Commemorating the 111th Death Anniversary of Colonel Henry Steel Olcott



Commemorating the 111th Death Anniversary 

of Colonel Henry Steel Olcott

As we commemorate the 111th year remembrance of passing away of Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, we could reflect on his life and contributions to revive Buddhism and cultural values in Sri Lanka.
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott was born in Orange, New Jersey, United States on August 21, 1832, to a family descended from the Puritans. He was a student at Columbia University and later served as a Union officer in the U.S.Civil War. During the early period of life, he dedicated his service for the well being of his native country in promoting agriculture. He also played many leading roles in his professional life as a journalist and as a lawyer. His distinctiveness was such that Colonel Olcott was appointed to the three-person commission to investigate the assassination of the Honorable President AbrahamLincoln.
Since the 16th century Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon at that time) had been occupied by Portuguese where they introduce Catholicism to the country, this influence was continued by subsequent Dutch rulers and British rulers. By 1880 the Sinhalese had been under British colonial rule for many years, and the British had been aggressively pushing a "Christian" education system for Sinhalese children in Christian schools, while undermining Buddhist philosophy.
During the colonial era, Sri Lankans were deprived of most of their civil rights, they were instructed to have church weddings, they were baptizing and requested to swear on the Bible. Also, Buddhists were not given the privilege to holding processions (perahara), or any other religious activity.
A time when Buddhist parents were compelled to send their children to Missionary schools since there were no indigenous schools of their own. It is in this context, that the foreigners like Sir Henry Steel Olcott, Madame Blavatsky and Miss. Marie Musaeus Higgins arrived in this country, to help the few Buddhist leaders in their quest for moral and philosophical freedom. They saw the sad plight of majority Buddhists due to suppression in the hands of Christian Missionaries and ruling Colonial Masters.
After Colonel Olcott’s arrival to Sri Lanka in 1880, he took five precepts at Wijayananda Vihara located at Waliwatta in Galle in May 19th, 1880. On that day Colonel Olcott and Helena Blavatsky were formally acknowledged as Buddhists.
Henry Olcott was dismayed at the state of Buddhism and he threw himself into re-organizing Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He was able to get proclaimed all Poya days and including Wesak day a holiday. Colonel Olcott was the pioneer in designing the Buddhist flag. As a Buddhist, he also promoted the great truths of Dhamma preached by the Lord Buddha.
He was the co- founder and the first president of theTheosophical Society, which believed in universal brotherhood of humanity. The Theosophical Society initiated to build several Buddhist schools at that time, which are prestigious colleges today. Olcott wrote a” Buddhist Catechism”, which is still in use. He traveled around the country distributing pro-Buddhist, anti-Christian tracts. He agitated for Buddhist civil rights. Together with Ven. Mohottiwatte Gunananda, Anagarika Dharmapala and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, which allowed him to revive Buddhism at that time.
Major Buddhist schools he initiated notably at that time:



Government at that time used Colonel Olcott’s model to establish around 200 Madyamaha Vidyalaya’s / educational institutions in the country.
After many years of his profound service, Colonel Olcott passed away in Chennai, India on February 17, 1907.
Colonel Olcott will always be remembered for his great service to uphold Buddhism. He established Buddhist schools, provided text books to students to promote Buddhist teachings and cultural values.
Our education in such great schools with Buddhist principals, which have helped us to become productive individuals in the society at large in the world. We should always join to commemorate his work and show our respect to a great Buddhist.
Buddhists across Sri Lanka light candles in his memory every year on the anniversary of his death. Monks offer flowers to his golden statue in Colombo. Students of Sri Lanka's Buddhist Colleges compete in the annual Henry Steel Olcott Memorial Cricket Tournament and organize Sill programs too.
To show our sincere appreciation to a great American individual, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, we propose to join with BTS schools OBA’s in California to organize the following events on March 17, 2018 at the University of West. San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles. The even is also co-hosted by the UWest Pali Society and endorsed by the Sri Lanka Consulate Office in Los Angeles.
  • ·         Essay competition for ages under 10 and under 18. Topic is “Buddhist Revival through the influence of Colonel Olcott’s
  • ·         Opening a statue/ bust of the Colonel Henry Steel Olcott at USA embassy in Srilanka
  • ·         Lecture by guest speakers on his influence on Buddhist society
  • ·         Exhibition on “Buddhism in Ceylon during this Era”
Details about the Speech Contest: 

  • Topic : Colonel Olcott's Influence to the Buddhist Society in Sri Lanka
  • Time Duration: 3:00 - 5:00 minutes
  • Age Groups: 10-12, 13-14, 14+
Details about the Essay Competition:
  • Topic: Buddhist Revival through the Influence of Colonel Olcott
  • Age Groups: below 10 (half page), 10-12 (300-400 words), 13-14 (500-600 words), 14+ (750 words)
  • Structure: Good introduction, powerful presentation of content, sound conclusion
  • Neat and clear handwriting
Mode of Selection:
  • Preliminary Rounds will be conducted by the Dhamma School teachers
  • Finalists will be summoned to the University of the West for a Final Round and the winners will be rewarded with prizes and certificates.


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