COLOMBO : Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera, who was born eighty years ago on December 14 and was ordained as a Buddhist priest at Gangaramaya, Hunupitiya in Colombo is popularly known as ‘Podi Hamuduruwo of Gangaramaya’.
He is the senior student of Dewundara Vachissara Nayaka Thera, the senior student of Dewundara Siri Jinarathana Nayaka Thera. Vachissara Thera was the chief student of the Most Ven. Sumangala Nayaka Thera, who founded the Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda, Colombo.
Gnanissara Thera completed his primary education at Sri Jinaratana Pirivena and joined the Sri Lanka Vidyodaya University and graduated at a young age.
Then Gnanissara Thera went to England for higher studies. During his studies, his teacher, Reverend Dewandara Vachissara Thera fell ill and became blind, so all the responsibilities of Gangaramaya were transferred to Gnanissara Thera at a young age.
Young Gnanissara Thera, who was full of creative skills, thought of taking advantage of the nearby Beira Reservoir of his monastery and built a Seema Malakaya in the middle of the reservoir in a new style. He planted a Bo tree and installed a Buddha statue there and allowed all sects of Buddhist monks to practice disciplinary acts of religion. In addition to Gnaneswara Pirivena, Jinarathana Training Institute was set up to provide English education and professional education. Thousands of students were educated in languages and technical skills in these educational institutions in the last 50 years. They are engaged in services locally and abroad. He revived the Jinalankara Printing Press, which belonged to Gangaramaya and reprinted many old books.
He led the scholars in the compilation of two works on Dana outlining excerpts from the Thripitaka. As a pioneering step to protect the environment, he started planting trees around Beira Lake and planted lakhs of rare trees in the large land belonging to the Bhadravathi Fernando Trust. Further, he distributed millions of saplings throughout the country free of charge.
About three decades ago, it was very difficult to find accommodation for pilgrims going to Kataragama. The hotels we see today were not there then. He paid attention to this issue, and with the support of local and foreign donors, he established an accommodation complex that could house hundreds of pilgrims. The centre provided facilities free of charge.
Gnanissara Thera distributed trishaws to the temples for easy travelling of the Buddhist monks and donated hundreds of bicycles to needy people. When he was holding the position of advisor to the Ministry of Education, Gnanissara Thera realized that the monks were deviating from oriental education, and with the patronage of his donors, he started a scholarship programme for the students studying for the oriental education initial, middle and final exams. Navam Perahera, one of the major cultural spectacles in the capital, was also initiated by Gnanissara Thera. It is not only a cultural spectacle presented to local and foreign visitors, but the traditional artisans, who participate in it are empowered and supported to add value. By making appropriate clothes and ornaments for the elephants and herdsmen, the Navam Perahera directed Sri Lanka’s procession culture in a new direction. Today, Colombo Navam Perahera has become a great cultural spectacle held to invoke the blessings of the triple gem, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Gangaramaya’s ancient artefacts were preserved in an art gallery so that people from our country and abroad can see them. A replica of Indonesia’s Borobudur monument is also inside the premises.
At the same time, Gnanissara Thera was also interested in foreign dharma propagation activities and started the New York Buddhist Temple, the second Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in America, and entrusted it to Kurunagoda Piyathissa Nayaka Thera. Today, three students of Gnanissara Thera are engaged in missionary work in two temples in America and in Birmingham, England. Kalalgoda Meditation Centre was established near the capital for local and foreign meditation enthusiasts. He started an institution near Jayewardenepura Hospital for children with special needs.
It is the misfortune of the nation that Galaboda Gnanissara Nayaka Thera, who was born here due to the merit of the nation, is sick today. Even so, his various services continue following his vision. The group of his students led by the current Chief Prelate of Gangaramaya Dr. Kirinde Assaji Thera, Chief Sangha Nayaka of Colombo New Koralahave started ‘Green’ TV for the benefit of the people.
We wish Dr. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera a happy birthday full of physical and mental comfort, good health and prosperity.CDN