22 September, 2020

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Late Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thero – Stood Up For Inter-Communal Amity

By Mohamed Harees

Lukman Harees

Great countries are those that produce great people’ –  Benjamin Disraeli

The Nation was left in shock and utter grief upon hearing the sad news of the demise of the Most Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Nayake Thero, who was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit , following unfortunate injuries  sustained after an attack by a tusker at his Temple. Being an accomplished Buddhist academic and intellectual, the Ven. Thero became the Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepure in 2000, after occupying various academic positions within the University, apart from being a visiting Professor of the School of Oriental and African  Studies of the University of London, UK, at the time of his demise.

The Bellanwila Perahera is perhaps the biggest and the most popular Perahera after the Kandy Esala Maha Perahera. It was Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thero, who reportedly built on the foundation laid by his ‘Guru Hamuduruvo’, the Ven. Somaratana, considered  the modern architect of Bellanwila. As an educationalist, having felt the imperative need to  take a leading role in addressing the twin problems of youth unrest and unemployment, where a vast number of young persons in the country got stranded midway in their academic careers, he established the Bellanwila Community Development Foundation which provides training in 14 disciplines ranging from lathe-work, motor-mechanism to computer technology. This is but one laudable projects which he initiated and there were many others which benefitted the ordinary people in the country.  He was also a respected author and a regular contributor to newspapers and journals on a wide variety of subjects ranging from Buddhism to day to day issues affecting the people.

Ven. Bellanvila Vimalarathana

Ven. Wimalaratana was also a bold and courageous religious leader, well-known for expressing his views without fear or favour, whose  views were sought and widely respected by the rulers, the clergy, the media and the general public alike. He spoke his mind freely wherever they warranted, even in the presence of  rulers of the time, criticizing them for the deteriorating state of affairs and political culture in the country.   

One of his greatest contributions for the societal good has been his active and pivotal role in bringing hope among all communities to live in peace and harmony. Ven Thero has, for many years, been involved with interreligious harmony in Sri Lanka, in particular with regard to easing ethnic tension in the country. At an event in October 2017, Ven. Thero thero stated that the current government should in no way infringe upon the national unity that was established within Sri Lanka by implementing constitutional amendments that will be detrimental to national accord. 

Post War Sri Lanka witnessed the emergence of  many hate groups which attempted to interpret the victory of the government forces over the LTTE as the dominance of Sinhala Buddhist supremacy. Their next target became  the Muslims of Sri Lanka who have been living with the Sinhalese in South Sri Lanka for over 1000 years. They started off a well-orchestrated hate campaign with patronage from government higher-ups,  to attack Muslim religious and cultural symbols as well as their religious practices and dresses. One of the favourite campaigns was against the Halal branding of the products in the market, initiated by the dreaded BBS which copied the 969 Virathu model. BBS organised many rallies calling for boycott of Halal goods , at which rallies youth activists T-shirts denouncing the Muslim halal method of slaughtering animals to eat.  When the country was about explode in flames and the MR government was virtually siding with the BBS blaming the Muslims, there were many ‘behind the curtain’ discussions and  negotiations initiated in good faith by some leading religious figures, business chambers like Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and leaders like Susantha Ratnayake among the Sinhala community to bring an amicable settlement with regard to the Halal issue.

Resultantly, when the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) eventually announced its compromise solution to the BBS created ‘Halal problem’, several senior Buddhist priests lauded that decision. Prominent among them was the scholar-monk, Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thero who stated that the BBS is not the sole-voice of Lankan monks. “He noted that in any community there are extremists, fundamentalists and other elements. Bellanwila Wimalaratana thera also said that the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka do not want to create a conflict between communities” (Colombo Gazette – 11.3.2013). Ven. Wimalaratana Thero, also hailed the consensus as proof that problems between religious communities could be resolved through discussion instead of fisticuffs.

This arrangement brought about by leading monks caught BBS in their wrong foot, which condemned the ‘compromise’ saying it was an evil plot hatched by foreign conspirators and unreservedly attacking all those they perceived as being architects of the resolution, including some members of the Sangha that were present at the joint press briefing the previous day, like Bellanwila Thero. Addressing the briefing, Ven. Thero welcomed the withdrawal of the logo but cautioned that it was neither a victory for the Sinhalese nor a defeat for the Muslims. “This is effectively a win-win for all communities. The people in the ACJU are our close friends. We thank them for their willingness to reach consensus on this controversial issue. Inter-religious bodies can work together in our country,” the Thero said. The monks and Muslim Ulemas displayed much bonhomie and goodwill during the trilingual media briefing.  He also stressed that it should be intellectuals who should be resolving such issues, adding that no issue can be solved by fighting. Muslims therefore have an added reason to feel much grieved at the sad loss of this iconic monk for saving the country from a sure disaster at that time.

Muslims therefore join with other communities in paying their respects to the late Ven. Monk and are  eternally grateful to him who, like  icons such as Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero inspired our nation towards  laudable ends – good speech, good conduct and  peaceful living.   

To conclude this article, I quote from the ‘Pakinnaka Vagga’ of the Dhammapada to understand his worth and his significance at a challenging point of history for mother Sri Lanka.

‘Saddho silena Sampanno — Yasobhogasamappito

Yam yam padesam bhajati — tattha tatth‘eva pujito’

(‘Who is full of faith and virtue,

Of substance, high repute,

Is honoured everywhere,

Wherever that one goes’)

So the sad loss of Late Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thero will be a big void, which  the Sri Lankan Nation will find it difficult to replace at least in the short to medium term. May more Icons  like him flower within the gardens of our Nation, to continue Late Thero’s philosophy of creating an inclusive Sri Lanka where all communities can live in peace and harmony.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    6

    RIP to the thero. When are SL Muslims going to produce such educated and intellectual religious leaders?

    • 4
      2

      Fathima,

      Only after their religion allows to tie an Elephant in the backyard of the mosque and start feeding them in preparation for the Perehera.

      Till then you can RIP.

      • 3
        4

        Ansar, you mean that animal feeding is yet to be allowed, but animal killing in the backyard of the mosque is already allowed?

        Learn to respect each other, don’t forget your other 3 fingers pointing back at you. What I said is the true situation of my community, Muslims in Sri Lanka. And what is wrong?

      • 1
        0

        Sri lanka should change that old customs of looking after elephants tied, chainung them tio trees, and even using the metal tools to contain them. Sri lanka can take examples from Africa. elepahtns are very intelligents. Even young ones listens once you explain it to them in an easy way. YOu tube clips are available. Sri lanka should stop that practice. It is in humane.Even big tuskers are obedient children if you are good to them and they understand. chaning should be anew practice and not in ancient Sinhale.

    • 4
      3

      Hope all animals caged inside temples will be released to the wild.

      Damn good lesson to the authorities for turning a blind eye on caged elephants.

      Will there be a tussle for leadership role at the Bellanwila temple now? Any disputes envisaged for the temple land similar to the dispute at Naga Vihara after the death of Sobitha Thera?

      • 2
        1

        Nowhere in any Temple in Sri Lanka are elephants found in cages!
        Will Jagath Fernando now extend his concern to dogs and cats horses and cattle in the care of people or is his concern only about temples. Not difficult to guess what religion he belongs to.

      • 1
        1

        JAgath Fernando: Why do you want to shoot tuskers and collect the tusks ? They should not be cafged. but they have fences in order to limit their territory.

  • 2
    2

    Fathima,

    Only after their religion allows to tie an Elephant in the backyard of the mosque and start feeding them in preparation for the Perehera.

    Till then you can RIP.

  • 2
    1

    May our Thero attain Nibbana.
    Haji Abdul Kareem.
    Yakkala.

  • 1
    0

    Let us appreciate and commend a Thero who has lived up to the noble eightfold path and promoted tolerance

  • 0
    0

    Mr. Lakman HArees: Was it an attack or a heart attack ? did you check it ?

  • 1
    0

    I don’t know much about the Belanwila thero & his contribution to society but I can’t understand how an acclaimed intellectual & a high priest of a religion that preaches kindness & compassion to all living creatures would keep an elephant tethered in the temple compound just to be paraded once a year. A few years ago, I saw the sorry sight of a half starved elephant with visible injuries from the chains on its legs in the temple grounds of Gangaramaya. Maybe the elephant was meant as a tourist attraction but my foreign friends who were with me were horrified at the treatment of the poor animal. So how an intellectual can condone & see nothing wrong in keeping an elephant for display reasons in temples in the 21st century is beyond my comprehension. Of course, there maybe counter arguments that parading elephants is traditional & it happens in other Buddhist countries like Thailand but I would have respected this monk if his humanitarian conduct extended to elephants as well. On the other hand, if he was actually whacked by an irritated elephant as the rumors suggest, maybe it’s poetic justice or even ‘karmaya’ as preached in Buddhism.

  • 0
    2

    A welcome peace-centric piece from a regular Muslim commentator. However, to claim Muslims in large numbers have lived in the island for 1,000 years is the usual
    deception to distort history. This is more to insist Muslims have equal historical rights for land as Sinhalese and Tamils. The hard fact is Muslims in the island are descendants of Muslims from the South Indian (now Tamilnadu) littoral.They came here in waves under 3 centuries ago. It is now seen they are also demanding a Province of their own in the Eastern Province – that is a sure recipe for a future communal blood bath. They are also active for land exclusively for them in the Puttalam District as well. It is also seen that our Muslims now have the habit of insisting they are of Arab origin – largely because of the anti-Tamilnadu sentiment in the majority. This is laughable. There were a few ship-wrecked Arabs in the country over the centuries. But as the saying goes “one swallow does not make a summer”

    A.D.J.P.

    • 1
      0

      Please read Lorna Devarajah and Kamalini Peiris to mention two researchers and writers on the subject of Muslim origins and heritage for over 10 centuries . Little knowledge is dangerous.

      What is your research source for claiming Muslims only came under 300 years ago?

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