This year (2009) Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya completes its one hundred years of service to the Sasana. The monastery enters into its second century with the able leadership of the Venerable Tirikunamale Ananda Maha-nayaka Thera, a pupil of the late Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera. It is appropriate that we reflect on the path of trodden by the Vajirarama monks at this memorable juncture of the history of the monastery.
The silent revolution brought about by the Venerable Pelene Vajiranana Mahanayaka Thera, with Vajiraramaya as its base, may be described as ‘the Vajirarama tradition’. One might even feel that to say that one single Vihara provided the base for a revolution in the Sasana is an exaggeration. What in fact happened was rather a renewal of the ancient tradition than inauguration of one anew. But the ancient and correct tradition was long lost to the society that many felt the act of renewing the ancient tradition to be an introduction of a new tradition.
Renewal of the ancient tradition as well as the determination of what is right in the face of the new changes in society are two outstanding features of the Mahanayaka Thera’s service to the Sasana. The unique feature of the latter activity was the amalgamation of modernity with antiquity. In other words, within the Vajirarama tradition both antiquity and modernity co-existed harmoniously. The aim of this paper is to make an overview of the Vajirarama tradition, or the ‘Vajirarama mark’ of the contemporary Sasana.
The Venerable Pelene Mahanayaka Thera, born in Pelena near Matara received initial entrance to the monkhood from the Most Venerable Veragampita Siri Revata Thera, came to Colombo in order to attend well-known Vidyodaya Pirivena for his higher studies. In 1900 he completed his Pirivena studies with distinction, and started living at the place called ‘dharma-sala’ – a building the people in the surrounding area had built for their religious functions, which later became ‘Vajiraramaya’. This was in 1901, and the only available room in the building was reserved for Vajiranana Maha Thera and the rest of the monks had make-shift rooms with partitions made using robes. The monastery with these simple beginnings became Vajirarama proper when Muhandiram P.J. Kulatilake built the library with two rooms and donated it to the Sangha. This happened in 1909.
The graceful public behaviour of the Pelene Mahanayaka Thera and his pupils was winning the hearts of people not only in Colombo but also outside of Colombo. Gradually the monastery became the centre of religious activities in Colombo. Pelene Mahanayaka Thera did not send his pupils outside for their studies. He attended to this need of his pupils by himself, aided at times by some visiting erudite monks. Gradually a group of young and energetic monks endowed with knowledge and vision emerged from Vajirarama. Some of these monks were known both nationally and internationally, and among them were the following great Theras: Narada , Madihe Pannasiha, Mahanama, Piyadassi, Denipitiye Sumanasiri, Rohana, Metteyya, Ampitiye Rahula, Soma, Kheminda, Valgama Sugatananda, Vipassi, Urugamuve Senananda, Gunasiri, Kassapa, Siridhamma, and Nanamoli and Nanavira who were English nationals. There were also others like Kapugama Sumanawansa Thera and Veligama Nanaratana Thera who spent their formative years at Vajirarama under the guidance of Pelene Mahanayaka Thera.