The birthday of Venerable Galboda Gnanissara Thera (Podi Hamuduruwo), the chief incumbent of Gangaramaya Temple at Hunupitiya in Colombo and Chief Sanganayake of Colombo Nava Korale, falls tomorrow. I am privileged to write something about him to mark this occasion. He is a magnanimous person, always willing to give and donate. He is a thinker [...]

Sunday Times 2

Happy birthday Podi Saadu, the people’s priest


The birthday of Venerable Galboda Gnanissara Thera (Podi Hamuduruwo), the chief incumbent of Gangaramaya Temple at Hunupitiya in Colombo and Chief Sanganayake of Colombo Nava Korale, falls tomorrow. I am privileged to write something about him to mark this occasion.

He is a magnanimous person, always willing to give and donate. He is a thinker and a knowledgeable Bhikku, practical and full of ideas. Although a chief priest, one can meet him at any time without prior appointment. While in temple, he is often seen seated in the small rattan chair, reading newspapers or going through numerous letters he gets from all over. He meets the devotees who come to see him. It does not matter whether the visitor is Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim. He has no religious or race considerations. He has a smile for everyone. He does not tolerate wrongdoing.

He speaks with tourists who come to the temple. As he has travelled widely he knows a lot about the world in general and can converse with anyone. To bless the visitors, he places the casket of relics on their heads and ties the pirith ‘nool’ around their wrist. Tourists who have been to the temple recall appreciatively how the Podi Hamuduruwo treated them many a time. I think he is the only Lokuhamuduruwo who treats the tourists in such a friendly manner.

Ven. Galboda Gnanissara Thera: A priest with many missions to help the poor and the downtrodden

Besides, he is a friend to all those who come to meet him from far-off villages. The conversation will start with a ‘from-where-are-you’ query and may go on for some time. If they are farmers, the conversation will include queries about matters regarding cultivations. He will ask about the price of rice and whether they can sell at that price. With these informal chats, Podi Hamuduruwo is able to gain knowledge about many things first hand.

The Benz car in the temple and the three-wheeler on the road are the same to him. He will put on his rubber slippers, take his walking stick, hail a three wheeler and go to a nearby place. Recently he talked a great deal about the price of a packet of rice. He was concerned that most people could not afford a packet of rice at Rs. 150 or 200. Once when he was in Galle he bought a packet of rice from a roadside seller. It had three or four vegetables and was priced at Rs. 70 or 80. Coming back to Colombo, he inquired from food sellers whether it was fair to sell a packet at Rs. 150. This paved the way for a programme to cook and sell lunch at Rs. 50 a packet. This programme is still active at Gangaramaya. He always advocates fair play and urges people not to earn at the expense of others. He champions the cause of the poor and the downtrodden.

When some monks take to politics, he preaches on themes that are beyond politics. His admonitions are not liked by some, but he goes on. He promotes self-employment instead of working under someone. He sees the bigger picture always. He will tell people: “Try and get an old person to sell 1,000 sweep tickets and help him earn a living while you also get a profit.” He advocates self help. He is a cleric who makes use of old things to make something new. The technical college he founded was built from discarded steel. If you go to the institutions that come under Gangaramaya in Suriyawewa and Akuressa, you can see they have been constructed with discarded door frames, windows and doors. From old timber he brings out what is good and eyecatching.

Recently he planted a new plant in place of the old tree that was dying in front of the Gangaramaya. He showed us how much he likes plants. For the past many decades he has planted hundreds of thousands of trees around the country. Recently a road worker carrying a bag came to the temple. Podi Hamuduruwo asked: “Is it only so much today?”

“Yes Hamuduruwane,” the man replied. The bag contained seeds for replanting. The man gets money for brining seeds. Though, Podi Hamuduruwo is based in Colombo, he thinks of the fertility of the whole island. He maintains plantations in Matara, Akuressa, Katharagama, Suriyawewa with the aim of helping the poor and future generations. Anybody walking into the Gangaramaya will be able to see the many plants kept for planting. No other place including an agricultural centre has so many seedlings ready for planting.

The day I saw him using a walking stick caused me immense pain. To my mind, he should stay ever young and in good health to continue to do the good work. There are no queues to see him. “What queues for the Buddhists priests?” he thinks. The day he introduced a lunch packet at Rs. 50 he sat on a rock and had his lunch. Thousands of poor children whose education was broken up have benefited from his programmes. One can gain training in welding, motor mechanicanism, electrical work, and even electronics at Sri Jinarathana College. He is seen in action according to his capacity in areas where the government has not done enough.

I would like to remind everyone about certain matters that Podi Hamuduruwo raised in the recent past. He called for steps to minimise wastage during the transportation of agricultural produce. There are times when the production is in excess of certain products like vegetables. Prices come down during the season and rise out of season. He wanted steps taken to preserve the produce, by making use of cool rooms in every district. The fruits offered at the temples should be made use of to prepare drinks for the people. Again there are laws delays. There are court cases pending for 20-30 years. When the land cases are finally decided, the litigants have already died. He asked that court cases be expedited and judges take a little more time at the courts and finish the backlog.

Recently he repeatedly requested the Government to reduce the tax on rice, dhal, sugar and other essential items to give to consumers some relief. He called for the removal of tax on the import of bicycles, motorcycles and hand tillers. He asked the Government to employ young people to identify those who do not pay taxes and collect taxes from them. He said this was one way of generating jobs.

He talked about producing fruits without spraying any harmful chemicals. Birds and animals do not consume fruits that contain chemicals. These chemicals make people sick. ‘Ceylon Tea’ has a bad name now, because some unscrupulous people add refuse tea to good tea. The Government should strive to get good producers to make quality tea.

Podi Hamuduruwo has dedicated 2016 to uplift those who suffered during the war against terrorists. He request that used or new items such as bicycles, motorbikes, wheelbarrows, agricultural tools, toilet fittings, roofing sheets and water tanks be donated to the temple for onward dispatch. Let us unite and help his projects in 2016. On this birthday 5,000 novice monks will be given new bowls and education grants. A new shrine with a new statue of Lord Buddha in white jade — a statue constructed by a Chinese devotee — will be opened for public veneration, at the Gangaramaya.

With all these good deeds he has performed, let all blessings be upon our Podi Hamuduruwo, so that he can continue the good work for many years to come.

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