“Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thero was one of the pioneers of Sri Lankan Buddhist revivalist movement in the 19th century. He did a great service to improve the Buddhist Education in the country and was the founder of ‘Maligakanda Vidyodaya Piriwena’, in 1873 which was granted the university status later in 1959 by the Government of Sri Lanka as the ‘University of Sri Jayewardenepura’. Sumangala Thero; a veteran author and a fiery orator was a major figure in the Paanadurawadaya, a religious debate held between Christian missionaries and Buddhist monks in 1873 at Panadura, Sri Lanka.
By 1959 there were two Pirivena traditions in the country begun by two students of Ven. Walane Sri Siddhartha Maha Thero, which were the Vidyodaya Pirivena and the Vidyalankara Pirivena, the two Pirivena traditions complimented each other and have developed into two of the greatest universities in the country today. It is a well-known fact that the once Vidyodaya Pirivena founded by Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero is now the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
As the founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero is a much-respected figure. Prof. Sampath Amaratunge, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura stated that Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumngala Thero is not just the founder of one of the two learning institutes open for Buddhist studies at the time, but rather the forefather who laid the foundation to develop education in Sri Lanka.”
-Prof. Sampath Amarathunga, Chairman of University Grant Commission at 107th Commemoration of Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero, as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. (https://www.sjp.ac.lk/
Most Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero was a pioneer of the Buddhist revivalist movement in the 19th century and a founder of Vidyodaya Pirivena, a prominent Buddhist educational institution. He also played a key role in preserving and promoting the Pali and Sinhala languages, as well as the Theravada tradition.
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero was born on 20 January 1827 in the village of Hikkaduwa, in the Galle district of southern Sri Lanka. His lay name was Don Niculas Gunawardhana. He was ordained as a novice monk at the age of 12 under the tutelage of Ven. Weligama Sri Sumangala Thero, who was a renowned scholar and teacher of Buddhism. He received his higher ordination at the age of 20 at the Malwathu Maha Viharaya in Kandy, the seat of the Siyam Nikaya sect.
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero was a brilliant student who mastered Pali, Sanskrit, Sinhala, English and Tamil languages. He also studied various branches of Buddhist philosophy, history, literature and culture. He travelled extensively throughout Sri Lanka and India, visiting many sacred sites and learning from different teachers. He also engaged in debates and dialogues with Christian missionaries and Hindu scholars, defending and propagating Buddhism with eloquence and logic.
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero was instrumental in establishing Vidyodaya Pirivena in 1873, with the patronage of Mudaliyar Susew de Soysa, a wealthy philanthropist. Vidyodaya Pirivena was a center of Buddhist learning that produced many eminent monks and scholars who contributed to the revival and reform of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and abroad. Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero served as the first principal of Vidyodaya Pirivena until his death in 1911. Later Vidoydaya Pirivena received recognition as of a university status later in 1959 and became the ‘University of Sri Jayewardenepura’.
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero was also involved in many social and religious activities that aimed at uplifting the status and welfare of the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka. He was a founding member of the Theosophical Society in Colombo, which promoted inter-religious harmony and spiritualism. He was also a leader of the Panadura Vadaya, a famous public debate that exposed the flaws and fallacies of Christianity and reaffirmed the superiority and rationality of Buddhism. He also supported the Buddhist Theosophical Society, which founded many schools for Buddhist children who were deprived of education by the colonial government.
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero was a revered and respected figure who earned the admiration and gratitude of many people, both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. He was honored with many titles and awards, such as Tripitakacharya (Master of the Three Baskets), Mahopadhyaya (Great Teacher), Sangharaja (King of the Sangha) and Aggamaha Panditha (Chief Great Scholar). He passed away on 29 April 1911 at the age of 84, leaving behind a legacy of wisdom and compassion that continues to inspire generations of Buddhists.