceremony not held in Nepal for centuries. This was a
memorable event and an important landmark in the Sasana career of the
Maha Nayaka Thera. The cultural and religious links between the two
countries exist even up to today.
In the year 1955, another memorable event in the life of our Nayaka
Thera took place by participating in the historic meeting, ‘the Chattha
Sangayana’, the sixth council in Myanmar (Burma) along with the Sri
Lankan delegation. This tour afforded the unique opportunity for the
Nayaka Thera to study the Burmese Buddhist tradition by travelling
widely in Myanmar.
In the same year 1955 the Most Venerable Pelene Vajiragnana Maha
Nayaka Thera, passed away and his immediate pupil the ‘Agga Maha
Panditha Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha was appointed as the Maha
Nayaka of the Amarapura Dharmarakshita Mahanikaya. Simultaneously Most
Venerable Panditha Weligama Gnanaratana Thera was appointed as the
Secretary of the Nikaya.
World Fellowship of Buddhists
In the year 1956, Maha Nayaka Thera visited the city of Kathmandu in
Nepal to participate in the conference of the World Fellowship of
In the year 1956, he was elected the joint Secretary of the
Dharmarakshita Chapter of the Amarapura Sangasabha.
To be continued