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The story of Upasampada

23 May 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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On May 21 Vesak Day the rites of Upasampada Karmaya or Higher Ordination was commenced at Asgiri and Malwatta Maha Vihares, conducted by the two Mahnayakes. This was the continuation of the Upasamapada rites, which were brought from Thailand (Siam) by Upali the Elder Thera, during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe. But, during the reign of Thailand’s King Khunrajiahaeng, two Buddhist monks were resident in a temple at Nakhon Sri Thammarat in Thailand. The King is reported to have proceeded to this Temple to meet the Monastic Head of the Sangha, where the Sri Lankan monks were residing.

It is also recorded according to the Graduate School of Maha Chlajonraja Vidiyala University that a Buddha image known as ‘Shing ‘ was taken to Sukhothai City from Sri Lanka. Though in 1753 Upasampada rites was brought down from Thailand, yet,Thailand sent down monks to learn and obtain Upasampada rites from Sri Lanka earlier, which came to be known as ‘Lankavamsa rites’ since the rites were taken from Lanka. Neighbouring lands, such as Burma, Thailand (Then known as Lanna) Pegu (Lower Burma),and Cambodia flocked to Sri Lanka in order to acquaint themselves of the Buddha Dhamma. In ancient Thailand during the reign of King Saenmuengma there were two groups of monks, the Mon group and the Lana. Lana monks headed by the Elder Medhankara came to Sri Lanka with two other monks for re-ordiantion and then returned to Lana ( Thailand ).

The present rites were brought into the country when there was not a single monk with the Upasampada Karmaya or Higher Ordination. This was at the instance of Sangharaja Welivita Asarana Saranankara Thera. In 1755, another mission of twenty monks were sent to Sri Lanka to replace the first mission. King Boromakot reflected that he had promised that the first mission would be replaced by a second, after three years. Therefore the King invited Venerable Vissuddha Karya and Venerable Varayanamuni with twenty others to form the second mission. At this stage it is not very clear whether Elder Upali left or whether he passed away in this country, though it is reported that his ashes are at Adhana Maluwa. The age old custom of Upasampada or Higher Ordination continues in Sri Lanka with all the rites and rituals since 1753.

The fact is that this rite fulfils the end of a Samanera Monk and uplifts the Samanera to the status of a fully fledged monk which is the ultimate goal of anyone who enters priesthood. But, the continuity of this tradition of Upasampada is in the same basic form both at Malwatta and Asgiri Vihares, which remain so, is unique. It was King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who invited the Upali Elder to establish the monastic boundary (Simamalakaya ) or which is now referred as the Poyage at Malwatta Maha Vihare. But, there came a time, when Sri Lanka had not a single monk, who had been ordained with Upasampada rites and it was Weliwita Asarana Sarana Saranankara Thera who took the initiative to request the King to bring these ceremonies back to Sri Lanka from what was then Thailand.

The Temples fell into disuse and the Sangha was interested in mundane affairs rather than serving the people’s needs. A class of monks known as Ganinnwanse sprung up, who did more damage to the teachings of Buddha. In fact Buddhism fell into an abyss and Catholicism spread quickly in these circumstances throughout the Kandyan Kingdom. It was at this time that Welivita Saranankara Thera entered Bhikkhuhood under the then learned residing at Suriyagoda . In the Temple in Yatinuwara. Suriyagoda thera was the last to have received Upasampada status through a delegation of monks from Burmese Books were rare but the Venerable Suriyagoda Rajaguru had certain rare and important books. It was in this period that this young monk Weliwita formed an Organisation called Silvath Samagama or Pious Association. In numerous ways he fell foul with the feudals and was banished to Laggala forests in the Dambulla District, without the knowledge of King. He was brought back and in the course of time king Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe sent the last emissary to bring Upasampada to Sri Lanka where earlier emissaries had failed due to various reasons including ship wrecks. A delegation of 32 monks arrived in Sri Lanka headed by Upali Thera.

On Esala full moon day, Upali Thera and the Siamese monks arrived to an adapted area now known as the Poyage in Malwatta Maha Vihare to be ordained with Upasampada, firstly on the Weliwita Thera. But, Weliwita Thera is reported to have said that he must have a monk senior to him in order to pay obeisance and Venerable Kobbekaduwa was first ordained with Upasampada followed by Saranankara, Hulangamuwa Bambaradeniya, Tibbotuwawe and Navinne. But, the priest who was very close to Sarnankara Thera Sitimaluwe Unnanse was denied Upasampada as he was considered as not in the Goigama caste After King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe elevated Saranankara Thera to the status of a Sangharaja, Venerable Sri Siddhartha Buddharakita was the first Mahanayake at Malwatta and the Mahanayake of Asgiri was Urulewatte Siridhamasiddi.

The present Mahnayake of Asgiri is from that lineage and the present Mahanayake of Malwatta is from the lineage of Thibotuwawe. In fact there was no Diyawadana Nilame for the Sri Dalada Maligawa, as the Sacred Tooth Relic was the private property of the King. The Diyawadana Nilame was there to assist only in the rites of bath of the King with Saluwadana Nilame, in charge of he dresses The Diyawadana Nilame was the 43rd lay official in the Kandyan Kingdom on the list of precedence. The process of Upasamapada is for the Samanera is to be disrobed and be attired in the clothes of a Kandyan layman and then be taken in procession escorted by relations and well wishers, especially from the village of the Samanera to the respective Maha Vihare either Asgiri or Malwatta for the ordination ceremony.

This ceremony is conducted at both Vihares as early as 1753. The Samaneras who arrive at the four Poya Days to the Maligawa to be crowned are known as Wahal Nagayas in other words the Samanera of the King. After the British took over the administration of the Kandyan provinces, the Governor and later the Governor General, followed by the President sent an Atapirikara to be presented to the Wahal Naga Samanera on each full moon Poya Day between the Vesak and the Poson. This tradition is now carried out by the Sri Dalada Maligawa. Since of late the Buddhist Affairs Department sends to every monk, who had been Higher-ordained throughout the period from Wesak to Poson, an Atapirikara and their travelling expenses.

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