arrived in Sri Lanka exactly 100 years to date
Revival of Buddhist education: A new boost given
By Kasturiarachchi Warnakulasuriya, B.A. (Cey) M.A.(S.L)
Buddhist activist Col. H.S, Olcott having being inspired
by the Panadura Vada Buddhist recital, set foot on Lanka on May
17,1880. On September 15, 1880 he, with the help of leading Buddhist
monks and laymen at that time, opened up a Galle B.T.S. school in
Galle Fort, which was to become Mahinda College, later. Subsequently
on March 1st 1892, originally established said B. T .S. school was
named Mahinda College.
to elevate Buddhist education at that time had been foiled by the
then high-flying elite society, where Baptism was the order of the
day. Mahinda College could not survive, as a positive response from
the Buddhist public could not be anticipated. Several Principalships
had been tried during these unfortunate days from 1892 -1902. This
was the time when Muhandiram Thomas Amarasuriya became President
of the Olcott -oriented B.T.S. and the Manager of the school.
the pathetic situation the school is undergoing, he addressed the
pioneer of the school Col. Olcott to send immediately a permanent
suitable Principal to clear this unstable situation. Luckily at
that time, an English scholar named Frank Lee Woodward, born in
Saham, Norfolk, in England had befriended Colonel at the Theosophical
society in London. Col. Olcott having heard the pathetic situation
of his pioneering efforts, thought of sending a "man for the
job". F.L. Woodward, M.A. in Classics (Cantab.) was his obvious
choice, to re-light the lamp of Mahinda.
Frank Lee Woodward, thus set foot on Lanka exactly on 1st August
1903, to take up the mantle of Mahinda, which was floating on water
like a canoe without an oar. On the day of his arrival in Galle,
a cricket match was being played between Mahinda and Dharmaraja
at the Galle esplanade. His first job, had been to rise to the occasion
and go to the centre of the playing field, to umpire this match.
duties at his destiny in Galle Fort, what he immediately realized
had been, that Galle Fort was not at all conducive for an educational
institute to be set up in a Buddhist environment, as the place had
been infested by drunkards and prostitutes. But his plans had been
upset with the demise of his pioneer Olcott and the Manager of the
school in the same year. He was however determined to fulfil his
mission for which he came all the way from England.
Woodward at this sorrowful hour of Mahinda, stood as a rock and
settled down to perform the great responsibility he was entrusted
with. With the help of a Buddhist philanthropist of the time, Mrs
D.F. De Silva of Minuwangoda, Galle, he decided to shift the premises
to a more suitable area on Elliot road.
Hill', the site he selected, enhanced by the panoramic view of Morawak
Korale hill and Sri Pada visible on clear mornings, was the ideal
place for a Seat of Learning to be survived for generations to come.
In selecting such a venue for a Buddhist Institution visualized
in his mindset, he must have taken a leaf from the Indian experience
of the famous Buddhist Universities Takshila, Nalanda, Wickramashila
and the Lankan Buddhist monasteries like Mahavihara and Abhayagiri.
In the name
of his Guru, he started the work of Olcott Hall on Jan. 5, 1908
and completed it in 1910. The sense of devotion and dedication was
such, he himself designed and architeched and personally supervised
the construction work along with the masons and carpenters, Personally
getting onto the ladders and scaffoldings. Such was the hallmark
of Woodward for dignity of labour, which we, Sri Lankans lack today.
Woodward inspired by the wisdom and teachings of the Buddha,
successfully combined the best of the British educational set up
with the traditional Southern way of life, to bring fruition the
Woodwardian Tradition which paved the way to herald a new era in
the South. Equipped with a M.A. in Classics of Cantab. fame, he
himself had organized the Matriculation Cambridge Senior and Junior
classes on par with the island's other leading Colleges at the time
Royal, St. Thomas, Musaeus and other Missionary Schools led by his
contemporaries in the calibre of Frazer of Trinity, Hartley of Royal,
Highfield of Wesley, Stone of St. Thomas and Higgings of Musaeus.
At the start
of his tenure of office, the attendance in the school had been 89.
But at the end of that year the number on roll had risen by leaps
and bounds. He had introduced a mastery of subjects both Western
by birth, greatly influenced by the Buddhist activist Olcott and
teachings of the Buddha, he turned himself into a Buddhist activist
and Pali Scholar, in no mean time.
This had been
the turning point for Mahinda College, to have become the Oriental
Seat of Learning in the South to cater the bulk of the professors,
dons of oriental languages and Buddhist studies, to our universities,
in the calibre of N .A Jayawickrama, M.B. Ariyapala, Jayadeva Thilakasiri,
Siri Gunasinha, Vinnie Vitharana, W. Ariyadasa De Silva, David Jinadasa
Kalupahana, W.G. Weeraratna; Chetiyapala Withanachchi and Nandasiri
Abeywardhana presently a Buddhist monk.
At a time when people of Lanka looked down upon their own cherished
language and religion due to Colonial baptism, which was the order
of the day, F.L. Woodward the architect of Buddhist and Pali scholarly
education of Mahinda, followed the foot steps of inspiring leaders
like Edwin Arnold, Joseph Needham, H.S. Olcott to cultivate a culture
quite foreign to them, but indigenous to the hills and valleys of
Asia to serve in the noblest possible way.
and Pali education, he was not only instrumental building up Mahinda
from its scratch to a vigorous youth, but to develop a Woodwardian
tradition to make his pupils, wholesome, dynamic personalities in
their chosen disciplines with a fine blend of moral, cultural and
spiritual life. It was this 'Woodwardian tradition', that his successive
pillars of strength in the calibre of Ms. F.G. Pearce, W.A. Troupe
, P.R. Gunasekara, E.A. Wijesooriya, U.G. Handy, Peter Dantanarayana,
Jayasena Gunasekara, W.A.D.S. Gunatilaka and B.K. Silva used to
maintain to build up a greater Mahinda.
As a result of his pioneering efforts to foster Buddhist education,
operating from Mahinda College, Galle, he was called upon by the
then National Education Commission to be a member of this higher
education council, to draft the foundation to establish a University
for Lanka. The then Government must have taken a leaf from the Oriental
University he had already nursed in the South, to re-light Buddhist
and Pali education.
This is how
he became a stalwart to give his mite in the activities of Sri Lankan
In 1919, after
a mission duly completed, he sailed for Tasmania, his future abode
to settle down as an ascetic in a Buddhist monastery and dedicated
33 years of his life, to the task of translating Buddhist texts
to be published by the Pali Text Society, London. At the age of
81, he passed away on May 27, 1952.
is a beloved old boy- an English and Oriental Studies teacher- turned
Journalist, produced by Mahinda ]