-- There appears to be a controversy over as to who designed the
revivalist movement was first headed by Ven. Weliwita Saranankara
Thera, who produced scholar monks to spread Buddhist learning
throughout the country. However, the arrival of the British in 1796,
negated the process.
The British set about
undermining Buddhism by getting Christian missionaries to take over
the educational system. Education and employment opportunities were
given as rewards to new converts. The situation at the time was such
that a visiting French journalist has gone on record as having stated
that the Sangha did not have the vitality for saving Buddhism. J.
Barthelmy Sainte-Hilaire, who said so, was to be proved wrong.
In the latter part of
the 19th century, Buddhist revivalism came to the fore with Scholar
Monks such as Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, Ven. Yatramulle Sri
Dharmarama Thera and Ven. Waskaduwe Sri Subhuthi Thera, influencing
the process. Anagarika Dharmapala and Valisinghe Harischandra too made
a great impact on the movement.
The debates at
Baddegama and Gampola had far reaching effects whilst the Panadura
Debate in 1873 at which Ven. Migettuwatte Sri Gunananda Thera the
erudite speaker, backed by Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, won the
day for the Buddhists, was crucial. It was this debate that brought
Henry Steele Olcott, a retired American Army Colonel to Sri Lanka in
Buddhism and joined the Buddhist revivalist movement and pioneered
Buddhist education. Ananda, Nalanda, Mahinda and Dharmaraja stand as
monuments to his pioneering efforts.
In 1884, the
Buddhists succeeded in getting the British rulers to declare Vesak
Poya Day as a Public Holiday as from May 1885. At this stage the
Buddhists established the ‘Colombo Committee’, the members of which
were: Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera (Chairman), Ven. Migettuwatte
Gunananda Thera, Don Carolis Hewavitharana (father of Anangarika
Dharmapala), Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana (maternal grandfather
of Anagarika Dharmapala, William de Abrew, Charles A. de Silva, Peter
de Abrew, H. William Fernando, N. S. Fernando and Carolis Pujitha
Gunawardena (Secretary). This committee set about the task of evolving
a Buddhist Flag to be hoisted on Vesak Full Moon Day, 28th May 1885,
the day declared as a Public Holiday, for the first time.
Thus it is this
committee that jointly designed the Buddhist Flag and of course,
Carolis Pujitha Gunawardena, as Secretary of the Committee presented
it to the public as approved by the ‘Colombo Committee’ on 17th April
The Buddhist Flag, so
designed, was hoisted for the first time on 28th May 1885, Vesak Full
Moon Day, by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera at Deepaduththaramaya
in Kotahena. On a suggestion by Olcott the flag was modified to be of
the normal size of National Flags. The Buddhist Flag so modified was
hoisted on Vesak Full Moon Day in 1886. It remains unchanged up to
Professor G .P.
Malalasekera was instrumental in making it the Flag of the Buddhist
World. His proposal at the meeting of World Federation of Buddhists
held in Kandy on 25th May 1950, to accept it as the official Buddhist
Flag, internationally, was adopted and since then it has received