The Journey of the Sacred Bodhi Sapling
Poson season is the time of year when thousands of devotees make their annual pilgrimage to Mihintale to remember the day when Arahat Mahinda introduced the Buddha Dhamma to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. The King and his courtiers were deeply impressed with the new faith and embraced Buddhism followed by hundreds and thousands of men and women.
Consequently, the aspiration to obtain a Bo-sapling from the Great Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Supreme Enlightenment, sprang up in the minds of those who embraced the new faith.
Thus the southern branch of the sacred Bo – tree at Buddha Gaya was brought over to Ceylon in 244 B.C by the nun Sanghamitta, the sister of Arahat Mahinda. This sacred Bodhi sapling was ceremonially planted in the Mahamegha Uyana, the royal park to the south of the city of Anuradhapura.
It is interesting to recall some of the early writings on this most sacred Bodhi sapling.
The transportation of this hallowed sapling from the port of Tamralipti, at the mouth of the Ganges to the point of landing at the port of Jambukola in northern Lanka is one full of detailed descriptions of important events.
According to the great chronicle Mahavamsa, the ship bringing the sacred sapling ventured forth into the sea. A yojana around the waves of the great ocean was stilled. Lotus flowers of the five colours blossomed all round and many musical instruments resounded in the air. Many offerings were also made by Devas and Nagas for six long days out in the sea. On the last day of the week the great Bodhi sapling arrived in Lanka at Jambukola Patuna.
King Devanampiyatissa on hearing from the Samanera Sumana of the arrival of the sacred sapling caused the whole of the high road from the northern gate of Anuradhapura to the port of Jambukola to be decorated awaiting its arrival. The king with his splendid retinue marched in a celebratory procession and arrived at Samuddapannasala ( the sea hut) in Jambukola on the same day to receive the Bodhi sapling.
The joyful king, seeing the coming of the great Bodhi sapling and though full of anxiety, walked even neck deep into the sea with nobles of sixteen families. Taking the sacred Bodhi sapling upon his head the sovereign of Lanka walked back on to the shore and placed it on a beautifully decorated pavilion. The king himself worshiped the Bodhi sapling by bestowing his kingdom and innumerable offerings were also made for many days and nights.
On the tenth day, the great Bodhi sapling was placed upon a magnificently decorated chariot and commenced the journey towards Anuradhapura. On the way, it was caused to be placed at various consecrated spots pointed out by the chief Thera Mahinda.
The eastern monastery and the village of Brahman Tivakka were the two important spots at which the great Bodhi sapling was highly honoured and worshipped during many days and nights.
On the fourteenth day the royal procession carrying the great Bodhi-sapling finally entered the Mahameghavanarama under the direction of Sumana and at the decorated spot where former Bodhi trees stood, the great Bodhi sapling was ceremonially planted under the constellation Rohini. The first eight Bodhi saplings that sprang at the moment from the great Bodhi tree were planted at eight sacred places in Anuradhapura, Jambukola, Chandanagama and in the village of Brahman Tivakka.
Today the Śrī Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura is the most sacred and venerated spot in Sri Lanka. Its importance is not restricted to the Buddhist world but also to the whole world who celebrate its fame as the oldest recorded tree in the world.
by Kishanie S. Fernando