Ven Welivita Sri Saranankara (1698-1778)
In all these religious activities of King Kirti Sri Raajasinha he was inspired and guided by a great personality, a saamanera who was distinguished for his piety, enthusiasm, learning and determination. He was Velivita Pindapaatika Sri Saranankara. Born in July 1698 at Velivita, a village near Kandy, he became a novice at the age of sixteen as a pupil of an elder saamanera called Suuriyagoda. With great effort and devotion he studied the Pali language and the doctrine, for which purpose he traveled from place to place in search of books and tutors. Later he went about preaching the Dhamma, thus encouraging others to rise up for the welfare of the religion. These activities of Saranankara Saamanera soon made him popular as a teacher of great renown who devoted his life to his own welfare and that of others, a poet, preacher and controversialist.
Apart from his skill as a scholar he was also known for his austere practices. When he went round the country learning or preaching, he depended for his sustenance on the ancient practice of a bhikkhu, called pi.n.napaata, gathering his food from house to house in his almsbowl. For this he became known as Pindapaatika Saranankara. When King Vimala Dharmasuriya II reigned he was a saamanera, but his sincere devotion had pleased the king so much that he made a gilt casket set with seven hundred gems and presented it to Saranankara Saamanera, with many books. This king also provided the monk with the requisites and induced him to write several literary works.
When King Sri Vijaya Raajasinha came to the throne it was at the request of Saranankara Saamanera that the king sent two embassies to Siam. In the reign of King Kirti Sri Raajasinha, Saranankara Saamanera offered his fullest cooperation in his activities in the revival of Buddhism and the king depended upon the saamanera for guidance, advice and inspiration. He urged the king to send the embassy to Siam and himself wrote the messages that were taken to the Siamese king and the Sangharaaja of that country. The king’s ministers who constituted the embassy were chosen on his advice and this mission was successful mainly due to his exertions. After the return of the embassy Saranankara Saamanera was given higher ordination and was appointed Sangharaaja of Sri Lanka, the highest office conferred on a monk.
The activities of Saranankara Thera not only restored the higher ordination and the purity of the Sangha but also brought about a literary revival as a result of the impetus given by him to the study of the Pali language and the Buddha’s teachings.
Saranankara Thera himself compiled several important religious works such as the Muniguna alankaara, a Sinhalese poem in praise of the Buddha, the Saaraartha Sangraha, a treatise on various doctrinal teachings in Buddhism. Abhisambodhi-alankaara, a Pali poem in a hundred stanzas on the life of the Buddha from the time of Dipankara up to his enlightenment, the Madhuraartha Prakaasanii, which is a Sinhalese commentarial paraphrase to the Pali Mahaabodhiva.msa, and the Ruupamaalaa, a work on Pali grammar. Several others who were pupils of Saranankara Thera also composed many literary works. The great sangha father passed away on 18th July 1778 a.c. at the age of 81.
The successors of Sri Saranankara Thera are known as belonging to the Syaamopaali Nikaaya, now popularly called the Siyam (Syaama) Nikaaya. Only those who belonged to what was regarded as the highest caste could obtain higher ordination in that Nikaaya