prelate who promoted Buddhist studies in British era

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By 2017-08-20

BY DHARMADASA SAMARAKOON

The British embarked on setting up English schools and churches in the country during their colonial era. English language was made the state language and whoever wanted to find a white collar job had to be conversant in English and embracing Christianity had become an added advantage. Thus English language and Christianity were given the foremost place in the country. As a result, the Sinhala traditional values started diminishing at a rapid pace resulting in the transformation of the livelihood, dress code and lifestyle of the local people.

Road and railway systems were set up for the purpose of establishing a plantation economy in the country. Their developmental activities were hardly meant for the wellbeing of the native people but meeting their own purposes. People of Ratnapura District too had to encounter the discrimination of the colonial rulers. Buddhism and Sinhala language were not given due recognition and many English medium Catholic schools were established in the area. They started five Catholic schools in the area but there was not a single Buddhist school for the Buddhists to study in the Sinhala medium. The Pirivena education faced a drastic decline. The learned Buddhist monks faced discrimination and were given no opportunity to preach and teach Buddhism.

The prominent people in the area realized the threat faced by Buddhism and came together to discuss the ways and means of reinstating Buddhist education and temples in the region. Thus in 1882 Veralupe Viharasthanaya(temple) was established and Ven. Kirielle Dheerananda Thera became the chief incumbent of the temple. The first Buddhist school in Ratnapura was Sivali college that was established in 1909. Charles Wilegoda was one of the first students to be admitted to the school.

In 1917, Charles Wilegoda entered the order of the Sangha under the instruction of Ven. Kirielle Dheerananda Thera. He was ordained at the Veralupe Viharasthanaya as Ratnapure Moragahayata Chandrajyothi. After ordination, he studied at Vidyodaya Pirivena in Colombo. When Sivali college did not receive due attention and sponsorship of the British rulers, a threat of having to close it down loomed large. However, Ven. Ratnapure Chandrajyothi Thera assumed duties at the Sivali college as the Chief Dharmacharya and saved the schools from this destiny. The Thera remained as Dharmacharya of Sivali College until his retirement. During his forty years of service, the venerable Thera never accepted a salary. He imparted knowledge to the students on Buddhism, Pali language and Sinhala language freely. His students were highly placed individuals in the society such as engineers, District Secretaries, doctors, lawyers, accountants, lecturers and professors.

The death anniversary of Ven. Ratnapure Chandrajyothi Thera was commemorated on 28 July.

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