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Arhant Mahinda in South India and Sri Lanka

by Dr. Keerthi Jayasekera

When Bindusara was emperor, he appointed his two sons, Susuma (or Sumana) and Asoka, as his viceroys at Taxila and Ujjayini respectively. Sometime later when Taxila was in revolt which could not be suppressed by Sumana, Asoka was transfered there as he was deemed more competent for the purpose.

It was in 286 B.C. at the age of eighteen that Asoka was sent out by his father Emperor Bindusara from Pataliputra (modern day Patna in North India), as his viceroy to Ujjayini.

Taking the legends and addicts together, we find that Asoka's father was Emperor Bindusara and mother Subhadrangi, as named in the northern tradition; was also called Dharma in the southern tradition.

The chronicles make Asoka's first wife, the daughter of a merchant of Vedisagiri, Devi by name, whom Asoka married when he was Viceroy at Ujjayini.

The Mahabodhivamsa calls her Vedisamahadevi and Sakyani or a Sakya-kumari, as being the daughter of a clan of the Sakyas who had migrated to 'Vedisam nagaram' out of fear of Vidudabha who was menacing their mother country.

Vedisamahadevi is also described as having caused the construction of the great Vihara of Vedisagiri, probably the first of the monuments of Sanchi and Bhilsa.

This explains why Asoka selected Sanchi and its beautiful environs for his architectural activities.

Of king Asoka, Devi bore a son, Mahendra (Mahinda in Pali) in 284 B.C. and a daughter, Sanghamitta in 282 B.C. (who in 268 B.C) at the age of fourteen was married to Asoka's nephew, Agnibrahma and gave birth to a son named Sumana in 267 B.C. Conversion of Asoka to Buddhism by the seven year old Buddhist monk Nigrodha took place in 266 B.C.

The emperor on his consecration is also said to have appointed as his deputy or vicegerent his younger brother, Tisya, who on his retirement was ordained a monk by Mahadhammarakkhita Thera.

He was succeeded by Prince Mahendra, and remained in office for a short time prior to his ordination at the age of twenty. Mahavamsa tells us that Asoka's eldest son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitta were both ordained in the sixth year of his coronation when they were twenty and eighteen years respectively. It is also stated that Asoka's son-in-law, Agnibrahma, was ordained in the fourth year of his coronation, i.e. in 266 B.C. before which a son was born to him.

Ordination of Mahendra took place in 264 B.C. by the Thera Mahadeva, with Majjhanthika as precedent of the chapter performing the Kammavacha; and the second ordination of Mahendra by Moggaliputtatissa Thera as his Upadhyaya.

Ordination of Sanghamitta by her acharya Ayupala and Dhammapala as the Upadhyaya. Dr. E. W. Adikaram in his classic work "Early history of Buddhism in Ceylon" quotes the Samanthapasadika account of Mahinda's advent since it agrees with the main points with the Mahavamsa account; After the third council at Pataliputra (Patna) Mahinda was requested by his preceptor and the Sangha to visit Ceylon and establish the sasana in that island.

After consideration, Mahinda concluded that it was not yet the proper time to go to Lanka. Mutasiva (307-247 B.C.) the then reigning monarch of Ceylon, was advanced in years and it was not possible to establish the sasana under his patronage.

Awaiting the accession of Mutasiva's son Devanampiyatissa to the throne, Mahinda set out from Asokarama with Theras Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala, the novice Sumana and the lay disciple Bhanduka to pay a visit to his relatives. Mahinda in due course, arrived at and lived for one month at Vedisagiri, the residential quarters of his mother.

In 252 B.C. Mahinda visited his mother.

He was by then twelve years as a monk. The Mahavamsa relates that in the seventeenth year of Asoka's coronation at Pataliputra, under the presidency of the monk Moggaliputta Tissa, the third Buddhist Council was held and when he brought the council to an end," he sent forth theras one here and one there". While the Edicts are silent about Mahinda's mission to Lanka, legends are full of details describing the event.

The truth of this legend about Asoka's mission to Lanka seem to be confirmed by a piece of archaeological evidence in India. A fresco on a wall in one of the caves at Ajantha depicts the event. So far as the Addicts are concerned, Lanka is mentioned as Tamraparni in Rock Eddict II and XIII, and as the country already included by Asoka in the list of countries to which he dispatched his ambassadors to implement his scheme of Dharma-Vijaya or Moral Conquest.

Buddhism flourished in South India

It is not generally known that Buddhism flourished in South India in ancient times.

The ancient chronicles of Lanka such as the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa are silent on the subject.

There is division of opinion regarding the period in which Buddhism was introduced to South India.

Hisselle Dhammaratana Thera in his pioneering work on the subject says in his book "Buddhism in South India" a wheel publication No. 124/125, that earliest literary work in which Buddhism is traceable is a book called Purananuru. No trace of Buddhist influence can be found in books written prior to this. In Purananuru there is a reference to Sivi Jataka.

The full impact of Buddhism in South India is unmistakably shown in Silappadhikaran and Manimekhalai, which are two epic works of the 3rd Sangam period in Tamil literature (2nd century C.E.). Of these, Manimekhalai is a purely Buddhist work, which in addition to the narrative, contain expositions of Buddhist doctrine.

It is unfortunate that Lanka's ancient chronicles, which have taken pains to give details of the life and missionary activities of King Asoka have omitted to record the introduction of Buddhism to South India.

The historian Vincent Smith has advanced the view that as South Indian Tamils constantly harassed the Sinhalese with invasions, the Buddhist monks who wrote the chronicles were prejudiced against them and did not wish to give them a place in their works.

Despite this omission it is now accepted by all scholars that Buddhism was introduced to South India by the Venerable Mahinda himself. Although our chronicles say that the Venerable Mahinda arrived in Lanka through his supernormal powers, scholars are of the opinion that he travelled by sea, and called at Kaveripattinam in South India.

He sojourned there is a monastery called Indra Vihara, which was one of the several monasteries constructed in this part of the country by the Emperor Asoka. The celebrated Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang arrived at Kanchipura in South India in AC 640 during the course of his travels.

He mentions a stupa 100 feet in height which existed there. With regard to the Buddhist monuments in the Pandya country Hiuen Tsang writes as follows: "Near the city of Madura there is a monastery built by Mahinda Thera, the brother of King Asoka.

To the east of this there is a stupa built by King Asoka." The commentator Dhammapala Thera mentions in his works that he resided in a monastery which was built by King Asoka in a place called Bhadaratirtha. Early in the history of Buddhism in Lanka rock caves were made habitable and offered to the Sangha. Such caves are to be seen at Vessagiri, Cetiyagiri and Topigala.

Similar caves are to be seen in the Madura district of the Pandya country. Beds cut in the rocks for monks to rest upon are seen in these caves, inscriptions are also found indicating the names of the donors.

The Brahmi script

The Brahmi script used by King Asoka in his inscriptions has been utilised in some writings. One such cave in the Pandya country is situated at Arittapatti. The name Arittapatti has derived from Venerable Arittha who resided in this particular cave conducting his missionary activities.

H. Dhammaratana Thera states that from the aforementioned facts it may be concluded that Buddhism was introduced to South India by King Asoka and his son Venerable Mahinda, about the same time as the introduction of Buddhism to Ceylon.

In the same book he writes that the Tamil poems Silappadhikaram ("The Book of the Anklet") by the Jain poet Illango Adigal and Manimekhalai by the Buddhist poet Sattanar, refer to this monastery as the Indra Vihara. It has derived from the elder's name Maha Indra (Mahendra) in its Sanskritised form.

In the 2nd century a bhikkhu called Aravana Adigal occupied this monastery.

It is mentioned in the poem Manimekhalai that there was a small Buddhist shrine in a park called "Upavana", and a replica of the Buddha's footprint was worshipped there.

In the same poem it is said that King Killivalavan, who reigned in the 2nd century, became a Buddhist and converted a prison to a preaching hall at the request of the nun Manimekhali. Later he built a Buddhist monastery there.

In the introduction to the 'Pali Abdhidhammavatara' Venerable Buddhadatta says that he lived in a monastery at Kaveripattinam constructed by a minister named Krishnadasa. Again in the 'Madhurattha Vilasini' his commentary to the Buddhavamsa, he mentions that he wrote this book while residing in the same monastery.

Buddhist centres of ancient Chola country

Among the famous Buddhist centres of ancient Chola country was the city of Bhutamangala. Here too Venerable Buddhadatta resided in a monastery built by one Vishnudasa.

The Pali work Vinaya Vinicchaya was written by him at this monastery. The city of Nagapattanam, situated near a port of the Chola country, was an important Buddhist centre from ancient times. Here a monastery called Badaretirta Vihara was built by King Asoka.

In the 8th century BC Venerable Dhammapala resided at this Vihara and wrote the Nettipakarana Commentary. The great commentator Buddhaghosa embarked from this port, and furthermore Acarya Buddhaghosa mentions in the concluding stanzas to his Commentary on the Anguttara Nikaya (Manorathapurani) that at time of compiling the work he lived at Kancipura with his friend Bhikkhu Jotipala.

Again in the 'Papancasudani', the commentary to the Majjima Nikaya, he mentions that the book was written when he was residing at Mayurapattanam with Bhikku Buddhamitta. In the Samantapasadika he states that when residing at Kancipura he saw the Telugu commentary known as the Andhatthakatha. Renowned Buddhist teachers such as Aravana Adigal, Manimekhalai, Dinnaga, Bodhidharma, Acarya Dharmapala, Anuruddha, and Buddhaditya are said to have lived in the city of Kanchipuram.

Dr. E. W. Adikaram in "Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon" says after spending one month in Vedisagiri, on the full moon day of Jeetha-mula (April-May or May-June) Mahinda and the six others mentioned above, coming together, discussed whether it was the right time to go to Lanka.

Then Indra, who in Pali Buddhist literature is better known as Sakkha, the Chief of gods, approached Mahinda, requested him to go over and promised his help in the conversion of the island people.

Having arrived at Missakapabbata, Arhant Mahinda had a conversation with Tissa, during which he gauged the intellectual capacity of the latter. Finding that the King was quick-witted and able to understand the Dhamma, he expounded the Culahatthipadopama Sutta.

At the end of the discourse the King and his retinue of forty thousand people embraced the new faith. On the following morning Mahinda and other Bhikkhus went to Anuradhapura... The King served the theras with alms and calling upon the five hundred ladies, with Anuladevi as their head, to make obeisance to the theras, the king himself took his seat at a side. After the meal was over, Mahinda preached the Petavatthu Vimanavatthu and Saccasamyutta to the people assembled including the King.

Devaduta Sutta

Hearing this discourse, the five hundred ladies attained Sovan First Path... Same day Mahinda Thera preached Devaduta Sutta at the hall of the State Elephant, and Asivisopama Sutta at Nandanavana.

On the third day he preached Anamataggiya discourse, and Aggikhandhopama Sutta on the fourth day... On the seventh day the Thera preached the Maha-appamada Sutta to the King and returned to Cetiyagiri.

Having thus introduced the Buddha Dhamma to the Royalty and the people, the Thera ordained the Minister Maha Arittha and fifty five of his elder and younger brothers, thus formally establishing the Bhikkhu Order.

Establishment of Mahavihara, which became the leading monastery in Lanka, getting down the sacred Bo sapling and Theri Sanghamitta which led to the establishment of the Bhikkuni order, and presiding over the Thuparama Council held at Anuradhapura where Maha Arittha Thera recited the Vinaya, which helped to complete the process of establishing Buddhism in Lanka are some of the highlights of Arhath Mahinda's missionary activities in Ceylon.

Dr. Adikaram goes on to say: From the facility with which Mahinda and the people of Lanka understood one another, we may incidently observe how closely allied the languages in Ceylon and in North India time must have been at that time.

A comparison of the earliest inscription of Ceylon and those of North India in the corresponding age leads one to the same inference. ...Devanampiyatissa reigned for forty years. On his death his brother Uttiya succeeded as the king.

In the eighth year of his reign Mahinda Thera who was sixty years from the date of his upasampada ordination, passed away on the eighth day of the bright half of the month Assayuja, while he was spending the rainy season on the Cetiya mountain.


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