The arrival of Mahinda Thera, the son of the Emperor of India, Ashoka, with five other Bhikkhus and a layman, on the Missaka mountain on the full moon day of the month of Poson, 2,265 years ago, marked the greatest event in the long history of this island. In his Pali Literature of Ceylon (pg [...]


The arrival of Anubudu Mihindu Himi or the Light of Lanka


The arrival of Mahinda Thera, the son of the Emperor of India, Ashoka, with five other Bhikkhus and a layman, on the Missaka mountain on the full moon day of the month of Poson, 2,265 years ago, marked the greatest event in the long history of this island. In his Pali Literature of Ceylon (pg 25) Professor G.P. Malalasekera refers to it as the most successful and most productive of the missionary efforts of Ashoka and as amongst the greatest civilizing effects of the world.

This event was the dawn of a new civilization in the island. A community of people made up of the first Aryan emigrants from India,following different cults and beliefs , trying to settle down to a new way of life and the indigenous people of the island  imbued in animistic beliefs together were directed accordingly to  a new spiritual way of life.

The arrival of  Mahinda Thera in the island was neither a myth nor an accident. It was a well-planned one. An inscription in Rajagala in the Ampara district marks the site of a stupa built to enshrine the relics of Mahinda Thera and Iddhika Thera who accompanied him and they are mentioned in the Mahavamsa by name. “The record is thus of first rate historical importance, in that it proves the trustworthiness, in its essentials of the account given in the chronicles of the introduction of Buddhism to Ceylon in the reign of Devanampiyatissa” says Prof. Paranavitane (Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol.1 (pg) ci)

After his arrival, Mahinda Thera set about the task of establishing the Buddha Sasana systematically. Having convinced and converted the King Devanampiyatissa whom he found to be a very intelligent person after his incisive questioning, he delivered the Culla Hatthi Padopama Sutta to the King. The King no doubt would have had a good knowledge of elephant behaviour. The Thera next turned to the courtiers and their families. He was very selective in the choice of the subject to them.The two discourses, Pethavatthu and Vimana vatthu dealt with the results of bad and good actions which the listeners would have had no difficulty to grasp.

These discourses had a ripple effect in society, in taking the message of the new faith to near and far.The important fact was that the Thera Mahinda delivered his sermons in the language of the island (deepabhasaya).It is possible that he studied the language of the island during the six months he spent in Vidisa where he was the guest of his mother. All the discourses Mahinda Thera delivered were from the Tripitaka. As such there would have been the necessity to explain them in detail to the local followers. So the Thera had come up with the commentaries to the Tripitaka, which came to be known as Sihalaatthakatha in the language of the island. The Thera no doubt used the Brahmi script with which he was familiar and which was the same as that found in edicts of Ashoka and the early inscriptions of the island thus giving rise to the Sinhala script which over the years developed to the present form.

Thera Mahinda meanwhile was also concerned with the other requisites which bind the Sasana together. He ordained the layman Bhanduka who accompanied him thus establishing the local bhikkhu lineage.He along with his associates observed the Vassana (retreat during the rainy season ) as laid down in the Vinaya. With the possible expansion of the numbers,Thera Mahinda realized the need to have a sima-malaka for the Sangha to perform their ecclesiastical functions (uposatha ceremony and other acts of religion).Accordingly he advised the King to demarcate and assign the boundaries for the sima-malaka.When it was done,the Thera himself had fixed the inner boundary which later came to be the sacred city.

Dr. Walpola Rahula is of the opinion that other than the Thera there was no one knowledgeable in the island to perform this task. He had lived in such big cities like Pataliputra and seen his father constructing the Asokaramaya.What was built within the premises later became the Mahaviharaya. First lessons on architecture in the island may have come from the Thera.

Since the arrival  in the island, Mahinda Thera took steps to give the new faith an indigenous outlook.The culmination of it was when he told the King that the Sasana would be established in the island only after a child of the island,having entered the Order, learns the Vinaya and expounds it to  others. “In other words he wished the leaders of the Buddhist Church in Ceylon to be natives of the island,” says Paranavitane. Accordingly arrangements had been made for the Maha Arittha Thera to perform this function.

The Thera was also instrumental in getting down his sister Theri Sangamitta from India who established the Bhikkhuni sasana in the island bringing with her the branch of the pipal tree from Buddha Gaya.

As mentioned by Prof. Malalasekera, the mission to Sri Lanka was the most productive one. It was due, no doubt,  to the untiring effort of Thera Mahinda, ably supported by the King Devanampiyatissa.

After serving the Sasana and the Sihala- deepa which he made his home, the Thera, passed away at the age of 80. Within this period he transformed the spiritual, cultural and social life of the islanders as never happened or never to happen in future. Acknowledging the contribution the Thera Mahinda made here, the people called him the Light of Lanka (Lanka pradeepo).Vessagiriya 2 inscription of the 10th century refers to him as Anubudu Mihindu Himi.To this day in the island he is better known by that honorific.

Missaka Pabbata worthy of World Heritage title
Missaka Pabbata had been the cradle of Sri Lankan civilization for more than a millennium. The ruins of the largest hospital and the monastery dating back to the 10th century can be seen even today.

According to the criteria laid down to qualify to be a world heritage site Missaka Pabbata stands tall.

“To be selected, a World Heritage site must be an already classified landmark, unique in some respect as a geographically and historically identifiable place having special cultural or physical significance (such as an ancient ruin or historical structure, building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, mountain, or wilderness area. It may signify a remarkable accomplishment of humanity, and serve as evidence of our intellectual history on the planet.”

There are 44 heritage sites in France and the same number in Germany. Sri Lanka has only 8. It is high time the authorities move to get Missaka Pabbata declared a world heritage site.


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