1897-1963 Welivitiye Soratha Maha Thero

Commemoration speech delivered in honor of Reverend Weliwitiye Sri Soratha Thero: the trailblazer of contemporary Piriven University system and the pioneer of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. by
Professor Malini Aandagama, Former Head of the Department of History and Archeology of University of Sri Jayewardenepura and the Secretary of the Mahavansa Editorial Board of the Department of Cultural Studies.
Commemoration ceremony held at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura on 17th July, 2015.

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I consider this opportunity to deliver the commemoration speech in memory of Rev. Welivitiye Sri Soratha Thero as a great honor. Without any hesitance or reservations, I would declare that Rev Sri Soratha Thero is akin to an incessant fountain of great wisdom and knowledge. In this address I would like to talk about his birth, his path to monkhood, education, his ordination as a priest, integration into Vidyodaya Pirivena and its pedagogical staff, him being elected as the Chief Incumbent Priest at Vidyodaya Pirivena, and his becoming the first Vice Chancellor of the Vidyodaya University. Moreover I would give special attention to the services rendered by his scholarly skills, literary prowess, pedagogical expertise as well as his honorable and virtuous comportment. Many tributes have been paid to honor this great personality, both verbally and though numerous written documents; yet to give a full account of this distinguished and noble personality is deemed impossible as the diverse philosophies, teachings, theologies, perspectives and traditions espoused by him are far too numerous.

Thus I would like to deviate from the traditional modes of delivering a commemoration speech to avoid the facts that are often reiterated, and instead give more attention to the Piriven education system in Sri Lanka from a historical perspective, and to highlight the appreciable service rendered by Soratha Thero in that regard.

I believe that most of you who are gathered here have a considerable amount of understanding with regard to the Piriven education system in Sri Lanka. Yet it cannot be denied that today, there are no proper methods to educate the school children, Undergraduates and the general youth about the historical factors affiliated to Piriven education system. It is not unknown that in any country scholars should take measures to ensure the continuity of national heritage and to propagatethe unaccountable value of that heritage. It is high time that the present day officials affiliated to Piriven Universities take an active part in that endeavor as was done in the past.

In commemorating the eminent personality of Sri Soratha Thero, both the officials and the students should first try to understand the philosophy espoused by him. One should not only try to inculcate his exemplary and highly virtuous behavior with regard to his career from a student to becoming the Vice Chancellor of Vidyoday University, but also from the services rendered by his religiosity and administrative capabilities. Thus it is obvious and indisputable that we should endeavor to at least raise the standards of University of Sri Jayewardenepura to those of the world renowned Piriven Universities of the Anuradhapura era such as Jethawana and Abayagiri.

As a result of the reawakening of nationalism that surged forth during the post-independence era and subsequently due to the political transmutations in 1956, a Parliamentary Act was passed in 1958, through which Maligaknda Vidyodaya Pirivena was reestablished as the Vidyodaya University.It must be noted that this Vidyodaya Pirivena was initiated by Rev. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala thero in Maligaknada in order to fuel the outpouring sense of Nationalism in 1863. It is this Vidyodaya Pirivena of Sri Lanka that is today known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Though these recent historical facts with regard to Piriven Universities, we can get an understanding as to their development throughout a period of almost 150 years.

Yet in the endeavor to trace the development of the national identity of Sri Lanka though the heritage of Buddhist University system these facts are not deemed sufficient. For that we should look back into the period of colonization during which there were several attempts to tarnish and erase our unique national heritage. We should go back to investigate the Buddhist education system – of which Piriven Universities are the highetst form of institution – that started in the third century. In an era where our national heritage is threatened by so called development projects, it is no secret that Sri Soratha Thero has already bestowed us with the ways and means of curbing this unfortunate situation. Although the relevant parties highly appreciate the these services rendered by Sri Soratha Thero, there is the question of the guidance put forward by his teachings not being put into practical use today. If we follow the path lighted by Sri Soratha Thero with regard to Buddhist education system, and integrate that in to what is today known as ‘national development,’prevention of the ongoing degradation of the country will become a reality

As in the days of yore, the driving force for this task should come from the Universities, especially Piriven Universities. A greater part of this humongous responsibility falls under Vidyodaya University which has now become a modern day University. In order to highlight that modernization of Piriven Universities by adapting to the traditions of Western University culture and engaging in mal practices that go against our own traditional conventions of University education (such as unacceptable profit motive, neglecting the need for religious education and inculcating moral values) are not advisable especially for the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, which is the forefather of Vidyodaya University, I deem it right to explore the nature of Piriven Universities of the past.

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