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Sunday, August 9, 2009


Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya


The introduction of the Sacred Bodhi Tree, the oldest historical tree in the world and the most venerated, is commemorated by Buddhists in Sri Lanka on Unduwap Poya (full moon) day.

Unduwap Poya is more popularly known as Sri Sanghamitta Day, beacaus it was the missionary nun Sanghamitta who brought the sacred Bodhi hear. It was a branch of the original Ficus Religiosa under which the Buddha gained enlightenment when meditating in a park at Buddha-Gaya, India.

Sangamitta was the sister of the Apostle Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism to this country. His missionary work during the reign of Kings Devanampiya Tissa (250-210BC) was singularly successful. Many men and women wanted to be ordained as monks and nuns. The rules of the priesthood, however, forbade Mahinda from ordaining women. Accordingly, he advised the king to request the Emperor Asoka of India to send his sister, Sangamitta, with a party of nuns for this purpose. He also suggested that the Emperor be requested to send a branch of the Bodhi Tree at Buddha-Gaya which would be planted hear as an object of veneration and would keep the devotees always in mind of his teachings. King Tissa commissioned his nephew, Arittha, for this job. His mission was successful and Sangamitta duly arrived with a chapter of nuns and a branch of the Bodhi Tree in a golden pot.

The king, who had rushed to the port to meet her, went neck-deep in the sea to take the sacred branch, and in a gesture of proud humility took upon himself the duty of acting as a guard out side its temporary residence on the shore. From there the sacred saplin was with great ceremony to the capital city of Anuradhapura. On the way, the royal party broke the journey at Tantirimale, where a large shrine was later built to mark this occasion. All that is left of that shrine today is a vandalized 10-metre long reclining image of the Buddha, and a Bodhi tree that is said to have been raised from a sapling taken from the tree at Anuradhapura.

In Anuradhapura, the sacred Bodhi still stands where it was originally planted in the king's pleasure garden, although the garden is no more. Other kings after Tissa improved the site with ornamental gateways, flights of steps and channel the tree. Even after Anuradhapura was given up us the capital city, and the jungle tide overtook the Dagabas(stupas) and other monuments, the Bodhi Tree was protected by the villagers. They lit bonfires around it every night to ward off wild beasts. The firewood required for this purpose was collected in toto for the whole year and brought there in a procession on the night of the Nikini Poya, or August full moon.

This procession is continued even today in memory of those bygone times. It is called the Daramiti Perahera,or the procession of the bundles of firewood. In old Anuradhapura, now declared a sacred city, the ones ostentatious buildings are no more today than an inanimate pacthwork of the stone mason'sand craftsman's art. The only living thing is the sacred Bodhi Tree. Propped on platform upon platform, enclosed by white washed walls and an iron railing, and surrounded by altars laden with perfumed flowers and spluttering candles,it still remains green, once again a focal points of worship and pilgrimage.
In the words of historian Paul E Peiris: "It is doubtful whether any other single incident in the long history of their race had seized upon the imagination of the Sinhalese with such tenacity as the planting of the Sri Maha Bodhi.

"Like its roots which find sustenance on the face of the bare rock and cleave their way through the stoutest fabric, the influence of what it represents has penetrated in to the inner most being of the people."

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