Lanka before Devanampiyatissa | Daily News


Lanka before Devanampiyatissa

The Sri Lanka Pali chronicles, Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, mention that Buddha visited Sri Lanka (Sinhala Dweepa) thrice in his lifetime and had preached his Dhamma to the people of this country. If we accept this legend then people of Lanka were aware of Buddha’s teachings since then.

The thirteenth century Pujawaliya states that merchants Tapassu and Bhalluka built a stupa in Lanka enshrining the hair-relics of the Buddha, also mentioned in Nidanakatha, as the two merchants who offered food to the Buddha immediately after his enlightenment. They are counted as the first among the Buddha’s lay disciples. Senerath Paranavitana describes the seventh century Tiriyay rock-inscription, about the Girihanduseya ‘founded by guild of merchants named Trapussaka and Vallika..

If Tapassu (Trapusa/Tapusa) and Bhalluka (Ballika/Vallika)were historical characters, and if they had built the Girihanduseya then they should be considered as having introduced Buddha Dhamma to Lanka, but as there may not have been a powerful political leader in the country to accept and promote Buddha Dhamma it may have been limited to the locality of the eastern sea port and trade centre.

Paranavithana also quotes from Mahavagga and Nidanakatha that the two merchants came from Ukkala (in Odisha) and the stupa was built in their own country. Hieun Tsang, on his journey from Balkh to Bamian in Gandhara noticed the remains of two stupas built over these Hair relics. The Burmese Buddhists firmly believe that the two merchants enshrined these precious relics in their own Shwe Dagon at Rangoon.

There is a strong possibility that Tapassu and Bhalluka could have been historical characters during the time, or after the parnirvana of the Buddha because of the legends associated with them in Burma and China. We have literary evidence from the Anguttara Nikaya, Ekanipata, Cattavagga “Bhikkhus out of my lay disciples the first to take the three refuges are Tapassu and Bhalluka, the tradesmen”. In Aguttara Nikaya we also have a Tapussa sutra, but we do not know if Buddha is speaking about the same merchant Tapussa. In China we find Ti-wei Po-li ching, the sutra of Trapusa and Bhallika, though we do not find any teachings, or sermons of the two merchants.

When it comes to archaeological evidence, there are the recent discoveries in Odisha by G. N. Mohanti and others. In Tarapur, 65 kilometers from Bhubaneswar, two early Brahmi inscriptions were found, one of them read ‘Bhekku Tapussa danam’, on the Deulipal hill, a rock cut cave another early Brahmi inscription ‘Bhallika lena’ near the gigantic square shaped stupa on Dauli hills, probably the ‘Kesa Tupa’.

The traders who passed through Lanka, or who may have settled down in the island, may have mentioned about Buddha and his teaching, in the same manner others may have mentioned Mahavira or Makkali Gosala. Some of the traders would have married Lankan women and settled down in Lanka, and their children would have probably followed the father's religious traditions. That is how a Muslim community grew in Lanka, with Muslim traders marrying and settling down in this country. In Sri Lanka even today, there are Sinhala families who carry Muslim names as their family names, and Muslims who carry Sinhala surnames.

When Panduvasadeva, nephew of Vijaya, arrived in Lanka with his group, dressed as Paribrajakas, people received them with due respect. His would be consort, Baddhakaccana, too arrived with her entourage dressed as Pabbajitakara, (Geiger calls them nuns) it could mean people in Lanka were also familiar with female mendicants of whatever faith.

Pandukabaya had worshiped yakkha Kalawela and Cittaraja and yakkhini Cetiya, making sacrificial offering to them. The next chapter mentions a Brahmana purohita (and Geiger calls him a ‘chaplain). In chapter 33, we come across an arama of Nigantha, where a Nigantha named Giri resided. This is mentioned as Tiththarama, built by Pandukhabaya, (437 – 367 BCE) and had been constantly inhabited under twenty-one kings. Vattagamini Abhaya, (89 – 77 BCE) after defeating the Damila, destroyed the arama of the Nignthas and build the Abhayagiri vihara. This could be the first recorded case of religious conflict in Sri Lanka, still not by the people, but by the king.

The Pali chroniclers used the term Nigantha to describe the Jain shramana, even calling Mahavira as Niganthanathaputta. But the fact remains that Jain shramana had resided in an arama which would have been there from the time of Pandukhabaya, through the times of Devanampiya Tissa and DuttaGamini. There could have been other arama of the Jains and even Buddhist monks too would have resided in caves or arama. throughout this period. .

Prof. Raj Somadeva has also thrown a challenge, based on his many years of research on the southern face of our Sri Lanka’s central mountains, which he claims could be the 'Giri Dipa' mentioned in Sri Lankan chronicles. "Thus the initial movement of diffusing of Buddhism in Sri Lanka had occurred before the Mauryan missionary set forth and the Giri Dîpa or the central mountainous tract of the country became the focus of establishing the cave monastic-cum-residential abodes of the Buddhist monks, while forming the archaic Buddhist religious landscape in Sri Lanka".

B. M. Barua has identified Giridipa as the central hilly region of Lanka. He identified other regions as, Lankadipa (Yakkhas, eastern and south-eastern coast), Nagadipa (Nagas, North Coast), and Tambapannidipa (western and south western coast).

The people in Sri Lanka would have been familiar with, and following the various Dhamma, be it Vedic, Ajivika, Jain or Buddha Dhamma. The kings too would have followed one such Dhamma or a confused practice taken from various beliefs, as we do today, to which later would have entered Christian, and Islamic practices and it is today more a Mahayana tradition in the name of Theravada, with many practices and rituals borrowed from Hindu and Christian faiths..

According to Taranatha, Buddha Dhamma had arrived in Lanka long before the time of Ashoka. Arrival of Buddhism in Lanka owes nothing to Ashoka and everything to an elder named Krishna, who comes to the island at the request of its king Asana-Simha-Kosa: “He preached the doctrine for three months in that island, filled it with monasteries and sanghas and led many people to the four stages of perfection.” According to Taranatha this Krishna was succeeded by Sudarshana, who died some years before Ashoka's reign, suggesting that the arrival of Buddhism in Lanka began during the time of Pandukabhaya and Chandragupta, a view shared by some modern historians.

We cannot say there were Buddhists in Sri Lanka from the 5th century BCE, because there really could not have been any Buddhists even in India then. Neither would there have been any Hindus or Jains then, because there would not have been any labels to segregate people into different religions. This concept would have arrived with the invasions by the Muslims and the Christians, for they already had their labels, as Jews, Christians and Muslim and they were fighting each other for the love of the same God. The terms Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism were coined by Europeans, beginning with Max Weber.

Even if they had become aware of Buddha Dhamma, 5th century BCE Lanka people would not have shown much interest in the philosophy, as they would not have seen any material benefits by following it. Since at the time it was only a Dhamma, which had not turned into a folk religion, we could not say that Buddhism was practiced in Lanka at the time, and even after the royal patronage, the people would have practiced their indigenous customs and rituals, or a mixture of Vedic, Indian and indigenous folk religious practices, as we do even today.

Unless our archaeologists take a serious interest to search for answers to what our ancient people believed in, we would never know if and when our people began to worship the Buddha and his symbols.

Even though we have also been so close to India, geographically, socially and economically, there would have been major differences too. There may not have been much development in agriculture or trade in Lanka, and thus less chances of urbanization, except around the sea ports and the urban centers like Anuradhapura and Tissamaharama. We did not have mineral resources, like they had in India, copper in and around Bihar, or Gold in Karnataka and Andra. We probably had only iron and gems in the hill country, and pearls in Mannar, which did not develop into a large scale trade or industry.

In India it was commercialization and urbanization which would have resulted in greed, envy, invariably leading to unhappiness and suffering among mankind. When there was little suffering, when the majority of the people were satisfied with what they had, there would not have been any urgency to seek salvation or relief from such suffering, thus no new philosophies or traditions would have developed in Lanka. The conditions would not have been conducive for the development of new philosophies or religious thoughts, or for a Mahavira, Gosala or a Buddha to appear in Lanka at the time. To page 16

However by about the mid first century BCE, Lanka would have been the ideal ground for the growth of Buddha Dhamma, as we were a non-violent culture. There would have been plenty of food, fruits and vegetables, thus our people would never have needed to eat the rotting flesh of dead animals. If they did not kill animals for food, they would never have offered animal sacrifices to their gods. If man did not show violence against animals, they would not have shown any violence against his own brother. Today man is the only animal who shows real, unreasonable violence against its own species. I have always believed that we should not refer to our pre-historic people as hunter-gatherers. Except for an occasional individual who hunted animals or fished, as we find even now in our villages, people would have been vegetarian. This is also based on the fact, that no hunting scenes have been found in any of our pre-historic cave paintings in Sri Lanka.

It would not have been necessary for Ashoka to promote his Dhamma in Lanka, as our people would have been really practicing a kind of Ashoka Dhamma already. In such a culture, people would have been automatically, unconsciously following the path of the Buddha. They would not have felt a need to recite the Five Precepts day in and day out, because they would not have violated them.

While Ashoka mentions all his ministers who were sent to West Asia and the Mediterranean, and even South India, he fails to mention Lanka. He also fails to mention Mahinda and Sanghamitta or the sending over of the Bo sapling. Unless of course we have still not discovered inscriptions where they are mentioned. If we accept that Tamraparni is Lanka, and not the river in Tamil Nadu, then Ashoka had sent his Dhamma Mahamatra to Lanka with his Ashoka Dhamma, before the time of Devanampiyatissa, probably during the time of Tissa's father, Mutasiva.

Instead of going on repeating what others before us had said, like the Brahmins at the time of the Buddha, let us explore Tiriyaya and also the Girihandyseya said to be in the deep south of Lanka, near Ambalantota. We have to dig up, and try to date the earliest artefacts we could find in such places. We need to search for more evidence of the arrival of Mahinda thera and Sangamitta theri, for at present we only have the Rajagal inscription, "ye ima dipa patamayaidiya agatananidika-[thera ma]hida teraha tube" translated by Paranavithana as "This is the stupa of the elder Idika and the elder Mahinda, who came to this island by the foremost good fortune." (1970: 35, Ins. No. 458).

According to the Dipavamsa, in Pataliputra at the time of Ashoka, there were 62 'false doctrines', and 96 creeds. Then many of them would have come to Lanka too. Ravana is a pious and devout follower of Jain Dhamma, in Vimala Suri’s Paumacharya. If this Ravana lived in Lanka, then Jaina Dhamma was established in Lanka even before the time of Ramayana.

However with all these various beliefs and traditions, still there would not have been any conflicts or inter-faith tensions in our country, which is a lesson for us today.

Our concern should not be about who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka or when it arrived, but to live by the teachings of the Buddha. Most important, we have to search for evidence, and try to understand how our people would have lived in a peaceful environment, with no conflicts resulting from race, creed, caste or language. The greatest homage we can pay to the Buddha and Arhat Mahinda himi is to follow the path shown by them.

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