Leading Buddhists in Ceylon in 1889: A Rare Photograph

Sent by Michael Roosmale-Cocq and Rex Kellar

from The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society (1925) … Col Olcott is the bearded gent seated mid-centre.

Amongst those seated on the ground are Hewavitharana Dharmapala (later to be widely known as Anagarika Dharmapala) on left extreme. It was in 1889 that he changed his name from ‘Don David’ to  ‘Dharmapala’); William de Abrew, a prominent Buddhist who together with his son Peter de Abrew, donated the half acre of land that became the site for the Musaeus College at Rosmead Place; and C.P. Gunawardane, widely recognised as the designer of the Buddhist Flag.

The Three Japanese monks seated may be Y. Ato, C. Tokugawa and Shaku Kozen (also known as Kozen Gunaratana who hailed from Yokohama and lived in Sri Lanka till 1893) who became new members of the Maha Bodhi Society pursuant to the trip made to Japan in 1884 by Colonel Olcott  and Anagarika Dharmapala (then a youth of 20 years).

A NOTE: Dharmapala and his friend, the Japanese Shingon priest Kozen Gunaratana, made a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya on January 22, 1891 with the aim of seeing the neglected condition of the famous Buddhist shrines in India. That afternoon, Dharmapala sat in contemplation adjacent to the Vajrasana and was visibly moved by the ruinous state of the Mahabodhi Temple as the geographical centre of Buddhist faith.

ANOTHER NOTE: In 1884 Dharmapala accompanied Colonel Olcott on a trip to Japan that was intended to establish new outposts for the Theosophical Society and to popularize the Buddhist Catechism that they had been working on (Trevithick 2006: 58). During their visit, the two Theosophical Ambassadors carried a letter in Sanskrit from the prominent Ceylonese Buddhist monk, Ven. Sumangala Nayaka Mahathera, which contained words of good wishes addressed to the Chief Priests of Japan. This was one of the first acts of communication which had passed between a Southern Buddhist and Northern Buddhist branch for centuries. In the process it convinced Dharmapala and Olcott that they were now playing a leading role in the revival of modern Buddhism…….(Extract from a thesis written by David Geary for a Ph.D., University of British Columbia, in 2009).

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Apart from the studies of Sarath Amunugama, Kitsiri Malalgoda, Steven Kemper, Alan Threvithick, details and strands in the Anagarika Dharmapala’s thinking can be found in two essays by Michael Roberts: viz.

“Himself and project. A serial autobiography. Our journey with a zealot, Anagarika Dharmapala,” Social Analysis, 2000, 44(1), 113-141

“For humanity. For the Sinhalese. Dharmapala as crusading bosat,” Journal of Asian Studies, 1997, vol  56, 1006-1042.


Shenali D. Waduge:…




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3 responses to “Leading Buddhists in Ceylon in 1889: A Rare Photograph

  1. Kanae Shiraishi

    Dear Prof. Roberts,

    I was fascinated by this photograph and made a small research about the Japanese monks in this photo. According to Prof. Naoji Okuyama from Koyasan University, from left Zenshiro Noguchi, Hogen Yoshitsura, and Onjo Higashi. The photograph was taken in January 1889 according to Prof. Okuyama.

    Zenshiro Noguchi was a layman and key person who invited Dharmapala to Japan with Olcott. Hogen Yoshitsura visited Ceylon in August 1888 and was the third student to Ceylon following to Kozen Shaku and Soen Shaku. Onjo Higashi visited Ceylon as the fourth student in December 1888.

    Prof. Okuyama’s Japanese blog mentions the same photograph is owned by Busshoji Temple in Fukui. Hogen Yoshitsura’s diaries are also there according to his research.


  2. raigam

    Always a joy to read your post, Micheal.

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