Matara Bodhiya | Tree of Kumaradasa and Kalidasa

Matara Bodhiya
Matara Bodhiya (Sinhala: මාතර බෝධිය; Tamil: மாதாரா போ மரம்) is a sacred Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) situated in the middle of Matara town, Sri Lanka. It is considered as one of the seven Bodhi trees (Hath-Bodhiya) planted in and around the Matara area (Abeyawardana, 2004). The tree is believed to be one of the saplings that sprang from the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura (Ranaweera, 2015).

The history of this Bodhi tree, according to local tradition, can be dated back to the Anuradhapura Period (Ranaweera, 2015). The tree is associated with Kalidasa, a famous Indian poet and his friend Kumaradasa (513-522 A.D), the king of Sri Lanka who was also popular for writing the Sanskrit poem Janakiharanaya (Abeyawardana, 2004; Ranaweera, 2015). It is said that Kalidasa arrived in Sri Lanka as per an invitation made by Kumaradasa and stayed at a place in Matara (Ranaweera, 2015). However, he was killed by a courtesan and buried secretly (Ranaweera, 2015). The king who hadn't seen his foreign friend for a few days inquired about him and found out that he was killed by the courtesan (Ranaweera, 2015). After sentencing the courtesan to death, he cremated the body of Kalidasa in a pyre built close to the Nilwala Ganga River (Ranaweera, 2015). It is recorded in the Perakumba Sirita that, as the king couldn't bear the sorrow of the death of his friend, killed himself by jumping into this flaming pyre (Ranaweera, 2015). Upon witnessing this tragedy, Kumaradasa's five official queens also leapt into the flames to their deaths (Ranaweera, 2015).

It is mentioned in folklore that, seven Bodhi trees were planted over the tombs of Kalidasa, Kumaradasa and his five wives (Ranaweera, 2015). Later, these seven Bodhi trees started to be known as the Hath Bodhiya and the present Bodhi tree in the middle of Matara town is believed to be one of them (Ranaweera, 2015). The tombstones erected to commemorate this tragic incident are said to have been used by the Dutch for their constructions in 1788 (Ranaweera, 2015). Also, an effort to cut down this Bodhi tree was thwarted by local Buddhists during the period of British administration in Sri Lanka [(British Ceylon: 1815-1948) Ranaweera, 2015]. 

Recent development
The site was upgraded to a temple in 1962 (Samanthi, 1999).

Do you know?

1) Matara Bodhiya 1 by L Manju is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Ruhuna: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-575-073-4. p.70.
2) Ranaweera, D. D., 2015. Matara Urumaya (in Sinhala). ISBN: 978-955-30-6285-7. S. Godage & Bros. pp.17-20.
3) Samanthi, L.K.N., 1999. Architectural concepts of Buddhist places of worship: an examination of the architectural concepts of Buddhist places of worship in rural and urban settings with special reference to Southern Province. A dissertation submitted to the University of Moratuwa as a partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Architecture. pp.90-98.

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This page was last updated on 12 November 2023

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