The introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan history, culture, society, traditions, art, architecture, historical literature all revolve around Buddhism.  Sri Lankan historical chronicle “Mahawamsa” commence with a description of Sakyamunu Buddha receiving prediction from Dipankara Buddha and detailed description of Sakyamuni Buddha’s visits to Sri Lanka.

Visits of the Buddha to Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan historical chronicle “Mahawamsa” states that Sakyamuni Buddha visited Sri Lanka for the first time in the 9th month after Enlightenment to bring peace among the feuding “Yakka” people at Mahiyanganaya.  The second visit of the Sakyamuni Buddha to Sri Lanka occurred in the 5th year after Enlightenment where Buddha resolved the fight for the “Gem stone Throne” at Nāgadīpa.  The third visit of The Buddha occurred in the 8th year after the Enlightenment when Sakyamuni Buddha visited Kelaniya at the invitation of Nāga King Maniakkhika. Subsequently the Buddha left a trace of his footprint at Samantakuta or Samanalakanda (Butterfly Mountain) and visited the places which are considered as most sacred Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka.  There are 16 sacred places visited by The Buddha during his three visits to Sri Lanka and they are as follows:

  1. Mahiyanganaya – Located in the Uva Province, Badulla District along the bank of Mahaweli River.
  2. Nāgadīpa – This is an island offshore of Jaffna District, Northern Province.
  3. Kelaniya – Situated along the bank of Kelani River in the Colombo District of the Western Province.
  4. Samanthakuta (Samanalakanda) – This is the mountain with the Sacred footprint of The Buddha known as Sri Padaya – › mdoh (Sacred Footprint). The mountain is located in the Ratnapura District of the Sabaragamuwa Province and the Nuwara Eliya District of the Central Province.
  5. Diva Guhava (The cave where The Buddha rested) – This cave hasn’t been correctly identified as yet but devotees believe that “Batathota Cave” on the Kuruvita trail leading to Sri Pada as the Diva Guhawa. This is located in the Ratnapura District of the Sabaragamuwa Province.
  6. Dīghavāpi – Located in the Ampara District of the Eastern Province.
  7. Muthiyanganaya – This is located in the Badulla District of the Uva Province.
  8. Tissamaharamaya – Located in the Hambantota District of the Southern Province.
  9. Sri Maha Bodhiya – North Central Province, Anuradhapura District within the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.
  10. Mirisawetiya – North Central Province, Anuradhapura District within the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.
  11. Ruwanmeli Seya (Ruwanweli Seya) – North Central Province, Anuradhapura District within the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.
  12. Thūparāmaya – North Central Province, Anuradhapura District within the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.
  13. Abhayagiriya – North Central Province, Anuradhapura District within the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.
  14. Jēthavanaya – North Central Province, Anuradhapura District within the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.
  15. Sela Stūpa – North Central Province, Anuradhapura District at Mihintale.
  16. Kataragama – Located in the Moneragala District of the Uva Province.

Introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka

The official introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka and royal patronage of Buddhism occurred during 3rd century BCE during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (250 – 210 BCE).  Arahat Mahinda, Son of Emperor Asoka (c268 – 232 BCE), arrived in Sri Lanka and met the then reigning King Devanampiyatissa at Mihintale Mountain on the Full Moon day of the month of Poson in Lunar calendar (corresponding to June in the Solar Calendar).  Mihintale is revered even today as the place of introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

Arahat Mahinda had the follow dialogue with King Devanampiyatissa to ascertain the intelligence of the King.

Arahat Mahinda accepting the intelligence of the King, proceeded to explain “Cūlahatthipadūma Sutta” and subsequent to this discourse the King and his entourage became Buddhists, thus officially initiating Buddhism in Sri Lanka.  Buddhism became the state religion of Sri Lanka under the royal patronage of King Devanmpiyatissa and has continued to be the state religion from 3rd century BCE upto today.  The royal gardens known as Maha Megha Park was donated to Buddhism and the first monastery of Sri Lanka – Maha Viharaya was constructed within this park and became renowned centre of Buddhism during the first millennium CE.

Queen Anula, consort of the Regional King Mahanaga who was the younger brother of King Devanampiyatissa and her entourage expressed the desire for Bhikkhuni ordination and Arahat Mahinda suggested that his sister, Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta should be invited to Sri Lanka to establish the Bhikkhuni ordination in Sri Lanka.  Prince Arittha, nephew of King Devanampiyatissa was sent to Emperor Asoka to invite Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta to introduce ordination of Bhikkhuni order to Sri Lanka.

Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta arrived at the Port of Jambukola Pattana (Dambakola Patuna) with a Sapling of the Bo Tree where Sakyamuni Buddha attained Enlightenment.  King Devanampiyatissa was at the Port to receive the Bo Sapling and escort it to Anuradhapura where it was ceremoniously planted and has become the oldest historically documented tree surviving up to the modern era.