India and Sri Lanka




India and Sri Lanka:

  • The history of Sri Lanka and India has remained close-knit from ancient times. ‘Deepvamsa’, ‘Mahavamsa’, ‘Chullavamsa’ are the three texts that tell us about the Indian and Sri Lankan dynasties, their mutual relations, and the historical events, in the times before and after Gautama Buddha. These texts are known as ‘Vamsagranthas.
  • The Kingdom of Tambapaṇṇī was the first Sinhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka. Its administrative center was based at Tambapanni. It existed between 543 BC and 437 BC. The Kingdom was founded by Prince Vijaya and his followers.
  • Tambapanni is a name derived from Tamira Varni or Tamirabarani (in Sanskrit). This means the color of copper or bronze because on the landing Vijaya's and his followers' hands and feet which touched the ground became red with the dust of the red-earth, and the city founded on that spot was named therefore Tambapanni. A derivative of this name is Taprobane (Greek). Tambapanni is a Pali version of the name Tamira Varni.
  • According to the Mahavamsa, a chronicle written in Pali, the inhabitants of Sri Lanka prior to the Indo-Aryan migration of Yakkhas and Nagas. Ancient grave sites that were used before 600 BC and other signs of civilisation have also been discovered in Sri Lanka, but little is known about the history of the island before this time.
  • The Naga people were believed to be an ancient tribe that once inhabited SriLanka and various parts of Southern India. There are references to them in several ancient texts such as Mahavamsa, Manimekelai, and also in other Sanskrit and Pali literature. They are generally being represented as a class of superhumans taking the form of serpents who inhabit a subterranean world.
  • The Kingdom of Tambapanni was founded by Vijaya of Sri Lanka, the first Sinhalese king, and 700 of his followers after landing in Sri Lanka in a district near modern-day Mannar, which is believed to be the district of Chilaw, after leaving Supparaka. It is recorded the Vijaya made his landing on the day of Buddha's death. Vijaya claimed Tambapanni his capital and soon the whole island come under this name. Tambapanni was originally inhabited and governed by Yakkhas, having their capital at Sirīsavatthu and their queen Kuveni
  • The yakshas are a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, but sometimes mischievous or capricious, connected with water, fertility, trees, the forest, treasure, and wilderness. They appear in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist texts, as well as ancient and medieval era temples of South Asia and Southeast Asia as guardian deities. The feminine form of the word is yaksi or yakshini.
  • In Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist texts, the yakṣa has a dual personality. On the one hand, a yakṣa a may be an inoffensive nature-fairy, associated with woods and mountains; but there is also a darker version of the yakṣa, which is a kind of ghost that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travellers, similar to the Raksasas.
  • Another name of the kingdom was ‘Rajrat’. Greek historians have mentioned it as ‘Taprobane’. According to the tradition, King Vijaya, the founder of a new kingdom called Sinhapura.
  • This kingdom was a prince from the Vang- Kalinga kingdom in India. He first went to Supparaka (Sopara) on the west coast of India from Vang-Kalinga and from there reached Sri Lanka. Thera Mahinda (Mahendra), son of Emperor Ashoka arrived at Mihinthale, near Anuradhpur, the capital of Sri Lanka. He initiated (pabbajja/pravrajjya) King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka to Buddhism.
  • This event has been described in great details in the vamsagranthas. After listening to the sermon from Thera Mahinda, the King and all the subjects accompanying him became the followers of Buddhism. Anula, the wife of king’s younger brother wished to become a Bhikkhuni. On hearing of her wish, Thera Mahinda suggested that his sister Theri Sanghamitta (Sanghamitra) may be invited from India, for the purpose.
  • Accordingly, Their Sanghamitta arrived in Sri Lanka. She brought a branch of the ‘Bodhi’ tree along with her. King Devanampiya Tissa welcomed her personally. Theri Sanghamitta initiated Anula into the Buddhist Sangha. Anula was the first woman to become a Buddhist nun. With Anula’s initiation, Their Sanghmitta established the first Bhikkhuni Shasan (Bhikkhuni Sangha) of Sri Lanka.
  • The festival known as ‘Unduvapa Poya’ is celebrated every year in Sri Lanka, on the full moon in the month of December, in the memory of Theri Sanghamitta’s arrival.
  • A poya day is a religious observance day. The term “poya” in Sinhala is derived from the Pali and Sanskrit meaning “fast day.” For the Buddhists’ confessional rites and communal speaking of the code of discipline, the monks use the monthly moonless day and the full-moon day. Local devotees observe the day by visiting temples for worship.
  • There are 12 poya days in a year. Most shops and businesses are closed on poya days. The sale of alcohol and meat is also forbidden on poya days. The poya observance is as old as Buddhism itself. Currently, the Sinhala Buddhists practice the observance of poya. Because of its significance in the religious life of the Buddhists in the local communities, all of the full-moon days were declared public holidays by the government.

The important cultural places in Sri Lanka:

1. Anuradhpur – Mihinthale:

Sri Lanka’s historical chronicle, the Mahavamsa, records that Anuradhapura first became the capital of ancient Lanka in 4th Century BC, during the reign of King Pandukhabaya. The King is attributed with designing the city, developing a core town, and even surrounding suburbs based on a highly complex plan.

Anuradhapura came into prominence after Buddhism was introduced to the island in the 3rd Century BC during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa. He built the country’s first stupa here, the Thuparama, which is said to house a relic of the Buddha, his right collarbone. King Tissa also arranged for the planting of the sacred Bo sapling brought to the country by Princess Sangamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka of India. This is today the venerated Sri Maha Bodhi, which is considered the oldest living tree in the world

2. Sri Mahabodhi Tree

It is hard to believe; but without a shadow of a doubt—that this small tree with limbs so slender that they must be supported on iron crutches is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world (2,200 years). A branch of the very Bo beneath which (at Buddha Gaya in North India) the Buddha himself found Enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century B.C. by the Princess/religieuse Sanghamitta; a sister of the saint Mahinda. It has never since been without its hereditary attendants and the care, to the very end, of the country’s kings. As lately as the reign of the last of them (Sri Vikrama Rajasingha, whom the British captured and deported); a wall was built by royal command to repair the platform on which it grows. In 1966 it was enclosed in a golden railing.

Thera Mahinda and Theri Sanghamitta stayed at Mihinthale near Anuradhpaur. It facilitated the establishment and spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. ‘Kantakchetiya’ is one of the earliest stupas at Mihinthale. An inscription near the stupa mentions that the revenue collected from a nearby tank and the surrounding land was reserved as a gift for the maintenance of this stupa. The stupa erected on the remains (Shareerik Dhatu/asthi) of Thera Mahinda at Mihinthale, is known as ‘Ambasthal Thupa’. King Devanampiya Tissa erected a stupa on the relics of Gautama Buddha in Anuradhpur. It is known as ‘Thuparama’. Thuparama is the earliest stupa among those that are extant in Sri Lanka. Buddhaghosha was an Indian philosopher. He stayed ‘Mahavihara’ in Anuradhpur. ‘Vishuddhimagga’ a text written by him is well-known. ‘Vishuddhimagga’ is the text, which is honoured as an equivalent of Tipitaka texts.

3. Pulatthinagar (Polannaruwa) :

The city of Polannaruwa is mentioned in Chullvamasa by the name, ‘Pulatthinagar’. In the 10th century C.E. the Chola emperor Rajraja I attacked Sri Lanka and razed Anuradhpur completely. Then he established his capital at Polannaruwa. He renamed Polannaruwa as ‘Jananathmangalam’ and built a Shiva temple there. Later he built one more Shiva temple as a memorial to his queen. These temples are the most ancient Hindu temples in Sri Lanka.

The supremacy of the Cholas in Sri Lanka was ended by Vijayabahu. Parakramabahu, a descendant of Vijayabahu, who ruled in the 12th century C.E. is supposed to be historically an important king. The Buddhist sanghas in Sri Lanka had become disrupted by the time of Parakramabahu. He, under the guidance of Mahathera Kassap, focused on reorganizing them. Parakramabahu had routed the kingdom of Ruhuna in Sri Lanka. This kingdom had a tooth of Gautam Buddha (dantdhatu) in their custody. It was reclaimed by King Nissanka Malla. He built a temple on it in Polannaruwa. There is a stupa at the center of the temple. At the foot of the stupa is a semicircular step, which is characteristic of the stupa architecture of Sri Lanka. It is called, ‘Moonstone’ (Chandrashila). It is carved with the figures of swans, elephants, horses, and creepers Galapotha (Book in stone) is a unique inscription recording the reign and achievements of Nissanka Malla. It is inscribed on a stone slab that is 8.17 meters long and 1.39 metre wide. On one side of the galapotha an image of Gajalakshmi is carved between two borders of a row of swans. The temple of dantdhatu at present is in the city of ‘Kandy’. It is known as ‘Sri Dalad Maligava’. This temple is enlisted as the World Cultural Heritage.

4. Dambulla and Sigiriya :

The caves at Dambulla in Sri Lanka are declared as World Cultural Heritage. There are images of Gautama Buddha and the Bodhisattvas inside the caves. The roofs of five caves at Dambulla are decorated with paintings. There is an enormous rock in the mountains near the city of Dambulla. A fort and a palace were built on this rock. At its entrance, a huge image of a lion was carved in the rock. The place was named ‘Sigiriya’ after this lion. Sigiriya murals are compared with the murals at Ajanta.

This temple complex dates back to the first century BCE. It has five caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip line to keep the interiors dry. In 1938 the architecture was embellished with arched colonnades and gabled entrances. Inside the caves, the ceilings are painted with intricate patterns of religious images following the contours of the rock. There are images of the Lord Buddha and bodhisattvas, as well as various gods and goddesses.

The Dambulla cave monastery is still functional and remains the best-preserved ancient edifice in Sri Lanka. This complex dates from the third and second centuries BC, when it was already established as one of the largest and most important monasteries Valagamba of Anuradhapura is traditionally thought to have converted the caves into a temple in the first century BC. Exiled from Anuradhapura, he sought refuge here from South Indian usurpers for 15 years. After reclaiming his capital, the King built a temple in thankful worship. Many other kings added to it later and by the 11th century, the caves had become a major religious center and still are. Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa gilded the caves and added about 70 Buddha statues in 1190. During the 18th century, the caves were restored and painted by the Kingdom of Kandy.

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