It was with great sadness and a sense of profound loss that I heard of the death of the Ven. Gonapeenuwela Sumanasara Thera.
He was the founder and principal of the Kilinochchi Sinhala Vidyalaya, where he taught for close on 22 years, until the school was closed in 1993 as a result of the war in the North and East.
Driven to the North by the political victimisation of the 1970s, Ven. Gonapeenuwela Sumanasara Thera took up the post of principal of the Kilinochchi Sinhala Vidyalaya in 1971. The school was set up on the premises of the Lumbini Viharaya, with just 26 children hailing from all three major communities.
I joined Kilinochchi Sinhala Vidyalaya as an English teacher, and had the privilege to work under the Thera for three-and-a-half years. He was both my mentor and my guardian. He was unfazed by the threats of the extremists, people who were opposed to Sri Lanka being declared a Democratic Republic, on May 22, 1972.
The Thera had a mission, a dream that never materialised. It may be perhaps because of this dream that he testified before the Sansoni Commission, saying he would never leave Kilinochchi and its people, with whom he had maintained a close relationship for decades.
Though forced to leave Kilinochchi in 1983 after the Black July incidents, he went back to his former school to resume his mission of working for the Sinhalese and Tamils. He continued with his work until the school was acquired for the zonal education office.
The Thera’s commitment and mission prevented him from taking up the Chief Incumbency of the Sri Nigrodharamaya, in Gonapeenwela, or to seek political refuge under a UNP government.
With his tanned complexion and unshaved head, he bore a strong resemblance to the Ven. Kithalagama Sri Seelalankara Thera, who had also rendered a similar service, for the Sinhalese in the East. He fell gravely ill while staying at the Sri Bodhidakshinaramaya in Vavuniya, and was admitted to the hospital in Anuradhapura. Later, at the request of his relatives, he was brought for treatment to Galle, where he breathed his last.
Thousands of displaced Tamils, saddened by the Thera’s sudden demise, thronged to Gonapeenuwala to pay their last respects to their beloved guru, who had for decades worked tirelessly for the upliftment of the common man in the North.Parliamentarian V. Anandasangaree was among the mourners. He expressed his intention to erect a statue in honour of the late prelate, and inter his ashes in the premises of the Zonal Education Office in Kilinochchi.
Before attaining the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana, may the Thera be born among us again to complete his mission among the Sinhalese and Tamils of the North.