24 March, 2023


A Reformer Rediscovered: A Review Of ‘The Lion’s Roar’ By Sarath Amunugama

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

“When I was about eight years old, my father took me to a carnival in Kandy around the time of the Esala festival. He bought me a ticket for a ‘lantern show’ that was drawing large crowds. When my turn came, I peeped through the lens and saw a series of coloured slides of Budhagaya, the Mulaghandhakuti in Saranath, some famous Buddhist sites in India and finally a slide of a handsome middle aged man in a yellow dress. That was Anagarika Dharmapala.”

With this powerfully meditative and emotive reminiscence, Sarath Amunugama frames his first encounter with Anagarika Dharmapala in his book ‘The Lions Roar Anagarika Dharmapala & the making of Modern Buddhism’. It is an effort that can be unreservedly acclaimed as an academic tome and a brilliant socio cultural commentary of the 20th century Sinhala Buddhist ethos. Dharmapala pierced the doctrinaire monopoly of the priestly class and a motivated middles class Buddhist laity assumed the burden of preserving and propagating the Dhamma. Sarath Amunugma tells the story with a sangfroid that is essentially Sarath. Adulatory praise is in order. He has done what Isaac Deutscer did with Trotsky.

the-lions-roar-by-sarath-amunugamaHe disentangles the many facets of the messianic preacher and founder of the Maha Bodhi Society. He explains why and how he made Buddhism the vehicle of identity formation of the Sinhala people under colonial rule. With characteristic élan he has produced a treatise that unravels Anagarika Dharmapala whose giant shadow still looms large, compelling President Sirisena to nuance the cry ‘Sinhalayini Awadiwew to a more inclusive ‘Lankikayini Awadiwew.’

Unlike his illustrious predecessors in the same sciences, – perspicuously penetrative Stanley Thambiah, elegantly academic Gananath Obeyesekere and donnishly detached H.L. Seneviratne, the relatively younger scholar with the added advantage of being both ‘Kandyan’ peasant and cosmopolitan savant is canny critic, eloquent raconteur and social historian.

“What emerged from Dharmapala’s syncretism was not a mere transformation of contemporary Buddhist practices, referred to in sociological literature as ‘ Protestant Buddhism’ but a modernist interpretation of Buddhism which has had a profound impact on present day Buddhist thought and action.” [P 6 Chap1]’

With meticulously researched material gleaned from the diaries of Dharmapala who renounced worldly pleasures, yet assiduously followed the progress of the family business, cloistered in his ‘Asharam’ he explains how the Anagarika – one with no home of his own ‘ delinked ‘Niravana’ from day to day Buddhism and linked it to an incipient mercantilism.

The opening lines in Amunugama’s preface, clearly trace the trajectory of his prodigious exploration of the phenomenology of Anagarika Dharmapala.

Born in to a family of more than substantial wealth, Anagarika Dharmapala who was named Don David Hewavitharana was a man of piety and great intelligence. The magic lantern represents the modernity that Dharmapala infused in to the sedentary lives of the Sinhala people then in quiet repose under the all-powerful British Raj. His call ‘Sinhalayini Awadiwew ‘an awakening call that presupposes the depth of the Sinhala slumber was no tribal cry. It was a cry intended first to retrieve the sacred shrine of Bodhgaya for the Buddhist world. Secondly and far more importantly it was to awaken the masses to assert their dignity at a time when aspirations to be free from colonial rule was confined to an elite, yet in half mind to relinquish their comprador roots.

The magic lantern etched in the memory of a child in the era of the Second World War is also symbolic of the ‘Illuminati ‘who propelled forward Buddhist interests after independence. Amunugama patiently traverses a tricky terrain. Dharmapala had little patience with the laid back Buddhist clergy. Yet at the same time he had enormous respect for the Institution of the ‘Sangha’ and held priests such as Hikkaduwe Simangala thero and Rathmalane Dhmmarama thero in high esteem.

In that specific zeitgeist Anagarika Dharmapala was both modern and liberal. He elevated the laity to a higher plane. By his direct appeal to Buddhist masses Dharmapala firmly established a new tradition of the laity operating on an equal footing with the Buddhist priest hood on maters evangelical.

Amunugama describes the uneasy chemistry between Olcott and Dharmapala. He tacitly explains the mysticism that was an essential ingredient of the Dharmapala persona. “…. Dharmapala believed that an immanent force guided his actions” The strange turn of events that led to Dharmapala’s eventual presence at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago where he stressed on the universal appeal of Buddhism are narrated in such detail that the reader has to arrive independently on what is spirit and what is spiritual.

The Messiah appealed to a new constituency of Sinhala Urban entrepreneurial class are. “Aliens are taking away the wealth of the country, and the sons of the soil, where are they to go to? Is it just that the sons of the soil should suffer while the alien enjoys? The most salutary aspect of Dr. Amunugama’s work is that he frames these exhortations of Dharmapala in the social economic milieu of the time. The reader can separate the ‘wheat’ of the man driven by piety from the chaff of the label of ‘bigotry’ that is pasted on his memory by liberal minds well-intentioned but ill informed.

Sarath Amunugama does not say it. In the opinion of this writer, the prescriptive rights claimed by the Don Carlois clan on the Mahabodhi legacy even to this day is evidence of the missionary mercantilism that the revered sage inadvertently produced. It has now permeated our entire polity.

It is a great read. It is a must read. . I wait for the conclusion of O level exams. I will go through the tome again, page by page with my only grandson who by the looks of it may scrape through the compulsory paper on Buddhism. Compulsory because in Post Dharmapala, the received wisdom in Sri Lanka is that piety and morality can be ensured by statute.

Having read the 700 pages almost with the same unreasonable relish of a court drama by John Grisham or a historical fiction by Ken Follett, a more sustained second approach was necessary for me to grasp the essence of the Dharamapala phenomenon, distilled with the academic rigor of a sharp, sensitive and spirited mind. It is expressed with sparkling clarity in spontaneous phrase. A doting father compelled him in to the civil service. Fortuitous circumstances got him in to politics. None of these diversions have affected the inherently curious mind of the inveterate scholar.

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  • 4

    sounds interesting – must read the book…

    • 1

      double standards

      “sounds interesting – must read the book…”

      You better read this article before running to buy the book:

      Bigotry Of Sinhalabuddhism

      March 2, 2013

      By Sharmini Serasinghe –

      It appears that the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and its acolytes have taken a page from the book of the Anagarika Dharmapala (Homeless Protector of the Dhamma) in espousing the same flavour of bigotry as he did in pre independent Ceylon. Intolerance of the religion of the other was the ‘Dhamma’ protected, practiced and propagated by this ‘National Hero’ the Anagarika Dharmapala!

      Given the sociological climate of pre independent Ceylon one could appreciate the fact that the Anagarika was rebelling against the British colonial invader who were subjugating the masses in the most deplorable way. But when one takes a closer look at the obvious, he was not fighting the colonial invaders on behalf of all Lankans as a whole but only on behalf of the Sinhalese Buddhists in the country. In such a context can he be regarded as a National Hero?

      What is also obvious is that the Anagarika’s reasons for rejecting British imperialism were not so much about the overall political and economic betterment of the country but more about establishing a Sinhala nation as the perceived historical custodian of Buddhism.

      Though he died fifteen years prior to British occupied Ceylon gained independence he had aspired for Lanka to eventually emerge as a nation where Buddhism and the ‘pristine glory’ of his Sinhalese people could flourish again. Followers of other religious faith were therefore not included in his equation of a nation. This posture clearly divided the Sinhalese Buddhists of Lanka and the other ethno-religious citizenry of the country.

      Therefore the Anagarika cannot be regarded as a pristine model of Buddhism which he aptly demonstrated through his chauvinistic rhetorical fire aimed not only at the colonial invaders but at his own countrymen as well. For him Lanka was only for Sinhala Buddhists and none other!

      The Anagarika appears to have suffered from an acute persecution complex with regard to the survival of Buddhism, perhaps born out of a malaise of what he suffered under the British invader. He seems to have entertained a morbid fear of Buddhism becoming extinct.

      Therefore he donned the mantle of a ‘Bodhisattva’ and projected himself as the saviour of Buddhism despite the Buddha not having entrusted him with the task of doing so. Nevertheless he did a bad job of it. Instead of spreading the message of the Dhamma and living by example as the Buddha had preached it, the Anagarika added his own flavour to the faith in the form of intolerance of other religions and ethnic groups- the exact opposite of the Dhamma.

      The Anagarika’s intolerance of the other was clearly evinced through his customary vitriolic rhetorical fire-

      He said “This bright, beautiful island was made into a Paradise by the Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric vandals. Its people did not know irreligion … Christianity and polytheism [i.e. Hinduism] are responsible for the vulgar practices of killing animals, stealing, prostitution, licentiousness, lying and drunkenness … The ancient, historic, refined people, under the diabolism of vicious paganism, introduced by the British administrators, are now declining slowly away.”

      He also said “The Muhammedans, an alien people … by shylockian methods become prosperous like Jews. The Sinhala sons of the soil, whose ancestors for 2358 years had shed rivers of blood to keep the country free of alien invaders … are in the eyes of the British only vagabonds. The Alien South Indian Muhammedan come to Ceylon, sees the neglected villager, without any experience in trade … and the result is that the Muhammedan thrives and the sons of the sol go to the wall.”

      This posture of the Anagarika contributed to religious tension between Buddhists and Muslims of pre independent Ceylon culminating in what history records as the ‘1915 Riots.’ It is said that the numbers of Lankans killed in these riots were in the thousands. For this the Anagarika too has blood on his hands while giving a foothold for ‘ethnocratic’ politics in post independent Lanka to take root as espoused by SWRD Bandaranaike.

      In the end what the Anagarika propagated amongst the masses was a chauvinistic ideology under the banner of Buddhism devoid of the philosophy, intellectuality and a path to self discovery of the truth as the Buddha meant it to be. The Anagarika ‘Buddhism’ also comprised of unearthing Buddhist relics of the past and setting up symbols encouraging his followers to worship and revere Buddhism- the exact opposite of what the Buddha preached. Therefore the Anagarika’s ‘Buddhism’ was from the ‘outside’ and not the ‘inside’.

      By doing so he contributed more to Buddhist archeology than to the Dhamma. By doing so he diverted the philosophy to a religion of worship catering to the gullible. By doing so he turned the philosophy into hypocrisy. By doing so he sapped the essence of the Dhamma!

      In today’s context it appears the BBS, JHU and the rest of its ilk have chosen the path of ‘Buddhism’ as propagated by the Anagarika Dharmapala. It is precisely what he strived to establish in Lanka all those years ago- a Sinhalabuddhist nation with a subservient other. Therefore what is being observed today by the extremists under the banner of Buddhism is in effect the Anagarika’s ‘Sinhalabuddhism’ and not Buddhism.

      Hence, would it not be better for those statues of the Buddha to be replaced by statues of the Anagarika Dharmapala?

      Let those of us who wish to observe and follow the teachings of the Buddha as per the Dhamma be permitted to do so since Buddhists do not require statues to worship anyway and let the rest- the Sinhalabuddhist extremists follow their own path to self-destruction. After all this is a democracy!

      Given all the above could the Anagarika be regarded as a National Hero or a Sinhalabuddhist Hero? I believe the latter would be more appropriate.


  • 7

    Mr. de Alwis,

    Most of us know Sarath Amunugama as yet another party switching politician who served the Rajapaksa regime with all its evils. Your superlative words ring hollow to me given that context.

    As for Dharmapala, many people with time on their hands will quote chapter and verse about why he was so bigoted. Can revisionist history gloss over all that?

    • 4


      “As for Dharmapala, many people with time on their hands will quote chapter and verse about why he was so bigoted.”

      Why are you pointing at me?

  • 3

    Theosophical Society founders, Henry Olcott and Helena Blavatsky created Nationalistic & Aryan monster.

  • 5

    It is such a pleasure, not merely to read one of my favourite contributors to CT but his incisive analysis by a work by someone I have known for a very long time and who I had despaired of ever getting away from the cant and hypocrisy of association with the most corrupt and violent government in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history.
    If Sarath A. can make that transformation, I hope it presages hope for a few others in the current Ohey Palayang lot and maybe even for some among their predecessors!
    Thank you, Sarath (De Alwis)for that piece on another Sarath whom I’ve known for longer than most Sri Lankans have been around!

    • 2

      Now that the two Saraths have received the blessing of this conspirator Pooton, I will never read anything written by them again.

      Speaking of Amunugama, he has disgraced the Peradeniya generation he was part of (with people like Sarachhcandra, Siri Gunasinghe, Gananatha Obeysekera and Padmal de Silva).

      He has been jumping political fences without commitment to any principle, just for perks and to maintain his hedonistic life style. We respect ageing tarty film stars more than this man.

      His last jump that made him ‘minister without portfolio’ in the Sirisena fraud destroyed any remaining bits of his integrity.

      The man is a cad and Pooten’s climed friendship is further evidence of it. A man is only as good as the company he keeps!

  • 1

    Is this the same Amunugama who is a Minister of Yahapalanaya lead by Elite , Anglican and Vellala Faction leader of the UNP, with the hired SLFP former Secretary?.

    Is he on the steering committee which is drafting the Federal Thing, and down grade Buddhism to please the Diaspora , TNA and Bunky Moon,who recently called on Bodhi Sira and laid down exactly what he wants in the new Constitution ?.

    Will Amunugama at least think of Angarika, while deliberating on TNA,and the other NGO submissions?.

    • 2

      KASmaalam KA Sumanasekera

      “Will Amunugama at least think of Angarika, while deliberating on TNA,and the other NGO submissions?. “

      When the first Arima (lion) Aryan roared he left a trail of destruction all over Europe.

      When the first Simhala/Buddhists Arima (lion) Aryan roared he left a trail of destruction all over this island.

      Next time around if another Simhala/Buddhists Arima (lion) Aryan roars here please call the lion tamer, catch the beast, put it in a zoo where the animal belongs.

  • 1

    Sometimes reading my former boss, gives me a bloody toothache.

    A good review of Sarath A’s, ‘The Lion’s Roar’.

  • 10

    Is Amunugama writing this to atone himself for not always living by the Great One’s teachings?

    Mr Sarath de Alwis,

    “The Making of Modern Buddhism”

    Is there an old Buddhism and a modern Buddhism?

    Is “modernity” a necessary diversion from the enlightened one’s original teachings to suit “modern” man/environs?

    When the teacher forsook all riches, the “modern” disciples sit on thrones in palaces and enjoy all the modern luxuries and comforts.

    Even Christ said “don’t have an extra pair of footwear” and the Pope sits on a jewel encrusted gold throne in an opulent palace.

    Funny, isn’t it, how man interprets great souls’ teachings, eh?

    Why all these books about travel agents who sell tickets to Nirvana? What about going back to the original source itself for rejuvenation? I may be alone but feel something always gets lost in the translation.

    Anyway, Mr De Alwis, I don’t always agree with you but never doubt your honesty/integrity. And that’s a rare thang in present day SL.

  • 8

    Olcott saw Buddhism as a worldly and scientific philosophy for all people and all ages.Don David Hewavitarne-aka Dharmapala who began as a translator and assistant to Olcott,when still a teenager,would in time transform his Mentors revival of Universal Buddhism into an acutely politicised nationalist revival.
    Seizing on the Mahavamsa chronicle,he identified the sinhalese inextrcably with their Buddhism and the Tamils as their eternal enemies!

    Dharmapalas professed concern for humanity at large,The Lions Roar as he called it-carried with it a significant measure of dislike for other races that belied the global love for man that he touted.
    By the time of his death in 1933,his intoxicating political Buddhism had been propagated among generations of Buddhists educated in schools originally founded by Olcott!
    The stage was now set for the post 1948 period for the denial of the identity of others in their midst-Tamils,Muslims and Christians.
    This then was the legacy of Dharmapala.
    Olcott,was more or less White-Vanned and died an unhappy man.

  • 5


    How do you know I am also thinking on the same line?


  • 2

    By the way, in the late 1980’s, The Island
    carried a psychological advice column by one de Alwis. Is that the author of this review?

  • 2

    I haven’t read the book but reading de Alwis’s commentary it is not clear whether Amunugama has written a hagiography and a defense of the theory and practice of the Sinhala-Buddhist state or a critical sociological analysis.
    We will have to check this out.Perhaps de Alwis will examine this in part two of his commentary after he reads the book again

  • 0

    You cannot see anything wrong with Amunugama. Because you are the mirror Image of this turn coat.They say even the Devil quotes Scriptures when they suit him.
    Good luck, Keep on exposing others

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