Mahabodhivamsa (History of the Great Bodhi Tree)

Sri Maha Bodhi tree
Mahabodhivamsa (lit: History of the Great Bodhi Tree) is the earliest extant literary work on the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka (Jayawardhana, 1990). 

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree
As described in several ancient chronicles such as Dipavamsa, Mahawamsa (ch. xviii-xix) 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. This historic incident is extensively described in later literary works including Bodhivamsa Katha, Mahabodhivamsa, Gantipada Vivaranaya, Dharmapradipika, Sinhala Bodhivamsa, and Sulu Bodhivamsa (Kulatunge, 2018).

As mentioned in its introduction, Mahabodhivamsa is a Pali work recording the history of the Great Bodhi Tree and an adaptation of a previously existing work in Sinhalese on the same subject (Jayawardhana, 1990). It doesn't mention the name of its author but the acknowledged tradition is that Ven. Upatissa is the author of this literary work (Jayawardhana, 1990). Scholars believe that this is a work belonging to the 10 century A.D. (Kulatunge, 2018).

Mahabodhivamsa contains 12 chapters,

  • Chapters of Mahabodhivamsa (Jayawardhana, 1990)

    1) Abhisambodhiathã - The story of Dipankara Buddha followed by several other accounts
    2) Anandabodhikathã - Planting of the Ananda-Bodhi by Ananda Thera
    3) Dasabala-parinibbãna kathã - Story of Passing-away of the Buddha
    4) Pathama-sangiti kathã - About the first council
    5) Duthiya-sangiti kathã - About the second council
    6) Tatiya-sangiti kathã - About the third council
    7) Lankãvatarana kathã - Arrival of Arhat Mahinda in Sri Lanka
    8) Nagarappavesana kathã - Story of entering the city (of Anuradhapura)
    9) Mahãvihara patiggahana kathã - Acceptance of the Maha Viharaya
    10) Cetiyagirivihãra patiggahana kathã - Acceptance of the Viharaya at Mihintale
    11) Dhãtvãgamana kathã - Receiving the sacred relics of the Buddha
    12) Dumindãgamana kathã - Bringing of the southern branch of the sacred Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya in India

The last chapter records the planting of the sacred Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura. It further mentions the places where the first eight saplings of the Bodhi tree were planted (Jayawardhana, 1990).

Eight saplings of Sri Maha Bodhi
    5) Pathamaka-cetiyatthana (outside Anuradhapura eastern gate)
    6) Cetiya-pabbata
    7) Kacaragama
    8) Candanagama

The final phase of Mahabodhivamsa records that besides the Bo fruit which gave eight seedlings, there were another four fruits from which sprang up 32 seedlings (Kulatunge, 2018). It further says that they were planted for the benefit of the dwellers of the island, in Buddhist temples from Yojana to Yojana (Kulatunge, 2018). Although the Mahabodhivamsa doesn't give the list of names where the 32 seedlings were brought, the Simhala Bodhivamsa, a text written during the reign of King Parakramabahu IV (1302-1326 A.D.) of the Kurunegala Period reveals the 32 places where these seedlings were finally planted (Kulatunge, 2018).

Thirty-two saplings of Sri Maha Bodhi

Related works
  • Mahabodhivamsa-granthipada-vivaranaya - A Sinhalese commentary work composed to explain the difficult terms in Mahabodhivamsa.
  • Dharmapradipikã or Mahabodhivamsa-parikathã - A sub-commentary work on Mahabodhivamsa, written by Gurulugomi.
  • Simhala Bodhivamsaya (Elu-Bodhivamsaya) - The Sinhalese translation of Pali Mahabodhivamsa by Vilgammula Maha Thera (Wikramasinghe, 1900).
  • Sulu Bodhivamsaya (Minor chronicle of the Bodhi-tree) -  The Sinhalese translation of Pali Culabodhivamsa. Written in the 7th year of King Sri Rajadhi Rajasinha (1781-1798 A.D.) by Ven. Sumangala, a pupil of Attaragama Bandara (Jayawardhana, 1990).
Two editions of the Pali Mahabodhivamsa have been published: one in 1890 (Colombo) and the other in 1891 by the Pali Text Society of London (Wikramasinghe, 1900).

1) Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka by imke.sta is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

1) 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.
2) 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.
3) Wikramasinghe, D.M.D.Z., 1900. Catalogue of the Sinhalese Manuscripts in the British Museum: London. pp.xviii,22,157.

This page was last updated on 26 December 2023

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