Bhikkhu who funded a hospital by creating Buddha statues | Sunday Observer

Bhikkhu who funded a hospital by creating Buddha statues

5 March, 2023


The Sri Shariputhra Vihara in Narahenpita is a remarkable temple. Set amongst plush greenery despite being located in an urban area in the bustling city, the temple adheres to many traditional ways of doing things.

The Katina Cheewara (Robe) is woven in the temple itself and never bought ready-made. The vegetables required for the Katina Pinkama are grown in the gardens of the members of the Dayaka Sabha (Patrons Society) while they also make the wicks needed for lamps from the stems of lotuses offered by the devotees. The temple also offers a cup of rice to each of its Dayaka Sabha members after every harvest. In turn they must clean the rice with their hands and return it to the temple to be offered at the Katina Pinkama.

The Sri Shariputhra Vihara was founded by Ven. Basnagoda Wimalarathana Thera who was once popular for his Pirith chanting over Radio Ceylon many years ago. He studied art and sculpture under the tutelage of Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara Thera of the Parama Dhamma Chethiya Pirivena. He studied the art form in Calcutta, India while also studying under the well-known sculpture artist ‘Brahmashwana’ in Mumbai thereafter.

Peace and calm

The Buddha statues sculpted by him bring inner peace and calm to the beholder while the Pirith Mandapa created by him using traditional grains and leaves such as banana, habarala and coconut also attract the devotees.

Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara Thera rendered a great service to the country through the National Art Front, a collective of artists, sculptors and dramatists. He gathered rural artists to the National Art Gallery and displayed their talents before the world. The first Pirith chanting ceremony over the radio was conducted by Ven. Wattala Seelarathana Thera and Ven. Basnagoda Wimalarathana Thera from the Isipathanaramaya in Kapilavastu, Nepal.


The current Chief Incumbent of the Sri Shariputhra Vihara is Ven. Ratnapura Nanda Thera. He was born in Opanayaka despite his name denoting that he hails from nearby Ratnapura.

According to him, this was the idea of the Chief Incumbent of the time. “Ratnapura is more popular than Opanayaka and therefore I should be named as such,” Ven. Nanda Thera said.

Ven. Nanda Thera’s father Henry Jayasinghe is 93-years-old and his mother Karunawathi is 80. They both reside at the temple allowing Ven. Nanda Thera to look into their well-being.

Ven. Nanda Thera has also taken steps to donate a hospital but has never taken any steps to publicise the matter. According to him, it was not in the habit of the former Chief Incumbent to publicise and draw attention to any of the meritorious deeds conducted by the temple.

Villagers languishing

“I would see villagers languishing under the trees waiting for the mobile medical service when visiting the village to see my parents. I was determined to build a hospital to help these unfortunate people,” Ven. Nanda Thera said.Recalling his years of study, Ven. Nanda Thera said Ven. Basnagoda Wimalarathana Thera often got down teachers to teach him. When Ven. Wimalarathana Thera fell ill, Ven. Nanda Thera had to shoulder his responsibilities including religious and artistic ones.

According to Ven. Nanda Thera, Ven. Wimalarathana Thera contributed to the building of many dagobas in the country and elsewhere including the Peace Pagodas built by Nichidatsu Fuji of Japan.

According to Ven. Nanda Thera he raised funds to build the hospital in Hanuwela, Opanayaka from the sale of Buddha statues created by him and other gifts from devotees.

Ven. Nanda Thera has created many Buddha statues across the world including in the USA, Japan, India, Australia and Italy.

He is also preparing to create a replica of the famous Avukana Buddha statue for the next Vesak Poya. The statue will be built in the vicinity of the Kottawa Expressway exit according to a concept of Transport, Highways and Media Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena.

Ven. Nanda Thera speaks of Buddhist artwork he has created in many other countries with great satisfaction. He said he created all the decorations for the Vesak celebrations in Singapore in 1990 and he took moulds from Sri Lanka to create statues there.

According to him, many commercially available Buddha statues are not being made according to the correct proportions. “Back in the day it was believed that such statues were not suitable for religious purposes,” he said.

With his guru Ven. Basnagoda Wimalarathana Thera

Speaking about the history of Buddhist sculptures, he said it is believed that statues were first created in Gandhara (in present day Pakistan) with the help of Greek sculpture artists.

However, he said that there have been differing views over time. For example Ananda Coomaraswamy believed the first statue was created in Madhura. “This is the accepted norm today,” he said.

The Sri Shariputhra Vihara also has statues of the 28 Buddhas and Bodhisatvas who attained Enlightenment. This is not found in any other temple in the country.

The plan for the hospital built through Ven. Nanda Thera’s funding efforts was drawn by leading architect Samith Premathilake. “The foundation was laid in 2017 but Covid-19 hampered the construction work.

Father Henry Jayasinghe and mother Karunawathi

The hospital has 25 beds and each bed has a ceiling fan and a toilet,” Nanda Thera said. The hospital was built to mark the 100th birth anniversary of Ven. Basnagoda Wimalarathana Thera. The cost for the hospital was Rs. 50 million, he said.

According to the Thera, after running out of funds, he was forced to apply for a loan of Rs. 5 million. The hospital was opened by Ven. Nanda Thera’s father.

While Provincial politicians attempted to capitalise on it and put up banners thanking the Ven. Thera for his efforts in building the hospital, the Ven. Thera said instead of being flattered by them he ordered the banners to be taken down immediately.

“Though the villagers did not support the building of the hospital, on the day it was opened everyone was given a meal. Those who were against the building of the hospital are now singing its praises,” he said.

The hospital was bestowed on the public on October 24, 2022 with the participation of Most Ven. Mahanayaka of the Malwatta Chapter Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera, other venerable Nayaka Theras, Diyawadana Nilame of Sri Dalada Maligawa Pradeep Dela Bandara, Governor of Sabaragamuwa Province Tikiri Kobbekaduwa and many other guests.

Pics By Dushmantha Mayadunne