Palane Vajiragnana Thero

Palane Vajiragnana Thero (November 25, 1878 – September 21, 1955) was a Sri Lankan (Sinhala) scholar Buddhist monk, who founded the renowned Siri Vajiraramaya temple in Bambalapitiya, Sri Lanka. He was also the Maha Nayaka (head) of Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshita sect for 37 years from August 5, 1918 until his death in 1955.

Pelene Sri Vajiragnana Maha Thero
Pelene Siri Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera.jpg
Pelene Sri Vajiragnana Mahanayaka Thero
TitleMahanayaka of Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshita Sect
"Sri Dharmarkshita Vamsālankāra Dharmakirti"
Don Aron Pandita Gunawardena

(1878-07-28)July 28, 1878
Pelana, Matara
DiedSeptember 21, 1955(1955-09-21) (aged 77)
NationalitySri Lanka Sri Lankan (Sinhala)
EducationVidyodaya Pirivena
Senior posting
TeacherWeragampita Siri Revata Thero
Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera

Early lifeEdit

Palane Vajiragnana Thero was born to a very illustrious aristocratic family in Pelene, Weligama in Matara District on 28 July 1878. His father was Muhandiram Don Andris Tudawe Pandita Gunawardene, a well known Oriental scholar at the time and his mother was Dona Gimara Serasinghe.[1] His lay name was Don Aron Pandita Gunawardena. Don Aaron had his early education at the village vernacular school and for his English education he was sent to the bilingual school at Mirissa. At the age of 15, on July 20, 1890, he was ordained a monk under the tutelage of Weragampita Siri Revata Maha Thero, who was himself a well known oriental and Buddhist scholar, at Devagiri Vihara, Kabmurugamuwa with the given name Palane Vajiranana.[1] In 1897, he was admitted to Vidyodaya Pirivena, Colombo under Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Mahanāyaka Thero and passed out brilliantly in 1900 winning the prestigious Siyāmarāja Prize for the best student of that year.[2] He received higher ordination on April 20, 1900 at the Udakakkhepa Sima on River Nilvalā in Matara.

Establishment of Siri Vajirārāmaya TempleEdit

In the 1880s the Buddhists living in Bambalapitiya area formed a society with the name Dharma Samagama, meaning Dharma Society. Later they built a hall for the preaching of the Dhamma (Dharma Sālāwa). They constructed a small room with basic facilities as an adjunct and in 1901 invited young Pelene Vajirañāna to come and reside.[2] He was brought in procession from his temporary residence in Siri Suviddharamaya, Wellawatta. This was the genesis of the present Vajirārāmaya and gradually he built it up with a character of its own. A Bo tree was planted to symbolise Buddha's Enlightenment and a small Vihara-ge was later constructed with a serene seated Buddha image. In 1909 Muhandiram P. J. Kulatilake built the library with two rooms and donated it to the Sangha.[3] The Vajirārāma Dhamma School was started in 1918 and among the renowned students who studied in this Dhamma School were future leading politicians of Sri Lanka.[4] Dudley Senanayake, J. R. Jayewardene, Bernard Zoysa, R. Premadasa, Chandrika Bandaranaike and Anura Bandaranaike, Lalith Athulathmudali were a few such leaders.[5]

The story of Vajirārāmaya is synonymous with Venerable Pelene Vajirañāna - how he transformed a preaching hall to a world renowned Buddhist institution, how he built up a community of monks who became Buddhist missionaries spreading the teachings of the Buddha worldwide, how he nurtured the Buddhists to be a pious, devoted and committed part of society, how he guided the younger generation to be useful citizens, and how he moulded the society to follow virtuous lives through his writings and sermons.


Brilliant student as he was, in later life his views on any knotty subject relating to the Teachings of the Buddha or monastic discipline were taken to be the last word on the issue. He had a profound knowledge of the Buddhist Texts (Tipitaka), the commentaries and the sub commentaries.[6] Many of his articles are compiled and published under the title Sri Vajrañāna Sahitya. The collection of his articles on the Dhamma it is said can fill at least 25 volumes of 300 pages each. In recognition of his erudition, he was made a member of the prestigious Pracheena Bhasopakara Samitiya in 1905 on the recommendation of Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Mahanayaka Thera and seconded by Sri Subhuti Mahanayaka Thera.[6] He was only 27 years of age.

He had a deep knowledge of Pali and Sanskrit and even wrote treatises and composed poetry depicting his scholastic and poetic skills. He was recognised also as an authority on the Sinhala language. He was very meticulous in following grammatical rules, especially the correct usage of word divisions. Among his contemporaries were Kalukondayave Pannasekera Mahanayaka Thera, Anagarika Dharmapala, Piyadasa Sirisena, W. A. Silva, Sir D. B. Jayatilaka, Dr. G. P. Malalasekera and Munidasa Kumaratunga.[7] In his writings he had a style of his own and he excelled in writing of lyrics, especially for children. His compositions are learnt by rote in the Dhamma schools even today. In 1937, he started the Bauddha Lamaya magazine in Sinhala and it had continued to date as a monthly publication of the Vajirārāmaya temple. For the English speaking Buddhist children a similar magazine called 'Bosat' was started. In addition, a Paper called Lak Budu Sasuna was commenced to which he contributed regularly.

Elected Chief Prelate of the Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshita SectEdit

Because of his scholarship, knowledge and near perfection in following monastic rules of discipline (vinaya), and far farsightedness in all his actions he gained recognition above all his seniors. In 1917, at the age of 39 he was elected the Anunāyaka of the Amarapura Sri Dhammarakshita sect and on August 5, 1918 he was elected the Mahānāyaka or Chief Prelate, which position he held until his death in 1955.[7] He was the youngest to be appointed as Mahanayaka. On that occasion the honorific title "Sri Dharmarkshita Vamsālankāra Dharmakirti Sri" was conferred on him.

Reputed BroadcasterEdit

Venerable Pelene Vajirañāna Maha Thera has the unique distinction of being the first broadcaster of a Buddhist Sermon over the radio in Sri Lanka.[7] It was delivered on April 21, 1928. He changed the style of delivering a Buddhist sermon or Bana preaching. Sermons took three or four hours and even a full night. Instead, he chose a single subject and within a stipulated time period he concluded his sermon whilst succinctly conveying all that have to be mentioned on the chosen subject. Hence, he became an extremely popular preacher. His style of delivery was followed by his pupil monks. Once, the head of the Vidyodaya Pirivena, Venerable Mahagoda Ñanissara thero, had quipped that Pelene Thero has mastered the 'pelena' (plan) to deliver effective sermons.[7]

Vajirārāmaya TraditionEdit

Pelene Mahanayaka Thera was very concerned with following the monastic rules of discipline as mentioned in the Pātimokkha. All monks at Vajirārāmaya were distinct because of this and were easily recognized. Some of the notable features were the shaving of both the head and beard at same time, using of the alms-bowl for partaking of meals, using a natural dye made by boiling the root of Jack trees and bark of banyan trees when preparing robes.[3] This unique colour of the robe came to be known as the ‘Vajirārāma-colour’, and the dye made by incorporating this colour was known ‘Vajirārāma-dye’. Rules and procedures pertaining to Vajirārāmaya and the monks ordained by him were laid down in the Vajirārāma Katikavata of January 12, 1940.

Eminent PupilsEdit

Following the age old tradition of teacher to pupil, he passed down his vast knowledge of the Dhamma and the high monastic traditions he meticulously followed to his pupil monks who in their own way became great achievers. His first pupil was Narada Maha Thera, a well known Buddhist scholar monk and a great missionary. Other Maha Theras were Kamburugamuwe Mahanama, Denipitiye Sumanasiri, Koggala Rohana, Madihe Pannasiha, Piyadassi, Ampitiye Rahula, Pamburana Metteyya, Soma, Kheminda, Walgama Sugatananda, Panvila Vipassi, Naotunne Gunasiri, Bambalapitiye Kassapa, Urugamuwe Senananda, Bope Vinitha, Ñānamoli and Ñānavira English monks, Develapola Siridhamma and Vimalananda of Nepal.[5] Venerable Amitananda Maha Thera and Subhodanada Thera of Nepal were also his pupils. Venerable Madihe Paññāsiha Maha Thera, one of his most devoted pupils, succeeded him as the Mahanayaka of the Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshita sect and gained such credence and approbation that he was referred as the uncrowned Sangharaja of Sri Lanka.

Honours and deathEdit

After an illness the Most Venerable Pelene Vajirañāna Mahanayaka Thera died on September 21, 1955. With State patronage he was cremated in the presence of over 500,000 devotees of all ranks and religions at the Independence Square esplanade on September 25, 1955. His cremation was reported in the local Press (Dinamina) the next day in the following terms:[8]

The Encyclopaedia consisting of the entire Tripitaka, along with the commentaries and sub-commentaries, written in attractive and simple Sinhala has turned to ashes;

The living exemplar of monastic discipline has turned to ashes;

The golden relic casket enshrining the Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit languages has turned to ashes;

The golden scribe that showed how to write prose and verse in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit languages has turned to ashes;

The emissary sent by Maha Brahma to this world to show the way to teach the Buddha Dhamma has turned to ashes;

The pinnacle of the Sambuddha Sasana in recent times has dropped and has turned to ashes;

In other words, the body of the Most Venerable Sri Dharmavamsalankara Pelene Sri Vajirañāna Mahanayaka Thera was cremated at the Independence Square Esplanade.

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Epasinghe, Premasara (2005-09-24). "A person of saintly erudition". Daily News Online.
  2. ^ a b Seneviratne, H. L. The Work of Kings. p. 53.
  3. ^ a b Tilakaratne, Professor Asanga. "Ven. Pelene Mahanayaka Thero and the Vajirarama Tradition". Siri vajirarama temple.
  4. ^ Wickremasinghe, Kamanthi (2018-08-16). "Bambalapitiya Sri Vajirarama Dhamma School steps in to centenary year : A legacy of imparting Dhamma Education for generations". Daily Mirror.
  5. ^ a b Wimalaratne, Dr. K. D. G. "Vajirarama Temple — centre of Buddhist activities".
  6. ^ a b Serasinghe, Sharmini (2018). Sri Lanka - The Elusive Miracle of Asia. United States: Lulu Press,Inc. p. 90. ISBN 978-955-71371-0-0.
  7. ^ a b c d Ranatunga, DC. "Most Ven. Pelene Siri Vajiragnana Maha Nayaka Thero". Siri Vajirarama Temple.
  8. ^ "Cremation of Palane maha nayaka thera". Dinamina, Lakehouse. September 22, 1955.
  • Sri Vajrañāna Sahityaya 1 & 2 compiled by Ven Madihe Paññāsiha Mahanayaka Thera, 1960
  • Sasunambara Payu Supun Sanda by Ven Tirikunamale Ananda Anunayaka Thera, 2013 ISBN 978-955-8048-85-6
  • Guna Pabanda (Collection of Articles of Most Venerable Pelene Vajirañāna), 1956
  • Siri Vajirañāna Charitaya by David Karunaratne, 1955
  • Tipitaka Dharmakosaya, Ven Sri Vajirañāna Commemorative Volume, 1978
  • Dinamina National Newspaper of September 26, 1955
  • Siridamräki Sanga Parapura, Tangalle Dirilakuru, 1978
  • Pujita Jivita, Vol.1, 1989

External linksEdit