The day Buddhism was introduced to the island
By Time Out editors |

Next to Vesak, which celebrates the Birth, Enlightenment and the Passing Away of Gautama, the Buddha, the Poson Poya day is the second most important day in the Buddhist calendar for Sri Lankan Buddhists since it marks the advent of Buddhism to the island over 2,300 years ago.

This year Poson Poya falls on June 27th. The mountain of Mihintale – 135 miles from Colombo and nine miles from the ancient capital of Anuradhapura – becomes the cynosure of all Buddhists with nearly a million making the annual trek to its peak. Many devotees will observe ata sil, the eight precepts from dawn to dusk.

Since it was on its rocky top 23 centuries ago, that the nation embraced the Buddha’s philosophy, which forever changed the course of its history. This took place when King Devanampiyatissa on a deer hunt in the Mihintale forest, heard a voice call out his name, “Tissa, Tissa.” Enraged as to who would dare address him in such a familiar manner, the king turned to face the caller, a group of men in saffron robes. When asked who they were, one stepped forth and said: “We are the disciples of the Lord of the Dhamma. In compassion towards you, Maharaja, we have come from India. I am the Thera Mahinda, the son of Emperor Asoka.”

The Arahant questioned the king to gauge if the king’s intellect was of a level sufficient to grasp the Buddhist doctrine, and then delivered a sermon.

At the end King Devanampiyatissa embraced Buddhism and proclaimed it as the country’s religion. While, Emperor Asoka’s son, Arahant Mahinda, is identified as a connection to Mihintale for bringing the Buddha’s Dhamma to Sri Lanka, his daughter, the Bhikkuni Sanghamitta, who brought a sapling of the sacred Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha attained enlightenment, is closely associated with Thanthirimale. This is an ancient temple lying 34 miles from Mihintale. The Bodhi was a gift to King Devanampiyatissa after Buddhism was established in the island. The king welcomed the arrival of the Bo sapling with all honours, where it was escorted to his capital by carriage.

According to the historical records of the Mahawamsa chronicle, Thanthirimale was one of the important halting places of the procession bringing the Sri Maha Bodhi. Bhikkuni Sanghamitta and her retinue had rested here for one night during the sacred journey of bringing the Sri Maha Bodhi to Anuradhapura.

A few years after the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi took root in Anuradhapura, eight new saplings emerged from the Bodhi. It is known that the first of these saplings was planted at Thanthirimale.

From June 17 – 24 this year, pirith will be held in Mihintale for Poson. During the Poson week from June 24 – 30 celebrations will also be held at Mihintale with its massive stupa bathed in light, called the ‘Aloka Pooja’. Thanthirimale too will be covered in light with thousands of devotees meditating on the site where the Sri Maha Bodhi sapling first rested on Sri Lankan soil.

More to explore