Rain-makers: The Sacred Bodhi Tree
As mentioned elsewhere, the kings who followed the bodhi-raja ideal made the bodhi their centre of worship and ritual. Sinhalese kings who were pabbata-raja kings until the advent of Buddhism and the arrival of the Bodhi tree from India in the third century BC changed to bodhi-raja kings subsequently.
The most sacred bodhi tree of the Sinhalese Buddhists is known as Jaya Śrī Maha Bodhi, and is located in the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura, in the modern North Central Province. It was brought to this land by the famous Indian nun Sanghamitta, sister of Sage Mahinda who introduced the Buddha's teachings to this land, and daughter of Emperor Asoka who was instrumental in propagating Buddhism in Asia. The Pali chronicle Mahavamsa describes in glowing terms the mystery and magic that accompanied the arrival of the bodhi tree in this land during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa in the third century BC. (1 9.ch. 18-19)
The bodhi tree at Anuradhapura is considered to be the southern bough of the original tree at Bodh Gaya. The royal gardens where it was planted and where it survives to the present day was coincidentally known as Malta Megha Vana, the Park of the Great Rain-cloud.
"The establishment of the sacred bodhi tree at Anuradhapura became very significant in Sinhalese kingship. In the Sinhalese kingdom, tile bodhi became the main centre of ritual at least until the arrival of the sacred Tooth about six centuries later" (14.102)
Every Buddhist temple in the island nurtures a bodhi tree as one of the three sacred objects that are found in a Buddhist temple—all three symbolizing the Buddha in three different forms: the stupa or the hemispherical building that enshrines some corporeal relics of the Buddha; the bodhi tree that symbolizes an object that has come into physical contact with the Buddha, and the image of the Buddha housed in the budu ge or vihara ge
Many kinds of rites and rituals are performed at the Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura and elsewhere, with the intention of producing rain. One of the rituals at Anuradhapura is known as the paen-perahaera (water procession). This is a procession held during the height of the drought in the Dry Zone. Rural folk gather on a full moon day at Anuradhapura and take water from the ancient tank known as Tisa Vaeva in clay pots to the bodhi tree and pour it at its foot. Water from Tisa vaeva has acquired a special significance in the bodhi ritual for two reasons; Historically, Tisa vaeva is the site where the original bough brought from India was kept before it was ceremonially planted at the present site. According to folklore, it is believed that the leaves of the bodhi tree never fall to the ground but float in the air until they reach this tank. These leaves, known in folk speech as ran pat (golden leaves) do not fall to the ground lest they be trampled by human beings.
Watering the bodhi tree even at other times is a common rite observed in all temples. Folklore has it that giving life to the bodhi tree by watering it is similar to giving life to a being who is in need of it. When someone is taken fatally ill, it is the custom for one of his relatives to visit the bodhi, water it seven times on seven days and make vows on behalf of the sick for speedy recovery. Watering the bodhi tree enhances another aspect of its magic: the power of fertility. ‘Villagers come to the bodhi tree" observes Godakumbura "and having made due observances, pray for a male child, thus continuing the original fertility image" (14.105)