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DateLine Sunday, 25 May 2008

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Government Gazette

S. Mahinda Thera:

Poet and freedom fighter

When we talk about Buddhism in Sri Lanka, we can think of so many people who have done so much towards the revival of this great religion in the country. What is so significant about this is that some of these people were not even Sri Lankans, but belonging to other countries and nationalities.

One such person was Col. Henry Steele Olcott, who we have already featured in this page in a past issue. Another example of such a great person was S. Mahinda Thera of Tibet. His services were rendered through poetry not only towards the revival of Buddhism, but also to promote patriotism, national pride, equality and national independence.

S. Mahinda Thera had been described by some as being more Sri Lankan than the Sri Lankans themselves. The locals' struggles against their colonial masters were ably supported by 'outsiders' like S. Mahinda Thera.

The Thera, known in the country as Tibet Jathika S. Mahinda Himi, arrived in Sri Lanka in 1912 as a 14-year-old boy. He entered the Buddhist Order at the famous Polgasduwa temple; he was ordained by Piyaratana Nayake Thera at Sailabimbaramaya, Dodanduwa.

Known in his lay life as Tasilmgal, he was ordained as S. Mahinda (the S standing for Sikkim). He arrived in the island from the Tibet-Sikkim region, but preferred to be associated with Tibet instead of Sikkim as the former was better known among Sri Lankans.

This was a time when the British were ruling our country. Since the 1848 Matale rebellion, which had failed, no significant struggle had taken place against the colonial government. Some local chieftains had started supporting the colonial masters, while some had just given up any thoughts of regaining freedom.

The Thera had seen and realised the danger which lay in these new developments and decided to promote "a new man who loves his motherland more than anything else". Towards this end, he used his poetic talent to the best of his ability. He mastered the local language and called on Sri Lankans to rise up from their slumber and fight the British to regain their lost freedom.

Through his writings, both prose and verse, he called on all, the young and old, men and women, to march towards freedom.

He wrote many inspiring poems such as "Nidahase Dehena", "Nidahase Manthraya", "Lanka Matha", "Jathika Thotilla", "Ada Lak Mawage Puttu", "Nidahasa", "Videshikayakugen Lak Mawata Namaskarayak" and "Sinhala Jathiya" which became extremely popular among many generations of the reading public.

Many of his poems have been adapted to various other forms, while some are also available in CD format. The following is an example of his patriotic writing:

Nidahasa maha muhudak ve
Ehi ulpata putha numba ve
Ebawa sihikota melove
Yutukama itukalayutu ve.

(If the ocean is the freedom, its fountain is the baby in the cradle. Dear son, you should keep this in mind and fulfill your responsibility in protecting the motherland from various challenges. )

Mahinda Thera died 57 years ago, on May 16, 1951. It is believed that his ashes are still kept in a pot hanging on the roof of the Mahabellana Temple without any proper means of protection. A statue of him also adorns a temple in Panadura, which was his spiritual base.

Events are held across the island to commemorate his death anniversary, but many Sri Lankans believe that this national hero has not been given the respect or recognition he deserves.

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