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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Poson at the Sri Dalada Maligawa

Commemorating Poson at the Sri Dalada Maligawa

By Udumbara Udugama

The Temple of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, the Sri Dalada Maligawa is a hallowed place of worship for all Buddhists the world over. Yesterday, as Sri Lankans marked Poson Purapasaloswaka Poya, The Sunday Times visited the Sri Dalada Maligawa to witness the special Poson programme.

Poson Poya is significant because it was on such a full moon Poya day that Mahinda Maha Thera set foot in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the emphasis is on Mihintale, eight km away from Anuradhapura where Mahinda Maha Thera met King Devanampiyatissa.

Painting depicting Princess Hemamala and Prince Danta bringing the Sacred Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka

The Maha Thera arrived in Mihintale with his entourage comprising theras Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Baddhasala, Sumana samanera and Upasaka Banduka who was the only layman.

Standing atop the Missaka rock, they watched King Devanampiyatissa hunting and aiming his arrow at a frightened and cornered deer. ‘Tissa’ said Mahinda Maha Thera. A surprised king looked up at the rock wondering who could be calling him thus. Seeing the yellow robed figures in calm silence, he moved to take a closer look. The Maha Thera wishing to judge the king’s intellect asked him a few questions which the king answered intelligently. Then Mahinda Maha Thera decided that the king would understand the Buddha Dhamma and its deep philosophy. There was a discourse of the Chullahattipadopama Sutta which was understood by the king. The reformed king Devanampiyatissa threw away his bow and arrow and embraced Buddhism.

Mahinda Maha Thera was the son of Emperor Asoka who after winning many wars and seeing the great destruction in the Kalinga war realized the futility of it all and embraced Buddhism. With the Buddha’s Parinibbhana (passing away) many kings in Dambadiva claimed the Buddha’s relics. A Brahmana named Drona resolved this by dividing the relics into eight portions. But, he quietly hid the left canine tooth of the Buddha in his turban. However, he was unable to keep it for himself and finally it was owned by the king of Kalinga. With many wars in the country and the insecure situation in Kalinga and realising the possibility of the Sacred Tooth Relic being lost, King Guhasiva decided to send the relic to Sri Lanka through his daughter princess Hemamala and her husband prince Danta. They brought it to Sri Lanka disguised as travellers and arrived in Anuradhapura. Meeting the king Kirtisri Meghavanna also known as Kitsiri Mevan, they gifted the Sri Dalada (the Sacred Tooth Relic) to him. The Relic was venerated and taken in a perahera ( procession) to the palace.

With many wars and various kings ruling the country, the Sacred Tooth Relic was shifted to Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte. It is stated that in 1592, King Wimaladharmasuriya I brought it to Kandy from Seethawaka Delgamuwa Raja Maha Viharaya in Kuruwita, Ratnapura.

The Sinhala as well as the Nayakkar kings who ascended the Kandyan throne guarded, revered and paid homage to the Relic placing it in a shrine in the precincts of the royal palace.

Even during British rule, the administrators agreed to continue to protect the Tooth Relic and conduct religious rituals and ceremonies. In 1853 the British handed over the custody of the Sacred Tooth Relic to the most Venerable Mahanayakes of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters and the Diyawadana Nilame. From that time the Tevava’(religious service) was conducted alternately by the Asgiriya and Malwatte viharas. The change and handing over of the duties are done on Esala Poya day every year when the ‘Vas’ season begins. The Sri Dalada Maligawa conducts festivals and peraheras (processions) for the Aluth Sahal Mangalya in January, New Year festival in April, Vesak perahera and Upasampada(high ordination) ceremony and Waahala Naaga perahera in May, Poson perahera in June, Esala perahera in July/August and Karthika Mangalya -Aloka pooja in November. Every Wednesday, the Nanamura Mangalya is performed.

On Poson Poya at the Sri Dalada Maligawa, a ‘Sila Vyaparaya’ was conducted for about six hundred ‘Ata Sil’ (Eight precepts) observers. The early morning ‘Tevava’ was conducted by Ven. Hunupalagama Vajira Sri Maha Nayaka thera and Ven. Naranpanawe Ananda Thera. ‘Bhavana” (meditation) was conducted by Ven. Ketakumbure Dhammarama Thera. There was a Dharmadesana (sermon) by Ven.Dr. Kotapitiye Rahula Thera of the Malwatte Chapter who is a lecturer at the Peradeniya University . The Diyawadana Nilame and Mr.M. Meegahakumbura discussed the activities of the Sri Dalada Maligawa.

At 4.00 in the afternoon, ‘Seth Pirith’ was chanted and after ‘Sil Pavaaranaya’ the sila vyaparaya was concluded. Students from the Sri Dalada Daham Pasala, Asgiriya Buddhist Centre sang ‘Budhu Guna Gee’.

To conclude the Poson Poya activities, later in the evening, a perahera with about ten elephants, dancers, drummers, flag bearers and torch bearers paraded three times round the Palace square. Hundreds of devotees came to venerate and pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic at the Sri Dalada Maligawa on this day.

The Mihindu Perahera commemorates of the visit of Maha Thera Mahinda who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka on a Poson Poya day.

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