Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera and Buddhist fervour in "Little Rome"

Negombo known as the "Little Rome" is a Catholic stronghold in Sri Lanka. Although the Buddhists there are less than 10% of the population their religious fervour is not second to that of the Catholics in Negombo.

Bhodirajarama Viharaya, the well-known Buddhist Temple in Negombo is a popular religious centre and it attracts devotees from all over the country. Popularly known as the "Angurukaramulla Temple" it is a must for all the Buddhist pilgrims who pass through Negombo.

Abhayasekeraramaya Temple situated within a few fathoms from the Bodhirajarama Vihare is a well known centre of learning. Bauddha Mandiraya in the heart of Negombo town is a social and cultural centre of both the Buddhists and non-Buddhists in the area.

The late Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Nayaka Thera, the well known prelate, preacher of Bana, writer, poes and social reformer has contributed in no small measure for a Buddhist resurgence in Negombo. He passed away 21 years ago on October 11, 1981.

Ven. Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Nayaka Thera was born at Thimbirigaskatuwa, Negombo on January 25, 1912. He entered Buddha Sasana as a pupil of the late Madampe Aggawamsa Tissa Thera, the then Nayaka Thera of the Abhayasekeraramaya Temple, Negombo.

As a samanera, Jinawamsa Thera had his early education at Vidyabandu Pirivena at Kirimetiyana under Ven. Pindapathika Suddhamrnalankara Thera, the Maha Nayaka of Amarapura Mula Vamsa Nikaya. In 1931, he joined Vidyodaya Pirivena for higher education. He passed out from Vidyodaya with honours in Pali and Sanskrit and carried many prizes.

After completing his studies, Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera returned to his native temple, Abhayasekeraramaya in Negombo. As a young Bhikku he took a leading part in all religious and cultural activities in Negombo. During his time Abhayasekeraramaya became a hive of spiritual and social activity.

Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera set up Susilodaya Sunday Dhamma School in Negombo and was its head for 40 years. He was the patron of Negombo Bauddha Sadachara Vardhana Samithiya and played a leading role to establish Buddha Mandiraya in Negombo overcoming many obstacles. He also initiated the formation of Buddha Kulangana Samithiya in Negombo.

It was Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera who organised Buddhist Associations in Negombo hospital and Negombo prisons. He encouraged the formation of the Negombo Buddhist Lawyers’ Association. Even the Catholic lawyers participated in philosophical discussions conducted by Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera in this society. He also took a leading role to establish the Bhikku ward in the Negombo hospital.

Dr. E. R. Wijerama was so taken up by the work of Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera, he and his wife built a temple in a plot of land in Eadirana and donated it to Jinawamsa Thera. This is the present Wijeraramaya Temple’ at Eadirana.

The Buddhists in Kochchikade on the outskirts of Negombo were handicapped without a temple for their religious activities. Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera with the assistance of the businessmen there established Sri Saddharmodaya Vihare at Kochchikade.

In 1961, when Madampe Aggawamsa Nayaka Thera passed away, Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera succeeded him as the incumbent of Abhayasekararamaya Temple in Negombo. It was Jinawamsa Thera who built the beautiful Chaithya at Abhayaskeraramaya. He also converted the temple to a seat of higher studies.

Many Buddhists and non-Buddhists including Catholic clergy came to study Pali and Sanskrit for higher studies under Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Nayaka Thera. This writer too studied Sinhala for University Entrance examination at the feet of Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera. It was he who trained me to absorb the beauty of Sinhala language and literature and niceties of our rich heritage and culture.

Ven. Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera was a well known preacher of Bana as well. He was much in demand all over the country for his erudite sermons. He preached Bana through the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Be thought Buddhism for higher classes at Harischandra Vidyalaya, Negombo.

He was also a poet and author of several books. His works "Bhakthi Malinee" and "Sanvega Malinee" present Buddhist philosophy in simple verses. Poems from "Bhakthi Malinee" were often recited in Bosath Lama Lapatiyo programme in the SLBC. Some verses in "Sanvega Malinee" contained so much pathos, they were recited along with those of "Wessanthara Jathakaya" at nights at funeral houses in Negombo.

The well known poet Wimalendra Chathuregama once remarked that in language and in style Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera came close to Wattave Thera of Guttilaya fame. He also presented "Bauddha Gedera" and "Saranamali" in prose exalting Buddhist way of life and culture.

Ven. Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera was a well known supporter of the SLFP. He was close to the SLFP hierachy. However he was not a political activitist, and he never gave a political dimension to religion. He worked with all irrespective of their political convictions for the progress of mankind.

Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera always came to the forefront on national issues. In 1944 when Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara presented the Free Education Bill, he was opposed by vested interests spearheaded by the Catholic Church. In this endeavour Dr.C.W.W.Eannangara was ably backed by the progressive Buddhist Bhikkus centred round Vidyalankara Pirivena. Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera who was a young Bhikku at the time too joined them and campaigned for free education.

In 1956, Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera threw all his efforts to bring about a national resurgence that led to the victory of the MEP. He played a leading role in 1960 to mobilise both Chatolics and non-Cahtolics in and around Negombo in favour of Schools take over.

Though Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera fought hard for the religious and cultural rights of the Buddhists, humanism was his policy and he believed in the rights of others. He was deeply interested in the Buddhist-Christian friendship which made him a popular and venerated personality among the Catholics. For over a decade he was a patron of Meegomu Janatha Balavegaya and organisation set up by Catholic clergy in Negombo.

That is not all. For over 20 years Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera was the secretary of the Pradeshiya Sasanarakashaka Mandalaya, in the area. He was also a joint secretary of the Three Nikaya Sangha Sabha of the Negombo division. At the time of his death, he was the Nayaka Thera of the Negombo division of the Amarapura Mula Vamsa Nikaya.

Ven. Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera kindled the light of Dhamma in a predominantly Catholic area. At the national level, he particiapated and played a leading role in every movement and struggle for the betterment of people. Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera has made his indelible stamp of the contemporary religious, cultural and social scene.

The arrangements have been made to cammemorate the 21st death anniversay of Meeegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera on October 11, 2002 at Negombo under the guidance of Meegomuwe Sumedha Tissa Thera, the incumbent of Abhayasekeraramaya, Negombo. There will be a commemorative meeting at Susilodaya Daham Pasala followed by a Pinkama at Abhayasekerara-maya in honour of Meegomuwe Jinawamsa Thera.

W. T. A. Leslie Fernando
former High Court Judge