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Bodhighara in Sri Lanka

Nillakgama Bodhigharaya
Bodhighara (lit: Bodhi-tree shrine) is a type of Buddhist structure in Sri Lanka built around the sacred Bo tree (Ficus religiosa) in Vihara and monasteries. The Sri Lankan Bodhigharas of the Anuradhapura Period are considered the only extant examples so far discovered in the entire Buddhist world, of the hypothetical Bodhi-tree shrines referred to in ancient literature and depicted in the earliest Buddhist relief sculpture in India (Bandaranayake, 1990).
The Buddha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in India, seated on a stone seat (Vajrasana or Asana) under a Bo tree. Thereafter, both the Bo tree (or Bodhi tree) and Asana became objects of worship of Buddhists, not only in India but also in other Buddhist countries in the region including Sri Lanka (Karunaratne, 1998).
Soon after the introduction of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, 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 to Sri Lanka (Bandaranayake, 1990; Nicholas, 1963; The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007; 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 a great multitude (Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004). As mentioned in the chronicle Mahavamsa, the first Bodhigara of the country was erected during this time and since then many kings built or repaired Bodhigharas around their kingdoms (Karunaratne, 1998). 

Presently, the Bodhighara has become an important element in every Buddhist temple in the country.
The structure
The Bodhighara (Bodhi = Bo tree, Ghara = house) was a roofed structure over the circumambulatory path that ran around the sacred Bo tree (Bandaranayake, 1990; The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007). It was designed in a manner as to cover only the area around the tree, leaving an open space in the centre as the tree requires sunshine for its growth (Karunaratne, 1998). It was usually terraced on three or more levels, each enclosed by a railing (Karunaratne, 1998). Four cardinally-oriented flights of steps were provided to access the upper terrace. The placing of a stone Asana, which symbolized the Buddha, at the foot of the Bo tree was an important part of this type of shrine (Bandaranayake, 1990; The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007).

Relatively well-preserved Bodhighara shrines (with stone Asana) have been found at Nillakgama, Galigamuwa, Pulukunava, Rajangane, Padikemgala and in Abhayagiri (Bodhighara I, Bodhighara II, Bodhighara III) and Jetavana (Buddhist Railing) temples at Anuradhapura (The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007).

1) නිල්ලග්ගම බෝධි ඝරය by Singhalawap is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

1) Bandaranayake, S., 1990. The architecture of the Anuradhapura period 543 B.C.-800 A.D. Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief). Archaeological Department centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series: Volume III: Architecture. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). pp.27-28.
2) 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.
3) 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.
4) The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007. (2nd ed.) Survey Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-9059-04-1. pp.102,104. 
5) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites: Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.54-58.

This page was last updated on 27 January 2023

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