The saga of the first Buddhist school

by Prof. W. M. Karunadasa, University of Colombo, Dec 5, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Media in recent months has given wide publicity to the first Buddhist school in Sri Lanka - G/Piyaratana Maha Vidyalaya, which is located between 64 and 65 mile post along Galle - Colombo road in the Southern Province.

It was highlighted in both the print and electronic media that this school is heading towards a rapid deterioration and possible collapse if unattended by the relevant educational authorities and the public.

It may be of historical interest for many Sri Lankans, particularly the Buddhists who are living here and abroad to know about the pioneering role played by this school, and the pioneering efforts made by the founder of this school in promoting the native (national) education in Sri Lanka.

Historical records speak more on the valiant and charismatic role played by Piyaratana Tissa Nayaka Thera - the founder of this Buddhist school - who challenged the missionary education in CEYLON under the British rule.

The significance of this challenge was that it was the first ever attempt to revive Buddhism through the promotion of native Buddhist education subsequent to the victorious great religious debate known as Panaduravadaya (Debate held in Panadura).

The saga of this school goes far back as 1869. That was the time when the missionary schools and the government authorities did everything possible to suppress Buddhism and the setting up of native schools.

Archival records lying in the National Archives in Sri Lanka and the collection of historical records still preserved by Sailabimbaramaya of Dodanduwa which was the abode of Piyaratana Tissa Nayaka Thera and also at Kumarakande Mahaviharaya (Dodanduwa) authoritatively suggest that Piyaratna Tissa Nayaka Thera was the founding father of Buddhist education in Sri Lanka.

This fact was admitted when the Postal Dept. of Sri Lanka issued a commemorative stamp valued at sixty cents in honour of this priest on 22nd May 1984.

Although we identify the first Buddhist school as Piyaratana Vidyalaya, it was initially known as Jinalabdhivishodhana (in love of Buddha) and the latter name was replaced after the demise of Piyaratana Thera by his pupil, Siridhamma Thera, the immediate successor and the chief incumbent of the Temple.

Henry Olcott, an American national who formed the Theosophical Society and helped in promoting Buddhist native schools like Mahinda College in Galle, Ananda and Nalanda Colleges in Colombo and Dharmaraja College in Kandy and schools in other parts of the island was first administered pansil by Piyaratana Nayake Thera.

Impressed by the activities of the thera, Olcott contributed much needed financial assistance and laboratory equipment to this school including 8 mm projector, the first of its kind brought to the island (which is now in the possession of an outsider and worthy of preserving it as cultural heritage of Buddhist Revival).

It is also recorded in the archival records that the famous poet priest of Tibetan origin - Rev. S. Mahinda - was ordained by the same priest at Sailabimbaramaya. Another matter of historical importance is that the said temple is having a Buddha Statue made out of rock which had been ferried through sea from Kaveri Pattanam of South India.

As children we heard from our grand parents that the statue was brought to the temple by cutting a temporary canal from the sea coast leading to the temple bordering on the landside of the present railway track near Dodanduwa Railway station. Subsequent to the media reports an ad-hoc committee was established by a few old boys assembled at the school a couple of months ago where I was elected as the pro-tem treasurer.

A full session of the Old Boys and Girls has now been summoned for December 5, 2004 (today), by extending an open invitation through public media to all the former students of this historic school. This meeting will commence at 9 a.m. and it is hopeful of establishing a steering committee for fund raising and mapping out future strategies to overcome the present debacle of the first Buddhist school.

Any finding by philanthropists or well-wishers within or outside the country may be drawn in favour of the Treasurer, Piyaratana Old Boys and Girls Association and addressed to the Principal, Piyaratana Vidyalaya, Dodanduwa (wadumestrige @

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