February 2021| 353 views

Spread across 50 acres, the Nagananda International Institute for Buddhist Studies, and the Manelwatta Temple in Bollagala, Kelaniya are a mesmerizing sight. Emerging from the landscape, the spiritual aura pervades the entire area. Established as a center of learning, Nagananda International Institute for Buddhist Studies provides a unique university experience where students are welcomed from across the world.

Words Udeshi Amarasinghe. Photographs Menaka Aravinda.

The tranquil Manelwatta Temple, Nagananda Interna- tional Institute for Buddhist Studies, and the Buddhashravika Educational Institute are all spread across the 50-acre property. A serene golden Buddha statue rises into the sky, which is known as the Thilokashanthi Dharmachakra Pravarthana Buddha statue. The white stupa glistens in the sun and is known to have three sacred relics to be placed within. The Bo Tree at the Manelwatta Temple is said to be a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura and was planted under the patronage of President J R Jayewardene. There are beautiful elements such as statues around the Temple. During poya day, the Temple premises is full of devotees, but as it is spacious they are able to engage in their religious observances in peace. The Maligawa also known as the Fu Huei Memorial Hall is located with a surrounding lawn, which is breathtaking. A large statue of Avalokithesvara Bodhisattva stands serenely overlooking the lake. The Maligawa is known as a place for weddings, where many come to celebrate their special day and receive blessings.

Kelaniya is known as the sacred site that was visited by the Buddha during his ninth year of enlightenment. The land in which the Manelwatta Temple and the Institute is located in Bollagala was known as Rajawatta at that time and was part of the land that was gifted to the Buddha by the King. On January 20, 1962 President J R Jayewardene and Madam Elena Jayewardene gifted the 40-acre property to Ven Welivita Thero of the Sangaraja Temple in Kandy. The land was to be developed to provide facilities for the ordained, to provide alms and to establish a center of learning.

Ven Kandakkulame Dharmakeerthi Thero was appointed as the Chief Incumbent of the Manelwatta Temple. While the Thero and his students were able to complete a substantial amount of work, due to an ailment the Thero could no longer proceed and the entire area became engulfed in jungle. It was at this time that Ven Kandakkulame Dharmakeerthi Thero started looking for a person to handover the responsibility of the land and temple. Ven Dr Bodagama Chaminda Thero had been the Chief Sanga Nayake of Taiwan for 30 years and was also well-versed in the Chinese language. The Thero was asked to take over the responsibility of the property. At that time only, the Temple Stupa and the house that had been used by President J R Jayewardene, which is today the Sangavasaya, were on the land and the rest was jungle. Ven Dr Bodagama Chaminda Thero upon his arrival cleared the land, which took almost three months. The Thero further added ten acres to the property, which made the entire compound 50 acres. The Thero while in Taiwan contemplated on what should be done with such a massive land, which would benefit people from around the world. At that time President Mahinda Rajapaksa had the idea of building an educational institution that was similar to the Nalanda University in India, which more than 1,000 years ago was a great center of learning for Buddhism, Astrology, Ayurvedha, and was famous globally.

A team comprising professors, lecturers, architects and others were sent to India to study every aspect of Nalanda University, that is from the concept, design, and positioning to educational curriculum and courses. And, this was replicated in Sri Lanka.

As Ven Dr Bodagama Chaminda Thero has a significant following in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Singapore and Malaysia, all the funding for the project was provided by these devotees.

The foundation stone was laid in June 2013 by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and construction started in 2014. The entire project was done under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. As construction progressed Chinese influenced architectural and design elements were also included. Thus, the massive complex that can be seen today depicts an elegant combination of designs.

The Nagananda International Institute for Buddhist Studies has five faculties; Buddhist Philosophy, Graduate Studies, Early Buddhist Sources, Practical and Applied Buddhism, Buddhist Therapeutic Systems of Medicine, and the Center for Information Technology. The university, which has received recognition from the Government of Sri Lanka is primarily for foreign students who wish to learn Theravada

Buddhism. The Thero explained that even those from Mahayana and Vajirayana Buddhist countries wish to learn Theravada Buddhism because it is the foundation. Furthermore, all universities around the world have faculties or departments for religion and the students, which to learn Theravada Buddhism from Sri Lanka. As such Ven Dr Bodagama Chaminda Thero believed that it was a great opportunity to provide this service to the world. Courses include BA in Buddhist Studies, BA (Special) in Buddhist Studies, Postgraduate Diploma in Buddhist Studies, MA in Buddhist Studies and MPhil in Buddhist Studies. While presently the curriculum is taught in English and Sinhala, the Thero is in the process of offering the courses in Chinese as well. Generally, Chinese speaking students have to first learn English to study the course but simple English would not suffice to learn Buddhism, therefore it takes a great amount of time. Since the Thero and many of the other Bhikkus are also well-versed in Chinese, it was decided to offer the courses in Chinese as well.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his recent visit to the campus had also requested that other subjects would be offered to the students as well. The current President too has given his fullest support to the university and further work is progressing under his direction.

The university has a capacity for 5,000 students, and accommodation facilities are provided for both men and women. The courses are not only for the ordained but anyone who wishes to study Buddhism can attend the university where a fee will be charged as well.

The beautiful state-of-the-art auditorium can sit up to 1,000 pax. The entire campus has a beautiful design that inculcates learning and spirituality. Another main function of the Manelwatta Temple is the Buddhashravika Educational Institute, which is for novice and ordained Mehenin Vahansas. The institute is recognized as a pirivena and the courses are followed by women only. They are provided with separate accommodation as well. There are presently about 50 students and this is separate from the University. Some of the Mehenin Vahansas who were educated at the Buddhashravika Education Institute have become lecturers and teachers as well. Furthermore, identifying the needs of the Mehenin Vahansas in Sri Lanka, which amount to about 4,000, Ven Dr Bodagama Chaminda Thero holds a yearly program where all Mehenin Vahansas are brought to the Temple and they are provided with alms, funding and other requirements.

Ven Dr Bodagama Chaminda Thero through his Theravada Samadhi Education Association of Sri Lanka in Taiwan prints and distributes books on the Dhamma to share the Buddhist philosophy with the world. It is with this same aim that the Nagananda International Institute for Buddhist Studies was established so that it would be a beacon of light where it is a center for spirituality and learning for the world.

Nagananda International Institute for Buddhist Studies
Manelwatta Temple
Bollagala, Kelaniya

Tel: (+94 11) 290 5596 Fax: (+94 11) 298 6485 [email protected] niibs.lk