Jayantha de Silva
A large group of Buddhist monks and laymen stormed the Vichiren Shosu Mahayana Buddhist Temple situated on the third floor of Liberty Plaza around 6 am yesterday forcing devotees engaged in religious activities to remain behind closed doors for more than three hours.
Police said that around 100 monks and supporters of the Sinhala Ravaya led by Ven. Akmeemana Dayaratne and Ven. Hakmana Nandajothi attempted to forcibly enter the premises charging that this Japanese temple was “fleecing devotees”.
Police said that a Japanese bhikku and some devotees, including women locked the main entrance and stayed indoors as the protesters banged on the door and shouted slogans.
For about four hours, police and the security staff of the complex struggled to free those trapped inside and escort them to safety amidst the noisy protest.
Devotees chanted “Budu Saranai” as they were escorted out by the police and this drew more vociferous protests from the monks.
Police said that a complaint and a counter complaint of assault had been lodged by the two parties.
The siege on the temple triggered a strong police presence with contingents led by DIG Anura Senanayake and comprising SSP Sanjeewa Dharmaraja and several other senior police officials arriving at the scene.
Kollupitiya OIC Sisira Pettatantri and OIC Crimes M. P. D. I. Kulasekara assisted the operation to free the trapped devotees as the protesting monks converged to obstruct the process. Making the task more difficult were five bhikkus who sat in front of the closed door and refused to permit the police to enter.
The monks insisted on entering the premises which they claimed was owned by one Lakshman Nillegoda and his Japanese wife but was now being used as a temple for public worship. DIG Senanayake appealed to them to move away as the devotees remained trapped inside but they declined to do so.
The monks shot back saying that despite protests from the Buddha Sasana Ministry, the temple continue to function and fleece devotees to the tune of millions of rupees.
Some had sold their properties and gold jewellery and credited the proceeds to the temple, they claimed.
Those who went against the dictates of the temple’s administrators were subject to coercion, said a woman who gave her name as Sashi. She claimed to have worked there as a receptionist at one time.
She asserted that the temple forbids the 3,000 devotee families to donate blood or any part of their body to the needy. She alleged that complaints of child abuse had also been lodged with the Department of Women’s and Child Care.
Dharmasiri, a protester charged that the initial fee of Rs. 2,000 charged to become a member of the temple is increased annually by Rs. 1,000.
One woman asserted that she had been held against her will inside the temple.
Inspector Indunil Ranaweera who was one of the first to enter the temple said he saw devotees sitting on pillows and worshipping. The police advised the protesters to lodge any complaints against the temple for follow-up actions.
However, Ven. Mahamita Pancharathana thera said that amongst the protesters were also former disgruntled members of this temple.