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8th August 1999

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Ancient riuals being performed at the induction of the Wes dancers at the Dambadeniya Temple with Panchanatha Gurunnanse in attendance
Dance revival in Dambadeniya
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Anuradhapura Nanda Vimala Thero draws thousands for his healing poojas but is it Buddhism?

Can he?

By Wathsala Mendis

We struggled our way through the great human wall. People had thronged the temple, braving the burning sun. The young, the strong, the feeble, the old; the married, the single... people from all walks of life praying for deliverance from problems and ill health.

They were all ears, or so it seemed, to the saffron-robed figure seated on a raised platform, conducting the Ashirvada Pooja.

VenAnuradhapura Nanda Vimala Thero (right) and the crowds at his pooja last weekAt the foot of the stairs leading to the dais was another group of people: the deaf, the blind, the mute, the mentally retarded. Those affected with some sort of ailment, some of them claiming to be miraculously cured after participating in these poojas, others awaiting their chance to air their grievances and receive his blessings.

An hour or so later when the pooja ended, all hell broke loose as the human wall surged forward to get at the monk. If it were not for the attendants, forming a protective ring around the monk, they would have suffocated him in their quest to be blessed, each trying desperately to outdo the other.

For a moment, utter chaos prevailed until the monk himself came on the public address system and asked the crowd to quieten down and queue up.

The Dolukanda saga is hotting up by the day. Every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, the apparently serene surroundings of Hunupola, Nikadalupotha, are abuzz with activity.

The 'fount' of holy waterThe man in this saga is Anuradhapura Nanda Vimala Thero, whose fame is growing to somewhat heroic proportions. After hearing by word of mouth about the "happenings" at Dolukanda, people turn up in their thousands wherever he goes. As his tight schedule permits, that is.

How and when did this all come about? Born on January 1, 1967 to a family of nine, he was ordained a priest at the age of 24. Five years later, he came to the quiet of the ashram at Nikadalupotha in Kurunegala district to spend his ascetic life.

In 1987 on Poson Full Moon day, he says he accidentally discovered a gold pinnacle which "would have easily guaranteed him a comfortable life." He opted for spiritual bliss instead and handed it over to the Department of Archaeology. It was this unparalleled act of virtue that has endowed him with the remarkable healing power, that has earned him hundreds of thousands of devoted followers, he says.

Meanwhile, those who claim to have been cured were quite effusive in their praise of him. Among them was the father of 14-year-old Yenita Subashini from Bengamuwa, Matara, who had been unable to walk for the past 13 years but surprisingly did so after taking part in these poojas.

"I faithfully followed the Thero's advice," said the father which was to observe the Five Precepts and become a vegetarian. "Gradually, my daughter began to walk, at first with another's help but then all by herself."

Eight-year-old Thilanga Sampath from Dalupitiya, Kadawatha, was another lucky youngster. He was blinded in the left eye by an iron rod and after having been examined by several eye-specialists was pronounced incurable. It was his 58-year-old grandfather who spoke on behalf of the child while he kept nodding "yes" when asked "Can you see clearly now?" But we did see some women, quite emotional and profuse in their praise of the monk, handing gold jewellery to one of the attendants who collected them in a small container. By this time the monk, famed for his austere habits, had retreated to his cubicle.

Although the monk says what he found in 1987 was a "gold" pinnacle, the officials of the Panduwasnuwara Museum where it is now being kept debunk his claim.

Both Sunil Ananda, curator of the museum, and D. Rajapaksa, Regional Officer for the North Western Province of the Archaeological Department, insist that the 'pinnacle' is not even plated with gold. Rather it resembles a "Beeraluwa," about 14 inches in height and 21/2 kilos in weight, made of a mixture of clay, lime, sand, etc, shiny brown in colour with a rusty iron rod at the centre, they say.

According to Mr. Rajapaksa a few months ago he had gone on an inspection of the Dolukanda area which has caves and ancient inscriptions. The tour was prompted by some of the monks in the area who had complained that some of Nanda Vimala Thero's activities had altered the place, in contravention of the Antiquities (Amendment) Act. They cite the building of a new road in this sanctuary area.

Meanwhile, Venerable Gangodavila Soma, an equally controversial figure in the recent Buddhist history of Lanka, takes it all with a pinch of salt.

"This is NOT Buddhism. This is not what the Buddha preached. According to Buddhism, such miraculous healing is not possible. This is absolute bunkum, deliberate misleading of the innocent and the illiterate. Tell me, just how many deaf, blind, and dumb people are there in this country today. If he claims to be such a Sadhu, why can't he cure all these people?" "How can a piece of thread and a bottle of water claimed to be blessed by a monk save them from all their sins?

"What's really going to happen as a result of the nefarious activities of some of our Buddhist monks is people will lose faith in the religion. They'll distance themselves from the temple. That'll be the downfall of Buddhism. I would like to extend an open invitation to Nanda Vimala Thero for a friendly discussion in which I would explain to him what Buddhism really is."

So where does it all leave us? Is Dolukanda an other nine-day wonder? Or is Nanda Vimala Thero what he claims to be and will his mission of healing give succour to thousands more? Only time will tell.

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