Late Tripitakacarya Sri Saddharma Vagisvara Upaddhyaya M M Mahaweera Maha Nayaka Thero was born on the 16th January 1913 in Maliduwa village in Matara district and was given the name of Upasena de Silva Liyana Gunawardhana. After finishing his primary school education at 12 years of age, he was ordained as a samanera (junior monk) under Venerable Paragoda Sumanasara and was given an ordination name of Maliduwa Mahanama Mahaweera, which, in Pali, means: Great Name, Great Hero.
He did his religious studies under Venerable Paragoda until 1926. In 1929, our founder sailed to the Federation of Malaya. With Brickfields Temple as his base, he set about propagating the Dhamma among the lay people in Malaya and Singapore. He had intended to travel to Thailand for his meditation training but this was not to be as there was a growing demand for his religious services in Singapore. He finally managed to travel to Thailand at the age of 21 for his upasampada (higher ordination).
Our founder set up his first temple in 1934 at Spottiswoode Park Road and later shifted to Outram Road. With the expanding Sri Lankan expatriate’s population in Singapore, our founder was instrumental in the founding and construction of the Sri Lankaramaya Temple.
In 1960, our founder built Mangala Vihara on a piece of land donated by the late Mdm. Chew Quee Neo in Jalan Eunos. With our late founder’s foresight on the benefits on education, he set up the Sunday Dhamma School in 1940. The SDS used the syllabi set by the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Our late founder was himself the Dhamma School’s first teacher. In 1982, a 3-storey annex was built to cater the rapidly expanding Sunday Dhamma School.
After re-building the Main Shrine Hall, our founder realized his dhammaduta dream of setting up the Buddhist and Pali College in 1993 with Venerable Dr. P Gnanarama its principal.
In the last few years of his great life, our founder, with his failing health, needed an assistant monk to assist him with the religious duties. Our founder celebrated his last Vesak day in Mangala Vihara before passing away on the 12 June 2002.
May he attain his noble aspiration of Nibbana!
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu
Biography Of Late Bhante
Ven. K. Sri Pemaloka, who succeeded late Bhante as the Resident Monk of Mangala Vihara in June, 2002, has put together a biography of Bhante. To do so, he has to recall his conversations with Bhante since he first arrived in Singapore, in November, 1962 and discovering that they came from the same area in Sri Lanka and were somehow related on their fathers’ sides. We are also fortunate to have the history of Mangala Vihara recorded from 1965 in our quarterly magazine, the Echo of Dhamma, which should be credited to the foresight of our late Bhante. This biography commemorates the first death anniversary of our beloved Bhante on 12th June, 2003.
Lim Ah Swan,
Excerpts from the Biography
“According to Bhante, when he first arrived in Singapore, the local community was not aware of Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism. Although there was a large Chinese Buddhist community here, they were totally ignorant of what constitute Buddhist beliefs and practices. They were performing various rites and rituals, which they though were Buddhist practices.”
“Being the only Theravada Buddhist temple in Singapore, the temple attracted more attention and interest when students of the Sunday Dhamma School went on stage at the Victoria Memorial Hall to recite ‘Jayamangala Gatha’ during Vesak Day in the 1940s.”
“Bhante had gone with devotees to the cemeteries and saw the offerings and rituals at the graveyards. He was then determined to educate the public on the correct way to remember the deceased – the Buddhist concept of transferring merits to the departed.”
“Funeral services is part and parcel of a monk’s life. Here Bhante was instrumental in changing the mindset of the early Chinese Buddhists, in doing away with the burning of joss papers and offerings of food to the deceased at the graveyards. Bhante had then compiled a book, the recital of Maransati verses from various suttas, for the understanding of members as well as to provide solace for the bereaved. Indeed, that was a significant contribution by our Bhante and it is a great honour to say that various Buddhist temples in Singapore have followed the practice of chanting Maranasati verses!”
“The Path of Emancipation was first published in 1938 by Bhante in Singapore for a small group of Chinese who were keen in learning chanting in Pali.”
“Bhante started chanting practices early while he was in the Outram Road Vihara but it was in Mangala Vihara that he had the classes organised. Most importantly he taught selected suttas in the Big Suttas Book (Catu Bhanavara Pali) in order for the laity to participate in the whole night chanting on the anniversary of the founding of Mangala Vihara. At that time, teaching such suttas was unheard of. Only monks could chant these suttas.”
“When the Japanese occupied Singapore during the Second World War in the early 1940’s, many Sri Lankan have already left Singapore. Bhante stayed on to administer religious services to those left behind with a Burmese monk, Ven. U. Wandiya.”
“Although Bhante had read the teachings of the Buddha from the Suttas and being blessed with great powers of recall, he had sometimes regretted that he did not have the opportunity for higher education earlier in his life. Therefore Bhante wanted to educate many in the teachings of the Buddha, he started the Sunday Dhamma School in the late 1930s.”
“At their first attempt in the YMBA examinations, Mangala Vihara Sunday Dhamma School in 1961 won the prestigious Sadhuwandhana Challenge Shield, an award presented to any dhamma school with the highest percentage of passes in the YMBA Examinations conducted worldwide.”
“Even the Chinese New Year’s celebration took on a Buddhist tradition, with lesser offerings of meant and joss-papers. Instead Bhante encouraged devotees to come to temple (to observe Eight Precepts, if possible) and observe the day as a poya day.”
“In the early days, Vesak was not a public holiday. Bhante, together with other prominent Buddhist leaders were instrumental in getting the colonial authorities to declare Vesak a public holiday so that Buddhists can go to the temple and observe the trice blessed day. Bhante used to encourage devotees to observe the Eight Precepts on Vesak.”
“No matter how tired Bhante could be or how old, he never excused himself once he had a task to perform! Even with one student in front of him for Sunday Dhamma Class, he carried on with the lessons…. We have seen Bhante dragging his tired body in his later years for Maranasati services. Bhante was stickler to details, task and punctuality.”
Memorial Service of late Founder