Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, in the city of Anuradhapura, is the oldest tree in the world with a written history. It has been recorded as the southern branch of the Ficus religiosa (or peepal) tree under which the great Gautama Buddha attained enlight- enment. Sri Maha Bodhi is one of the most venerated sites of worship in the country for Buddhists.
Unduvap, as the full moon day and month are named in the traditional lunar calendar, has special relevance for the Sri Maha Bodhi. The sacred Bo sapling was brought to the island on an Unduvap full moon day by a delegation headed by Maha Theri Sanghamitta, daughter of Asoka the Great, Emperor of India. The sacred sapling was ceremonially planted in Mahameghavana Gardens by King Devanampiya Tissa. Arahant Mahinda, Arahant Maha Theri Sanghamitta and minor royals of Kajaragama, Candanagama and the village of Tivakka attended the ceremonial planting. From that point on, all the kings of the country venerated and conducted rituals that, with time, were established as pooja to the sapling of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.
Over the years, many royals renovated and tended to the Bodhi tree. King Vasabha (65–107 AD) is reputed with placing four Buddha statues on the four sides of the sacred tree. Bronze statues were positioned in the surrounding shrine rooms by King Voharika Tissa (214 –236 AD).
King Mahanaga (569–571 AD) built a water canal around the sacred tree. King Sena II (846–866 AD) con- tinued with the maintenance. Even after the Anuradhapura period ended, the sacred Bodhi tree was tended to and worshipped by the Wanniyars – provincial rulers of the ‘wanni’ or ‘wilderness’ – and bhikkhus.
It is said the Bo trees that surround the Sri Maha Bodhi were planted for protection from storms and damage that may be caused by animals. The addition of a golden fence around the tree was a modern renovation. The first Ran Weta (golden fence) was constructed in the year 1969 by a group of devotees from Kandy.
On Unduvap day Buddhists gather around the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi to pay homage and invoke blessings. Pilgrims arrive from far and spend the day in the maluwa participating in religious activities. Meditation, Dhamma and Sil programmes as well as Bodhi Pooja are held on the day.