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Sri Lankans mourn Buddhist monk who dies after elephant attack

Venerable Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera worked hard to build interreligious harmony

 Sri Lankans mourn Buddhist monk who dies after elephant attack

A 2016 file image of a Buddhist monk feeding an elephant at a Buddhist temple near the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. (Photo by Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP)

Kingsley Karunaratne, Colombo
Sri Lanka

February 6, 2018

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A senior Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka, known for his efforts to improve inter-religious relationships, passed away a day after he was attacked by a temple elephant.

Sri Lankans are mourning the death of Venerable Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera who died of heart failure while in a Colombo hospital on Feb. 3. He was 77 years old. 

His death occurred a day after an elephant attacked him in his temple. The monk was reportedly violently pushed to the ground by an elephant called "Myan Kumara" who was a gift from Myanmar in 2013.

The attack occurred when the monk was reportedly giving the animal food.

Venerable Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera (left side, corner of the table) served many years to build interreligious harmony within post-war Sri Lanka to ease ethnic tensions in the country. (Photo by Kingsley Karunaratne)

 

Venerable Wimalarathana Thera attempted to build interreligious harmony in post-civil war Sri Lanka. He was also the vice president of the Congress of Religions, a body of national religious leaders.

Retired Archbishop Oswald Gomis, a member of the Congress of Religions, said that Venerable Wimalarathana Thera was associated with good number of Catholic priests, Anglican ministers and also Muslims and Hindus.

"We were constantly making proposals to both government and ordinary people as to how we should live together irrespective of religion, caste and nationality or race," said Archbishop Gomis.

"There was an incident near his temple where the Catholic community wanted to build a church but some others were against this and began causing trouble but Venerable Wimalarathana Thera stepped in and said that all people in this country have rights and that the church should be allowed to occur," said Archbishop Gomis.

"We will hold him in respect and his memory will live within us for long years," he said.

Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith described Venerable Wimalarathana Thera as an educated, humble and pious monk.

"I got the opportunity to associate with him closely on inter-religious coexistence and as a dear friend. I learnt his noble qualities which acted as guidance to my life too," he said in a statement.

The archbishop said the monk was a guiding light for the entire Sri Lankan Buddhist community.

"His love for the country was enormous. We salute him for his services to the nation, religion and to the country. I see this as a great loss to the nation which is unbearable," he said.

A cremation with state honors will be held on Feb. 8 at the Sri Jayawardenapura University ground.

Venerable Wimalarathana Thera obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy (Ph.D) in 1980 and was the chancellor of the University of Sri Jayawardhanapura.

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