Buddhism in Medieval Srilanka

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Buddhism in Medieval Srilanka
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About the Book

This book opens a new chapter in the field of Buddhist Studies in Sri Lanka which has been dealt with by a number of pioneer scholars. The author's thorough grasp of the Tripitaka and the ancient and medieval Sinhala Literature is clearly manifest in the book especially in the third chapter where he discusses the organization of the Sangha in medieval Sri Lanka. The author reveals that the Trikaya doctrine of the Mahayanists has been given a new interpretation, and a new Kizya viz : knya Kaya has been added to it by Sri Lankan Theravadins like Dham-madinna Vimalakirti, the author of the Saddhamaratnakaraya. Also in this chapter, the author deals with various new developments among the Sangha of Medieval Sri lanka. In the fifth chapter, the author gives not only the history of the monastic educational institutions of the medieval period, but also, for the first time, gives details of their graded courses of studies, curricula, tests and methods of teaching, media of instruction and the library facilities as well. The book is divided into seven chapters. They deals with - Chapter One - Introduction and Sources; Chapter Two - Political Background ; Chapter Three - The Sangha ; Chapter Four - The State and the Sangha ; Chapter Five - Monastic Education; Chapter Six - Relations with other Buddhist Countries ; Chapter Seven - Cults, Rituals, Ceremonies and Festivals. The book contains exhaustive Bibliography, and various Indexes.


About the Author

Professor H.B.M. Ilangasinha, having had his academic training in Pali and Sanskrit languages and Buddhist Studies at the Vidyalankara Pirivena, one of the foremost Buddhist Educational Institutions of Sri Lanka, ventured to study History of Asia in a modern perspective under eminent scholars like the late Professor H.C. Ray of the University of Kelaniya and Professor J.G. de Casparis of the S.O.A.S., University of London. He is presently at Department of History, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.



Buddhism in Sri Lanka has increasingly become a subject of major importance in Sri Lankan studies in recent times. However, despite the existence of several scholarly publications on the history of Buddhism during the Anuradhapura period, so far no study concerning the history of the religion after the twelfth century A.D. has been published. Hence the publication of this monograph in which an attempt has been made to deal with Buddhism during the medieval period with special emphasis on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries would, I believe, help to supply the need for such a work.

The present work has evolved out of thesis submitted by me to the University of London for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (1973). However I have made certain revisions in order to bring it up to date.

The research connected with this study was carried out under the supervision of Prof. J.G. de Casparis, then Reader in History of South and Southeast Asia in the School of Oriental and African studies of the University of London. I have benefitted a great deal from Professor Casparis' incisive comments and criticisms which have immensely helped me to improve the quality of this study. It has indeed been a pleasant and profitable experience to work under a scholar of Professor Casparis' academic attainments and eminence.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to Professor N.A. Jayawickrama and Dr. Wendy D'O' Flaherty for the guidance they gave me during the initial stages of my work.

My thanks are due to the staff of the libraries of the Senate House of the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies and the British Museum for their very helpful and courteous services. My sincere thanks are also due to Professor Y. Karunadasa, Director, Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, who always encouraged me to publish this work and even wrote a foreword for it.

I wish to mention that the interest shown by Mr. Sunil Gupta, Indian Books Centre has been a source of encouragement in prompting me to publish this work at this stage. I take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Gupta and his staff for undertaking the publication of the work.

Finally, I would like to thank my youngest daughter, Risini Vasana, who helped me much in arranging the indexes of the publication.



The work here presented provides a critical and comprehensive account of the state of Buddhism in Sri Lanka during the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the period that witnessed, for the last time, the political unification of the entire Island under the suzerainty of the Sinhala monarchy and also its subsequent collapse resulting in the emergence of three regional kingdoms. It was also during this period that the first-ever arrival of a Western Colonial Power and its gradual consolidation in the Maritime Provinces of theIsland took place. Hence a systematic inquiry into the state of Buddhism during this period should show the changes it underwent, and also the changes it brought about in other spheres, in response to the changing political scenario of the Island. Among the historical sources pertaining to this period are the local and foreign chronicles, epigraphical data mainly in the form of royal sannasas (charters), official documents, foreign records, semi-historical writings and literary works, all written in a variety of languages. Hence a scholar who addresses himself to the task of reconstructing the history of Buddhism during this period should be equipped not only with the critical apartments of historical interpretation, but also with a sound knowledge of the languages in which these historical sources are recorded. That the author of this monograph is eminently qualified for such a task is amply demonstrated by his skilful exploitation of the relevant sources to yield a comprehensive and highly authoritative exposition on the subject under review. The author's main contribution to our knowledge of the state of Buddhism during this period is sought to be presented through a series of historical disquisitions on the Buddhist monastic order and its institutional framework, the relations between the Sangha and the State, Sri Lanka's relations with the Buddhist countries of South East Asia, and finally the cults, rituals and ceremonies that came into vogue during this period.

It is to the credit of the author that in dealing with these diverse aspects he has also identified their antecedent historical trends so as to bring the whole subject within a wider historical perspective.

Professor Mangala Ilangasinha, the author of this work, is the Head of the Department of History at the University of Kelaniya, from where he graduated in 1963, obtaining an Honours Degree in History. The present work is an unabridged version of his doctoral thesis for which he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of the University of London in 1973.

The author and his publishers deserve our grateful thanks for making available this thoroughly -researched and well documented monograph to a wider reading public.

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