Though this archive is dedicated to the venerable bhikkus of our nation, I would like to include this noble lay buddhist follower as his service to our land and faith can never be forgotten.
Walisinghe Harischandra was born to the family of Walisinghe Hendrick de Silva and Pehandi Marthnanda de Silva Gunasekera at Maha Hunupitiya a suburban village of Negombo on July 9, 1876. His birth name was Edward de Silva. Edward started his primary education under a Buddhist scholar monk and then attended St. Mary’s College, Negombo. Later he was entrusted to a lawyer uncle in Colombo, to continue his studies in English and Law. He was a student of Wesley College, Colombo from 1889 to 1895. After the school education, he attended the Law College.
Edward developed a keen interest in Buddhism and gradually began working as a true nationalist, while he was a law student. He changed his name to E.de S. Walisinghe and started teaching at the Sunday Dhamma school at Ananda College, Colombo. Sri Lanka was then a British colony known as Ceylon. Young E.de S. Walisinghe gave up his legal career and adopted the name Walisinghe Harischandra. He decided to be a Brahmacharya, which meant he would remain a bachelor, devoting his time to religious and national work. He believed that he would be able to serve his motherland in a more meaningful manner by getting involved in nationalist and religious activities.
Walisinghe Harischandra joined the Mahabodhi Society, which had been established by Anagarika Dharmapala, a prominent figure of Sri Lankan Buddhist nationalist movement. He worked first as the assistant secretary and later as the secretary of Mahabodhi Society. In 1899 he went across to India and was involved in the construction of the Maha Bodhi Vihara in Sanchi. He spent some time in India and participated in the campaign ‘Save Buddhagaya’.
He was moved by the sordid condition of Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Lanka. Among the business premises that had come up, there were meat stalls and liquor bars within close proximity to the Buddhist shrines. He made up his mind to stop this desecration and published a booklet named, the Sacred City of Anuradhapura and sent a copy to King George V. In this book he pointed out that the Crown representatives despoiled Buddhist Holy places and appealed to him to protect their sanctity. Before he died, he was able to hear that his request had been granted.
He also rose against the Wasteland Ordinance. The British authorities made use of it to acquire temple lands for construction work. When the government was about to acquire Mihintale Temple lands he made a vehement protest saying such action was real expropriation of clerical property. The government feared that this action might trigger off a major crisis and dropped the idea.
Walisinghe Harischandra’s other objective was to uplift a decadent community. He was sad to see that the moral and cultural deterioration was now deep-rooted in the community. He adduced this state was due to centuries of foreign domination of the island.
He travelled from village to village addressing crowds of people who gathered to listen to his message. He aimed at the moral uplift of the people and their righteous living. In this respect he also helped build some Sunday Dhamma Schools and himself taught Dhamma at a few. On his itineraries, sometimes not finding lodging, he had to rough it out in ambalamas’. He was in poor health owing to under-nourishment. He suffered all these to awaken people to the need of the hour.
Walisinghe Harischandra was also interested in Temperance Work and addressed many meetings of the Sri Lankan temperance society. By constantly addressing various meetings, he soon became a powerful orator. He wrote many books in the areas of Sri Lankan history and Buddhism and was also the editor of the magazine ‘Mahabodhi’. He was the prominent figure of making ancient city of Anuradhapura, a sacred city and was the founder of the Ruvanveli Dagoba Improvement Society. He did a great service for the restoration of ancient Buddhist shrines in Anuradhapura and Mihintale.
Walisinghe Harischandra kept a diary of daily activities making notes regularly. Among the entries towards the latter part of his life was one on ‘The best die young’.
Walisinghe Harischandra died on September 13, 1913 after a short illness. He died at relatively young age of 37, with the satisfaction of being able to be a part of the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Brahmachari Walisinghe Harischandra is regarded as a National Hero of Sri Lanka.
Walisinghe Harischandra lived for only 37 years, but within this relatively short period what he did to protect the places sacred to Buddhists and other sites of archaeological or historical interest was much and invaluable. When this iternent celebrate passed away on 13th of September, 1913, he had made 1363 speeches, visited Anuradhapura 80 times, Mihintale 63 times, at a time when motor transport was not available as in the modern day. All these visits were not pilgrimages but were in connection with restoration of ancient monuments which are culturally important or sacred to the Buddhist population. When Anagarika Dharmapala heard about his death, he mentioned, “I wish I were dead and Walisinghe living.
The Fearless Buddhist Leader
@ The Island
July 5, 2013, by Upali K. Salgado
VALISINGHIE HARISCHANDRA, was a close friend and mentor of Anagarika Dharmapala. Remarkably,- they had many things in common between .them. They were both Buddhist Leaders who lived at the same time; they lived calibrate lives, were forceful popular speakers, and were committed to fight against injustices. Whilst Dharmapala wrestled it – out with an influential Mahant (local Overlord) at Buddha-Gaya, to – obtain a measure of control of that hallowed place of Buddhist. worship; Harischandra was the cause of constant annoyance. to the Provincial Government Agent, Anuradhapura, and the Governors at Queen’s House. Representations on behalf of the Buddhists hem made, was not unusual, by despatching, telegraphic messages, and Memoranda to Whitehall, complaining against the Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, in particular.
Harischandra was born on the 9th July 1876. at Maha Hunupitiya, a village off Negombo. He had his early education at the village Temple, and later attended Wesley College Colombo. The study of the – Laws interested him for a brief .period of about two years, but his calling was to be, a Religious and Social worker.
The educational activities of a school Founded and Managed by the Maha Bodhi Society, at Rajagiriya took much of his time. As an active member. and later serving as General Secretary, and also Editor of MAHA BODHI, he became a. trusted lieutenant of Anagarika Dharmapala. Like his friend Dharmapala, who had voluntarily changed his name (which previously was DON DAVID), Harischandra too who had been named AT BIRTH AS, EDWARD DE SILVA changed his name toe be VALISINGHE HARISCHANDRA on 1st January 1899, in the presence of the Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Mahanayake Thera, at the Vidyodaya Pirivena Maligakanda.
A SILVER TONGUE
The golden threads of Buddhism, woven centuries ago into the Sinhala Peoples’ social web at Mihintale and Anuradhapura, lay buried after Magha’s historic invasion from South India. In Valisinghe Harischandra the Sinhala people found a Buddhist leader and a patriot, whose mission in life was to lighten-up ruins that lay in darkness.
He was a born orator, blessed with clear diction. There were none to equal him. With charisma he won the hearts of the simple villager of the N.C.P. He travelled by train and cart and often on foot many, many miles. Magnetically like, people in their thousands gathered to hear him speak on temperance, and the ugly habit of sinners consuming, Beef and Venison. Whenever he spoke at Anuradhapura, (usually on Poya days) there was a sea of heads. He often reminded the vast gatherings present, that they stood before A city in ruins, where every cluster of fretted granite pillars, appeared to be large Monasteries, and Shrine Rooms. He spoke with great emotion, reminding his listeners that, where gangs of wild. Monkeys ruled over the densely over grown habitat of thorny trees, Arahants had paced to and fro down Avenues, meditating on the. impermanency of life whilst, the air of the city in the 6th Century A.D. was filled with sound waves of paritta (Pirith), chanted by thousands of pious monks. As a reward for his labour, the Anuradhapura Preservation Scheme was enacted.
The Waste Lands Ordinance of 1910 was a typical Colonial, unpopular piece of legislation. He Collected historical, and social data from hundreds of Villages and Temples, in the Anuradhapura and Mihintale Districts; and submitted several Memoranda, to the Secretary of State for Colonies, to finally succeed in preventing the alienation of vast tracts of Temple and Village land to the State.
This patriotic son of Lanka was also a prolific writer. His “golden pen” never ran short of ink. His writing had a punch and a style of his own. He authored thirteen publications; The PURA-VITHYAVA, and the RUWANVELI CHETIYA WARNANAWA are considered two of his best efforts. King Dutugemunu, the Sinhala hero, inspired him to speak-out fearlessly: and in 1902, alongwith the Venerable Naranvita Sumanasara Maha Thera of the Ruwanveli-Seya Temple, he inaugurated the Ruwanveli Maha-Seya Restoration Society. It is recorded that when the late Venerable Heenetiyane Dhammaloka Mahanayake Thera, had first listened to Harischandra at the age of 10 years, he was inspired to beg of his parents that he be ordained a Buddhist monk. This Venerable Mahanayake Thera was known to be a pious monk, an untiring popular preacher of the Buddha Dhamma, blessed with a mellifluous voice. It was he who in 1925, founded the LANKA DHARMADUTHA SABAVA, two Pious monks the Ven. Aggamaha – Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayake Thera, who lived with us had also been inspired by Harischandra in 1905.
INCITING THE “HOI POLO” TO RIOT
The Government was often criticized by Harischandra in his speeches, because Colonial indifference had been shown to his pleas. Undeterred by Police harassment, on his initiative, Memoranda was submitted on behalf of the Buddhists, direct to King Edward VII. This action resulted in a Special Commission of Inquiry being appointed to examine the grievences of the Buddhists. Though physically weak after several attacks of the Malarial fever, Harischandra’s lone voice could not be stilled. He urged that no Government building should be built over Buddhist ruins, and no Archaeological evidence such as a granite pillar or stone statue should ever be removed to make way for a Government building. He urged that lands within one mile -radius of the Sacred Bo – Tree should be considered a Buddhist Preserve. About that time, on 20th June 1903 (which happened to be a Poya day), a young Kachcheri Mudaliyar named Amerasekera, had ridden on his Steed, at speed, in an inexperienced manner, over the glades overlooking the Ruwanveli Maha-Seya, where pilgrims observe Ata-Sil. The horse had kicked an aged lady, pilgrim, resulting in injury. The crowd that witnessed the incident, became angry and demanded that the Kachcheri Mudaliyar be punished forthwith. Whilst he hid in his bungalow, the crowd’ HAD GOT OUT OF HAND, and then destroyed the Venison. and Beef stalls, and also a large Roman Catholic Church, in one night. At the time, that British Colonial, Administrators gave little “protection” or support for Buddhist causes. On hearing of the unruly mob behaviour, Harischandra together with the Ven Sumanasara Maha Thera had addressed the masses, to be calm, but a mischievous informant who was a friend of the Kachcheri Mudalyar had indicated that Harischandra was one of the principal incitors.
He was therefore arrested, and lived in a Remand Prisons for17 days, until bail was granted in Rs. 2000/- (which at. that time, wads considered a very large sumo., Later, alongwith several others, he was indicted in the Supreme Court, in Colombo, before Chief Justice J. P. Middleton, on five counts, including “inciting the hoi-poli to riot”. With financial support readily donated by the Buddhist public, the best Lawyer who was, available, Fredrick Dornhorst KC, was retained to defend all the accused. Mr. Advocate Dornhorst KC, very eloquently addressed the Jury for four hours and thereafter, when British.justice echoed through the halls at Hultsdorp hill, Harischandra and two others were honourably acquitted.
HIS EARLY DEATH
This human dynamo had no financial organisation to support him. According to his Diary leaves, the Brahmachari had addressed over 1300 public’ meetings all over the Island. As a result of his efforts, hundreds of Toddy Tavern’s and Beef Stalls were closed. Temple Daham Schools began to function. He spoke aloud and fearlessly; giving the Buddhists courage to raise their heads to organise Pereheras, establish Buddhist Schools, build Temples, adopt Buddhist, names, and appealed to ‘them not to culturally ape the bourgeoise West. He gave up ties of family bondage. Some of his better known dearest friends were Mrs. Mallika Hewavitharana, Dr. C. A. Hewavitharana, Anagarika Dharmapala, a Philanthropist, Mudaliyar J. M. Weerasuriya of Anuradhapura, Arthur V. Dias of Panadura, Amadoru Mendis, D.S. Senanayake, F. R. Senanayake Advocate C. Batuwantudawe, D.S.C. Jinadasa and the Ven Naranvita Sumanasira Thera. When he had blossomed out in the eyes of the. Buddhist public as an energetic Leader, at the young age of 37, he fell-ill to suffer great pain from a carbuncle on his shoulder.
Though nursed and medically cared for at the hospitable home of Mrs. Mallika Hewavitharane, at Aloe Avenue, Kollupitiya, he passed away on 13th September, 1913. The day he died, the Buddhists of little Lanka mourned his demise in their thousands, with deep sorrow, all dressed–up in spotless white. That night, after the funeral pyre had been lit, there remained an air of gloom, as if an eclipse of the moon had taken place.
After his death, the MAHABODHI, published an IN MEMORIAM which said: His body lies, but the work lives on; the lips that utterred enthusiastic words are silent, but the words themselves perpetuated on living records, will carry their message of love, charity, patriotism to generations unborn.’
Restoring the sacred city of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura as we know it today would not have been a reality if not for the great effort put in by a single man – Brahmachari Walisinghe Harischandra (1876-1913), another true nationalist who trod the path of Anagarika Dharmapala. At a time when the treasured city was in a state of neglect, he led the movement to restore it to its past glory.
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first capital from 4th century B.C to 10th century A.D, was also the centre of the country’s earliest civilisation. It is the foremost of the Island’s ancient cities with extensive Buddhist monuments. South Indian invaders, lured by the city’s prosperity attacked it from time to time. The Chola king, Rajaraja I (985-1018) conquered Anuradhapura and captured the Lankan king, Mahinda V who died in captivity in India. The Cholas ruled Rajarata, the heartland of the Sinhalese, as a province of South India, shifting the capital from Anuradhapura which they had ravaged, to Polonnaruwa. Chola rule was brought to an end only in 1070 by Vijayabahu I.
Anuradhapura went to rack and ruin over the centuries and what was once a most prosperous area became jungle land. H. C. P. Bell (1851-1937) who came to the island in 1873 on appointment to the Ceylon Civil Service, served as the first head of the Archaeological Survey from 1890 to 1912. He was the pioneer in organising archaeology in Sri Lanka and conducted excavation and conservation work at Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya.
Meanwhile, a son born to an influential Buddhist family in Maha Hunupitiya in Negombo on 9 July 1876 was given the name Edward de Silva, in keeping with the practice in colonial times, of naming children with European names.
After he read the first letters at an auspicious time on 4 November 1880, he was sent to the Sinhalese school in his native village for his early education and then to St Mary’s High School, Negombo. He was also sent to a scholarly monk at the village temple to improve his knowledge in Sinhalese and Buddhsim. When he was 13, he was sent to Colombo and admitted to Wesley College to pursue his higher studies and become a lawyer.
By the time he was 21, he was more interested in promoting national aspirations and changed his name to E. D. S. Walisinghe. He developed oratory as a student studying law and took part in literary activities in several societies.
Having become a teacher in the Daham Pasala at Ananda College, he continued his interest in Buddhism and temperance work, and he addressed a meeting of the temperance society held in Negombo on 30 June 1898.
He was keen to change his name once again and when he told his idea to Venerable Pannamolitisa Nayaka Thera, head of the Randombe Maha Chaitya Pirivena, he suggested using the name ‘Harischandra’.
Thus he became Walisinghe Harischandra and on 30 June 1898, he gave up his desire to become an advocate. On that day, he made a note in his diary -”Decided impression on renunciation”. He was convinced that he would be able to serve humanity in the more meaningful manner by getting involved in nationalist and religious activities. He also decided on a life of celibacy thus becoming ‘Brahmachari’.
With his close association with Anagarika Dharmapala, he became assistant secretary of the Maha Bodhi Society in June 1898 and secretary of the Society by December that year. In 1899 he went across to India and was involved in the construction of the Maha Bodhi Vihara in Sanchi, which Anagarika Dharmapala had started.
Walisinghe Harischandra came to Anuradhapura on 16 November 1898 and made a brave call ‘Save Anuradhapura’. Staging a non-violent struggle with the government of the time, he delivered his first discourse near Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi on 18th January 1899.
He argued with Archaeological Commissioner Bell on the conservation of the city and even went to courts against bureaucrats. He took the initiative in establishing the Ruvanveli Dagoba Improvement Society and did yeoman service to restore the ancient city to its pristine glory.
He maintained a diary of activities making notes regularly. Many are the publications by him. Among them are several on the different places of worship in Anuradhapura. Among a comment made by him during the latter stages of his life was a diary note reading ‘The best die young’. He himself breathed his lat when he was just 37 – on 13 September 1913.