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Pious bhikku who stood for justice

Most Ven. Girambe Ananda Anunayake Thera of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya was a pious, erudite Buddhist monk who endeared himself to the people by standing for justice and fair play and by rendering a great socio-religious service to the country.

Born in 1938 in Girambe, Kurunegala, he had 10 siblings; two brothers and eight sisters. His father was an ayurvedic physician at Girambe. Two each of his brothers and sisters predeceased him.

At the age of three, he learnt his first letters from Ven. Mathgamuwe Pannasekara Nayake Thera of the Polgahawela Vijayananda Pirivena. At the age of five, he was admitted to the Rathmalgoda Maha Vidyalaya, where he studied up to grade two. Ven. Siyambalanduwe Kassapa Thera who was one of his uncles, used to frequent their house and had once asked him whether he wished to enter the bhikku order, for which he had answered in the affirmative. With the approval of his parents, he was taken to the Peradeniya Sarananda Pirivena on January 1, 1949, by Ven. Kassapa Thera and handed over to the charge of Chief Incumbent Ven. Siyambalangamuwe Gunaratana Nayaka Thera. The Peradeniya Sarananda Pirivena was then known as the Wijayawardenaramaya.

Nine months later, he was ordained as a samanera bhikkhu under the preceptorship and tutelage of Ven. Siyambalangamuwe Gunaratane Nayake Thera. After receiving higher ordination under the tutelage of Ven. Siyambalangamuwe Gunaratane Nayake Thera, at the initiative of the Kurunegala Sangha Sabha of the Sri Lanka Ramanne Maha Nikaya, he moved residence to the Yodagama Asokaramaya in Rambukkana, where he stayed from 1958 to 1960 and made a great contribution to the development of the temple.

Ven. Girambe Ananda Anunayake Thera shot to fame after moving on to the Anuradhapura Sri Sarananda Maha Pirivena, which he then transformed into a great seat of learning and renowned centre for religious and social service. He was instrumental in building houses for the benefit of seven underprivileged families with contributions from his devotees.

He also looked into the needs of daham pasalas in the area on an annual basis. A Vesak perahera launched by him in 2002 as an annual feature in Anuradhapura, had to be wound up after two years due to political intervention at the time. Nevertheless, he was able to revive it last year.

Ven. Girambe Ananda Thera was instrumental in conducting 14 danselas each year to cater to Buddhist devotees flocking to Anuradhapura for Vesak, Poson, and Esala Poyas. A Young Men's Buddhist Association formed by him was instrumental in setting up more than seven other temples in Anuradhapura. The Sarananda Pirivena caters to people of all communities, and Tamil language classes are a special feature of its syllabus.

He was also instrumental in saving the lives of nearly 100 Tamil families during the 1983 communal riots by giving them refuge at the Sarananda Pirivena and feeding them for several months before they could safely return to their homes.

The Ven. Thera also travelled abroad widely and engaged in dhammaduta activities in India, Germany, France, Austria, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.

Ven. Ananda Thera once recalled that his higher education prospects were hampered due to his involvement in politics during the 1965 general election.

A forthright bhikku who always stood for justice and fair play, he even went to court to overcome obstructions caused to his pirivena by the provincial political big wigs at the time.

He was a true Buddha putra who extended love and compassion to all, including friend and foe alike. He headed a chain of 33 pirivenas and viharayas which catered to nearly 250 bhikkhus. May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!