Profile of Buddhist Maha Vihara, Brickfields

The Buddhist Maha Vihara (BMV) was founded in 1894 by the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society (SAWS), the oldest registered Buddhist Society in the Klang Valley.

The SAWS bears a unique distinction of being the 5th Society in the Registry of Societies, Selangor. The SAWS eventually became one of the 22 Societies and the only Buddhist Society that were exempted from registration of the Societies Regulation, 1894 of Selangor.

From its very inception till today, the Vihara has been managed by the Sinhala Buddhist community but always financially supported by the Chinese and Indian communities. The first structure of the Vihara was the Main Shrine room, completed in early 20th Century. The donors for the Shrine Room, as recorded in the Selangor Government Gazette 1896, pg. 408 are clearly the Chinese and Indian community and among the main donors were:

Kapitan Yeap Quang Seng, Towkay Loke Yew, K. Tambusamy Pillay, R. Doraisamy Pillay, Loke Chow Kit, San Peng and Son, Lim Tua Taw, etc. . .

The Vihara was always the focal point to mobilize the Buddhists community. The large gathering to protest and stop the screening the then controversial film "Light of Asia" in 1927 in Malaysia was also held at the Vihara, and so was one of the mass gathering and signature campaigns in the 1960s to lobby the government to declare Wesak as a national holiday.

During the Emergency period of 1948-1960, monks from the Vihara made a massive impact reaching out to calm and educate the psychologically disoriented Chinese New Villagers who were evicted from their traditional lands and placed in new settlements by the Government who were fighting a communist insurgency.

Since the 1940s, the Vihara commenced a free Dhamma publications program as a Dhammadutta outreach to the masses which by the year 2012 is made available in 26 languages, with millions of copies of books and CDs produced. The Vihara's Buddhist Institute Sunday Dhamma School (BISDS), founded in 1929, is the oldest Sunday School in the country and continues to produce systematic books on Buddhist studies for children.

The Wesak procession organized by the Vihara since the 1890s is the oldest and largest religious procession in the country. The Wesak month long celebrations at the Vihara attract about 100,000 people.

The Vihara too draws a unique distinction in Malaysia of having hosted various Heads of Government and State including the Dalai Lama, Prime Ministers of Malaysia YTM Tunku Abdul Rahman, YAB Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, YAB Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka Sir John Kotalawela, Hon SWRD Bandaranaike, Hon Dudley Senanayake, Hon Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Hon Premadasa Ranasinghe, Hon DB Wijetunga, Hon Ranil Wickramasinghe, the Governor of Malayan Union HE Sir Edward Gent, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia YAB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Chief Minister YAB Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

The Vihara too has hosted many other visiting dignitaries such as the Thai Royal Family, Cabinet Ministers and Deputy of Malaysia and overseas, Ambassadors and High Commissioners, heads of foreign missions in Malaysia, and local and overseas members of legislature and Parliament.

Many students or devotees who have studied and benefited from the BISDS, the Vihara's Free Publications, Dhamma programs, classes, talks, etc have gone on to set up new Buddhist societies and centers which helps to spread Buddhism in the country far and wide.

The SAWS is also one of the founding members of the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoisme (MCCBCHST) formed in 1983, a Council which constructively engages the Government on matters affecting non-Muslims in the country. The MCCBCHST Administrative office is based at the Vihara.

In 2004, the Vihara was a major focal point in the country to collect relief aid to assist the South Asian Tsunami that killed almost 280,000 people. More than 40 forty foot container equivalent of relief aid were dispatched out by the Vihara to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Thailand by air, sea and land.

Buddhists remain to be the country's largest organ donors, thanks to Cornea and Organ Donation Campaign carried out by the Vihara.

The Vihara continues to operate to deliver its obligation to the Buddhist community till this day and is governed and directed by its Vision, 4 Missions, 6 Strategic Objectives and 4 Ennoblers in tribute and gratitude to all our past and current Sangha, volunteers, donors, Kalyana Mitras, etc. We would be failing in our duty if we fail to mention the name of the foremost amongst them, our late Venerable Chief, ie. Ven Dr Kirinde Sri Dhammananda, to whom we are ever grateful.

Did You Know......

  • That according to Straits Times of 29 August 1894, Mrs. C.E. Spooner (wife of C.E. Spooner, State Engineer, PWD Selangor) in performing the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple on the 24 August 1894, addressed the gathering in Sinhala besides in English. The fact that Mr. and Mrs., Spooner has previously resided in Ceylon for over 15 years before coming to Selangor in 1890, their mastery of the Sinhala language would indeed not be surprising;
  • That the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society was not so named at the time of its registration in March 1894.The original registered name of the society was Sasanabhi Wurdhi Wardhana Society. The engraved inscription on the marble plaque on the outer wall of the shrine room building bears testimony to this fact. During the 1890s the Society used to be also popularly known by its abbreviated name of "SWW Society" by members of the public, including the Sinhala community and even in newspaper reports. The name was changed to its present form of Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society on 14 May 1918;
  • That the Sasana Society at that time of its inception in early 1894 had a total number of 87 founding members, the majority of whom were Government servants;
  • That according to the report in the Straits Times of 29 August 1894 the total number of members of the society was 400;
  • That the Sasana Society applied to the Government in July 1894 to obtain the adjoining lot of land of 2 acres in extent, after having been granted the present 1.964 acre land by the Government in June 1894.The land applied for was offered to be reserved by the Government to the President of the Sasana Society, T.A. Gunasekera in October 1894 subject to the payment of a lump sum of $150.00. The President, unfortunately, for some unknown reason, did not however pursue the matter any further. That adjoining lot of land is now owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church;
  • That the early days the Brickfields area (generally regarded as the birth-place of the Sasana Society and it's temple) used to be dense jungle and the only access at that time to the Buddhist Temple grounds from the main Brickfields Road was by way of a road reserve, which could have meant only a track or just a clearing;
  • That the Klang River, in the early days (long before the river deviation programme was undertaken in the 1920s) used to flow quite close to the southern perimeter of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple land and almost parallel to the road reserve side along the western boundary of the land. The river then proceeded in a somewhat north-westerly direction towards And Seng Road, after passing through land where the La Salle school is now located;
  • That our Buddhist Vihara (now known as the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur) never had a traditional or indigenous name of its own from the very beginning. whereas the Sinhala Buddhist Temple at Assam Kumbang, Taiping had been known as Bodhi Lanka Ram Temple since its inception, that in Kampar Road, Penang as the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple, and the one in Sentul as the Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple (and for a brief period until recently known as Sri Jayanti Buddhist Temple), it would appear strange that on the other hand the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields has until recently been known as the Batu Limabelas Buddhist temple. Even Ven. Patthalagedera Dhammananda, the first known incumbent bhikkhu of the temple in 1895 used to refer to it in Sinhala as Batu Limabelas Viharastanaya.Later, as the area came closely associated with the brick-making industry, the temple came to be popularly known as the Brickfields Buddhist Temple, and the name had remained so even to this day;
  • That the only access route from the east bank of the Klang River to the vicinity of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple grounds in the early days used to be a wooden pole or two which had to be crossed in a precarious manner.Realising the risk the temple devotees and other residents were exposed to in crossing the river, a wooden bridge (115 feet long and 5 feet wide) was erected by prominent towkays of Kuala Lumpur in October 1897 at a cost of $192.50;
  • That the Buddhist Institution Sunday Dhamma School was not know as such when it was first inaugurated way back in 1929.It was known at the time only as the Sunday Religious School.With an initial enrolement of only 12 students, lessons in Sinhala language and Buddhist scriptures under the guidance of the resident bhikkhu of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple were conducted under the shade of the Bodhi Tree within the temple compound;
  • That up to the late 1920s Wesak carol parties went on their rounds in gaily decorated bullock carts.Children and their carol masters used to sit on long benches provided on either side in the carts.The caroling would start off on their rounds from the Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple,Sentul on the eve of Wesak day , and would wend their way through town visiting all known Sinhala Buddhist houses en route.The carol parties would finally end up at the Brickfields Buddhist Temple, and after a short rest would commence their return journey to the Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple,Sentul in the early hours of the following morning;
  • That the land on Lot 19 Section 55 in Brickfields which was granted by the Government to the Sasana Society on 20 June 1894 could only be regarded as being about 80% usable at the time, although the total land area (on paper) was said to be 1.964 acres in extent, the topography of the terrain at the time was such that almost 1/5th of the area formed a deep ravine with extensive swampland running the entire length of the eastern perimeter of the land, with the deepest end towards the south.(just about where the Wisma Dhamma now stands);
  • That in the early days proceeds from the sale of coconuts harvested in the temple grounds, used to be one of the major sources of revenue for the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardhana Society (as much as $447.50 during 1952).Revenue from the sale of coconuts however begin to progressively decline in the 63rd Annual General Report of the Society for 1967).Regrettably, there is now not a single coconut tree left within the compound of the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields;
  • That the charity box collections in the Brickfields Buddhist Temple in the early days were nothing to crow about as they often consisted of cash of low value, mainly coins of demonitions of 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 1c and even 1/2c.Dollar notes in the charity box in those days were indeed a rarity.However during the Japanese occupation period of currency notes - of the"banana" variety, but that of course was a different story;
  • That the Sasana Society did not have a bank account in the early days.Even as late as the mid-1940s, G.K.Sedris Appuhamy, the first Hon. Treasurer of the Society after World War II, used to carry a small pillow case of coins to meetings - to meet disbursements. A bank account for the Society was for the first time opened on 1949;
  • That in the early years up to including 1964 the Annual Reports and minutes of meetings of the Sasana Society ever both in English and Sinhala.Even the Rules of the Society (of 1951) appeared similarly published in English and Sinhala, and were printed at the Vidyalankara Pirivena Press at Kelaniya, Ceylon (through courtesy of Ven. Pannasiri Thera who was as Incumbent Bhikkhu of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple from 1950-1954);
  • That up to 1954 there was no telephone at the Brickfields Buddhist Temple. An application for the telephone made earlier had been turned down by the Priority Board of the Telecoms Department in 1953.A telephone was for the first time installed at the Temple around mid-1954;
  • That W.S.Williams became the first Life Member of the Sasana Society on 8 December on payment of $250.00, the prescribed Life Membership fee in force at the time.