Sanghamitta Theri however, arrived in Sri Lanka towards the establishment of the Bhikkuni Order which resulted in the elevation of the status of women who while spreading the Doctrine, played a significant role in society as literate and socially conscious women (Pic AFP)
- Buddhist temples as a result sprang in these locations with monks moving into them and the Bodhiya cherished as a priceless treasure, became a symbol of the presence of the Buddha
It was just two weeks ago that we saw the firm stand taken by the custodians of the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhiya against a so called anti-virus herbal syrup being taken to its upper precincts for whatever the reason. This hallowed Tree has been protected by the Kings and the Sangha for over two thousand years, through times of invasions, foreign rule, famines and epidemics.
The Tree grown from the Bo sapling – a right branch of the Sacred Bodhi Tree under which Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment, was sent by Emperor Asoka through his daughter Sanghamitta Theri who arrived in Sri Lanka on a Unduwap Pasalosvaka Full Moon Poya day in 236 BCE.
This was six months following the visit of Emperor’s son Arahant Mahinda who introduced the doctrine, making the Sangha Sasana as part of the legacy towards the propagation of the Dhamma. The planting of the Bo sapling thereafter, signified the Buddhist Doctrine taking root in Sri Lanka.
Sanghamitta Theri however, arrived in Sri Lanka towards the establishment of the Bhikkuni Order which resulted in the elevation of the status of women who while spreading the Doctrine, played a significant role in society as literate and socially conscious women.
Mahavamsa, giving an elaborate description of this event, mentions that eighteen castes, skilled in art, crafts, carving, sculpture, pottery, carpentry, painting, masonry and weaving accompanied Sanghamitta Theri on her journey. They were sent by Emperor Asoka to attend to the varied services which had to be performed towards the Sacred Bodhiya – an act which triggered waves of activity, launching a cultural, religious, social and political renaissance unprecedented in Lankan history.
The planting of the Bo sapling which had been the grandest ceremony in the annals of Lanka due to its utmost religious significance, also reveal an aspect of political significance to which scant attention had been given. According to the Mahavamsa, those invited to the planting ceremony of the Bo sapling at the picturesque Mahamega Uyana by King Devanampiyatissa, the King of Sri Lanka (250-210BCE,) had included the ruler of Gramaya, Brahmin Thivakka, dignitaries of the southern and northern provinces and rulers of the two southern principalities – Kaajaragama (now Kataragama) and Chandanagama of the Kshatriya clan. Besides provincial leaders, a large number of people from all over the island had streamed into Anuradhapura to witness this unique ceremony – a ceremony which launched the tradition of worship of the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhiya.
The gathering of varied groups scattered in the island, rulers of principalities and provincial leaders arriving in the Capital to participate in the elaborately programmed religious planting ceremony, gives evidence that for the first time, a united national event based on religion was held. Their cordial participation demonstrates that these independent rulers accepted the supremacy of the Anuradhapura King.
Inscriptions give evidence of the fact that in the period before the second century BCE, there had existed about thirty provincial units spread out in the island, administered by independent rulers. Gamani and his ten sons, according to Dhathuvamsa and Mottassakallu inscription of the second century BCE, had ruled Kaajaragama which had been the most powerful principality in the South. It had extended from present Kataragama to Hambantota, going beyond Mahaweli river.
Who were these rulers? Some speculate that they were descendents of Rohana, a brother of Queen Baddachchana. Another view is that as these kshatriyans identified themselves as “Raja,” they may have migrated from Ghana kingdom in India due to the fact that they, opposed the dictatorial rule of the Brahmin kings who were ruling there. Those kshatriyas were identified as ‘Rajas.” The kshatriya ruler of Chandanagama, also an invitee to the Royal ceremony, was a descendent of a brother of Queen Baddhakachchana. As they were blood relatives of the Buddha, it was possible that they were already familiar with Buddhism. However, the five principalities set up in the South by five of the brothers of Queen Baddakachchana two hundred years earlier, had by this period, reduced to two.
Extending of invitations to provincial rulers to participate in the hallowed planting ceremony, gives evidence of efforts taken by King Devanampiyatissa to spread the Buddhist Doctrine and Buddhist practices throughout the island. But it also served as a means to strengthen relations with the regional rulers. Besides, the invitation to the southern rulers demonstrate that even several centuries after the demise of King Panduvasdeva during whose reign the brothers of Queen Baddhakachchana set up principalities in the South, the King desired to maintain goodwill with them.
Devanampiyatissa in fact, continued close relations with these rulers. Following the planting ceremony, in order to involve the regional leaders actively in the observation of Buddhist practices, he gifted them the first Bo Saplings that sprang from the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura.
Mahavamsa as well as inscriptions have recorded that these new Bo Saplings were planted in Jambukolapatuna in the Jaffna peninsula, in the Brahmana Gramaya ruled by Thivakka located north of Anuradhapura, in Kaajaragama and Chandanagama. Bo Saplings had been planted elsewhere as well to cover all regions in the island. Buddhist temples as a result, sprang in these locations with monks moving into them and the Bodhiya cherished as a priceless treasure, became a symbol of the presence of the Buddha.
Therefore, while planting Bo saplings regionally strengthened the King’s political relations with the regional rulers, he, with the gifting of Bo Saplings, launched the tradition of worship of the Bodhiya. Paul E. Pieris – Historian and a non Buddhist who commented on this tradition said, “To the faithful, the influence of what the Bodhiya represents, continues to penetrate into the innermost being, till the Tree has become human.”