The re-birth of this library really came after the LTTE Bomb Blast. The Octagon was literally buried in debris and the books were strewn all over
The Lake was also created by King Rajasinghe, without which Kandy would have been just another town in the central hills
Unknown to thousands who visit the Sri Dalada Maligawa, hidden in the third floor of the new building is a library of international standard to be used by scholars. It has the rare copy of the Thai Triptiaka published in Thai language, Siamese ( now Thailand ) during the 25th Anniversary of the reign of the King of Siam or Thailand and the only copy now available to the world, other than what is perhaps available at the British Museum.
The King of Siam was Somdetech Phra Paramindo Maha Chuladolnkara Phra Chula Chom Klao - who on his 25th Anniversary on the Throne of Siam., printed 500 copies of the Thai Triptiakaya in Thai language and distributed the copies to a number of countries including the United Kingdom. One was to the Oriental Library housed at that time at the Octagen.
In the same manner one of the most rare books of World History printed in the United Kingdom, which is claimed as the only book outside the British Museum “ Illustrated Panorama of the World published by A.H.Walkers, is also at the Maligawa Library.
There are nearly three thousand valuable and rare books and also around three thousand Ola Leaf Books collected over the years. The Library at the Maligawa is an International Library which had fallen into decay over the years and had been revived to its old glory with modern State-of-the-art technology.
Pathrippuwa (the Octagen) butting out of the Sri Dalada Mailgawa, which withstood the bomb blast of the LTTE was the creation of the last King of Kandy Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. This was created and built by the craftsman par excellence Mulachara Devendra.
There are nearly three thousand rare books and also around three thousand Ola Leaf Books collected over the years
Looking back, the Pattirippuwa or the Octagon was built after demolishing an old building that stood on this site at the request of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe in 1802. The word is derived from the Tamil word Parthu to see and Irripppu to be seated. The King is said to have viewed martial arts being played on Maha Maluwa. Devendra Mulachari is the creator of the building on the orders of the King and he is said to have created a model using the stems of Plantain leaves, the creator Devendra died under tragic circumstances after this creation.
The Pathrippuwa building was also the centre of the administration in the Kandyan Era and was also used by the King to relax with his queen of the day, chosen from his Harem which is now the Kandy National Museum. This queen had also the opportunity to visit the Sacred Tooth Relic, which according to records of the British was visited by the King daily. The Sacred Tooth Relic at that time was the King’s personal property.
Looking back, the Pattirippuwa was built after demolishing an old building that stood on this site at the request of King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe in 1802
Apparently continuing the Kandyan administration and tradition the Resident of the Kandyan Kingdom Sir John D’Oyly used this building as the administrative arm after the country was ceded to the British. Again this building according to records was used in 1868 during the tenure of office of the Government Agent Braybooke as the Kandy Kachcheri or the hub of administration.
The Lake was also created by King Rajasinghe, without which Kandy would have been just another town in the central hills.
Apart from the often related role of this Octagonal shaped building “Pathruppuwa”, also had a lesser publicized role - to encase the historic library, simply called the Oriental Library but the library’s history within the Octagon commenced from the beginning of the British administration.
In fact, as records show, the library was under the Government Agent, as much as the Sacred Tooth Relic Chamber. As a result the library shot into fame and it received large collections of rare books. Even first editions were sent to this Library from all over the world.
But when the keys of the main Shrine were handed over to the three custodians, the interest in the Library waned
Some of the Ola leaf books were from the British soldiers themselves who returned them to the Library. They had been given by the locals as a token of friendship or for favours
It is here that the British have a good word. The British unlike the Portuguese and other colonial rulers who plundered the Kandyan Kingdom and destroyed all its heritage, the British, understood the value of Buddhist heritage and spared some of the valuable assets of the Kandyan Kingdom, thanks especially to the efforts of John D’ Oyly, though at first he was considered a spy of the British Crown. The British first formed the library as a collection of precious “Ola Leaf books”, plundered and hidden away in various regional temples and feudal places, which were discovered by British soldiers. Some of the Ola leaf books were from the British soldiers themselves who returned them to the Library. They had been given by the locals as a token of friendship or for favours.
The value of the knowledge of these books were first noticed by D’Oyly as the then first resident of the Kandyan Kingdom. He contacted with Venerable Karatotoa Thera at Hambantota, while serving as the Matara Magistrate. Therefore D’Oyly commenced the collection of the Ola Leaf books, which were scattered all over the Kandyan Kingdom.
The oldest Ola Leaf Book that is found in this Library is the Ola Leaf written by Venerable Sangharaja Weliwita Thera known as ‘Bessage Manjusawa’ according to the Librarian Ms. Prema Mutuwatta, who was the Assistant Archivist of the Kandy Archives, who is presently the librarian of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. Incidentally, she is the only woman on the staff of the Sri Dalada Malgiawa.
This large collection of Ola Leaf books totalling around 3000. Out of which only twenty five per cent are distinctive to the history of this Library. The other Ola Leaf Books are donations from villagers in ‘bundles’ which have Buddhist scriptures such as the ‘Satpiattana’.
The re-birth of this library really came after the LTTE Bomb Blast. The Octagon was literally buried in debris and the books were strewn all over and the cupboards had come down. Into this came the proposal that the Octagon should be pulled down for it to be rebuilt. Thanks to the University of Peradeniya Civil Engineer Professor Ranaweera and the then Diyawadana Nilame Neeranjan Wijeratne.
It was Ms. Prema Mutuwatta, the Assistant Archivist, who came across this valuable collection of books. Then she advised Diyawadana Nilame Neeranjan Wijeyaratne as to what had to be done. In the course of surfing through the books, Mrs. Mutuwetta came across an unparalleled multi-language collection and appeared to be a South Asian Regional Archive stemming from the Kandyan era, thus transforming from a mere Oriental Library to a home of historical significance. Some of the first were found dating back to 1800s
It was also discovered that there was an exact index of the books prepared by Venerable Mahanayake of Malwatta Panditha Sirimalwatte Ananda Thera, as the one time Librarian of this ‘ gold mine’ of books. Here it must be remembered that Panditha Ananda Thera used to walk to the Temple four times a day and never for a moment used any vehicle until he became the Mahanayake.
The monks who were looking after the Library as a part of the Maha Sangha in Service of the Maligawa were there only to show to the people the Ola Leaf Books inside the cupboards. There were no scholarly research except from the Venerable Mahanayake Sirimalwatte Ananda Thera.
In this impasse, it was left to the then Diyawadana Nilame Neeranjan Wijeratne to retrieve the books with the help of Ms. Mutuwatte. The Diyawadana Nilames had come and gone but this Library was of no interest to them, until the French educated Neerajan Wijeratne who put his hand on the library after the blast.
Unlike in other fields, Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilange Dela took up the Library from where it was left by Diyawadana Nilame Neeranjan Wijeyaratne and had re-organized the Library, first employing Ms.Mutuwatte with her retirement from the Archives Department. So, Ms Mutuwatta told me that her work is now over and that she should retire and let people like Ajantha Samarakoon her assistant to continue the work.