The death of a genuine patriot
“Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,” said Jesus Christ (Mathew 6-3)
The essence of Christ’s injunction is that man should not boast of his purported services or achievements.
Among the many thousands of people with whom I have been acquainted, I can count on the fingers of one hand those who have followed this teaching of Jesus Christ whether knowingly or otherwise. The first of them that comes to mind is the Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera, the late Chief Incumbent of the Cheythiyagiri Vihara in Padaviya Parakramapura.
” He was a man who never cared for publicity; who never cared for praise or accolades; for wealth or for “recognition” by so-called “leaders”. He never ran behind any politician seeking favours or patronage “
In my relatively long life I have moved and been acquainted with many who are or purport to be the ‘cream of society’ or the ‘ruling class’ of this country and ‘members of the highest echelon of our society’. However great such people are or purport to be, I cannot truthfully say that I had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting or knowing any of them, that is with one exception, namely the late Lakshman Kadirgamar PC, who was to my mind more than a cut above the rest of his colleagues and alleged superiors. I certainly neither cherish nor treasure my acquaintance with any of those who are or have been in the corridors of power except for the late Lakshman Kadirgamar. However things are different where the late Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera (better known as the Chethiyagiri Priest) was concerned. I most certainly consider it to have been both a mighty privilege and a great pleasure to have known that great man and patriot.
The Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera died as he lived simply, without fuss or ceremony and among the villagers of that outback part of the country. These villagers were both attacked and under threat of attack by the LTTE and the monk spent the better part of his life giving succour, encouragement and material assistance wherever possible to the unfortunate denizens of those villages.
As Julius Caesar is alleged to have said, according to Shakespeare, (Act II Scene II) — “When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”.
If one were to transpose the word “patriots” for the word “beggars”, I would agree whole heartedly with those thoughts of Shakespeare attributed by him to Caesar– for when good for nothing rogues, stooges and those who thrive on patronage die or died, ministers, parliamentarians and even the President vie with each other to visit the funeral house. The newspapers and the electronic media are full and overflowing with articles and programmes pertaining to the life and times or sanitized or fictional versions of the life and times of such crooks or stooges. When a genuine patriot like the Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera died, however none of these are to be seen and none was seen in his case. He died as he lived, a simple man whose only ambition was to serve the destitute, the downtrodden or the forgotten people of this country and hence the country itself.
The Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera was perhaps closer to me than any clergyman of any religion whom I have come across, and most laymen of whatever rank in life. However, I came to know him well from a few days after the LTTE attacks on the Dollar and Kent Farms in Weli Oya on November 30 1984. I knew him only as a great patriot, who gave the villagers — in and around the Dollar and Kent Farms and the surrounding areas, which were threatened by terrorism — the leadership which they sorely needed, the courage and the motivation to remain in their villages without fleeing. As a man without wealth or resources of his own, he provided material help to the poor residents of the villages in and around Padaviya Parakramapura, the villages of “Weli Oya”, for the past so many years.
Even I, however, did not know the full extent of his services. Whenever he came to Colombo he made it a point to visit me at my home, earlier in Mount Lavinia and now closer to Kanatte at Borella, and have had long talks with me about the projects he was doing and what he intended to do and so on. Of course he asked me for assistance, but never ever for himself. Whatever he asked for was for the material upliftment of the poor people of those areas. He knew full well my aversion to that which is termed `religion’ and never asked me for any assistance whatsoever for any religious pursuit. Despite all this I realized the full extent of the services he had rendered only after I discussed the matter with my very good friends Lt. Col. (Retired) Anil Amarasekara and Sri Jayawardenapura General Hospital Consultant Physician Dr. Anula Wijesundere, both of whom were closely associated with that remarkable Monk in serving the people of Weli Oya.
He was a man who never cared for publicity; who never cared for praise or accolades; for wealth or for “recognition” by so-called “leaders”. He never ran behind any politician seeking favours or patronage. His only master was his conscience and the services he rendered were to this country and the citizens in the outback, those who were attacked and in danger of being attacked by the LTTE.
Loath as I am to recount things that I have done in respect of the terrorist conflict, it is essential to do so to put the services of this mighty patriot in their proper perspective. I first went to Padaviya Parakramapura and Weli Oya on December 2 and 3 of 1994 in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the Dollar and Kent farms and the Sinhalese fishing villages of Kokilai and Nayaru. I went with two friends, Malinga Herman Gunaratne and Hemapriya [the latter of whom is now deceased] and a large stock of dry rations and clothes. We had never been to Padaviya Parakramapura or to Weli Oya and knew no one there. We were however, told to meet the Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera at the Cheythiyagiri Viharaya before we embarked on our journey to the Dollar and Kent Farms (now called Ehetugaswewa and Kalyanapura respectively). When we went to the temple the monk was not in. He had no vehicle and his means of locomotion at that time was either on foot or on the pillion of a motor cycle ridden by another or in the trailer of a tractor. That was the simple and humble man he was. While we busied ourselves with sorting out the clothes we had brought to distribute among the victims of those cowardly attacks by the LTTE, the monk returned to the temple after night fall. His robe was full of mud and he said that he had been busy moving bodies out of the Dollar and Kent farms. He had gone there and come back on the trailer of a tractor. We spent the night at that temple.
The next morning while going towards the Dollar and Kent Farms, I saw for myself the greatness of the man. The scene that met us was truly pathetic. There were whole families pushing carts packed with their meagre belongings, carrying infants and children, fleeing the area. It was like a scene from a war film where the invading country was defeating the invaded country.
While our hearts were full and overflowing with sympathy for those who were fleeing, the Ven. Rathanasara Thera told us, “don’t give them anything, those who are running away are cowards. Give what you have to those who are staying back in their villages. It is with a nucleus of such people that we can rebuild our country.” Thereafter he made us stop from place to place and gave lectures to those who were fleeing saying, “Are you running away because the LTTE came and attacked the Dollar and Kent Farms? They will attack more in future, and if you keep running, you will end up in the deep sea. If you want a country of your own stay back and fight with whatever you have. Do not; I repeat do not run away because by doing so you are giving the LTTE a victory and depriving our country of a part of its territory.”
The truth of what this Ven. Monk said came home to me ‘in spades’ when we went to the village of Monarawewa, which was, I believe, the remotest village in the Weli Oya area. There I saw a tall fair skinned well proportioned lady to whom my eyes were immediately drawn. She had around her two or three children hanging on to her dress. What impressed me however were not the children or her beauty but the fact that this young lady had a shot gun with the breach open over her shoulder and several cartridges tucked in between her waist. She said there were only some two or three families left in Monarawewa but that neither she nor her little children would flee because the land there was all they had and they were not going to allow that land to fall into the clutches of the terrorists even if they had to die defending it. That to my mind was the spirit that the Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera was seeking to inculcate in the people, and the fact that he had succeeded in so many instances was to be seen by the many who stayed behind.
” The late Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera was, as far as the powerful of this country are concerned, a flower that blushed unseen, but HE WAS one whose selfless services to the country and the people. “
The Monk himself was “no chicken”. He was an obvious target for the LTTE, but remained in his Temple. When operation Jayasikurui went awry and the LTTE began firing artillery towards Government-controlled areas, several explosive shells fell on his temple compound but the priest would not budge. He cared not one whit for the LTTE or for that matter for the President of the country or any of his or her ministers. He only cared for the country and its people and his only object was to serve them and nobody else.
It is perhaps relevant to recount an incident in which I was involved. I was spending a night at the Chethiyagiri Viharaya many, many years ago when I heard several explosions and some noises outside the bedroom allotted to me. I came out and saw the Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera with a shot gun over his shoulder with, I believe, the breach open and several cartridges stuck in his waist and some in his hand. I asked him, “What are these explosions?” He said, “I don’t know, but I am going to see. The people (Kollo) will get disturbed and I must go and pacify them.” I then told him “Hamuduruwaney Mamath Ennada” (Ven. Priest may I also come) and he said, “Naa Mahaththayo: Oba Thumata Kisi Deyak Vunoth, Madamta Uththara Denda Onay Mamanay. Oba Thuma Manthri Varayek Vunata, may Pansaley Inna Thaak Kal Magay Arakshawa Saha Supareekshawa Yatathey Inney. E Nisa Mung Enakal Obathuma Mehima Innawa.” (“No Minister; if anything happens to you it is I who must answer to Madam. Although you are a MP, you are under my protection and supervision while you are in this Temple. So you remain here till I come back”).
So imperious and so correct was what he said that I had no option but to stay and I stayed with mounting impatience until he returned and said that the explosions we heard were probably flares fired by those soldiers who had been able to get away from Mankulam and were in the jungles.
” The Monk himself was “no chicken”. He was an obvious target for the LTTE, but remained in his Temple. When operation Jayasikurui went awry and the LTTE began firing artillery towards Government-controlled areas, several explosive shells fell on his temple compound but the priest would not budge “
These and many other memories of that great patriot flashed through my mind as I drove to Parakramapura on February 26 upon being told of his death on the previous morning. Most unfortunately I could not even see his body which was then being brought from the temple Irattaperiyakulam on the outskirts of Vavuniya where he had died. I met the procession bearing his corpse somewhere between Kebitigollewa and Medawachchiya on my return journey.
However, the greatness of the Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera lay not in his mortal remains, but in his actions and his attitude towards life which was, to be, at all times his own man and to be true to himself – something that is utterly rare today, when most people, including clergymen are X’s man, or Y’s man not because of any particular quality in X or Y but because of the patronage and the rewards thereof which they hope to reap from such a person should he acquire power.
To the Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera, power, wealth and position meant nothing and he himself never went behind anybody asking for a ‘hand out’ or anything for himself. All he wanted was something for his people, the people of the villages among whom he lived disregarding threats and attacks almost on a daily basis by the terrorists. It may be said of the late Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera as was said originally by Thomas Grey:-
“Can storeyed urn or animated bust, back to its mansion call the fleeting breath, or honour’s voice provoke the silent dust, or flattery soothe the dull cold ear of death”; and “full many a gem of purest ray serene the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear, full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” The late Ven. Kuda Hammillawe Rathanasara Thera was, as far as the powerful of this country are concerned, a flower that blushed unseen, but he was one whose selfless services to the country and the people were both seen and observed by those who really cared about this country and the people living in its outback.
To them (including me) he was a hero among heroes, a patriot among patriots and one whose shining example is one that must be followed by one and all.