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The Mahavamsa

The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka

Chapter 19 - The Coming Of The Bodhi-tree

WHEN the lord of chariots had appointed to watch over the Bodhi-tree eighteen persons1 from royal families and eight from families of ministers, and moreover eight persons from brahman families and eight from families of traders and persons from the cowherds likewise, and from the hyena and sparrowhawk-clans,2 (from each one man), and also from the weavers and potters and from all the handicrafts, from the nagas and the yakkhas; when then the most exalted prince had given them eight vessels of gold and eight of silver,3 and had brought the great Bodhi-tree* to a ship on the Ganges, and likewise the theri Samghamitta with eleven bhikkhunis, and when he had caused those among whom Arittha was first to embark on that same ship, he fared forth from the city, and passing over the Viñjhä-mountains the prince arrived, in just one week, at Tamalitti.4

Sri_maha_bodhi

Species of Banyan, called the Sacred Fig or Bo tree, is the Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is said to be planted from a branch of the original tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. The branch was brought from India by the daughter of Asoka the Great and planted in Anuradhapura in 288 BC, it is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world, with a definitive planting date!

The gods also and the nagas and men who were worshipping the great Bodhi-tree with the most splendid offerings, arrived in just one week. The ruler of the earth, who had caused the great Bodhi-tree to be placed on the shore of the great ocean, worshipped it once more by (bestowing upon it) the great kingship.

When the wish-fulfiller had consecrated the great Bodhi tree as a great monarch, he then, on the first day of the bright half of the month Maggasira,5 commanded that the same noble persons, eight of each (of the families) appointed at the foot of the great säla-tree to escort6 the great Bodhi-tree, should raise up the great Bodhitree; and, descending there into the water till it reached his neck, he caused it to be set down in seemly wise on the ship. When he had brought the great theri with the (other) theris on to the ship he spoke these words to the chief minister Maharittha: ‘Three times have I worshipped the great Bodhi-tree by (bestowing) kingship (upon it). Even so shall the king my friend also worship it by (bestowing) kingship (upon it).’

When the great king had spoken thus he stood with folded hands on the shore, and as he gazed after the vanishing great Bodhi-tree he shed tears. ‘Sending forth a net like rays of sunshine the great Bodhi-tree of the (Buddha) gifted with the ten powers7 departs, alas! from hence!’

Filled with sorrow at parting from the great Bodhi-tree Dhammasoka returned weeping and lamenting to his capital.

The ship, laden with the great Bodhi-tree, fared forth into the sea. A yojana around the waves of the great ocean were stilled. Lotus-flowers of the five colours blossomed all around and manifold instruments of music resounded in the air.

By many devatas many offerings were provided, and the nagas practised their magic to win the great Bodhi-tree. The great theri Samghamitta, who had reached the last goal of supernormal powers, taking the form of a griffin8 terrified the great snakes. Terrified, the great snakes betook them to the great theri with entreaties, and when they had escorted the great Bodhi-tree from thence to the realm of the serpents and had worshipped it for a week by (bestowing on it) the kingship of the nagas and by manifold offerings they brought it again and set it upon the ship. And on that same day the great Bodhi-tree arrived here9 at Jambukola.

King Devanampiyatissa, thoughtful for the welfare of the world, having heard before from the samanera Sumana of its arrival, did, from the first day of the month Maggasira onwards, being always full of zeal, cause the whole of the highroad from the north gate even to Jambukola to be made ready, awaiting the arrival of the great Bodhi-tree, and abiding on the sea-shore, in the place where the Samuddapannasälä10 (afterwards) was, he, by the wondrous power of the theri, saw the great Bodhi-tree coming.

The hall that was built upon that spot to make known this miracle was known here by the name Samuddapannasala.

By the power of the great thera and together with the (other) theras the king came, with his retinue, on that same day to Jambukola.11

Then, uttering12 an exulting cry moved by joyous agitation at the coming of the great Bodhi-tree, he, the splendid (king), descended even neck-deep into the water; and when together with sixteen persons13 (of noble families) he had taken the great Bodhi-tree upon his head, had lifted it down upon the shore and caused it to be set in a beautiful pavilion, the king of Lanka worshipped it by (bestowing on it) the kingship of Lanka. When he had then entrusted his own government to the sixteen persons and he himself had taken the duties of a doorkeeper, the lord of men forthwith commanded solemn ceremonies of many kinds to be carried out for three days.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodin-wahansa

The Jaya Sri Maha Bodin-wahansa, or Holy Bo tree, Anuradhapura, 2296 years old in 2008

On the tenth day he placed the great Bodhi-tree upon a beautiful car and he, the king of men, accompanying this, the king of trees, he who had knowledge of the (right) places caused it to be placed on the spot where the Eastern Monastery (afterwards) was and commanded a morning meal for the people together with the brotherhood. Here the great thera Mahinda related fully to the king the subduing of the nägas14 which had been achieved by the (Buddha) gifted with the ten powers.

When the monarch heard this from the thera he caused monuments to be raised here and there in such places as had been frequented by the Master by resting there or in other ways. And, moreover, when he had caused the great Bodhi-tree to be set down at the entrance to the village of the brahman Tivakka and in this and that place besides, he, (escorting it) on the road, sprinkled with white sand, bestrewn with various flowers, and adorned with planted pennons and festoons of blossoms, bringing thereto offerings unweariedly, day and night, brought the great Bodhi-tree on the fourteenth day to the neighbourhood of the city of Anurädhapura, and after, at the time when the shadows increase, he had entered the city worthily adorned by the north gate amid offerings, and (when he then), leaving the city again by the south gate, had entered the Mahämeghavanäräma consecrated by four Buddhas,15 and here had brought (the tree) to the spot worthily prepared by Sumana’s command, to the lovely place where the former Bodhi-trees had stood, he, with those sixteen noble persons, who were wearing royal ornaments, lifted down the great Bodhi-tree and loosed his hold to set it down.

Hardly had he let it leave his hands but it rose up eighty cubits into the air, and floating thus it sent forth glorious rays of six colours. Spreading over the island, reaching to the Brahma-world, these lovely rays lasted till sunset. Ten thousand persons, who were filled with faith by reason of this miracle, gaining the spiritual insight and attaining to arahantship, received here the pabbajja.

When the great Bodhi-tree at sunset was come down from (its place in the air) it stood firm on the earth under the constellation Rohini. Then did the earth quake. The roots growing over the brim of the vase struck down into the earth, closing in the vase. When the great Bodhi-tree had taken its place all the people who had come together from (the country) round, worshipped it with offerings of perfumes, flowers and so forth. A tremendous cloud poured forth rain, and cool and dense mists from the snow-region surrounded the great Bodhi-tree on every side. Seven days did the great Bodhi-tree abide there, awaking faith among the people invisible in the region of the snow. At the end of the week all the clouds vanished and the great Bodhi-tree became visible and the rays of six colours.

The great thera Mahinda and the bhikkhuni Samghamitta went thither with their following and the king also with his following. The nobles of Kajaragama16 and the nobles of Candanagama and the Brabman Tivakka and the people too who dwelt in the island came thither also by the power of the gods, (with minds) eagerly set upon a festival of the great Bodhi-tree. Amid this great assembly, plunged into amazement by this miracle, there grew out of the east branch, even as they gazed, a faultless fruit.

This having fallen off the thera took it up and gave it to the king to plant. In a golden vase filled with earth mingled with perfumes, placed on the spot where the Mahääsana (afterwards) was, the ruler planted it. And while they all yet gazed, there grew, springing from it, eight shoots; and they stood there, young Bodhi-trees four cubits high.

When the king saw the young Bodhi-trees he, with senses all amazed, worshipped them by the gift of a white parasol17 and bestowed royal consecration on them.

Of the eight Bodhi-saplings one was planted at the landing place Jambukola on the spot where the great Bodhi-tree had stood, after leaving the ship, one in the village of the Brahman Tivakka, one moreover in the Thüpäräma, one in the Issarasamanäräma,18 one in the Court of the First thüpa,19 one in the äräma of the Cetiya-mountain, one in Kajaragäma and one in Candanagäma. But the other thirty-two Bodhi-saplings which sprang20 from four (later) fruits (were planted) in a circle, at a distance of a yojana, here and there in the vihäras.

When thus, for the salvation of the people dwelling in the island, by the majesty of the Sammäsambuddha, the king of trees, the great Bodhi-tree was planted, Anulä with her following having received the pabbajjä from the therï Samghamittä, attained to arahantship. The prince Arittha also, with a retinue of five hundred men, having received the pabbajjä from the thera, attained to arahantship. The eight (persons from the) merchant-guilds who had brought the great Bodhi-tree hither were named therefrom the ‘Guild of the Bodhi-bearers’.

In the nunnery, which is known as the Upäsikävihära21 the great theri Samghamitta dwelt with her company (of nuns). She caused twelve buildings to be erected there, of which three buildings were important before others; in one of these great buildings she caused the mast of the ship that had come with the great Bodhi-tree to be set up, in one the rudder, and in one the helm,22 from these they were named. Also when other sects23 arose these twelve buildings were always used by the Hatthälhaka-bhikkhunis.

The king’s state-elephant that was used to wander about at will24 liked to stay on one side of the city in a cool grotto, on the border of a Kadamba-flower-thicket, when he went to feed. Since they knew that this place was pleasing to the elephant they put up a post25 in the same spot. One day the elephant would not take the fodder (offered to him) and the king questioned the thera who had converted the island as to the reason. ‘The elephant would fain have a thupa built in the Kadamba flower thicket,’ the great thera told the great king. Swiftly did the king, who was ever intent on the welfare of his people, build a thupa, with a relic, in that very place and a house for the thupa.26

The great theri Samghamitta, who longed for a quiet dwelling-place, because of the too great crowding of the vihara where she dwelt, she who was mindful for the progress of the doctrine and the good of the bhikkhunis, the wise one who desired another abode for the bhikkhunis went (once) to the fair cetiya-house, pleasant by its remoteness, and there she the skilled (in choice) of dwelling-places, the blameless, stayed the day through.

When the king came to the convent for bhikkhunis to salute the theri, he, hearing that she had gone thither, went also and when he had greeted her there and talked with her and had heard the wish that was the cause of her going thither, then did he, who was skilled in (perceiving) the desires (of others), the wise, the great monarch Devänampiya-tissa, order to be erected a pleasing convent for the bhikkhunis round about the thüpa-house. Since the convent for the bhikkhunis was built near to the elephant-post therefore was it known by the name Hatthälhaka-vihära.

The well-beloved, the great theri Samghamitta of lofty wisdom now took up her abode in this pleasing convent for bhikkhunis.

Bringing about in such wise the good of the dwellers in Lañkä, the progress of the doctrine, the king of trees, the great Bodhi-tree, lasted long time on the island of Lanka, in the pleasant Mahamegha-grove, endowed with many wondrous powers.

Here ends the nineteenth chapter, called ‘The Coming of the Bodhi-tree’, in the Mahavamsa, compiled for the serene joy and emotion of the pious.

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- Footnotes:

1.

In devakula the word deva is evidently to be taken in the sense of ‘king’, and merely as a synonym of khattiya. Kula means here, as below in 30 and 31, the individual belonging to a class or craft.

2.

Taraccha (=Skt. taraksa) ‘hyena’, and kulinga (Skt. kulinga), the name of a bird of prey, the ‘fork-tailed shrike’, seem here to designate certain clans or crafts. Perhaps the names have a totemistic origin. FRAZER, Totemism, p. 3 foll.

3.

To water the tree during the journey.

4.

The king travels by land over the Vindhya range to the mouth of the Ganges. Here he again meets the ship carrying the Bodhi-tree and its escort. On Tamalittl, see note to 11. 38.

5.

According to the Dip. 11. 14 and 38, the first coronation of D. was held in the second winter month under the Nakkhatta Asalha, and the second coronation on the twelfth day of the bright half of the Vesakha month. -5-

6.

Uccaretum mahabodhim is dependent on dinnehi. The passage is related directly to 19. 1, Mahabodhirakkhanattham datvana.

7.

On the dasa balani, ten kinds of knowledge, peculiar to a Buddha, see KERN, Manual of Indian Buddhism, p. 62. -7-

8.

The supanna (Skt. suparna) or garula (Skt. garuda) are mythical creatures who are imagined as winged and are always considered as the sworn foes of the nagas. See GRUNWEDEL, Buddhist. Kunst in Indien, p. 47 foll,

9.

I.e. in Ceylon.

10.

I.e. the sea-hut.

11.

In the reading of the text accepted by the Colombo Editors tadahe va maharaja, the verb is missing from the sentence. Only the text of the Burmese MSS. tadahe vagama raja yields a correct construction.

12.

Udanayam. By udana is understood an utterance, mostly in metrical form, inspired by a particularly intense emotion, whether it be joyous or sorrowful. The udana of Devanampiyatissa in the circumstances described was according to the Tika: agato vata re dasabalassa saramsijalavisajjanako bodhirukkho, an exact parallel to v. 15.

13.

Kulehi. Cf. on this note to 19. 1.

14.

The reference is to the second visit of the Buddha to Ceylon, and the events related in Mah. I. 44-70.

15.

The comma after pavesiya in Mah. ed. v. 41(b) should be struck out and placed after catubuddhanisevitam.

16.

Now Kataragama on the Menik-ganga, about ten miles north of Tissamaharama in the province of Rohana. See PARKER, Ancient Ceylon, p. 114 foll.

17.

Setacchatta, as symbol of royal rank.

18.

According to the Rasavahim (ed. Saranatissatthera, Colombo, 1901,1899), ii. 88(32), situated on the dam of the Tissavapi, now Issurumunagala, about a mile south of the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura.

19.

Pathamacetiya. See note to 14. 45.

20.

This is to be taken as meaning that on four other branches of the tree the same miracle was accomplished as already described. Thus the Tika also says: pacinasakhato avasesasu ca catusu sakhasu gahitehi itarehi pakkaphalehi jata, sambhuta uppanna ti attho.

21.

Cf. 18. 12.

22.

Kupayatthi, piya, aritta. According to the Tika the three agarani bore the names Culaganagara, Mahaganagara and Sirivaddhagara. They were afterwards designated Kupayatthithapitaghara (Piyathapitaghara, Arittathapitaghara), ‘ House where the mast and so forth is set up.’

23.

The Tika names as an example the sect of the Dhammarucikas. Cf. 5. 13.’

24.

The episode is to explain how the dwellers in the Upasikavihara came by the name Hatthalhaka (i.e. ‘elephant-post-nuns’), mentioned by the poet in v. 71.

25.

Alhaka, to tether the elephant during the night.

26.

Thupassa gharam, thupagharam, or cetiyagharam, as in v. 79, 82. See Appendix, s.v. thupa.

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