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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The sacred bodhi tree planted in Sri Lanka

The sacred bodhi tree planted in Sri Lanka- Daily News

The southern branch of the Sacred Bodhi Tree (Ficus religiosa) at Buddhagaya in India was brought to Sri Lanka by Theri Sanghamitta. It was under this Sacred Bodhi Tree at Buddhagaya that Prince Siddhartha attained supreme Enlightenment. As a result of this the tree achieved sacred status. It was on the full moon day of the month of December that the branch was brought to Sri Lanka.

The arrival of the Sacred Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka was sponsored by Ven. Arahath Mahinda. Due to the effort of Ven. Arahath Mahinda Buddhism got firmly rooted in Sri Lanka. This even took place during the reign of King Davanampiyatissa (250-210 B.C.) Buddhism fashioned the lifestyle of the people in the Island since then.

King Devanampiyatissa extended his utmost support and patronage to Ven. Arahath Mahinda to establish Buddhism firmly in Sri Lanka. King Devanampiyatissa despatched his minister Aritta to proceed to India (Then Dambadiva or Jambudveepa) to invite Theri Sanghamitta to Sri Lanka in order to establish the order of Nuns in this country.

Minister Aritta arrived in the city of Pataliputta (modern Patna) and made his presence before Emperor Asoka. Responding to this request Emperor Asoka sent Theri Sanghamitta along with the southern branch of the sacred Bodhi Tree. Chronicles state that members of 18 guilds possessing expert craftsmanship accompanied her to Sri Lanka. The ship carrying them arrived at the port of Jambukola Pattuna in the Jaffna peninsular. That port is known today as Sembilithurai. The King Devanampiyatissa, Arahath Mahinda and the King's retinue were at the port to receive them. The King went knee deep into the sea and received the bowl containing the branch of the Bodhi Tree. Either side of the road leading from the Port of Jumbukola Pattuna to the public park Mahameghavana in the city of Anuradhapura was gaily decorated. The branch of the sacred Bodhi Tree and the followers were conducted in royal procession. On the way a reception ceremony was held in the village of Brahmin Tivakka. From there the procession reached Anuradhapura. The planting ceremony was held at the Mahamegha park. There were two independent Ksastriya families in Kacharagama and Candanagama (Kataragama and Sandungama). They were invited to participate together with Brahmin Tivakka from North of Sri Lanka.

Instantly this Bodhi Tree bore eight seeds. Three persons who participated in the Bodhi Tree planting ceremony were gifted three plants of the Ashtaphala Ruka. Those Ashtaphala Ruka or eight plants were planted in the following places. The port of Dambakolapattuna (Jambukola pattuna) Brahman village of Tivakka, Segiriya (Mihintale). Patamaka chetiya, Thuparama, Isurumuniya, Kataragama and Candanagama.

The Singhalabodhivamsa subsequently states that 32 saplings of the sacred Bodhi Tree were planted in various parts of Sri Lanka. The people of Sri Lanka took care of this Bodhi Tree without any interruption. It is recorded that the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Buddhagaya in India was destroyed in the days of Emperor Asoka itself. The branch planted in Sri Lanka still flourishes in the upper courtyard (udamaluwa) of the Sri Maha Bodhi shrine at Anuradhapura.

Out of all the trees in the world with a recorded history this particular tree is supposed to be the oldest. The Mahavamsa records that parts of the ship that brought the Sacred Bodhi Tree were kept on display in special halls at Anuradhapura. This was an example of the assistance of museums in this island as far back as then.

The order of the Buddhist nun was established in Sri Lanka with the arrival of the branch of the Sacred Bodhi Tree and Theri Sangamitta. A group of people who arrived with it was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the Sacred Bodhi Tree. Performing rights and rituals to the Sacred Bodhi Tree was considered the special duty of Kings. Provision of buildings such as Bodhighara and other features for the Sacred Bodhi Tree also was the duty of Kings and nobles.

Fa-hian, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk who visited Sri Lanka in the fifth Century AD has made a reference to the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Anuradhapura. Presently the protection and the care of the Sacred Bodhi Tree is under the close supervision of the Director, Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya.

The Original Sacred Bodhi Tree at Buddhagaya in India under which Prince Siddharta attained supreme Englithtenment is no more. The Bodhi Tree now growing at Buddagaya is a representative of the original Bodhi Tree. It is a great blessing that its original branch is still growing and existing as a living monument in Sri Lanka.

The writer is former

Asst. Director of

Dept. of Archaeology

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