ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 44
Kandy Times

Leafing through the pages in a historic store house

The Sri Dalada Maligawa library gets new look

By Shane Seneviratne

The Sri Dalada Maligawa library, a historic store house of ancient and rare types of books containing not only historical texts but even ola leaves containing important information on cultural and literary activities, has been renovated and given a new look.

The library saw the light of day in June 1875 when Governor William Henry Gregory declared it open in the company of the two Mahanayakas of the Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters and the Diyawadana Nilame.

When the English took control of the hill country, many monks left their temples and hid in the jungles. It is reported that the invaders ransacked the temples taking away valuable books and texts and historical writings. Later after the Kandyan Convention was signed, the seized documents were stored in the kachcheri premises.

The ola manuscript inscribed by Ven. Weliwita Sri Asarana Sarana Saranankara Thera

Most of the texts were as much as 1000 years old and contained valuable information on medicine and chants used in manthrams. Later these books were stacked in the central part of the historic Pattirippuwa and kept in the Oriental library. Some of the books were gifts from China and Burma.

Each copy of a book printed in India under English rule was stored here. Some of them are said to be not available even in India. There are about 500 copies of ola writings of the Most Ven. Elovita Asarana Sarana Thera on medicine and ancient types of therapy.

A copy of the Tripitaka written in Thai not found even in that country is available here. It is chronicled that over 500 copies of this book were printed in the18th century and distributed to many Buddhist countries.

As the Thai Tripitaka was not available in Thailand, the authorities had found that Sri Lanka was a recipient of one gifted by Thailand. So they had made inquiries from the Dalada Maligawa authorities and on being informed that one may be available in the Kandy Archives, had made inquiries.

The Kandy Archives Deputy Director had found that one was available with all 30 parts intact. But the request of the Thai Government was turned down by the Maligawa authorities.

Of the old texts available in the Kandy library, 80 per cent are copies of the Dhanmmachakka and Sathipattana many of which are over 150 years old. Most of these happen to be gifts from village women donated to the temples as poojas.

The section of the library where the ola leaves are housed

When Kandy Archives former Deputy Director Ms. P. Muthuwatta was asked why women offered these books as poojas she said as education was taboo for women of that time, they offered these in the hope that in their next birth they would be educated.
There is also a collection of books in English on subjects like economics, medical science, politics and other subjects.

A book worthy of mention is Adams Illustrated Panorama of History published by A.H.Walker and is reckoned to be the longest book - as long as 10 metres. The historic epics Mahabaratha and Ramayana also take pride of place here.

Of the local books there are texts such as Matale kadaimpotha, Wanni Kadaimpotha, Dalada Siritha, Bodhi Wansaya, Parakumba Siritha, Saddhammalankaraya and Thupavansa.

Books on medicine, astrology, law and politics too are available here as rare texts. The genesis of the library is not without significance.

When Sri Lanka received independence from the British in 1948, the Pattirippuwa was not handed over to the locals but given later in 1966 via a deed which is yet available in the Dalada Maligawa museum. At the time a special committee too was set up for the maintenance of the Pattirippuwa. The last member of that committee was Ven. Sirimalwatte Ananda Thera who was the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter. The Asgiriya Chapter did not have any connection with it.

With the demise of Ven. Sirimalwatte Thera, Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyeratne sealed the library and the Pattirippuwa making entry to them taboo.

After the almsgiving for the thera was over, the Buddhist Commissioner, Archives Department officers and other officials re-opened the library and listed the texts. Copies of the list were sent to the Asgiriya Mahanayake with a request that the library be maintained and a bhikku be appointed to look after the rituals of the Pattirippuwa.

Today the library is in good condition after the LTTE attack on the Dalada Maligawa which partly destroyed the Pattirippuwa. The books were relocated after that incident. All texts are microfilmed before being placed in the shelves. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to hear about the library he had made a visit there and expressed surprise that such ancient books were available.

Ms. Muthuwatte who is in charge of the library now is dedicated to her work and is ably supported by the present Diyawadana Nilame Dela Bandara.

She has requested that books be donated by those anyone interested.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.