S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike Assassination -
Revisited after 50 years
Part 3: Theatrics and Economics
10 October 2009
Buddharakita Thera and Somarama Thera leaving the Court house
after their conviction on 10 May 1961
It may not be incorrect to state that for some Buddhist monks, a sedate life
style and a saintly persona are anathema for their promotional activities that
deviate from the guidelines set by the Enlightened One, Siddharta Gautama Buddha
(563 BC � 483 BC), aka Shakya Muni. The yellow-tinged robe and shaved head
provide them with easy access to corridors of power to indulge in politicking
and back room deals � in short, theatrics and economics, as I have sub-titled
part 3 of this series.
How would one reconcile with a news that was released 11 years ago, that �Dalai
Lama Group says it got money from CIA� (New York Times, Oct.2, 1998).
Before I cover the theatrics and economics of two Sinhala Buddhist monks,
Mapitigama Buddharakkhita Thero (1921-1967) and Talduwe Somarama Thero
(1915-1962), I provide the complete text of this 1998 New York Times
story for the benefit of those who had missed it, for its
�The Dalai Lama�s administration acknowledged today that it had received $1.7
million a year in the 1960s from the Central Intelligence Agency, but denied
reports that the Tibetan leader benefited personally from an annual subsidy of
$180,000. The money allocated for the resistance movement was spent on training
volunteers and paying for guerrilla operations against the Chinese, the Tibetan
government-in-exile said in a statement. It added that the subsidy earmarked for
the Dalai Lama was spent on setting up offices in Geneva and New York and on
international lobbying. The Dalai Lama, 63, a revered spiritual leader both in
his Himalayan homeland and in Western nations, fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed
uprising against a Chinese military occupation, which began in 1950. The
decade-long covert program to support the Tibetan independence movement was part
of the CIA�s worldwide effort to undermine Communist governments, particularly
in the Soviet Union and China.�
Now, here is a poser: it may not be inappropriate to postulate, considering the
year (1959) and the then Solomon Bandaranaike�s pro-Left government in Ceylon
installed in 1956, whether the Ceylonese equivalent of Dalai Lama,
Buddharakkhita Thero might also have benefited from CIA�s interest in toppling a
Left-leaning primeminister in the Indian Ocean.
Has anyone taken the trouble to
look seriously into this problem? In the 50 years that have lapsed, SLFP founded
by Solomon Bandaranaike was in power for 27 years (1960-65, 1970-77 and
1994-2009). Those who succeeded the assassinated prime
minister (the widow, the
daughter and the current incumbent) were least bothered to dig into this issue.
I�m also of the opinion that the remaining 23 years, when UNP had power (1965-70
and 1977-94), the top dogs of that party wouldn�t have cared a tuppence to find
out what happened.
The Organization of the Sinhala Buddhist Sangha
For relevance on the number of Sinhala Buddhist monks and the caste-based
division amongst them circa 1950s-1960s, I provide below four chapters from a
study by Yale University�s Hans-Dieter Evers that appeared in 1967.
�Although the Sangha is a very important institution in modern Sinhalese society
and in Ceylonese politics, very little has been published about it so far. Even
in recent sociological studies on Sinhalese religion the Buddhist monks have
received only limited attention. There are, however, two studies on the modern
Sangha written by Indologists (Bechart 1966 and Bareau 1957). Bechert�s recent
publication is the most comprehensive study of modern Theravada Buddhism and its
social and political role, and will most probably remain for a long period the
basic handbook for field research on Buddhism in Ceylon.
The Sangha of Ceylon is divided into three �orders� (nikaya): the Siam
Nikaya, the Amarapura Nikaya and the Ramana Nikaya. Each of these orders has in
the course of history been further subdivided into �chapters�, each of which is
headed by a Mahanayaka Thero. The Siam Nikaya is divided into six chapters, the
Amarapura Nikaya into at least 27 chapters, and the Ramana Nikaya into two
chapters. Most of the chapters have established and maintain a separate
tradition of higher ordination (upasampada).
The process of fission is still going on, officially because of doctrinal
disputes, usually on minor vinaya rules. In fact, however, most of the
subgroups have been formed either on caste lines, or on account of power
struggles within the Nikayas. There is no central authority or head of the whole
Sangha like the Sangharaja in Thailand. The situation is indeed far more complex
than is usually assumed in the existing literature.
The total number of monks is difficult to ascertain, for the official register
of bhikkus and samaneras in the Registrar General�s Office in Colombo is
incomplete and not up to date. Bechert estimates a total of about 17,000 monks,
out of which about 11,000 to 12,000 belong to the Siam Nikaya, about 3,000
belong to the Amarapura Nikaya, and about 2,000 to the Ramana Nikaya.�
On the �order� affiliation of assassin Talduwe Somarama Thero, author Lucian
Weeramantry had recorded, �Somarama belonged to the Malwatte chapter of the
Siamese Sect. The Malwatte chapter itself consisted of monks from the Vidyodaya
Pirivena and the Vidyalanka Pirivena. [A pirivena is a seminary of training
school for monks.] Somarama was from the Vidyodaya Pirivena.� [page 49] No
details were provided by Weeramantry on the �order� affiliation of prime
conspirator Mapitigama Buddharakkhita Thero.
Mapitigama Buddharakkhitha Thero and Talduwe Somarama Thero
One of primeminister Solomon Bandaranaike�s jokes on the character of
Buddharakkhita Thero, the prime conspirator in the 1959 assassination, has
appeared in print. Yasmine Gooneratne (a kin of Bandaranaike) had recorded in
1986 that Bandaranaike had quipped to her father, on the temptations of monk�s
weakness for flesh as: �He fasts by day, and he feasts by night�.
A short biographical note on Buddharakkhita Thero appears in the volume 1 of
J.R.Jayewardene�s biography, authored by K.M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins. To
�Buddharakkhita, Bhikkhu Mapitigama, 1921-1967: head of Kelaniya vihara 1947-59;
sentenced to death in 1961 for organizing murder of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike. The
sentence was later changed to one of life imprisonment. He died in jail in
A Time magazine (May 19, 1961) report provides a synopsis on the
theatrics and economics of the Bhikku duo, who dictated final terms to Solomon
�Two years ago, Ceylon�s primeminister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Badaranaike
bowed respectfully before a Buddhist monk among the crowd of petitioners
gathered on his veranda, in return got a blast of four bullets in his body. He
clung to life long enough to utter a last request. �I appeal to all concerned to
show compassion to this man and not to try and wreak vengeance on him�, he said,
Disregarding �Banda�s dying wish, a Ceylon judge last week sentenced Talduwe
Somarama, 45, to death. But the trial had proved that Somarama had been only the
triggerman; the instigator and chief plotter had been Mapitigama Buddharakitha,
41, high priest of the Kelaniya temple outside Colombo.
High priest Buddharakitha was clearly a man who was more interested in power
than religion. In 1956, when Bandaranaike was running for election,
Buddharakitha organized the United Monks� Front, which went scuttling off to the
hustings to recommend Banda and his Freedom Party, on the grounds that Banda
promised to give Buddhism its �rightful place� in Ceylon and to make Sinhala,
the tongue spoken by most Ceylonese Buddhists, the official language of the
Banda won the election and became primeminister. In token of his gratitude, he
took his Cabinet to Buddharakitha�s temple for the customary post-inaugural
rites. He also gave the post of Minister of Health to Buddharakitha�s intimate
friend, the handsome widow Vimala Wijewardene, then 47. But when the high priest
demanded a $6,000,000 government contract for the construction of a sugar
factory and government concessions for a shipping company he planned to set up,
Banda balked. Buddharakitha, who had reveled in his position as kingmaker, felt
that he had been publicly humiliated. He decided to put Banda out of the way.
Casting about for a triggerman, he happened on Talduwe Somarama, who was both a
monk and a practicing ophthalmologist. As a Buddhist, Somarama was exasperated
at the primeminister�s delay in fulfilling his campaign promises to Buddhism. As
an ophthalmologist, he was anxious to have his contract at the State Indigenous
Hospital renewed, and therefore needed Buddharakitha�s good offices, for the
widow Wijewardene had put the high priest on the hospital�s appointment board.
Plainly, Somarama was Buddharakitha�s man.
In a confession that he later disavowed, assassin Somarama straightforwardly
declared: �I have done this thing to a man who did me no wrong � for the sake of
my religion, my language and my race.� High Priest Buddharakitha truculently
declared that he had been railroaded. The judge unhesitatingly sentenced both
Somarama and Buddharakitha to hang.�
A short rejoinder in the Time magazine (July 13, 1962), noted:
Colombo last week, a Buddhist monk and herbalist named Talduwe Somarama mounted
a prison scaffold and was hanged. Somarama�s crime: the 1959 assassination of
Ceylon�s primeminister Solomon W.R.D. Bandaranaike. In a confession he later
retracted, Somarama said he committed the deed because the prime minister
favored western medical techniques over Oriental herb medicine. Prison officials
reported that 24 hours before he was hanged, Somarama had himself baptized a
Christian so that he could ask God for the forgiveness of sin that cannot be
found in the Buddhist religion.�
In sum, the following aspects can be identified as Buddharakkitha Thero�s
penchant for theatrics. He,
(1) used disparaging epithets to prominent political figures of the day,
referring to the primeminister as Sevela (slimy) Banda. He also used the
term nondiya (cripple) to refer Reginald Gotabhaya Senanayake, the
minister and the then Member of parliament for Kelaniya constituency, in which
his temple was located.
(2) flaunted his paramour relationship with the woman politician and the then
Minister of Health, Vimala Wijewardene.
(3) flouted ostentious Buddhist clergy�s life style by traveling in car and even
visiting London for medical check up.
(4) had in his services, camp followers and acolytes, who called him as �Our
Weeramantry�s book on Bandaranaike assassination, provide the following details
as well on the economics of the prime conspirator�s deeds:
(1) In the 1952 general election, for the Kelaniya constitutency where his
paramour Vimala Wijewardene contested on the SLFP ticket against the incumbent
J.R. Jayewardene (UNP), Buddharakkitha Thero had spent �50,000 to 60,000 rupees
on her election campaign� (page 33). J.R. Jayewardene won that election, by a
majority of over 6,235 votes.
(2) Then, in the 1956 general election, Buddharakkitha Thero had complained that
�though he had spent over 100,000 rupees on the SLFP election campaign, he
himself had derived no advantage from the victory of that party.� (page 33).
(3) Buddharakkitha Thero also felt that Solomon Bandaranaike was being misled by
two of his Cabinet colleagues (namely the Leftist Philip Gunawardena and the
then sitting MP for Kelaniya, R.G. Senanayake), and though he had spent about
100,000 rupees in floating a shipping company, he was not given contract �to
carry rice to Ceylon from Burma and Thailand� (page 34).
(4) Two days after the death of Bandaranaike, Buddharakkitha Thero was fuming at
R.G. Senanayake, the then Kelaniya MP, to a witness: �Look here, I find that
this nondiya is trying to implicate me (emphasis in the original) in the
murder of the primeminister. I shall break his legs and fling him into the
Kelani river.� (page 36).
For record, mention should be made about the personality of R.G. Senanayake
(1911-1970). A cousin of prime minister Dudley Senanayake, this R.G. Senanayake
was one of the anti-Tamil politicians of his day. In the 1956 general election,
he contested two constituencies (Kelaniya and Dambadeniya) and won in both. In
Kelaniya, as an Independent he defeated later President J.R. Jayewardene (UNP)
convincingly with a majority of over 22, 836 votes. He holds the Sri Lankan
record for representing two constituencies simultaneously. Later, before the
1970 general election, R.G. Senanayake formed his own racist Sinhala Mahajana
Pakshaya (SMP) and contested two constituencies (Dambadeniya and Trincomalee)
and lost in both. A recent account, published in Colombo Daily News
(Sept.25, 2009) present a positive spin on R.G. Senanayake�s career;
�RG was a
gentleman to the core; he was never hard on his opponents, even in hotly
contested issues and hotly debated matters. He never lost his composure. He
treated his opponents with the contempt they deserved, but always with a smile.
Arrogance and abhorrence were alien to him�He stands out as the one and only
person who stood up to JR [ayawardene] and cut him to size in the political
From Tamil perspectives, I would infer that politicians R.G. Senanayake, J.R.
Jayewardene, Philip Gunawardena and Buddharakkitha Thero promoted anti-Tamil
racism for vote catching purposes. But hardly a significant difference could be
noted in the grades of racism exhibited by all.
Assassin Somarama Thero�s statement from the Dock
I provide below, excerpts from chapter 32 of Weeramantry�s book (pages 196-199).
I felt that his version on assassination deserves some highlight.
� �I was born in Talduwa,� he began, �and received my early education at the
Buddhist Mixed School, Dehiowita. At the Talduwa temple in the year 1929 I was
ordained a Buddhist monk. I then entered the Vidyalanka Pirivena (seminary),
where I continued my studies for five years. In 1935 I gained admission to the
Vidyodaya Pirivena. In the following year I received my higher ordination at the
Malwatte temple, but continued my studies at the Vidyodaya Pirivena till 1940.
From 1940-43 I was a resident monk at the Ihala Talduwa (Upper Talduwa) temple.
In 1943 I moved to another temple to study the treatment of eye diseases and was
a student there for a period of five years. For some months in 1948 I treated
free a number of eye patients at the Hendela Leper Asylum as a service to
suffering humanity. Thereafter I returned to the temple at Ihala Talduwa. There
I engaged myself so intensely in religious work that I was successful in
securing sufficient lay support to have a new temple by the name of Somaramaya
built near the Talduwa junction.
Like many other monks who were concerned with the country�s future, I now began
to interest myself in politics. In 1952 I participated in a number of election
meetings held in support of Mrs. Wimala Wijewardene, who was a contestant for
the Kelaniya seat in the House of Representatives. On some days I presided at as
many as seven or eight meetings which were held in different parts of the
constitutency. Mr. Bandaranaike himself spoke at many of those meetings.
In 1953 I interested myself in building a home for the aged and had the first
accused [Buddharakkhita Thero] elected patron of the society formed for the
purpose. I did so as he was a person actively interested in public service. Mr.
Bandaranaike himself was elected a lay patron of the society after he had sent
me a letter consenting to his election. I eventually had a leaflet distributed
giving the names of the office-bearers of the society and setting out its
Towards the end of 1957, I was appointed a lecturer and eye specialist at the
College of Indigenous Medicine for the year 1958. The certificates given to me
by the principal of Vidyalankara Pirivena and by my tutor in ophthalmology
helped me to secure this appointment. A year after my appointment I was
requested by my patients and some other physicians to seek reappointment for the
following year. I agreed and was reappointed.
During the time I worked at the Ayurvedic College, I resided at Amara Vihare,
which was close to the College. In 1959 Rev. Boose Amarasiri, the chief
incumbent of that vihare, engaged himself in a fast as a protest against the
erection of a meat stall near the temple. I too with some other monks made
representations to the primeminister against the erection of that meat stall.
During the days of Rev. Amarasiri�s fast, I remember Rev. Buddharakkitha to have
visited Amara Vihare on two occasions in order to meet him.
Early in September 1959, some nurses at the Indigenous Hospital staged a fast by
way of protest against certain injustices they complained of. They fasted for a
whole day, but could not get their grievances redressed. I was in sympathy with
their demands and went along with some of their relatives to meet the
primeminister. With his help the nurses had their grievances redressed. I then
became that a move was afoot to dispense with their services. Once again some
other physicians and I made representations to the primeminister. The
representations related not only to the moves against the nurses, but to several
other problems and anomalies at the College of Indigenous Medicine as well as at
Somarama was speaking without reference to notes. For a man on trial for his
life, he was, if not cool, certainly remarkably collected. At times he spoke
slowly and with deliberation. But when describing the happenings of September 25th
1959, and the injustices to which he said he had been subjected by the police,
he was visibly agitated. Still not once did he break down; not once did he
� �On the morning of September 25th 1959,� he continued, �I went to
meet the primeminister once again. I went to his residence in Rosmead Place and
occupied a seat at the end of the verandah. Shortly afterwards the primeminister
came out, spoke to a number of persons on the verandah and then came up to me
and inquired why I had come. I told him that I had come to remind him of certain
very important representations I had made relating to the affairs of the College
of Indigenous Medicine and the hospital attached to it. The primeminister wanted
me to set out the details in writing and hand them to the Hon. A.P. Jayasuriya
to look into the matter. I thanked him and took my leave. I turned away to
collect my handkerchief and my papers, which I had placed on the stool by the
chair I had occupied. I was now with my back to the verandah and facing the
garden. While collecting my papers, I heard two or three gunshots. Struck with
terror, I stood motionless for a moment. I saw two persons in robes and some
others rushing away towards the main gate. People were running wildly in all
directions. It is indeed difficult to describe the confusion that reigned. I
then turned around, but yet in great fright. I saw the primeminister hurry into
the house through the main door. He was bleeding. The next thing I noticed was a
pistol lying on the floor about three or four feet away from me. I picked it up
and rushed inside the house to hand it over to some responsible person, carrying
it in this fashion (He demonstrates).
As I rushed in, I exclaimed to the first person I encountered, �Someone has shot
with this and run away�. Hardly had I completed saying that, than he pounced on
me. I implored him to wait until I had related what had happened, but he paid no
heed. He struggled with me and I fell down. As I lay fallen, I was shot. I then
From the primeminister�s residence I was removed to the Harbour Police station
where I partially regained consciousness and realized that I was badly injured.
There I was detained for about 2 hours, during the course of which several
persons came up and spoke to me. I remember telling them that I did not know who
was responsible for the shooting. From there, I was removed to the General
The final comments made by Somarama Thero, as recorded by his counsel in the
�I did not shoot the primeminister. It is untrue that the 1st
and 2nd accused or either of them requested me to do so. If I said so
to the Magistrate, it is false. My statement to the Magistrate was not made of
my own free will. I am not guilty.� (page 202).
As assassinated Indian primeminister Indira Gandhi�s regime was fond of
proclaiming the �influence of foreign hands� during 1966-77 and 1980-84, my
interest in the assassination of Solomon Bandaranaike is piqued on the issue of
whether any �foreign hand� was involved or Buddharakkitha Thero and Somarama
Thero acted on their own, basically prompted by their theatrical and economical
interests. Considering the following facts that
(1) the CIA links to Dalai Lama
came into open in late 1990s
(2) Solomon Bandaranaike�s politics and actions of
1950s was decisively pro-Left, when such sentiments were allergic to American
interests in Asia
(3) the CIA involvement in the assassinations and
assassination attempts on political leaders who were pro-Left (such as Patrice
Lumumba, President Sukarno, Fidel Castro) during the period 1959 to 1962, have
been no secret now, it may be of interest to delve into still �confidential�
records maintained elsewhere whether Mapitigama Buddarakkitha Thero had any
direct or indirect contacts with international gumshoes.
Thero also died in prison (at a relatively young age of 46), when UNP (a
decisively pro-West) government was in power muddles this issue. Some deaths in
prison or under detention (like that of Jack Ruby in President Kennedy
assassination, or that of Slobodan Milosevic) always elicit suspicious
Cited References and other relevant sources on Bandaranaike
Anonymous: Banda avenged.
Time, May 19, 1961, p. 30.
Anonymous: To find forgiveness.
Time, July 13, 1962.
Anonymous: Dalai Lama group says it got money from CIA.
New York Times,
Bartholomeusz, T: In defense of Dharma � Just-war ideology in Buddhist Sri
Lanka. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 1999; 6(1): 1-16.
Clarance, W: Woolf and Bandaranaike: The ironies of federalism in Sri Lanka.
Political Quarterly, Oct. 2001; 72(4): 480-486.
De Silva K.M.: Sri Lanka � the Bandaranaikes in the island�s politics and public
life. Round Table, 1999; no. 350; 241-280.
De Silva, K.M. and Wriggins, H:
J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka �a political
biography, vol.1 (1906-1956), University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1988.
Evers, H-D: Kinship and property rights in a Buddhist monastery in Central
Ceylon. American Anthropologist, Dec. 1967; 69(6): 703-710.
Fernando, W.A.S: Sitting on two chairs with one umbrella in hand.
Daily News, Sept.25, 2009.
Juergensmeyer, M: What the Bhikku said � Reflections on the rise of militant
religious nationalism. Religion, 1990; 20: 53-75.
Relative Merits �a personal memoir of the Bandaranaike Family
of Sri Lanka, C. Hurst & Co, London, 1986.
Kodikara, S.U: Major trends in Sri Lanka�s non-alignment policy after 1956.
Asian Survey, Dec. 1973; 13(12): 1121-1136.
Seneviratne, H.L: Buddhist monks and ethnic politics.
April 2001; 17(2): 15-21.
Assassination of a Prime Minister � The Bandaranaike Murder
Case, Geneva, 1969.