Born in 1931 in the South of Sri Lanka, Dr. Ariyaratne had his primary education in the village school, secondary education at Mahinda College, Galle, and his higher education at Vidyodaya University. He started his teaching career at Nalanda College, Colombo, and while still a teacher there he took forty high school students and twelve teachers on an educational tour to an outcaste village. During this memorable visit, Dr. Ariyaratne guided his students and fellow teachers along his vision of sharing labour, thought and energy with the villagers and helped them develop their village. This first shramadana work camp marked the beginning of the Sarvodaya Sharamadana Movement.
Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka, is a grass-roots humanitarian organization based on the concept of ‘sharing of labour, thought and energy for the awakening of all’. Sarvodaya has been active throughout Sri Lanka since 1958 despite numerous hardships it has faced over the years.
Over fifty years, Sarvodaya has continued its service as the largest non-government movement in Sri Lanka and Dr. Ariyaratne has received many national and international awards in recognition of his commitment to the nation and its people. He received the highest national award, the Sri Lankabhimanya Award, from the President of Sri Lanka in 2007 and many International awards such as the Ramon Magsaysay Award (Philippines) 1969, King Baudouin Award for International Development (Belgium) 1982, Niwano Peace Price (Japan) 1992 and Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize (India) 1996 for his contribution to Human Wellbeing and Peace. Dr. Ariyaratne was also honoured with a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) degree from Sri Jayewardenepura University and a Doctor of Humanities (D.H.) degree from Amelio Aguinaldo College of Medicine in the Philippines.