Vajirarama Temple — centre of Buddhist activities

By Dr. K. D. G. Wimalaratne
Director, National Archives
Vajirarama Temple Bambalapitiya was established at the turn of the twentieth century, where some lands were granted by few devoted Buddhists of the village called Bambalapitiya on July 27, 1901. It originated as a Bana preaching hall established under the society called "Dharma Samagama" in the 1880’s by the Buddhists of Bambalapitya during the Buddhist revival.

Venerable Pelene Vajiragnana Thera was residing at Suvisuddharama temple, Wellewatte during this time and the Thera was invited by the Buddhists of Bambalapitiya and was taken in procession to reside at Bana Salawa. When Pelene Vajiragnana Thera came into residence it was named "Vajirarama" extracting the name of the Venerable Bhikku.

Within a very brief time, Pelene Vajiragnana Thera was able to win the veneration of not only the people of Bambalapitiya, but also those who came from afar. His reputation attracted many pupils and supporters from many parts of the country. The Daham Pasala or the Sunday School started on August 8, 1918 by the Thera Vajiragnana, imparted the knowledge of the Dhamma and discipline according to the Buddhist way of life.

Some of the distinguished personalities who trod their way to study at the feet of the Mahanayake Thera at Vajirarama, were former presidents of Sri Lanka Viz, J. R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, R. G. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake (former Prime Minister). Corbett Jayawardena (later Sedawatte Dharmaruchchi Thera). Lalith Atulathmudali, W. A. Silva, Bernard Soysa, and Dr. P. R. Anthonis, S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, a former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (President of Sri Lanka) and Anura Bandaranaike (former speaker of Sri Lanka) visited Vajirarama to seek advice from the erudite monks of Vajirarama.

The Scholar and Nationalist Sir D. B. Jayatilake, the famous Sinhala Novelist W. A. Silva, the famous Sinhala Poet of Katunayake, Lionel W . de Silva, and many other scholars came for discussion and advice on academic and literary matters to Vajirarama. The scholars were also attracted to Vajirarama library which had an excellent collection of library books.

The building which was built by G. J. Silva was opened by the Colonial Secretary, Cecil Clementi, was established on July 15, 1924 by Vajiragnana Maha Nayake Thera.

His profound knowledge of the Dhamma and his exemplary life as a Buddhist monk, attracted to the Vajirarama temple, educated and intelligent young men who were ordained by him after a course of strict training in the Bhikku order. Vajirarama produced many distinguished and learned pupils such as Kotahene Narada Kamburagamuwe Mahanama, Denipitiye Sumanasiri, Koggala Rohana, Madihe Pannasiha, Kotahene Piyadassi, Bambalapitiye Kasyapa, Ampitiye Rahula, Walgama Sugathananda, Naoutunne Gunasiri, Bope Vinitha and Pamburana Methieye, Bhikku Soma the pioneers who were all trained to carry out the light of the Dhamma to all parts of the world. The above mentioned venerated pupils of Pelene Vajiragnana Thera, who were residing at Vajirarama, planted the candle of understanding of the Dhamma in countries such as England, U.S.A, Germany, France, Australia, China, Japan, Java, Sumatra, Singapore, Hong Kong, Viet-Nam, Nepal and Africa.

A "Kathikawatha" or the Code of Conduct for the resident monks of Vajirarama was prepared by Venerable Palene Vajiragnana Thera on January 1, 1940.

Vajirarama temple became the nerve centre of Buddhist activities in the country during the first half of the twentieth century. Vajirarama temple is bestowed with the distinction of offering to deliver the first Dhamma sermon through the radio, where Pelene Vajiragnana Thera delivered the first sermon which had an impact not only in Sri Lanka, but also in India as far as Bangalore.

Under the patronage of Pelene Vajiragnana Thera, Vajirarama produced an excellent Buddhist periodical "Bauddha Lamaya" in 1937 and a Buddhist pamphlet "Lak Budu Sasuna" towards the propagation of Buddhism, and disciplining the society, specially the young ones.

The Sunday school at Vajirarama attracts many thousands of pupils even at present. The Vajirarama established under a Trustee deed with distinguished trustees operates a code of conduct and has a Dayaka Sabha or a Society which is responsible for the smooth running of the temple affairs.

The Bhikkus of Vajirarama temple belong to the Dharmarakshitha sector of the Amarapura Nikaya, and at the time of the Centenary celebrations, the most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayake Thera is the Chief Priest of the Nikaya and the Chief Incumbent of Vajirarama.