Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933)

The demonic apologist of Aryan legacy

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 20, 2014

The Lake House mouthpiece of the Sri Lankan government, informed its readers on September 18th that,

“President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday declared the year from September 17, 2014 – September 17, 2015 as the Anagarika Dharmapala commemorative year in honour of the late Dharmapala, the brave and vibrant social reformer, who championed the cause of Buddhism and spearheaded a struggle for national awakening at a time when the country was under Colonial rule. The President made this declaration at an event to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala at Independence Square yesterday morning.” [Rasika Somaratna, ‘Anagarika Dharmapala, greatest Lankan of the last century – President, Colombo Daily News, Sept.18, 2014]

Anagarika Dharmapala in 1893Though I was not there at the Colombo Independence Square, I can guess that one particular word specially linked to Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) would have been glossed over. That word is ‘Aryan’. Yes, Dharmapala was the demonic apologist of Aryan legacy, before Adolf Hitler! If Hitler was the ‘white’ apologist of Aryan legacy, then Dharmapala was its ‘brown’ apologist. Dharmapala was a generation older than Hitler. He was 25, when Hitler was born in 1889. When Hitler gained power in January 30, 1933, Dharmapala was in his sickbed, and died 3 months later in April 29, 1933.

Since this year marks the 90th anniversary of the release of Hitler’s book, ‘Mein Kampf’, it is appropriate to note that promiscuity, blood defilement, bastardization, racial purity, master race – the same ideas which stirred and haunted Hitler also haunted Dharmapala. Thanks to Nazi rule in Germany (1933-1945) led by Hitler, the ‘Aryan’ word came to receive negative connotations and had become untouchable now. Even Dharmapala enthusiasts among Sinhalese shun this word now. They don’t wish to be associated with Anagarika Dharmapala’s pet word.

If Hitler spewed venom on Jews, gypsies (Romas) and other invalids, Dharmapala spat venom on Tamils, Muslims, Christians and ‘mongrels’ of mixed breed. That Dharmapala and Hitler were excellent orators should not be discounted. While Hitler’s oratory had been recorded in film and print media, in comparative terms, Dharmapala’s oratory lacks this record. What is available for history are the records in the Sinhala vernacular press until June 1915 (and later during his brief visits to Ceylon in 1924-25, 1926-27 and 1931) and colonial police records. Following the May 1915 Sinhala-Muslim riots, Dharmapala was expelled from Ceylon by the colonial British government as a rabble rouser and “mob-leader and a man to be closely watched”, according to the notes made by the then Inspector General of Police.

Return to Righteousness (2) book coverBut, make no mistake. Due to influences from Dharmapala, (and Hitler as well), many Sinhalese who were born in 1920s and 1930s carry the ‘Aryan’ word in their names as a prefix. Most prominent personalities were Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne [b. 1931, founder president of the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka], Manikka Badaturu Ariyapala [the Sinhala language professor and author of ‘Society in Mediaeval Ceylon (1956)] and W.P.G. Ariyadasa [long term SLFP MP for Haputale and a cabinet minister]. Other Sinhalese names carrying the ‘Ariya’ prefix include Aryasena, Aryasingha, Aryatilleke and Aryawansa. Among the Sri Lankan academics (as far as I know), only political scientist and feminist Kumari Jayawardena (b. 1931) had the courage to publish a paper or two, on the influence of Hitler among the Sinhalese politicians and the public in 1930s, due to his ‘Aryan’ cry.

The best source book on Anagarika Dharmapala in English is, ‘Return to Righteousness – A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala’ edited by Ananda Guruge. This 875 page compilation was published by the Anagarika Dharmapala Birth Centenary Committee in 1965. Unusually for an English book published in Ceylon, it has a 19-page index. But, guess what? ‘Aryan’ word had been tactfully omitted in the index! This is like, publishing books either on Picasso, but omitting the word ‘cubism’ or on Dali, but omitting the word ‘surrealism’. Of course, the maligned word ‘Aryan’ appears in Dharmapala’s written texts. The book also contains 15 photo plates of Dharmapala, taken between 1891 and 1933, including his funeral ceremony and funeral pyre.

There is a reproduction from Ceylon Government Archives of a letter Dharmapala wrote on May 8, 1917 from Calcutta to the then Private Secretary to the Governor of Ceylon Sir John Anderson. It makes interesting reading because he had described his medical problems in it. What I have deciphered (to the best of my ability) from the cursive writing of Dharmapala, is given below. What I found illegible, I’ve indicated in appropriate locations. The original material, I provide as a PDF file nearby.

Dharmapala letter in 1917 from Calcutta

“4a, College Square,

Calcutta May 8, 1917

Since June 1915, I am under solitary confinement, not being allowed to leave Calcutta.

The result of this confinement in an ill-ventilated house has told upon my health, and am now an invalid suffering from chronic constipation, hernia, deafness and throat trouble.

Since last week I am suffering from renal colic and Lt Col [illegible] Deare.I.MD, Dr. W.Younan MD and Dr. Nils athan Sircar, eminent medical men are attending on me.

Here I have no friend, no relation, no home comfort, and I suffer much.

Although I have been greatly persecuted by the authorities, I have done my duty to the British Govt at this time of trial by contributing Rs 1000/- to the War Fund, and [illegible] all my resources in War Bonds as well as of the [illegible] B. Society’s, amounting to Rs 32,000.

Doctors are of opinion that a change of climate is necessary. If I continue to suffer for another few months as I am doing now, I don’t think I shall live for another year. I don’t believe the Ceylon Govt. wishes the direction (illegible, due to smudging) of my life.

In my youth and manhood no charge was brought against me. I am now old, feeble and ill why should I be unnecessarily persecuted and mentally tortured?

Indly convey the contents of this letter written from a sick bed to His Excellency Sir John Anderson.

Yours ffully (faithfully)

The Anagarika Dharmapala

To The Private Secretary

H.E. The Governor of Ceylon,



What I found interesting was that, when Dharmapala wrote this letter, he was 53. I perceive two contradictions between word and deed, in this letter. First, in his free will, he chose his first name ‘Anagarika’, which means ‘homeless’. His birth name was Don David Hewavitharana. After choosing that name for his Buddhist missionary activities, why he complains about, “Here I have no friend, no relation, no home comfort, and I suffer much. (emphasis added by Sachi)”

Secondly, he was opposed to British imperialism. Then, why he bends to the same imperialists by pleading, “I have done my duty to the British Govt at this time of trial by contributing Rs 1000/- to the War Fund…” But, Dharmapala lived on for another 15 years, which attests to the fact that British authorities in Calcutta didn’t treat him as badly, as he had complained.

Police report on Dharmapala in 1924Another police document reproduced in the compilation provides three reports on Dharmapala’s rabble-rousing oratorical skills.

Date of entry 20.9.24 (20 Sept. 1924) indicates that at a Buddhist temple in Kalutara, Western Province, among the Buddhist residents, “Dharmapala opened his lecture with an attack on the Tamils. He advised the people not to eat Maldive fish. He said that if that was done Mr. Adamally of Colombo would have to leave the Island.” The underline was as in the original document.

Date of entry 21.9. 24 (21 Sept. 1924) indicates that at a Buddhist temple at Dematagoda, Colombo, at a public meeting of resident Buddhists of Dematagoda and Maradana, Colombo, Dharmapala had said, “Buddhism was flourishing in India a thousand years ago but Mohammedan had gone there and plundered the temples and killed the Buddhist priests. The Sinhalese were declining daily. The Englishman’s police was to make money at the expense of subject races. When Dharmapala was young a large amount of the trade in Pettah was in the hands of the Sinhalese. Today it was not so.” The underline was as in the original document.

In conclusion, I’m not wrong to infer that though Anagarika Dharmapala died 81 years ago and even when his pet word ‘Arya’ had become an obnoxious, dirty word in English vocabulary, Dharmapala’s spirit still lives in Sri Lanka in the bodies of Rajapaksa brothers and his fan club members such as Dayan Jayatilleka and Rohan Gunaratna. What Dharmapala preached in 1924 under ‘Aryan’ legacy, is being repeated 90 years later in numerous platforms under ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ manifesto!



Ananda Guruge (ed): Return to Righteousness – A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala. The Anagarika Dharmapala Birth Centenary Committee, Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1965, 875 pp.

Ananda Guruge: Anagarika Dharmapala. Department of Cultural Affairs, Colombo, 1967, 87 pp.

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