On 15th July 1924, the present Siri Vajirarama library building at Vajira Road, Bambalapitiya was opened. Venerable Pelene Vajiranana Mahanayaka Thera invited Cecil Clement, Colonial Secretary of Ceylon for the above inauguration ceremony. The building was donated by G.J. de Silva and James Peiris with 2000 books and two rooms for two resident monks. Venerable Pelene Mahanayaka Thera was himself a great scholar and encouraged his pupil monks to follow his path. Most of his pupil monks, in later times, became well known both nationally and internationally. Among them were the following renowned theras: (1) Narada, (2) Kaburugamuwe Mahanama, (3) Denipitiye Sumanasiri, (4) Madihe Pannasiha, (5) Piyadassi, (6) Ampitiye Rahula, (7) Soma Kassapa, (8) Kheminda and (9) Metteyya,. They were prolific users of this library. It may also be noted that Prof. Gunapala Malalasekara, Sir D.B. Jayatilake and W.A. Silva were among the first generation of Vajirarama library users. In the 1950s, among the second generation users were Olcott Gunasekera, K.D.G. Wimalaratne and D.C. Ranatunga. In short, this library helped not only the Sangha students of Venerable Pelene Vajiranana Mahanayaka Thera but also laymen in their studies and research. At that time, this was one of the best oriental libraries in Sri Lanka with a large collection of Pali, Sanskrit, Burmese, Sinhala and English books on Buddhism as well as on other related subjects. At present the library has 8000 books and 210 Ola books, some of which are very rare.
The name Vajiraramaya was famous throughout the Buddhist world due to the pre-eminence of the venerable bhikkhus of the temple both in Buddhist scholarship and Dhamma dhuta work. There are many publications to their credit on Buddhism, Buddhist philosophy and meditation. In 1950s, books such as Dharmma Sangrahaya written by Venerable Narada Thera were standard text books for national examinations such as the Senior School Certificate (SSC). Buddhism in a Nut Shell and Manual of Abhidharma of Venerable Narada Maha Thera and the Mirror of the Dhamma of Venerable Narada and Kassapa thera (formerly Dr. Cassius Perera) have gone into many editions and were major contributions to the spread of the Dhamma. Their footprints were seen in the development of the Siri Vajiraramaya library. It is also a treasure trove of the valuable articles of Venerable Madihe Mahanayaka Thera on major national issues. As a result, books and other publications in this library display a rich diversity. This is the uniqueness of this library.
The main objective of the current project is to rebuild and restore the Siri Vajirarama Library to take its rightful place among the Buddhist libraries in Sri Lanka for use of local and foreign members of the Maha Sangha and lay researchers.
The future plans in respect of the library include the following:
In 2009, Siri Vajirarama temple completed its one hundred years of service to the Sasana. The temple entered its second hundred years under the capable leadership of the Venerable Tirikunamale Ananda Anunayaka Thera, a pupil of the late Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera and Ampitiye Sri Rahula Nayaka Thera.
On 6th September 2009, His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa on the advice of the then Minister of Urban Development and Sacred Area Development, Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena declared the Siri Vajirarama Temple precincts as a Sacred Area by special gazette notification No. 1614/6 of 11-8-2009.
Vajiraramaya was analogous to erudite Dhamma dhuta workers and its famous library. However, during the past 15 to 20 years the library has been not properly utilized and it was the decision of the Siri Vajirarama Karyasadhaka Society on the recommendation of the new Vajiraramadhipathi to give priority to its development. As a first step, with funds made available by Mr. Milinda Moragoda and Sanasili Foundation, the floor of the library section was tiled and the roof was completely repaired.
After restoration of the library building, the next step was to look after the precious books of the library. In April 2010, the Anunayaka Thera had initial discussion with Dr. K.D.G. Wimalaratne, former Archivist of the Department of National Archives and one of the users of the library in the 1950’s, to reorganize the Library in a professional manner. Dr. Wimalaratne arranged with Dr. W.A. Weerasuriya, Head, Library and Information Science of the University of Kelaniya to provide expert advice.
A Library Committee was formed under the chairmanship of the Viharadhipathi. Three of the four members of the committee were from the Siri Vajirarama Karyasadhaka Samithiya namely, Deshabandhu Olcott Gunasekara (Senior Vice-Patron), Mr. Sandun Abeygunawardena (Hony. Secretary), and Mr. Senaka A. Samarasinghe (Member & Convener) and the fourth was Dr. W.A. Weerasuriya Head, Library and Information Science of the University of Kelaniya. The main task of this committee was to formulate proposals to restore the library and after approval of the Siri Vajirarama Karysasadhaka Samithiya to implement same.
A team consisting of Prof. Piyadasa Ranasinghe, Prof. W.A. Weerasuriya and Mrs. Priyanwada Wanigasooriya from the faculty of Library and Information Science, University of Kelaniya visited Vajirarama and after observing the current status drew up the following action plan.
Stage 01: Rearranging and Classification of Books
Prepare an accession register, classify books according to DDC classification and prepare list of books to be bound. Identify damaged or decayed books and appoint a committee to examine the condition of each book and sort those that needs repair. This task was entrusted to a team of Library Science undergraduates and it was completed by March 2011.
Stage 02: Physical extensions to the Library to have reading room and reference facilities and to accommodate all books of the Library in one location
Nine cupboards (7 cupboards with books and 2 cupboards with Ola leave books) that were on the first floor of the new Dharma Sala Building were relocated in the main library section. As there was no space to keep all cupboards in the main library an extension to the main library with office space for a librarian, reference section and reading room was undertaken and that stage too has been completed.
Stage 03: Restoring books and ola leaf books that were in a dilapidated condition
Some of the very ancient and valuable books were in a dilapidated condition. It was considered essential to restore these books under proper guidance of a professional organization such as Department of National Archives. The restoration work has started with the necessary guidance of the Department of Archives. Prof. Nimal Silva also helped to restore these books.
There are a total of 210 Ola leaf books that were stacked in the two cupboards and they were cleaned with the assistance of Dr. Saroja Wettasinghe, Archivist and her staff. Floors were treated with chemicals to protect the books from insects, especially white ants.
Stage 04: Computerization of the Library
Library and Information Science Department of the University of Kelaniya formulated a proposal for computerizing the Library. A library science graduate was recruited in August 2011 as librarian to implement the programme. The librarian has categorized the entirety of books into three groups namely, rear, scheduled reference and permanent reference and computerization was started based on this grouping.
The total cost of the Project was estimated at Rs. 4.5 million. The Vajiraramadhipati Ven. Tirikunamale Ananda Anunayaka Thera invited Mr. Milinda Moragoda for a discussion on the Siri Vajiramaya Library Project on 9th June 2011. Because of the close association of Mr. N.U. Jayawardena with the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera, Mr. Moragoda agreed to discuss with the N.U. Jayawardena Charitable Trust, established in memory of late Deshamanya N.U. Jayawardena. There was agreement to fund the Reading Room of the Library to be named after late Deshamanya N.U.Jayawardena. Mr. M.D.D. Peiris, a member of the Trust handed a cheque for Rs. 2 Million for refurbishing the reading room.
A good library of Buddhist books, mainly of the Theravada tradition that Sri Lanka has preserved for over two millennia, is a necessity. Siri Vajiraramaya library, which is centrally located, could fill this gap. Library furniture has to be made and the necessary library equipment like photo-copying machine has to be purchased. It is the earnest hope of everyone associated with the Project to complete it during the 2600 Sambuddhatva Jayanti Year and the Vajirarama Karyasadhaka Society appeals to all Buddhists and well-wishers to come forward and assist in this noble venture.