Gunadasa’ Liyanage’s “Revolution Under The Breadfruit Tree” is among one of the earliest English books I read. I had not started Horizon Lanka Foundation by the time I read this book. So, the book did inspire when I worked at Horizon Lanka up to some extent though my approach to community work was little different from that of Dr. Ariyaratne. I had the opportunity of meeting Dr. Ariyaratne in 2008 at his residence in Moratuwa. He is an extremely humble, unassuming character.
The book covers both the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement and its founder Dr. Ariyaratne’s life. It details how he spent his childhood, the link between him and the village temple and the education at school.
The way he started his community work is interesting. He started the movement with 40 high school students and 12 teachers from Nalanda College on an educational experiment to an outcaste village and helped the villagers to fix it. Similar ventures continued and he faced many an obstacle through the journey. The writer mentions in the book that Ariyaratne was forced to marry because working with young girls and boys could give a bad signal to the world if he stayed unmarried.
Ariyaratne focused the village because for him “The village represents the heart of the nation and the source of its spiritual and moral vision.” Sarvodaya empowered the villages with Buddhist and Gandhian philosophies.
Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne was born on November 5, 1931 in Unawatuna village in Galle District of Sri Lanka. He was educated Mahinda College, Galle. After completing his school education he entered a teachers college. He became a high school teacher until 1972 at Nalanda College Colombo. Dr. Ariyaratne initiated his work on Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in 1958. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Vidyodaya University of Sri Lanka and later received an honorary doctorate of D.Litt. from the same university. He also received an honorary doctorate of humanities from Emilio Aguinaldo College in the Philippines. Ariyaratne is a devout Buddhist and continues to be active in Sri Lankan politics and community development.
He received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1969, the Gandhi Peace Prize from the government of India in 1996, the Niwano Peace Prize in 1992, the King Beaudoin Award and other international honors for his work in peace making and village development. In 2006, he received the Acharya Sushil Kumar International Peace Award for the year 2005. Other recipients of this award include John Polanyi and then in 2004, his Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. In 2007 Ariyaratne received the Sri Lankabhimanya, the highest National Honour of Sri Lanka. Ariyaratne is a strong believer in Gandhian principles of non-violence, rural development and self-sacrifice. He has shaped the Sarvodaya Movement in ways that forged a significant link between secular principles of development and Buddhist ideals of selflessness and compassion. As a devout Buddhist, he has led tens of thousands of “family gatherings” and meditations with millions of people throughout Sri Lanka and other parts of the world. When he received the Hubert H. Humphrey International Humanitarian Award from the University of Minnesota‘s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 1994, Dr. Patrick Mendis described his former mentor as the “Gandhi of Sri Lanka.” (From Wikipedia)