The name of Anagarika Dharmapala has gone into the annuls of Buddhist history and in India, his statue is placed in front of the Mulagandhi Vihara. He is honoured as one who saved Buddhagaya. He built Mulagandhi Vihara with a golden statue of the Buddha, with the money donated by Buddhists all over. He is respected as an aspiring Bodhisattava and before his death he has stated that he should be born 20 times in India to carry on the missionary work of Theravada Buddhism which had made him to realize the monumental truth. He was ordained as a Bhikku with the name of Devamitta Dharmapala.
Buddhist resurgence in Sri Lanka is due to the sheer efforts of Welivita Saranankara during Kandyan times and King Rajasinghe helped him in this renaissance movement. As Buddhism was in low ebb, Buddhist monks had to be invited from Burma for higher ordination of the monks. The outburst of literary activities in Buddhism took place due to the painstaking efforts of Welivita Saranankara and he brought Buddhism into pristine glory protecting the Buddhist way of life cherished by the people. As a young man, Dharmapala gave up his education in an Anglican church, embraced Buddhism and went on his mission propagating the value of Buddhism of the Tathagata who had been demolishing the veil of ignorance and paving a way for salvation of life.
It was during this period that the Buddhist-Christian controversy which is termed as the Panadura Vadaya took place. It merits quoting that Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thera supplied the oratory and the Venerable Sumangala furnished him with scholarly material and reference. This controversy gave a fund of knowledge to Anagarika Dharmapala and he was fully convinced of the essence of Buddhism. He knew the Bible well, but took refuge in Buddhism. He widely read Western classics and appreciated Shelly's poetry. At that time Colonel Henry Steele Olcott arrived in Ceylon and saw to himself the pathetic condition of Ceylon as Buddhism had been neglected and the people had been anglicised with social prestige.
He joined hands with Anagarika Dharmapala and with his intellectual pursuits in Buddhism, was able to establish three Buddhist colleges Nalanda, Ananda and Dharmaraja Colleges. Dharmapala in his mission and propaganda work attacked the westernised upper classes who had given up their customs, habits and the national dress and had become the brown sabibs of the west. He lamented that after hundred years of British rule, the Sinhalese as a consolidated race had declined and were demoralised. He found that the ignorance of the people was appalling and the Sinhalese as a race had no receptive knowledge, that liquor shops all over the country had spoilt the sweetness of their minds and their families had been under-nourished and poverty raged with them.
With the opening of liquor shops, the country produced a muddle-headed race which even did not know their national identity and had come to the throes of disaster. He denounced the policy of the British and castigated their economic policy. He was thoroughly against the westernised upper classes who used a foreign language for speaking at their homes and for the intolerable arrogance they showed. His movements in the country exciting the crowds with such fluent oratory brought many malicious allegations against him and the British government thought that it was a way of arousing them for sedition.
He was closely watched by the C.I.D. and his speeches were recorded. He said that the past glories of the Sinhalese have declined and they have no freedom under an alien nation and all these utterances contributed to political sentiments. When the unfavourable circumstances were gathering fast against him, he went to India and visited Isipatana (now called Sarnath), Benaris and Buddhagaya . The last which became his chief concern.
He lamented of the precarious conditions at Buddhagaya and made a firm determination to save Buddhagaya from the Hindus who had acquired it as a stepping stone to save Buddhagaya where Buddha gained Enlightenment.
In the meantime he established the Maha Bodhi journal. He instituted a case against the Mahantas men for intrusion at Buddhagaya during worship and for acquiring the entire land surrounding Buddhagaya as the land was vested for religious purpose. The case was dragged on for years and ultimately it became the property of Buddhagaya. But Mahant was very powerful and the Burmese Rest house became his property.
When I went to India on pilgrimage, I learnt that Anagarika Dharmapala underwent much problems and had to even feed himself on leaves. He had been stoned and wounded on the brow. There was sheer opposition against him. He started the Buddhagaya funds and contributions were made by generous Buddhists. It should be mentioned without reservation that Mrs. Mary Foster of Honolulu made vast contributions towards the efforts to raise a fund for Buddhist activities. Dharmapala was a very convincing orator both in Sinhalese and English and there was pin drop silence which mesmerised the audience by his flowing oratory.
He delivered a speech at the Parliament of Religion at Chicago and his enthralling speech made indelible impressions on the crowd and it is reported that some Muslims were converted to Buddhism.
He even visited Japan, Bangkok and England and Sir Edwin Arnold and Mrs. Besant became life-long friends. The writings of Dharmapala with a beautiful style seem to be par excellent and he was a fearless, determined and hardcore character who could not be shaken. He however dedicated his life for national revival and toured all over Sri Lanka. Walisinghe Harischandra wearing a while spotless costume, and with whiskers and a beard, joined hands with Dharmapala to carry out his mission.
During the period of the Muslim and Sinhalese riots in Ceylon, Dharmapala was prohibited to come to Ceylon as there were allegations and reports received by the Governor that he had excited people with national chauvinism to fight against the British people for independence and freedom. In India, he lectured on Buddhism and stated that there is no reason to be under a foreign rule. He had lofty ideals and was considered as a religious fanatic. Whereever he went he was exciting the crowds stating , "We should ensure that every child born of Sinhalese mothers and fathers receive a liberal education."
He castigated the government on many issues and said Ceylon has received a poor education. He told of the neglect in our own land of the education which turned and educated man into a poor clerk drawing a small stipend. The C.I.D. constantly reported his liberal utterances against foreign rule.
He was confined in Calcutta for six long years as a prisoner and was daily watched by constables. In the dark prison cell he was wasting time as a prisoner, his eye sight failed and he became a sick man altogether. As the state of his health was failing, he made a submission to the Colonial Secretary and was freed. He was also considered as a mob leader. His final years were utilised for religious activities and when he became infirm he used a wheel chair.