Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera, a nature lover | Sunday Observer

Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera, a nature lover

11 February, 2018

The untimely death of the most Ven Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera earlier this week has deeply saddened the nation. A respected prelate, his loss has now been overshadowed by various rumours regarding the cause of his untimely death. Despite the repeated denials of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya and by the priest himself prior to his death, rumours continue to circulate that his death was caused by the much loved temple elephant ‘Myan Kumara’. But, with the priest and the elephant sharing a special bond, the temple would like the public to know the real facts of the incident now, rather than fall for various rumours circulating, especially, on social media.

Chosen tusker

When ‘Chandu’ the tusker of the Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara was struck down by lightning causing his untimely demise it was another five years till the temple finally found yet another tusker to take his place. Tasked with carrying the sacred Perehara Karanduwa one day, Myan Kumara the little baby elephant was brought to the temple to be trained and taken care of to ensure he would one day be fit to carry out this religious duty.

But, his story begins in his birth country, Myanmar, where the Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera first saw him. According to a close confidant and private secretary of the late priest, Nilantha Ratnayake, the Thera was visiting the country when he inquired about the possibility of obtaining an elephant for the temple after seeing many tuskers in a craal. With Myanmar still using elephants for hard labour, tuskers are said to be generally identified and taken away from the herd due to their rarity. It was this request they say that finally led to the gifting of Myan Kumara to the Bellanwila Temple in 2013. In choosing the elephant, Ratnayake says, Wimalarathana Thera himself picked the elephant, going on to name him, ‘Myan Kumara’. “He was very much taken up with him at first sight as unlike others, Myan Kumara had bowed and worshipped Wimalarathana Thera during his visit to the craal to pick out an elephant” Ratnayake said, adding that the priest was convinced this should be the next temple tusker. While all the necessary checks were done by doctors and other experts it was finally concluded that ‘Myan Kumara’ was in fact suitable for the purpose.

Love for animals

Ratnayake says, the prelate not only had a soft spot for the temple elephants but for nature and animals in general. “Many a time would the local government authorities come to the temple attempting to take away stray dogs dumped at the temple due to complaints from the public, but Wimalaratana Thera would not even hear of it” Ratnayake said. “He would say these are helpless animals and should be taken care of, which angered the authorities” he said. Ratnayake also pointed out the various plants within the temple premises, which according to him were brought to the temple by the Mahanayaka thera himself. “He was a great lover of nature” he said.

As Ratnayake puts it, perhaps, it was the influence of the temple on the Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera from his childhood that has inculcated the deep love and care he had for nature. According to Ratnayake the temple has always treated its elephants well.

“On a given day an elephant needs to walk several kilometers for exercise” Ratnayake said, adding that however, this is an issue for many temple elephants as there is no space and the roads are unsafe. But, determined to provide Myan Kumara with the necessary exercise Wimalarathana Thera had dictated that he should be taken for a walk daily. On a normal day, Myan Kumara would be taken for a daily walk, to the Devalayas to worship and then brought near the priest, to be fed. Used to different kinds of food due to being born in Myanmar Wimalarathana Thera had even arranged for Myan Kumara’s favourites to be provided to him regularly. A hater of jackfruit leaves which is a favourite of local elephants, Myan Kumara was given his favourite sour treats such as tamarind. ‘Even on Avurudu day the anointing of oil is first done on the temple elephants”, Ratnayake said showing that they always had and continue to have a special place in the temple.


According to Ratnayake on the fateful day Wimalarathana Thera had decided to visit Myan Kumara in his enclosure as the mahout was on leave. With no one there to bring the elephant to him, the priest refusing to change his daily routine wanted to feed Myan Kumara.

In the priest’s own words, Ratnayake says, Wimalarathana Thera said, he had stumbled and fallen after moving away from the elephant after feeding him.

Instead, while people rushed to help the Thera, Myan Kumara appeared to be confused, unsure of what had just taken place. “He was looking on as the priest was carried away” Ratnayake said, adding that the elephant appeared to be calm.

But when rumours had began to spread after the prelate was injured, the allegations against Myan Kumara saddened the temple authorities. “Wimalarathana Thera himself said, the elephant did nothing and it was he who stumbled” Rathnayake claims.

He said, veterinary doctors and a team of anesthetics, sent by President Maithripala Sirisena found the elephant calm and docile unlike an elephant that would have just committed an attack.

Ratnayake says, the temple would like the public to know that the Mahanayaka Thera passed away from a heart attack as proved by the post mortem report. Out of danger after a surgery was carried out on him for injuries sustained during the fall, it was an eventual heart attack that claimed the prelate’s life.

However, temple authorities now fear for the life of Myan Kumara worried that someone may try to hurt him due to these unfounded rumours being spread.

“With all the rumours we are worried and are keeping a close watch on him” Ratnayake said, adding that Myan Kumara will always be loved and cared for in the future as well, just as during the times of Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera, and one day will go on to be the Karaduwa carrying tusker of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Vihara, as the prelate had hoped.

[Consultant’s statement]

I received a call from the Kalubowila Teaching Hospital to attend the injured priest since I was the on-call Consultant Thoracic Surgeon that day. After initial assessments I found that the priest had suffered severe blunt trauma to chest with lung leceration and a significant flail segment (free moving chest wall segment due to dual fracture in five consecutive ribs). The staff at Kalubowila Hospital had already done the appropriate initial treatment which included inserting a tube to the right chest and high flow oxygen. The priest was in pain as well as respiratory embarrassment despite the ongoing treatment. I discussed the clinical situation of the patient with my team colleague Dr Sujeewa Ilangamge, Consultant Thoracic surgeon and my Consultant Anaesthetist Dr KAP Dhammika, and came to the conclusion that the best treatment for the priest at that stage was to go for an operation, repair the lung injuries and fix the most required unstable fractured ribs. Conservative management with elective ventilation was not an appropriate option in this situation because of existing lung injury which would have resulted in air leak causing a bronchopleural fistula leading to inadequate ventilation. On the other hand the current best practice of rib fractures with a flail segment is for early fixation of unstable ribs after repairing internal injury.

The location of operation was chosen by the priest and the guardians with a view to give best possible chances of recovery.

What we offered the priest was totally a damage control strategy but not a total correction of all injuries. We did not fix some of the stable fractures on the right side and did not touch the six left rib fractures at all .

Even the decision by my colleague Dr Chandana Karunathilake, Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon, to fix the badly fractured right upper limb bone was justifiable because during our chest operation we noted that the distal circulation of the fractured limb was affected by the nature of fracture. And it was a special request by the priest to mend the limb if possible at the same time.Since the patient’s general condition was stable throughout our chest operation my anesthetist did not object for the limb operation immediately after ours so that the viability of the limb could be protected.

It was unfortunate that the priest succumbed to a myocardial infarction (heart attack) two hours after operation, despite our best attempts to heal him. This could have been contributed by underling diabetes mellitus, hypertension, age of the priest, stress factors due to injury itself and surgery, and prolonged anaesthesia.

In fact it was a team effort by Thoracic Surgeons, Orthopedic Surgeons, General Surgeons (Dr Amila Jayasekera, Dr Aathawan were standby). Also, the General Physicians and Cardiologists Dr Priyankara Jayawardena, Dr Vajira Senaratne, Dr Taniya Perera, Dr Stanley Amarasekera.

Dr. D. M. Sumana Handagala . MBBS, MS. MRCS
Consultant Thoracic Surgeon
National hospital for Respiratory Disease-Welisara