The Buddhist Institute Sunday Dhamma School (BISDS) was first established as a Religious School in 1929 with an enrolment of 12 Sinhala children who studied the Sinhala language and chanting under the tutelage of Ven. M. Dhammadassi Thera, the incumbent bhikkhu of the Brickfields Buddhist Temple. The school had strong support from members of the Sinhala community. The School was managed by a few temple devotees such as Mr. D.M.I. Uluwita Bandara, Mr. J.B. Chandradasa, Mr. Austin Amarasekera and Mr. T.R. Wijesinghe.
The year the BISDS was established varies according to various sources. Ven. Pemaloka, the then School Principal in his 1970 school reports states “After twenty-two years of existence the Buddhist Institution has at last managed to reach a stage when it was definitely heading towards steady progress.” This indicates the founding of the school to be 1949.
Ven. Wimalajothi in his 1987 School report mentioned “the School was formed in 1926 with 12 Sinhalese children.”
Mr. M.H.Albert in his article for the 75th Anniversary of the Buddhist Temple, Brickfields reported “The Dhamma School which had a modest beginning in 1929 saw a very bright future when activities were revived in 1948 and in 1952 the classes were conducted on a more organized basis.” Incidentally, Mr. M.H.Albert was one of the first 12 students of the School in 1929.
An interview by Mr. H.M.A. de Silva with the late Mr. Martin Jayathissa transcribed reads, “I still remember that (Mr.) K.A.Albert used to teach me in the Sinhalese language classes conducted by Ven. Pandit K. Siriniwassa Maha Thera (Pandita Hamduro) in the old Sentul Buddhist Temple back in the 1920s.. I particularly remember participating in Wesak Carols for three successive years in 1923, 1924 & 1925 and we travelled on our rounds in gaily decorated bullock carts organized by the Sentul Buddhist Temple.. on the evening of Wesak Day and wind our way through the town visiting.. Buddhist houses and finally the Brickfields Buddhist Temple before returning to Sentul in the early hours of the following morning.”
This interview indicates the existing of a School in Sentul in the 1920s, which is the government aided language classes taught in the school run in the Sentul Buddhist Temple. The participation in Wesak Carols indicates organized Buddhist children participation in Wesak carolling activities travelling between both the Temples in the 1920s which could be infered to hint strong possibility of the existence of the BISDS in the 1920s as there was already a Sinhalese school running in the Sentul Temple and naturally the devotees in Brickfields wanted a similar class too but leaning towards Buddhism.
The early years of the school founding had an upturn and downturn in enrolment. The initial enrolment of 12 could have risen with the founding of the Selangor Buddhist Association in 1934 which was functioning within the themple premises until 1948. The Selangor Buddhist Association membership was mainly Chinese. However this number dwindled with the Great Depression years followed by the Japanese occupation of Malaya.
During the war years the temple had gone into serious difficulties. Even Dana for the resident monk was hardly forthcoming and the Ven. Dhammadassi had to make do with jackfruits from the temple grounds which he had sliced, boiled and eaten for Dana. The School did not function during the war years.
Conditions were harsh and there was a general shortage of food. The SAWS Secretary, DCPM Wijedoru was found brutally murdered either by the Japanese military or bandits in Killinghall Estate in Puchong in 1944.
It was through the untiring and relentless effort of Mr. P.H. Hendry, Mr. L.Y.Swee, Mr. K.A. Albert, Mr. Edward Sembakutti and Mr. Martin Jayathissa’s support to Ven. Dhammadassi that saved the temple. Their strong resolve and survivalist instinct kept the temple alive and set the stage for it to bloom to greater heights after the war years.
The end of World War 2 saw the return of many devotees to the temple. Many devotees who fled the country to escape the Japanese occupation of Malaya had returned. The school was revived again in 1948 but Malaya had to endure 12 years of extreme hardship as the communist insurgency peaked. The School’s support dwindled again.
The minutes of the SAWS Comm dated 9th January 1949 reported the school management which had all the while been run by devout individuals had to be handed over to the Sasana due to financial difficulties. The Committee thanked Mr. J.B.Chandradasa, Mr. T.R. Wijesinghe & Mr. Uluwita Bandara for the initiative in organizing and running the school thus far.
Mr. S. Daniel was appointed as manager of the Sunday School by the Sasana Society. Thus this was the first direct participation of the temple management committee in the affairs of the School that set the wheel rolling to guide it towards greater heights. The manager of the school was required to submit a report to the temple Committee once every three months.
On 27th April 1949, the Manager submitted the first report of the school. The Manager was empowered by the Committee to acknowledge all funds received on behalf of the School and keep a proper account to submit to the Hon. Treasurer whenever needed. The AGM Report of 27th April 1949 recorded a long list of donors towards the Sunday School.
In 1950, two committee members were appointed to come every Sunday to supervise students attending the School. When the School had a shortage of books, the Sasana agreed to purchase books from Sri Lanka.
The AGM report of 1951 recorded its appreciation to the Sunday School teachers then, i.e. Ven. Pannasiri, Mr. A.G.S. Amarasekera, Mr. K.Martin and Mrs. R. Perera. The Sunday School enrolment rose dramatically with the formation of the WFB Selangor Center based in the Temple Grounds. The Sasana meeting minutes of 19th December 1953 had Ms. Helen Bothaju reporting the number of classes the School was conducting:
She requested the following extra equipments be provided urgently
The 1954 Annual report of the Sasana states that the progress of the School was encouraging. Attendance has risen from 25 in the beginning of 1953 to 100. The school bus was being operated initially at half-full but there were now sufficient children to be accomodated in two such buses.
Enrolment in the school increased further in 1962 with the new school building. The 1970 report of the Buddhist Institution Sunday Dhamma School by Ven. K. Pemaloka reported an enrolment of 416 students comprising of boys and girls of various races in 9 grades of instruction from Nursery to H.S.C.
The 1974 enrolment was reported to be 632 students. This was the peak of the enrolment for the school for from then on the enrolment gradually dwindled due to the shortage of teachers, lack of parental support, outdated forms of teaching and availability of more Sunday Schools started by ex-teachers and students of the BISDS around other parts of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
The number of classes conducted by the School dropped and reached an all modern time low of 100 in the 1980s. Classes were so few that the school gave up half the school wing to the Gill’s Institution. In 1980, the School lost 3 classes due to the demolishing of the P.H.Hendry Preaching Hall to make way for Wisma Sri Dhamma. These classes were conducted under temporary awnings next to the school building. When the Wisma Sri Dhamma Annexe was built, these classes moved to occupy the first and second floor.
The 1987 School Report by Ven. Wimalajothi stated the BISDS had an enrolment of 362 students and 64 teachers. The School enrolment dropped further in 1990 when the School lost its 1-storey school building to make way for a new school building that became the present Wisma Dhamma Cakra. Classes were conducted under awnings at the field next to the Shrine Room and Pagoda in addition to those occupying the Wisma Sri Dhamma Annexe.
In late 1995, enrolment began to peak as the School moved in to occupy the Wisma Dhamma Cakra. By 1997, the School ran into serious space shortage as enrolment soared. An afternoon session was started to divert some of the students to the afternoon. This session which had an initial enrolment of 20 died a natural death due to the searing heat of the afternoon sun.
In 1998, the Sasana Society introduced a split session concept into the School running two sessions of 9am to 12noon and 10am to 1.00pm. This proved to be a success in temporarily containing the space shortage problem. The 1999 minutes of the BISDS reports an enrolment of over 1000 students spread in two sessions of 9am to 12noon and 10am to 1pm.
It is anticipated that a third session would be needed by the year 2001 when both the split sessions take up 100% seating capacity of the school as the school becomes fully air-conditioned in June 1999.
~ From the BISDS 70 Years Commemorative Magazine, 1929-1999