Sri Maha Bodhi Tree (Anuradhapura)

Sri Maha Bodhi tree
Sri Maha Bodhi (also called Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya) is a sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa) growing in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The tree is believed to have grown from the southern branch of the original Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya which provided shade to the Buddha for attaining Buddhahood (Nicholas, 1963). It was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Sangamitta Theri, the founder of the Bhikkuni (Buddhist nuns) order in Sri Lanka (Nicholas, 1963). The tree is considered to be the oldest historical living tree in the world (De Silva, 2004; Ferrer-Gallego et al., 2016; Karunaratne, 1998).

Presently, the Bodhi-tree site is not only a place of worship but a terrain proclaimed by the Archaeological Department as a protected territory (Wijesuriya & Weerasekera, 1997).

Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura
As described in several ancient chronicles such as Dipavamsa, Mahawamsa [(ch. xviii-xix) Geiger, 1986] and Samantapasadika,  Sangamitta Theri, the daughter of Emperor Asoka (c.268-232 B.C.) and sister of Arhat Mahinda Thera, brought the southern branch of the sacred Bodhi-tree in Bodh Gaya (India) to Sri Lanka soon after the introduction of Buddhism in the 3rd century B.C. (De Silva, 2004; Ferrer-Gallego et al., 2016; Karunaratne, 1998; Kulatunge, 2018; Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004). It was planted at Mahamegha park in Anuradhapura, on the ground earlier sanctified by the Buddha, by King Devanampiyatissa (247-207 B.C.) in the presence of Arhat Mahinda Thera and a great multitude (Jayawardhana, 1990; Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004). Thenceforth, the Bodhi tree was venerated and protected by Buddhists through the subsequent millennia, even after the Anuradhapura Kingdom was abandoned (Coningham et al., 2013).

Besides Dipavamsa, Mahawamsa and Samantapasadika, several ancient literary works such as Bodhivamsa Katha, Mahabodhivamsa, Gantipada Vivaranaya, Dharmapradipika, Sinhala Bodhivamsa, and Sulu Bodhivamsa also give extensive accounts on the sacred Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura (Jayawardhana, 1990; Kulatunge, 2018). These sources record the planting of the Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura and reveal the eight places where the first saplings of the Bodhi tree were planted (Geiger, 1986; Jayawardhana, 1990; Kulatunge, 2018).

Throughout history, the Bodhi tree received the royal patronage and attention of many Sri Lankan kings. King Sirinaga I (189-209 A.D.) renovated the flight of steps at the four entrances to the Bodhi tree (Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004). King Abhayanaga (231-240 A.D.) built a stone pavement for it and King Sirinaga II (240-242 A.D.) reconstructed the ramparts (Nicholas, 1963). King Gothabhaya (249-263 A.D.) erected an arched gateway at the north entrance and did more development works (Nicholas, 1963). King Mahasena (277-304 A.D.) made two bronze images and set them up on the west side of the temple of the Bodhi tree (Nissanka, 1994). King Dhatusena (455-473 A.D.) erected 16 bronze statues of bath maidens and instituted a bathing festival (Nicholas, 1963). King Mahanaga (569 - 571 A.D.) constructed a water canal around the sacred tree and King Sena II (853 - 887 A.D.) renovated it (Wikramagamage, 2004). Some attendant buildings and other structures were built or renovated around the Bodhi tree by a number of kings such as Devanampiyatissa (247-207 B.C.), Vasabha (67-111 A.D.), Voharika Tissa (209-231 A.D.), Sirinaga II (240-242 A.D.), Jetthatissa I (263-275 A.D.), Mahasena (275-301 A.D.), Dhatusena (455-473 A.D.), Kittisirimegha (551-569 A.D.), Mahanaga (569-571 A.D.), Aggabodhi I (571-604 A.D.), Aggabodhi II (604-614 A.D.), Dappula I (659), Aggabodhi VII (772-777 A.D.), Dappula II (815-831 A.D.), Sena II (853-887 A.D.), Vijayabahu I [(1055-1110 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963].

The stone rampart which can be seen today at the site was built by Illupandenye Atthadassi Thera who was the Disava of Anuradhapura (The chief of Anuradhapura District) appointed by King Kirti Sri Rajasinha [(1747-1782 A.D.) Wikramagamage, 2004].

The original Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya
After bringing the Bodhi branch to Sri Lanka, the original Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya (Bihar, India) was destroyed and replaced several times. King Ashoka’s second wife, Tissarakkha who couldn't tolerate Asoka's favour for the Bodhi tree, had pierced the tree with a mandu thorn. The regenerated tree was again destroyed at the beginning of the 7th century A.D. by King Sassanka (590-625 A.D.), a fanatical Sivaite and enemy of Buddhism (Schumann, 2004). A Bodhi tree was again planted at the same place by Purnavarman of Magadha (Schumann, 2004). However, in 1876, the Bodhi tree was uprooted by a storm that ripped through the Bodh Gaya (Schumann, 2004). The present Bodhi tree is believed to be developed from underground living roots.

The Bodhi-tree
The Bodhi tree is highly venerated by Buddhists because of its association with the Buddha. Thousands of devotees come and make rituals and offerings (such as eightfold objects and other votives) to the tree expecting positive changes in their life. Devotees from nearby villages annually gather here to conduct a ceremony called "Aluth Sahal Mangalya" in which they offer rice to the Bodhi tree collected from their first harvest. People also think that the Bodhi tree is capable of fulfilling the wishes of married women to give birth to children (Wikramagamage, 2004).

It is believed that the deity named Kalu Devata Bandara is the one who guards the Bodhi tree (Wikramagamage, 2004). This has also become a motivating factor that attracts visitors to the site. By making offerings to the Bodhi tree, people expect the blessing of the deities.

#) On 30 July 1929, a person named James Appu (alias Jema) who was a carter at the Central Hotel of Anuradhapura attempted to cut the Bodhi tree (Wikramagamage, 2004).
#) Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization, attacked the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi on 14 May 1985 and massacred 146 people who were around the temple premises (DeVotta, 2007).

Ancient structures at Sri Maha Bodhi temple People making wishes, Sri Maha Bodhi premises
See also

1) Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by imke.sta is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0
2) 20090731-174438 by StretchyBill is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

1) Coningham, R.A.E., Acharya, K.P., Strickland, K.M., Davis, C.E., Manuel, M.J., Simpson, I.A., Gilliland, K., Tremblay, J., Kinnaird, T.C. and Sanderson, D.C.W., 2013. The earliest Buddhist shrine: excavating the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini (Nepal). Antiquity, 87(338), pp.1104-1123.
2) De Silva, R., 2004. Reclaiming the Robe: Reviving the Bhikkhunī Order in Sri Lanka. Buddhist Women and Social Justice, pp.119-135.
3) DeVotta, N., 2007. Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist ideology: Implications for politics and conflict resolution in Sri Lanka. pp.38,77.
4) Ferrer-Gallego, P.P., Boisset, F. and Upadhyay, G.K., 2016. Lectotypification of the name of the sacred tree Ficus religiosa (Moraceae). Taxon, 65(1), pp.158-162.
5) Geiger, W., 1986. The Mahāvaṃsa, Or, The Great Chronicle of Ceylon. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. pp.122-135.
6) Jayawardhana, S., 1990. A survey of literature on the sacred Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, 35, pp.23-52.
7) Karunaratne, L.K., 1998. The history of Buddhist architecture in Sri Lanka. The 1998 International Symposium on Design & Development of Buddhist Architecture. pp.85-96.
8) Kulatunge, T.G., 2018. Tantirimale: Tivakka (Tavakka) Brāhmanagāma and Planting of Eight Bo-Seedlings. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, pp.91-102.
9) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). pp.130-131.
10) Nissanka, H.S.S., 1994. Maha Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka--the oldest historical tree in the world. p.7.
11) Schumann, H.W., 2004. The historical Buddha: the times, life, and teachings of the founder of Buddhism (Vol. 51). Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p.60.
12) Wijesuriya, G.; Weerasekera, H., 1997. Footprints of our heritage. Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO. ISBN: 955-9043-32-3. p.52.
13) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites: Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.54-58.

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This page was last updated on 14 January 2023

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