Some are born great;
Some achieve greatness;
And some have greatness thrust upon them
-William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night)
The Shakespearian adage divides the “great” in this world to three categories. Yet there are also those who fulfill the literary sense of the word but do not seek the limelight nor bask in its glory. On occasion, limelight finds them for a brief flirtatious moment but for the most part, the stories of history are confined to the glamorous and the controversial. The steady workhorses who help build the lasting legacy of a pioneer have to be content with being a detail. Devapriya Valisinha was one such son of Sri Lanka.
His countrymen hardly know him. He is not in the history textbooks taught in schools and universities. For the most part, whenever I have brought his name up, it is confused with a historical figure with a similar sounding name – Walisinghe Harischandra, who passed away when Devapriya was only nine.
Why this anomaly? I guess one could contemplate on the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of history. But for the most part, there were two reasons. One, Devapriya’s accomplishments were in the land of the Buddha’s birth –India. Two, he sought to fulfill the mission of a pioneer leader. His countrymen know his teacher, Anagarika Dharmapala – the visionary Buddhist leader who pioneered the 20th century Buddhist revival in India and Sri Lanka with his rallying cries to Buddhists the world over. Devapriya was his right-hand man. But little do they know that if not for Devapriya’s work as the General Secretary of the Mahabodhi Society of India, after his teacher’s death, the efforts of Anagarika Dharmapala may have been in vain.
This month of August or Nikini marks the 44th death anniversary of Devapriya Valisinha. As a small tribute by one living in far away Canada, I attach herewith an article I wrote in an Indian magazine “The Sunday Indian” early last year titled “Devapriya Valisinha: A pioneer of the Buddhist revival in India and Sri Lanka.”