Sinhalese Buddhist mission to Burma in 1693

By D. Amarasiri Weeraratne, The Island, Nov 26, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- An ola-leaf document called "Churnikapotha" at the Colombo archives contains details of a Kandyan Buddhist mission by royal emissaries to Arahan in Burma in the year 1693 A.D. The purpose was to get a chapter of monks from Burma to revive the Sinhalese order of Buddhist monks. It had disappeared due to the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and temples and the expulsion of Buddhist monks from the low country ruled by the Portuguese. The monks who fled to the Kandyan territory soon became corrupt and died out due to disturbed conditions of war with the Portuguese.

Therefore King Wimala Dharma Surya II decided to send a mission to Burma, get down senior monks and revive the Singhalese Sangha. Accordingly he sent a delegation of royal emissaries led by the Kandyan aristocrats viz. Dodanwela Herath Mudiyanse, Beminiwattee Dissanayaka Mudiyanse, Sivagama Pandita Mudiyanse with their assistants and servants comprising 23 people.

They set out for Burma in 1693 from Colombo. They sailed in ships lent to them by the Dutch, governor. A gun salute was fired as they set sail. They touched at Tuticorin and resumed the voyage as favourable winds set in.

On 13th July 1693 they left Tuticorin and a salute of 24 guns was fired. They anchored at the month of Irrawady river on 29/7/1693. A few Sinhalese nobles went ashore and made inquiries whether Buddhism was still flourishing there, and whether the King was a Buddhist.

The ship sailed up the river and anchored at a suitable place. They in formed the court of their arrival. A Burmese royal officer came to the ship. His name was is ma woo. He started making inquiries. He asked, questions, as follows:-

Q. "From where have you people came? "Who owns this ship?"
A. We are Sinhalese from Ceylon. We have brought a letter from our king. This ship in owned and manned by the Dutch.

Q. Why did you come in a Dutch ship? Does your king not have ships?
A. Our king has some ships. But Burma is too far. The Dutch are loyal to our king. They are skilled navigators. So we were asked to take their ship.

Q. Does not the Sinhalese king have better friends than the Dutch?
A. The Dutch are our kings servants we trust them.

Q. Have you brought presents to our king? Did you bring a letter?
A. For a long time we have lost contact with Burma. We are not sure whether you are still Buddhist and whether the king is a patron of Buddhism. So we did not bring presents nor a royal epistle. But we have brought a letter written in the Pali language.

Q. What else have you brought?
A. We have brought two Dhamma books for us to read on the voyage. We have also brought a Buddha statue for religious devotions.

Q. Any wares for trade?
A. We have not come for trade. We have only brought a letter from our king to be delivered personally to your king.

Q. Do not say later that you have some goods for sale.
A. We have not come with any deceitful intentions. We have only a letter from our king to your ruler.

Q. How many of you have come. How many Dutch men are manning the ship?
A. There are 23 Sinhalese and 61 Dutchmen.

Q. How many canons are on Groad?
A. 24 canons.

Q. Then wait on ship till we give orders.

These questions show that the Burmese were suspicious about the Dutchmen on the ship. Three days later the same officer came with another and questioned the Sinhalese leaders further. They asked the Sinhalese to await further instructions.

Two days later U. Ma Woo came on board. He wanted the ship brought into the harbour. Then we brought the ship inside. A salute of 15 guns was fired. The Burmese officer permitted three Sinhalese to go out and collect water and firewood. The offices asked where they would like the Pali letter read at a temple or court. The delegation replied that they would like to hand the letter personally to the king and have the letter read and translated by a Bhikku.

Two weeks later U. Dwaja and Sahabandu came and satisfied themselves that the Sinhalese were royal emissaries. He wanted the two Dhamma books and the letter to the king. They were handed over ceremonially. A salute of 10 guns was fired. Next Friday two officers came. They presented a cash donation and five baskets containing coconuts, oranges, lime, guavas etc. The Sinhalese emissaries expressed their thanks.

The Burmse officers said their king was pleased to hear that the Sinhalese king was making efforts promote Buddhism. The fruits were distributed equally among the emissaries and the Dutch. The Dutch refused to accept money saying they are under orders from their superiors not to accept cash gifts.

Then they were taken ashore and lodged in a suitable house. A gun salute was fired. On 5th September 1693, the Burmese nobleman U. Dwaja came and presented another set of baskets containing fruits. He inquired about the ports in Ceylon and the religion of the people. He inquired whether there were cities called Sitapura and Jayawardenapura and Siriwardenapura. The Sinhalese leader replied in the affirmative.

Later the Sinhalese emissaries were taken by boat to a large temple. There they were asked about the Sinhalese king, their voyage and other curtsies. They were asked how many years is it since you have lost the Higher Ordination? They replied about 30 years. The officer said he would report to the king, as it was a malter of vital importance for the existence of Buddhism.

On 26/9/1698 the royal officer U. Dwaja came to the emissaries and provided them provisions, fish betel and arecanuts. He asked who wrote their letter in the Pali language. They replied the Pandit Mudiyanse of our court wrote the letter. Asked why they brought no presents to the king, the Sinhalese replied, this is only the preliminary visit to find out about the position of Buddhism as they were not sure whether Buddhism was flourishing and the king was it?s patron. They said they would go back and come again with suitable presents when they get monks to fulfil their need. The emissaries were asked to attend court and present their letter.

After that the Sinhalese boarded a Dutch launch and travelled up the river. When they landed they were conducted in a procession with elephants and music to the royal palace. They were received at the gate. Then they were brought to the king?s court.

The Pali letter was read before the king. They were asked what further have you to say. They said they had come to inquire about the state of Buddhism before coming to take away senior elders to revive the Buddha Sasana in Ceylon.

The king inquired about the Sinhalese kings health etc. He inquired about the Tooth Relic and its safety. The king announced he was glad to give whatever help he can in this matter. Later the meeting was adjourned. The Sinhalese emissaries went back to the Dutch ship and awaited a reply. On 20/XI/1693 the nobleman U. Dwaja came in procession with his retinue and presented the king?s reply to the Sinhalese monarch. Another cash donation was given for the expenses of the emissaries. A 24 gun salute was fired in their honour.

The ship left Burma on 27/X/1693. They reached Colombo by 26/XI/1693 on their way home from Colombo, they were received at Kosgama by the king?s chieftains Yalegoda Herath Mudiyanse Adikaram Kuruppu Mudiyanse, Gajanayaka Nilame of seven Korales, the Disapathy (governor) of four Korales, Kiriwaule Weerakone Mudyanse, and another band of chieftains whose names and officer are given in the "Churnika" report on 23/4/1694 the reply of the Burmese king was presented to the Sinhalese king ? Vimala Dharma Surya II.

Consequent to this the second embassy was sent in 1696. They took offerings to the Mahamuni Buddha statue of Burma and Ata Pirikara for 550 Burmese monks, presents to the Burmese king and a royal letter. In addition to the emissaries Gampaha Wijetunga Mudiyanse and Galagama Mohottala who was the Atapattu Lekam joined the mission. They left Colombo, went to Burma and submitted the formal request from the king. The king gave them 33 elders headed by Ven. Satyagnana and Long Gra Pangi to be taken to Kandy for the ordination ceremonies to revive the defunct sangha order in Ceylon.

The emissaries with 33 Burmese monks were conducted in procession from Colombo to Attapitiya Rest House. Adikaram Yalegoda Mudiyanse received them and conducted them to Kandy in a great procession. ON 23/3/1697 the Burmese king?s letter was submitted to King Wimala Dharma Surya at the Audience Hall. After conducting the ordinations at the Getambe ford the Burmese monks returned to their country in a Dutch ship.

This revival of the sangha did not last long. By 1700 monks with higher ordination became extinct king Kirti Sri Rajasinha had to send emissaries to Siam. In 1753 the Siamese seet was established under their guidance and ordination. Robert Knox saw only Ganinnarises in the Kandyan Kingdom, under Rajasinha II.