The 141st birth anniversary fell on September 17 of Bhikkhu Sri Deavamitta Dharmapala, known in the annals of Buddhist history as Anagarika Dharmapala. His life and character had been a source of wonder and inspiration to Buddhists throughout the world for the last 141 years as he was an indefatigable servant of the Buddha.
Throughout the territories under Dutch occupation in Ceylon Buddhists had been compelled to declare themselves Christians and during the period of British rule, the law was enforced for seventy years, being abrogated only in 1884 when on behalf of the Buddhists of Ceylon, Col. Olcott made representations to Secretary of State for the Colonies in London.
The era was dark indeed for Sinhala-Buddhists. On September 17, 1864, in the Pettah district of Colombo where the national religion and culture had fallen to the lowest pitch of degeneration these came, as though to strike the evil at its very heart, Dharmapala, like a vivid flash of lightning from black and stormy sky.
David Hewavitharana as he was named grew up in an atmosphere of traditional Sinhala piety. The mother of Anagarika Dharmapala, Mallika Hewavitharana’s wish was to see her son rekindle the lamp of the Dharma in a darkened land. To fulfill the mother’s wish through all vicissitudes Anagarika Dharmapala stood firmly and fearlessly.
Throughout his life he devoted his time and energy to protect the Buddha Sasana. During his first visit to Buddhagaya in 1891 in his 28th year, he was astonished to witness the plight of Buddhagaya. This inspired him to start the battle which was to change not only his life but the whole course of modern Buddhist history.
The crucial moment of his career had come at last. He was form and determined. He stood face to face with destiny. He saw that the most sacred place in the Buddhist world was being shamefully neglected, its sculptures carted away, the image desecrated. He assured that as a true Buddhist he had not only the duty but also the right to stay there and protect the holy place.
The establishment of Mahabodhi Society on May 31, 1891 in Colombo was the new beginning for the neglected holy site.
His journey throughout was hazardous, painful indeed. His grit and desire to bring back the old glory of Buddhagaya and of many sacred places and to protect them for the Buddhist was very clear in his mind.
For 48 years he toiled hard to protect the holy places for Buddhists. The year 1932 was the most memorable year for Anagarika Dharmapala and for the work which he had nobly begun. The Indian Government recognising the true aspirations of the Mahabodhi Society, the Director General of Archaeology presented a golden casket containing sacred relics of The Buddha to the Mahabodhi Society on behalf of the Government of India.
This was a great victory for Anagarika Dharmapala. Ven. Dharmapala on that occasion recalled his first visit to Saranath in January 1891. He recounted some of the difficulties he had faced, and the sight he witnessed that year.
The old warrior who had been wheeled in an invalid chair declared: “After eight hundred years Buddhists have returned to their own dear, Holy Isipatana, in Baranesa. It is the wish of the Mahabodhi Society to give the people of India without distinction of caste, and creed, the compassionate doctrine of the Gauthama Samma Sambuddha. “I trust that you would come forward to disseminate the Arya Dhamma of Tathagatha throughout India as it is a compelling philosophy for human beings”.
Today thousands of Buddhists, Non-Buddhists visit Bodhgaya, Saranath and Kusinara. Buddhists need to remember Ven. Devamitta Dharmapala with gratitude and with veneration for restoring the Most Sacred place, devoting to it his entire life.
You were the indefatigable Servant of the Buddha. We remember you with gratitude today. I remember your sayings over and over again. “I shall never rest until Buddhagaya is restored to Buddhist hands.” May you be born again and again to protect the compassionate doctrine of Samma Sambuddha.
Original article by Daya Sirisena, President, Board of Trustees, Sirisena Dharmamandiraya Meditation Centre, Moratuwa
Source: Lake House