Mahiyangana Chaitya, the first stupa
Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha after attaining supreme enlightenment, the summit of perfection or the Buddhahood at Bodh Gaya, the second sacred place where he gifted the unique teaching to humanity was the charming city of Isipatana in Baranasi, the capital of Kasi kingdom. It was here that he preached his first sermon to the five ascetics, his former companions before his spiritual achievement. They became the first disciples establishing the Buddha sasana.
Subsequently a large number of disciples who listened to him and attained arahantship were sent in different directions to preach the doctrine of the Dhamma for the well being of the mankind. Having sent them on this noble mission the Buddha himself set out for Rajagaha where on his way he met the three brothers the hermit monks who had the good fortune to attain Arahantship with their 1,000 disciples.
After this celebrated religious event Buddha is said to have focused his attention towards Sri Lanka.
It is the most significant and precious event to find that Sri-Lanka was blessed with the presence of Thathagatha the perfect one. His visits are a landmark gift to Buddhist heritage, reflecting the most memorable events of the Buddhist era – the time of the living Buddha. This is certainly a proud moment in the history of the island and the sasana. This sacred event has preceded the introduction of Buddhism to the island by Thera Mahinda in 27 BC. Exactly after 236 years after Mahaparinibbana the sublime message he proclaimed in Jambudweepa appeared here in Dharmadweepa in the month of Poson in 247 BC.
The first visit of Sakyamuni
The very blissful message of the Buddha was brought to the place sanctified by Buddha three centuries after his visit to the island. With the passage of time the sanctity and serenity bestowed by the Thathagatha during his visits had disappeared until it was renewed by Mahindagamanaya as mentioned earlier.
In the pre-Mahinda era however, the greatest blessing to the island was Buddha’s first visit to the island to Mahiyangana on the ninth month of his enlightenment. It was on the first poya in the Buddhist calendar (Duruthu) that the supreme Master had blessed our paradise isle which led it to be identified as Dharmadweepa.
Ancient chronicles reveal that Sakyamuni Gautama Buddha arrived in the Mahanagawana, the splendid park in Mahiyangana located in the vicinity of Mahaweli ganga. Here the inhabitants who belonged to various tribes such as Yakka and Naga opposed vehemently the arrival of the Buddha. But his spirit of tolerance, sympathy and boundless compassion towards all living beings helped them to be good and righteous citizens with the teachings of Dhamma.
They were all miraculously won over by his overflowing Melta. Finally having listened to sermons emphasizing harmony, they worshiped the Buddha with great love. The most significant event at this juncture was the presence of Deva Mahasumana the guardian god of Mount Samanala who attained the state of Sotapanna graspings the sermons of the Buddha. According to Mahavamsa the earliest Buddhist Relic was the Hair Relic, offered to anxious Deva who pleaded the Buddha to give something to worship on his first visit to the island. The Buddha complying with his request gave him a handful of hair from his head.
The overjoyed Deva placed it in a golden casket and later enshrined in a stupa, the biggest milestone in marking the event was this stupa which later came to be called Mahiyangana Chaitya. The greatest event of great historical importance in Buddha Sasana.
The honour of laying the foundation for the first chaitya in Dharmadweepa goes to Deva Mahasumana. This is given much significance not only because it is the first one built in Sri Lanka, but also the first one built by a devine being on the spot where the Buddha made his first visit to the island. History records that the royalty extended their utmost support and patronage at various times to build up this sacred spot, sanctified by the Buddha. After the Parinibbana of the Buddha and the distribution of the sacred relics the remaining neck relic (Greeva Dathu) was brought to Sri-Lanka by Arahant Sarabhu – a pupil of venerable Sariputta and enshrined in the stupa.
It is said to have been built in stages. First of all Deva Mahasumana had placed the golden casket in the stupa embedded with blue stones and built it to the height of seven riyanas (a measure). Later it was raised to 12 riyanas, enshrining the neck relic. Later it had been raised to a height of 30 riyanas by king Uddachulabhaya, the brother of king Devanampiyatissa.
Still later it had been completed to a height of 80 riyanas by king Dutugemunu hailed as the greatest patron of Buddhism during that era the national hero of Sri Lanka as well as Mahavamsa as mentioned by its author thera Mahanama.
The Chetiya elaborately completed by him, stands as testimony to his lasting contribution to Buddhism. He is said to have constructed a mantle chetiya which exists to this day as an amazing marvel and a landmark gift to Buddhist heritage. Today it has become the most sanctified and venerated place of worship by the devotees and also a national treasure in this Dharmadweepa, blessed with a path leading to peace.