Sri Lanka has lost a Buddhist scholar, an exponent of the Mahavamsa | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka has lost a Buddhist scholar, an exponent of the Mahavamsa

18 October, 2020

With the passing away of Wijesiri Wettimuny, Sri Lanka has lost a historian, writer, teacher and a humanitarian. In addition, he had been an erudite exponent of the Mahavamsa - the political, cultural and religious history of Sri Lanka, a work unparalleled in the world.

Originally written in Pali, it had been translated to Sinhala by some scholarly Bhikkhus, but it was difficult for the average Sinhala reader to read and understand it. Wettimuny wished to render the Mahavamsa into simple Sinhala. He did it, and it was a job well done. I still remember how he worked with the Mahavamsa Atthakathā, Samantapāsādikā, Mahavamsa Tika. His ‘Sarala Sinhala Mahavamsaya’ was an authentic work. People read it, understood it and praised it. But I wonder whether it got the deserving credit from the literati and the State.

The Mahavamsa is not the work of a single writer. Its first part was written by Ven. Mahanama Thera, and the latter part by Tibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Buddharakhita Thera.

It was continued up to 1948 by Yagirala Pannananda Maha Thera. The work on the Mahavamsa continued up to the end of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime by Wijesiri Wettimuny.

The last time we conversed over the phone, two days before Wettimuny’s passing away, he told me that he wished to bring his book Sarala Sinhala Mahavamsay up to the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime. He also wrote about classical Sinhala literature.

He went so far as to write about modern Sinhala poetry Sinhala Kavi Sangara titled, Deshayata Jeewaya Dun Panas Weni Dashakaye Kavi Sangara. Wettimuny was a devout and practising Buddhist. His humanity and selfless services had the taint of a Buddhist way of life. During our leisure, while we read fiction and poetry, he would read the Thripitaka. Reading Buddhist canons was part of his daily routine. He was so conversant with the Pali Thripitaka that he wrote the stupendous book Samma Sambudun Samaga Sanvada- dialogues with the Buddha. No less a person than Wettimuny could write a book like that, for it needs such close familiarity with the Thripitaka.

This is the ideal book for those who desire to learn Buddhist Philosophy through the very words of the Buddha. His last publication Budun Wadala Thama Pasupasa Ena Karma Vipaka is no doubt one of the best Buddhist books ever written on the universal law of cause and effect.

My best friend is no more. Our friendship goes over 60 years. We were both teachers in a remote Maha Vidyalaya in Walallawita. We and some government officers had rented out a house. We would get up early in the morning and prepare tea. Some of us would collect dry sticks and light the stove. While the water boiled, we would sing an old favourite song. Sudupiruwataandala Those wonderful memories will be etched in my mind until my last breath!

-G.A. Mathupema