In the name of my daughter...
Thalawathugoda Saddhamangala Thera
The forty foot tidal wave advanced towards the beach. Unaware the
visitor’s were setting up their meal. They were ants compared to the
gigantic wall of water. This is the image that was etched into the mind
of the Yala National Park guide, before the 2004 tsunami was to forever
redefine the Yala landscape. He had a narrow escape, while eight others
in his party perished.
The serenity of the Sri Lumbini Viveka Senasana, Koswatta
Battaramulla is a far cry from the devastation of the tsunami. This is
what Thalawathugoda Saddhamangala Thera sought when he built the Vihara,
with his own money to give merit to his two daughters, Deepthi and
Eranga Ranasinghe, who were taken away from their parents on that
fateful day in Yala.
“I had never felt so alone in my life as I had felt on that December
26,” said Saddhamangala Thera. The story of the Ranasinghe family has
been told a dozen times over, but it never ceases to inspire.
In their heyday, the Ranasinghe was a business tycoon, the owner of a
business that reached all parts of the country except Jaffna. Before he
got married he announced his desire to be ordained by age 50 to give
merits to his parents. Nobody took him seriously then. ‘‘Things will
change when you have children,’’ they said. Sure enough getting ordained
would probably have been the furthest thing in his mind after he had his
two daughters. The next thirty years were spent educating them, building
homes for them and finally giving them off in marriage.
A long weekend of that fateful December beckoned them to their doom.
The group, eight in all, reached Kataragama, Situlpauva on December 25
and were to proceed to Yala the next day. Their mother was observing sil
at Devram Vehera while the father was attending a function at the Kande
painting a Buddha statue
“When we learned about the tsunami, we never thought that our
daughters were in any danger,” said Saddhamangala Thera. “But we were
unable to contact them.” In fact they would not know their fate until
two days later. The search party that consisted of relatives called the
Ranasinghes from Hambantota with nothing new to offer. “On 27th we got
word that they were critically wounded but alive. They had lied because
they didn’t want to upset us.”
Deepthi and Eranga Ranasinghe were 23 and 24 when they died. “When
they finally told us the truth and asked me what clothes should be put
on them for the funeral I was speechless.” The Ranasunghes did not see
their daughters again; their coffins were sealed and buried in the
Thalawathugoda Cemetery along with the six others that died, including
their two husbands Saman Ratnesiri and Palitha Wendabona.
At the time they died the business was already taken over by the
younger daughter and her husband Palitha Wendabona, “There were over 150
people working under him at the time,” said Saddhamangala Thera. The
Ranasinghe couple saw no point in running a business any more, but had
no choice but to continue it for another one and half years because they
did not want to abandon the employees. In fact a portion of their multi
million rupee business were given away to employees.
Most of the business was sold away to build houses for the homeless.
Twenty-three vehicles were sold in one single day and the money given
away to temples, 13 shrine rooms were built. A nine-foot statue in the
form the Buddha alighting from heaven, was built in Sankassa Vihara
Dambadiva. A 50 kg gong was offered to the Sri Pada Temple. Another
Buddha statue and a statue of Mahamaya were funded by the Ranasinghes.
One of their buildings were sold for Rs 50 million. The buyer skipped
the country after giving them only two million. Neither Saddhamangala
Thera nor Chandra Ranasinghe, the mother of the daughters, is keen to
resort to legal measures to get their money. “Had we had the money, that
too would have been spent on meritorious activities,” says Saddhamangala
Chandra Ranasinghe now lives near
Sri Maha Bodhi and engages herself
in Buddhist rites and rituals throughout the year
After everything was sold away Ranasinghe informed his wife, Chandra,
of his intension to be ordained. “I never hesitated for a moment,” says
Chandra Ranasinghe. “I bore no son I could offer to the Sasana, this was
the next best thing.”
The day before Ranasinghe was to be ordained at Ruwanweli Seya,
Chandra Ranasinghe cried for hours at Ruwanweli Saya wishing for
strength not to break into tears when she would first see him in robes.
“I strongly believe that there are hidden powers at work, because I
didn’t shed a single tear when I saw him in robes the first time.”
Kollonnawe Sri Sumangala Thera of the Devram Vehera was a great
source of guidance to the couple during and after these trying times. “I
would have gone crazy had it not been for him,” said Chandra Ranasinghe
with much piety and respect. In fact Sri Sumangala Thera played a key
role in getting Ranasinghe ordained.
For weeks after her husband was ordained she served his plate at the
table, on every meal, forgetting that he was no longer home. “I had been
doing this for 30 years,” confessed Chandra Ranasinghe. “Old habits die
“When I first went to my husbands mother’s house and she asked me
what I would like for a present, I told her that she had already given
me the best present, her son,” said Chandra Ranasinghe. “I was twenty
back then, I didn’t realize how true my own words were. It applies now
more than ever.”
“A woman is first under the care of the father, then husband and
finally the son. I have none now. But I am strong for it. I have no
qualms about death now; I can die in peace because I have no one to
leave behind.” In spite of her sure tone, there was a slight quaver in
her voice. “But I pray no other woman would have to end up alone like
me.” Chandra Ranasinghe now lives near Sri Maha Bodhi and engages
herself in Buddhist rites and rituals throughout the year. Her simple
unattached life allows her a lightness of heart.
Her only regret is the words she uttered to her younger daughter a
few weeks before they passed away. “Although they were both married they
were both very close to me. My younger daughter Deepthi had her head on
my lap when I said that I want to break away from the bond of motherly
love, because this was the only hindrance to a religious life. I will
forever regret saying this before they died. It was like this was
destined to happen,” added Chandra Ranasinghe with a quiver.
In spite of her deep rooted piousness she is still shaken by the
sight of a woman who ressembles either of her daughters in any way.
Because her children didn’t have children of their own and because she
lost hers, she gives alms to pregnant women every September.” She had
built a Viharamahadevi statue with the wish that no Sri Lankan would
ever have to survive the loss of loved ones due to water related
disasters. She gives alms to Sankassapura Vihara, Dambadiva every
December, this she had been conducting for seven years, since even
before her daughters passed away. “I will continue to go there until my
legs can carry me.”
Tsunami memorial temple
Sri Lumbini Viveka Senasana, Koswatta Battaramulla is now three years
and six months old. “There were only a paddy field and a 200 year old Bo
tree when I first came here,” said Saddhamangala Thera. It is a memorial
temple for those who perished in the tsunami disaster. He had built the
temple with his own money and had so far not felt the need to ask for
The Thera donating a Buddha Statue to
a devotee. Pictures by Saman Sri Wedage
The Vihara has released 28 cows over
the years in addition to other various animals such as goats
Slowly brick by brick the temple has taken shape. The lightning
conductor on top of the Tupa was built by adherent Seneviratne with Rs
300,000, adherent Udaya Nanda built the Tupa, which was named after
Anagarika Dharmapala. The relics have been brought all the way from Sri
Pada. The temple also consists of statues of Anagarika Dharmapala and
Mahamayadevi. Saddhamangala Thera has been instrumental in building over
250 statues in various temples.
A gold plated statue was recently offered to the Ratanasara Temple,
Angunakolapelessa. The offering of Atavisi Buddha Statues to another
temple in Tissamaharama is planned for next month.
The Manchu Asapuwa in Kosgama, Kandugoda, which was built by him
before relinquishing his lay life, is now home to two Dasasil Meni. Sri
Lumbini Viveka Senasana’s Daham Pasala commenced on May 5, 2011. The
Vihara has released 28 cows over the years in addition to other various
animals such as goats and chickens. The Vihara does not accept meat
items for alms. “Most people give alms to acquire merits. But what
merits do you gain from killing animals?”
Saddhamangala Thera’s next objective is to groom the next generation
of Sangha. “The Sasana won’t last without good disciples,” says
Saddhamangala Thera. He hopes to start a pirivena for the 13 young monks
resident in the temple. They have come from all over the country, some
as far as Ampara.
“My daughters were very religious and respectful to their parents,”
said Saddhamangala Thera. “I initially wanted to be ordained to give
merits to my parents, but since my daughters died I wanted to do it for
all of them.” He respects his wife of lay life for supporting him to
relinquish is lay life and take to robes.
“My only hope is that Saddhamangala Thera is able to do more service
to the Sasana,” says Chandra Ranasinghe. “I only have confidence in the
Buddha now. He helped Patachara and Kisa Gothami, I have full faith in
the Dhamma,” Chandra Ranasinghe.
“Perhaps it is because I have lived by Buddha Dhamma that I have been
able to cope with such grief. My two daughters were the apple of my
If I could survive without them, I could survive without anything. My
only hope is to attain Nibbhana now.”
However Chandra Ranasinghe strongly believes that her daughters are
in a good place. Of course with all the good deeds that are being done
to offer them merit it could not be otherwise.