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Polgasduwa Island Hermitage and Parappaduwa Nuns’ Island



A death is always sad, unless the person was terminally ill and alone or the family had to struggle to care for him/her. When an old person dies, the sorrow has to be less because death is the one sure happening in life and when it is time to die it is much better to die, more so for the old person.

The sadness is greater when a person from a foreign land makes his home here and gives his all to religion and then dies. When the death looks like murder, or even if it is proved to be suicide, the sadness is further deepened. This is how it is with the recent death of Ajahn Jinawamso also known as Jinarathana Thera. As the host country to this devout monk, we need to be perturbed. This was how it was when I heard that the body of a Dutch monk who had lived long in Sri Lanka at the Polgasduwa Island Hermitage was found floating in the Ratgama lake.

The Ratgama Lake off Dodanduwa, Polgasduwa Island Hermitage, and the adjacent Parappaduwa Nuns’ Island are well known to me. Ayya Khema got constructed a fine nunnery with three kutis for ten preceptors, a dormitory of six twin-occupancy rooms just by the water’s edge, an open half walled meditation hall with a skeleton hanging in it and a library, kitchen, dining room and servants’ quarters. She had visited Polgasduwa Hermitage since she wanted to build herself an island aranya from which to propagate the Dhamma to foreign women and locals seeking the peace of Buddhist meditation. A teacher who was a devout Buddhist – Ms Gnanawathi – who accompanied her was very glad when she selected an island close to the monks’ hermitage. With immense help from Mr and Mrs Silva living by the lake and Gnanawathi, Ayya Khema realized her dream.

Ratna Dias and I were very frequent visitors to Nuns’ Island, invited by Ayya Khema to participate in meditation retreats of a couple of days, sometimes with a few others, when foreign women were not in residence. The Australian ten preceptor – Ayya Vayama – was a great help. Ayya Khema received higher ordination in San Francisco and we addressed her as Bhikkhuni Khema. Ayya Vayama returned to Australia much later when Ajahn Brahmavamso invited her to be head nun of a centre for women being envisaged in Perth. She received higher ordination as a Theravada Bhikkhuni from him, and is now addressed as Ajahn Vayama.

When Bhikkhuni Khema decided to give up Parappaduwa and return to Germany in 1999 due to the JVP uprising, a committee of us took over the island, tried to maintain it as a nunnery for many years but failed; even as a last resort having a foreign monk in residence. Nuns’ Island was given over to Polgasduwa. For many years incapacitated Ven Gnanawimala who was famed for walking all over Sri Lanka and always to and from Colombo, resided in Parappaduwa with two monks to care for him. I heard from Ven Mettavihari Thera that at present 13 monks reside on the island of Parappaduwa with 11 in Polgasduwa.

Polgasduwa Island Hermitage in the Ratgama Lake was built by Ven Nyanatiloke – German Jew monk – in 1911. Parappaduwa Nunnery was built in the 1970s. From that time to the early 2000s much assistance was given by the Head Monk of Polgasduwa – Ven Anuragoda Piyaratana Mahathera, even ferrying us in his motorized boat when we arrived from Colombo; sometimes with a van or bus load of women. We would often cross over in the Nuns’ Island boat to Polgasduwa for bana or dane or just to pay our respects to Ven Piyaratana. He was so generous in overlooking the nunnery from Ayya Khema’s time, to closer supervision when just a single Dutch nun and later a Sinhala woman took residence. He died a premature death of a heart attack, but the young monk who took his place continued to help maintain the nunnery until it was given over to Polgasduwa


Seeking information

Ven Mettavihari who resides in the Narada Bauddha Dharmayatanaya, Colombo 7,

and conducts the Buddhist channel Dharmavahini, said he had met Ajahn Jinawamso and passed on information he had received from a monk who knew the deceased monk very well. I quote:

“There are many rumours going around and the media has put out some false reports so I want to convey what I heard from the abbot of the monastery where Ajahn Jinawamso lived the last few years.

“Ajahn Jinawamso was found on Dec. 8 floating in the lake around island hermitage, not far from the island of Parappaduwa. He had a stone or small rock bound to each of his legs when he was found. His hands and head were free and not bound as is said in the media which would make it an obvious crime if that was true.

“As he was living mostly alone and not associating with the other monks on the island, the monks didn’t realize that he was missing until he was actually found. Again the media falsely reported that he was reported missing since Dec. 6. However the calendar in his kuti was ticked off until the 6th so it is likely that he left on that day.

“The police is now investigating if it was suicide or if he was murdered. Later today there will be an autopsy. I probably will attend that with the abbot of the monastery.

“He had (strong) arguments with the local fishermen in the past but recently it was better according to the abbot. They are building a big meditation hall not far from his kuti and there was sometimes (again strong) arguments about sound and cutting trees. It seems unlikely it was murder but the police is not ruling it out as yet.

“I know Ajahn Jinawamso already more than 30 years from his early years in Nanachat Monastery (Thailand) and he seemed very happy and doing very well the last few years. He often said his practice was going well and he was never so happy before.


Another monk who had trouble with depression said Ajahn Jinawamso too could be depressed, under cover of cheerfulness.”

My mind is crowded with images and anecdotes and memories of Polgasduwa and its adjacent smaller island – Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island, along with grief at the monk’s death.

By the time you read this you may know the verdict given by medical authorities at the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, and know for certain whether Ajahn Jinawamso was murdered or committed suicide. A rumour on social media is that unscrupulous businessmen plotted to build a hotel in such a revered Buddhist place. Farfetched reason for murder!

Suicide is looked upon as an act that goes against the teaching of the Buddha. However there was the brilliant monk Ven Nanavira (Harold Edward Musson) of Britain who came to Ceylon with friend Osbert Moore. They were ordained by Ven Nanatiloke at Polgasduwa, the latter taking the name of Nanamoli. Ven Nanavira authored many intellectual books on his interpretation of the Dhamma and chose to live as a forest monk in Bundala. The spicy food left for him by the villagers caused a severe stomach condition. I heard from the wife of a person who was very close to the monk and communicated with him that the monk was greatly troubled by fantasies and wrote “it has to be wife or knife.” He committed suicide by tying a plastic bag around his head and suffocated to death.

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31st night…Down Under



The NYE scene at the Grand Reception Centre, in Melbourne

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the Voluntary Outreach Club (VOC) in Victoria, Australia, was able to hold a successful New Year’s Eve celebration, at The Grand Reception Centre, in Cathies Lane, Wantirna South.

In a venue that comfortably holds 800, the 200 guests (Covid restrictions), spanning three generations, had plenty of room to move around and dance to the array of fabulous music provided by the four bands – Replay 6, Ebony, Cloud 9 with Sonali, Redemption and All About That Brass. 

The drinks provided, they say, oiled the rusty feet of the guests, who were able to finally dress up and attend such an event after nine months of lockdown and restrictions. With plenty of room for dancing, the guests had a thoroughly enjoyable time. 

According to an insider, the sustenance of an antipasto platter, eastern and western smorgasbord, and the midnight milk rice and katta sambol, were simply delicious, not forgetting the fantastic service provided by Jude de Silva, AJ Senewiratne and The Grand staff.

The icing on the cake, I’m told, was the hugely generous sponsorship of the bands by Bert Ekenaike. This gesture boosted the coffers of the VOC, which helps 80 beneficiaries, in Sri Lanka, comprising singles and couples, by sending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 3,500, per month, to each of these beneficiaries, and augmenting this sum, twice a year, in July and December, with a bonus of the same amounts.

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Fall armyworm:



Strategies for effective management

by Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

Emeritus Professor of Entomology University of Ruhuna and former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy

Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera; Noctuidae), a quarantine pest, has been identified as a very destructive insect pest of Maize/Corn. This insect originated in Americas and invaded the African region in 2016 and was detected in India the following year and perhaps would have naturally migrated to Sri Lanka last year from India. Now, it is reported that FAW is present in all districts of Sri Lanka except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. In winter in the USA the pest is found in Texas and Florida and subsequent summer when it gets warmed up, the pest migrates up to the Canadian border. The corn belt of China is also at a risk due to its migratory habit and the cost to Africa, due to this invasion, will exceed $ 6 billion. Maize is a staple food crop in Africa and millions depends on it for food. Hence in Africa and now in Asia it is a global food security issue for millions of people that could be at a risk if FAW is not controlled. The adult moth migrates very fast almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km, before laying 1,500 eggs on average. The entire life cycle lasts 30 days in tropical climate. There are six larval instars and mostly the destruction is caused by the last three instars and the growing moth pupates in the soil for 10-12 days and the nocturnal adults lay eggs on leaves for about 10 days The pest thrives on about 80 host plants but the most preferable host is Corn/Maize. In Sri Lanka the preferred hosts includes Kurakkan and Sugarcane in addition to Maize. The symptoms of damage- scrapping of leaves, pin holes, small to medium elongated holes. Loss of top portion of leaves fecal pellets in leaf whorl which are easily recognizable. The Comb is also attacked in later stages with a heavy infestation, but after removing the FAW affected portion of the comb the remaining portion is still suitable for consumption and there is no fear of any toxicity. There are two morphologically identical strains––maize strain that feeds on maize and sorghum, and rice strain that feeds on rice and pasture grasses. However, in Sri Lanka only the maize strain has been detected so far. FAW thrives in a climate where drought is followed by heavy rains on a similar way we have experienced last year.

Although new agricultural insect pests are found in Sri Lanka, from time to time a number of factors make FAW unique (FAO Publication 2018)


FAW consumes many different crops 2 FAW spreads quickly across large geographical areas 3.FAW can persists throughout the year. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to develop a coordinated evidence based effort to scout FAW for farming communities and effective monitoring by the research staff



Since the pest has already arrived in Sri Lanka, the Government/ Ministry of Agriculture should formulate short, mid and long term strategies for its effective management with all stakeholders. Also it has to be clear that a single strategy ex pesticides will not help in effective control but a proper combination of tactics, such as integrated pest management should be employed in the long term. In the short term, the recommended pesticides by the Department of Agriculture should be employed along with cultural and sanitary control strategies. These strategies have now been formulated and what is required to enlighten the farmers and people by utilizing the trained staff. The country should be placed on a war footing and an emergency should be declared in the affected areas to coordinate the control strategies. The integrated control tactics, such as cultural control, should be integrated with pesticides based on the recommendation of the research staff. The residues should be destroyed after harvest and avoid late planting and staggered planting. The Ministry of Agriculture should create awareness among the farmers and train the farmers on early detection of egg masses found on leaves and destroy them by hand. The pesticides for FAW control is recommended by the Department of Agriculture (Please contact Registrar of Pesticides of the Department of Agriculture for the recommended list of Pesticides) and they have to make it available at subsidized rates or given free with technical information considering the emergency. When the larvae are small early detection and proper timing of pesticides are critical for elimination of the pest. With this outbreak some farmers and the private sector is engaged using highly hazardous pesticides which should be avoided to make way for sustainable alternatives. The Department Entomologists should train the farmers for early detection of egg masses when present on 5% of the plants and when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are present on war footing. The economic threshold has been calculated as 2-3 live larvae per plant and the control strategies should commence as soon as this threshold is detected by visual observation. The majority of development officers, agriculture and science graduates working in Divisional Secretariats, are already trained on pest control and their participation on training the farmers for early detection and pesticide selection and application warrants the strategy. Some of the recommended pesticides are follows: Chlorantraniliprole 200g/1SC: Trade name Corogen, Emamectin benzoate 5%SG: Trade name Proclaim,, Flubendiamide 24% WG : Trade name Belt. The Principle Entomologist of the Dry Zone Research Station of the Department of Agriculture ( Mrs KNC Gunawardena) has prepared an effective online presentation on FAW control and this has to be shared by all. The African country Ghana has declared a state of emergency in response to this invasion as Maize is a staple crop which should be followed by us in Sri Lanka.

The long term strategies include early detection. Stopping its spread and initiation of a long term research programme to identify tolerant varieties and granting permission to import such varieties as seeds. The country should ear mark on a Biological control strategy by breeding and releasing FAW parasitoids regularly. In USA larval parasitoids such as Apanteles marginiventris, Chelonus insularis and Microplitis manilae have contributed to keep the pest population down along with egg parasitoids Trichrogramma spp and a similar program should be initiated in the affected districts. Finally the best option is to establish a task force with the involvement of entomologists, extension personnel along with the administrators and scientists working in the universities to ensure the country are safe with regards to food security



The author has read for a PhD at University of Florida Gainesville in the USA in 1985 and his PhD thesis exclusively deals on Fall armyworm parasitoids and its ecology

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President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest



by Jehan Perera

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced that the government will be entering into an agreement with the Adani Group, based in India, to offer them 49 percent of the shares in a joint venture company. This joint venture will include Japanese government financing and will manage one of the terminals in the Colombo port. The entry of Adani Group, into the Colombo port, has been opposed by a wide coalition of organisations, ranging from port workers, and left political parties, to nationalists and civil society groups. These groups have little in common with each other but on this particular issue they have made common cause and even held joint protests together. The main thrust of their objections is that control over the East Terminal of the Colombo port will pass into foreign hands and result in an erosion of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

The cause for alarm, among the protesting groups, may be fueled by the observation that one by one, the ports of Sri Lanka are being utilized by foreign powers. In particular, China has entered into Sri Lanka in a big way, obtaining a 99-year lease in the Hambantota port that it constructed. The Hambantota port, in its early period, showed it was economically unviable in the absence of Chinese cooperation. The burden of debt repayment induced the previous government to enter into this agreement which may become unfavorable in terms of national sovereignty. There were protests at the time of the signing of that lease agreement, too, though not as effective as the present protests regarding the change of management in the Colombo port, which is led by the very forces that helped to bring the present government into power.

In addition to the Hambantota port, control over the South Terminal in the Colombo port, and a section of the harbour, has been given to China through one of its companies on a 35-year lease. In both cases, large Chinese investments have helped to upgrade Sri Lanka’s capacity to attract international shipping lines to make use of the port facilities. The Hambantota port, in particular, could benefit enormously from Chinese ships that traverse the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. Instead of making refuelling stops elsewhere along the way, such as Singapore, they could now come to Hambantota. However, with these investments would also come a Chinese presence that could cause concerns among international actors that have geopolitics in mind. It may be that these concerns are finding expression in the opposition to the Indian entry into the Colombo port.



It will not only be Sri Lankans who are concerned about the Chinese presence in the country’s ports. As Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbour, India, too, would have concerns, which are mirrored by other international powers, such as Japan. It might be remembered that when Japan’s prime minister visited Sri Lanka, in 2014, there was a diplomatic furor that a Chinese submarine entered the Colombo port, unannounced, even to the Sri Lankan government, and docked there. With its excellent relations with China, that go back to the 1950s, when the two countries signed a barter agreement, exchanging rice for rubber, most Sri Lankans would tend to see such Chinese actions in a benign light. In recent years, China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest donor and its assistance is much appreciated. However, India’s relations with China are more complex.

The two countries have massive trade links, but they have also gone to war with each other due to territorial disputes. Even at the present time Indian and Chinese troops are in a stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border. In this context, India would be concerned that the Chinese presence in Sri Lankan ports could eventually take the form of an overall strategy to encircle it and use this leverage to India’s disadvantage. Sri Lanka’s location at the bottom of the Asian continent gives it a strategic importance in the Indian Ocean that goes beyond any possible India-China rivalry. The recent visit of US Secretary of State to Sri Lanka included an acerbic exchange of words between the US and Chinese representatives on that occasion and an open call to Sri Lanka to take sides, or not to take sides. As a small actor in itself, Sri Lanka would have no interest in getting involved in international geopolitics and has a longstanding policy of non-alignment and friendship with all.

More than anyone else, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be aware of these geopolitical issues. As Defence Secretary, during the years of war with the LTTE, he was a key member of the government team that obtained wide ranging international support for prosecuting the war. Today, the President’s key advisers include those with military backgrounds who have special expertise in geopolitical analysis and who have spent time in leading military academies in different parts of the world, including the US, China and India. This contrasts with the more parochial thinking of political, nationalist and even civil society groups who have come out in opposition to the agreement that the government has entered into with the Indian company to manage the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port.



President Rajapaksa was elected to the presidency in the context of the security debacle of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks and with the expectation that he would provide clear-cut leadership in protecting the country’s national security without permitting partisan interests from becoming obstacles. In his meeting with the representatives of the trade unions, opposing the handing of management of the Eastern Terminal to foreign hands, the President is reported to have said that geopolitics had also to be taken into account. As many as 23 trade unions, representing the Ports Authority, the National Organisations collective, and a number of civil organizations, have joined the formation of a new national movement named the ‘Movement to protect the East Container Terminal’.

One of those political representatives at the meeting, leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), Pubudu Jayagoda, is reported to have said, “When trade unions met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (13), he told them about the broad geopolitical factors in play. This is reminiscent when the unions met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a few years back. The unions told Wickremesinghe what they told Rajapaksa––the ECT could be operated by Sri Lanka in a profitable manner. Wickremesinghe told the union representatives, ‘You are talking about the port, I am talking about geopolitics’.” However, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may not have had the necessary political power to ensure that his vision prevailed and failed to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

Entering into the agreement with the Indian company will serve Sri Lanka’s national interests in several ways. By ensuring that India is given a presence in Sri Lanka’s most important port, it will reassure our closest neighbour, as well as Japan, which has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent international donor, that our national security interests and theirs are not in opposition to each other. Second, it takes cognizance of the reality that about two-thirds of the Colombo port’s shipping is due to transshipment with India, and thereby ensures that this profitable business continues. Third, it will give Sri Lanka more leverage to negotiate with India regarding key concerns, which includes Indian support to Sri Lanka at international forums and in providing guarantees for the unity of the country in the face of possible future threats and the need to ensure devolution of power to satisfy ethnic minority aspirations.



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