By Nirmala Kannangara – Photos by Thusitha Kumara
Residents at Bellantara Lane, Bellantota have filed legal action against Ven. Pitiduwe Siri Dhamma Thero of Sri Sadaham Ashramaya Bellantota seeking equal rights to use their private lane which has been hindered for free movement by the Thero over the past few years.
The residents have accused the Thero of concreting and carpeting the Bellantara Lane thereby clogging the entire drainage system and ignoring a court injunction.
“This is a man who does not care for the laws of the land,” angry residents charged.
According to them, Pitiduwe Thero has deprived them of their freedom of movement while their guests have been denied access in vehicles making the rights of the residents subservient to the needs of the monk’s Ashramaya.
Worse, they complain that the live electrical wires that are drawn above the road, during festival days could not only cause accidents but could also be a threat to people.
“We have made complaints to the relevant authorities regarding the risk the residents have had to face because of the live electrical wires but so far they have failed to take any action against the temple or the Thero thus exposing our lives to great danger,” they said.
They added the Pitiduwe Thero has made their lives miserable by blocking their private lane with temporary structures, mobile water tanks and scaffoldings during temple festivals.
“During festivals, the temporary structures, mobile water tanks, scaffoldings and the generators block the entire road for vehicular traffic. In addition due to these temporary structures, most of our land telephone lines go dead as the telephone cables get damaged regularly. Our visitors are compelled to park their vehicles on the main road while the VIP vehicles, escort vehicles, service and transport vehicles and mobile transmitting stations are parked along the road blocking the lane preventing free access to our residents.”
Meanwhile questions are being asked why a police post with armed personnel has been established in the temple while several youngsters dressed similar to that of VIP security are seen moving around the temple premises and surrounding areas.
“What is the reason to get a police post to the Ashramaya? Who are these young boys who dress like VIP security guards? Was it to scare the residents or to harass the neighbourhood who are not willing to tolerate the monk’s high handedness?’
‘In addition a police backup vehicle follows the Thero’s vehicle breaking normal road rules and putting the lives of others in danger. It is absurd to see as to how the police in the backup vehicle clears the road for the Thero’s vehicle as if he is a VVIP. If this Thero is doing a yeomen service as claimed by him then what is the reason for him to have police protection? At a time even the most Venerable Nayaka Theros in the country travel without any police guard what is the reason for him to get police escort? This alone clearly shows that this monk in question is not a true follower of Lord Buddha but a person disguised as a monk to make his living through various other means,” they claimed.
Furious at the monk, neighbours charge that Pitiduwe Thero also uses private parapet walls to support flag posts, to mount shoe racks and even to hang posters without the consent of owners.
“Initially this was brought to the monk’s notice but he argued with us disregarding our pleas so we complained to the police but to no avail. The police have ignored our complaints as they too appear to be helpless due to political interference.”
The residents further claim that the 20 foot wide road has now been narrowed by a further 6 feet at the entrance to the Bellantara Lane because of a permanent pandal that has been erected by the Ashramaya.
However refuting these allegations, Pitiduwe Siri Dhamma Thero told The Sunday Leader that it is the Christian community in the area that levels such allegations against the Ashramaya and him and added that it was through jealousy that attempts are being made to close down the temple.
“This is like a ‘royal palace’ and it doors are open for the public. Devotees from all walks of lives come to the Ashramaya very often and when the residents see as to how the VVIPs take part in all our religious activities they have felt jealous of the temple. That is why they are making baseless allegations against me,” Pitiduwe Thero claimed.
When asked as to why a police post has been established in the temple which is not common even in leading Buddhist temples in the country, the Thero said that it was the SSP Mt. Lavinia that suggested having a police post in the temple as he was under continuous threat from the neighbourhood.
The Sunday Leader (TSL): It is uncharacteristic to have police posts in temples. Why do you have one in your temple? From whom have you been receiving threats?
Pitiduwe Thero (PT): I am constantly under threat from the neighborhood as they are jealous of me and the temple. There is nothing wrong to have a police post in the temple. The devotees and the neighbours should be thankful to me for providing security for them. When I first came to Bellantara in 2004, there were many reported thefts in and around the temple. Since the establishment of the police post this has become a very peaceful area.
TSL: Was the decision to put up a police post taken by you?
PT: I have never requested police protection but it was the police that decided to establish a police post in the temple. Since my life is in danger my devotees offered me an expensive siren that would alert people if I am under threat.
TSL: Why do you require a back up vehicle?
PT: It was decided by the SSP Mt. Lavinia because of the threats as I am a popular Buddhist preacher.
Meanwhile when The Sunday Leader asked as to why he failed to abide by the injunction order issued by the Mt. Lavinia Magistrates Court against the illegal carpeting, the Thero said that the injunction order had to be delivered to the Road Development Authority (RDA) as it was the RDA that carpeted the Bellantara Lane.
“The road was done by the RDA. So why did they send me an injunction order instead of sending it to the RDA?” The monk queried.
When asked whether the Ashramaya is registered with the Department of Buddhist Affairs, Pitiduwe Thero said that the Ashramaya is a registered religious place.
However Mr. Bandara in the Department of Buddhist Affairs told The Sunday Leader that there is no necessity to register Ashrams and Buddhist Organisations with the Department of Buddhist Affairs.
“Sri Sadaham Ashramaya is not registered under the Department of Buddhist Affairs,” Bandara added.