Reviving the Buddha: The Use of the Devotional Ritual of Buddha-Vandanā in the Modernization of Buddhism in Colonial Sri Lanka

Soorakkulame Pemaratana


The modernization of Buddhism since the late nineteenth century has mostly been interpreted as a process of adaptation to rationalist trends of Western modernity. This understanding is particularly influential in the interpretation of modernized Buddhism in Sri Lanka via the use of the compelling term ‘Protestant Buddhism’, which emphasizes not only rationalist interpretations of Buddhism but also practices imitative of Protestant Christianity such as Sunday schools. This article argues that the modernizing efforts of Sri Lankan Buddhists were far more diverse than the above characterization. Further, the modernization of Buddhism was not just a project of the bourgeoisie. This paper reveals how both elite and non-elite Buddhist activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made use of the newly acquired print technology to promote the devotional ritual of venerating the Buddha through printed liturgical booklets, while also recasting this ritual as a principal marker of Buddhist identity. This new emphasis on devotionalism, while seemingly traditional, was in fact another form of modernist response to colonialism and globalization.


Buddha-vandana; Buddhist modernism; Buddhist identity; devotional ritual; liturgical booklets; Sri Lanka

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