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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.

Fateful December

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 Vihara.

The Thera 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 Thera.

Chandra Ranasinghe now lives near
Sri Maha Bodhi and engages herself
in Buddhist rites and rituals throughout the year

Anagharika Dharmapala Seya.

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 hard.”

“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 money.

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 and chickens.

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 eyes.

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.

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