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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.

State patronage

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’.

Higher education

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 Vajiraramaya.

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 priority.

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 Buddhists.

In the year 1956, he was elected the joint Secretary of the Dharmarakshita Chapter of the Amarapura Sangasabha.

To be continued

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