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Sri Lanka-India Relations – Substratum is Buddhism

Former Ambassador

This story should begin from a visit I made to Saranath and Bodh-Gaya and Gurupa Rock Cave (the Asapuwa of Arahant Most Ven. Maha Kassapa Thero) in July this year after a lapse of some years. I felt the extreme serenity of the environs where the Buddha’s venerable presence had cleansed the earth of these revered spots, a million times over; He attained Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya and His Doctrine for the emancipation of humanity, the Dhamma Chakka was expounded at Saranath. I felt a debt of gratitude to the monks living in these precincts preserving the sanctity of the places, Most Ven. Dr. D. Rewatha Thero, Most Ven.K. Sumedha Thero, and Most Ven.P. Seevali Thero, and other Sri Lankan monks serving all over India. They are, indeed, envoys of Sri Lanka in India serving both Nations.

I reminisced of the occasions when I had visited these hallowed places, when I gave my fullest to the building of the Ranveta, the Golden Railing at Bodh Gaya and the one-hundred houses to the needy, during the presidency of Late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, 1992-1993 period. I contemplated on our age-old relations and became strongly convinced that it was the Doctrine of the Buddha that laid the foundation for the deep relations on all spheres between our two countries, Jambudweepa and Lanka (Thambapanni) at that era, India and Sri Lanka now.

I felt that the golden thread that links our two lands is Buddha’s doctrine preserving and protecting the two lands from any calamities both natural and man-made, which engulfs them. As I pondered along these lines, I reminisced on the three doctrinal visits the Buddha made to settle disputes of sorts in Sri Lanka and bring in peace. New research is being made to confirm the authenticity of these visits.

His first visit was made in the ninth month after the Supreme Enlightenment, on the Duruthu Full-Moon Day (1st B.E. 528 B.C.) That was to Mahiyangana, where the entire Yaksha Clan was meeting in the Mahanaga Garden. At this meeting the Yakshas and the Rakshasas listened to the Doctrine and became followers. The Naga king living in Kelaniya Maniakkhika visited the Buddha and embraced Buddhism. During this visit a lock of hair of the Blessed one was enshrined in a Stupa on the request of Maha Sumana Prince of the Deva Clan.

The second visit (5 B.E. or 523 B.C.) was to resolve a clan dispute between two Naga kings Culodara and Mahodara, uncle and nephew for a jewelled throne in Nagadipa; the Naga king Maniakkhika was given charge of the throne in Kelaniya, who constructed a Cetiya encircling it; and a Na plant from Jetavana, brought by Sakka, from the Deva Clan, known also as Samiddhi Sumana, a representative of the Persian Emperor Darius, who accompanied the Buddha on this visit, was planted on the precincts of Kelaniya. This is evidence to show that the Buddhist Doctrine had been embraced by persons far and wide in northern Asia, even from Persia, by the fifth year of Buddha’s Enlightenment. The emancipation of the Yakkas and Nagas at Mahiyangana, Nagadipa, and Kelaniya is historical evidence that the Buddhist Doctrine would have been followed by the people of Lanka, even before the official introduction by Most Ven.Arahant Mahinda Thero.

In (9B.E., 519/520B.C.) Buddha visited Lanka for the third time on the invitation of King Maniakkhika, first arriving in Kelaniya, with 500 of his followers who settled here. It was during this visit that He placed the foot imprint on the top of Samantakuta, on the invitation of Prince Sumana Saman, who later was regarded as Saman Deviyo.

The Yakkha, Naga and Deva clans who lived in Lanka during the Buddha period had maintained close links with the Sakyas, the clan of the Siddhartha Gauthama as outlined by the above accounts. There could be archaeological evidence to these episodes, which could throw light on the earliest Sri Lanka-India relations.

Undoubtedly, it is in the imbibing of the Buddhist Doctrine by the people who inhabited this land during Buddhist Era,that started this long relationship to the present day. The Ramayana story of Rama and Seetha precede these links, but they did not impact upon the subsequent bilateral relations; they only made Lanka the legendary home of Ravana. Of course, our history owes much to the Ravana period as it depicts the long and prosperous civilization we possessed; but they had less to reflect a continuation of the relations of the two lands during that undocumented period.

Relics of the Buddha :-

It was said before that the Buddha’s lock of hair relic was placed at the Mahiyangana Chaitya when the Buddha visited this region to settle the tribal dispute. There is also the acceptance that another was placed at the Hirigandu Seya.

Advent of Buddhism :-

The greatest being to be born in Jambudweepa (India) was Siddhartha, The Blessed One. In the book ‘Glimpses of World History’ Jawaharlal Nehru, a great son of India, devotes pages to the Buddha and refers to the bringing of the Doctrine to Ceylon and even the Bo Sapling to Anuradhapura. It is written history now, that during the time of King Asoka, Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka in the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, by Most Ven. Arahant Mahinda. The whole gamut of culture the writing script, literature, language, art and architecture, agro-based economy, tank- irrigation and the value systems either developed or had their initiation/origin with the advent of Buddhist doctrine. As this aspect is well-documented and known that it will be a superfluous exercise to go through it here. What should be remembered is that the relations between the two countries in all other allied fields advanced with this one single factor - Buddhism.

Sri Maha Bodhi Sapling :-

There were emissaries to the Courts of Administration of both Asoka and Devanampiyatissa respectively. On such a visit from Sri Lanka to the court of Asoka headed by Ariththa, a Bo-Sapling was requested and Most Ven Sanghamitta Meheni was sent on the Unduwap Poya day with the sacred Bo Sapling which was from the Sri Maha Bodhi from Bodh-Gaya. With the Bodhi Tree came the persons linked to varied trades to serve the Bodhi from sixty-four clans. Ariththa later entered the Buddhist order, in fact the first Buddhist monk from Lanka.

Meheni Sasna :-

The Meheni Sasna/Bhikkuni Sasana was established by Most Ven Sanghamiththa on the Unduwap Poya day. There started the emancipation of women in Sri Lanka.

It is documented in Sri Lankan chronicles that the arrival of Prince Vijaya and retinue in Sri Lanka happened on the day that The Blessed one attained Parinirvana in Kushinagar in 543 B.C. It would have been a coincidence but there was an invisible undercurrent that moved through to Sri Lanka from the Buddha’s land ensuring protection of this land even in the subsequent eras.

Political Links :-

The political processes of the North Indian Kingdoms impacted on Lanka during the 6th century B.C to around 12th century A.D. (until Magha). At the earlier period the relations were definitely co-operative, conciliatory and based deep-seated doctrinal friendships.

There had been emissaries sent to and fro Lanka and the courts of regional capitals of Jambudweepa, to deepen the relations through matrimonial links. It is documented that King Vijaya who usurped the kingship from the Yakkha clans, later brought princesses for marriage from Jambudweepa. For continuation of the Monarchy, he consecrated the son of his brother Sumiththa, Panduvasudeva on the throne.

Pandukabhaya :-

It was at this time that Siddhartha Gauthama’s (Buddha’s) paternal uncle Amithodana moved away the Sakya kingdom to Kalinga from Patalipuththa, due to the onslaughts of Vidhuda, a rival ruler. The Sakyas established a kingdom in Kalinga and Amithodana was succeeded by his son Pandu-Sakya. The matrimonial links between the Sakya’s and the Lankan Monarchy was such that Pandu-Sakya’s daughter Baddha-Kachchayana married Panduvasudeva in Lanka.

With the sister Baddha-Kachchayana, arrived her brothers Dighayu, Rohana, Vijitha and Anuradha in Lanka. They established regional settlements later known as Rohana, Vijithapura, Anuradhapura, Dighavapi. Baddha Kachchayana and Panduvasadeva who ruled from Upatissagama, had ten children; nine sons and extremely pretty daughter Chitra, later known as Unmada-Chitra due to the attraction that she pervaded all round.

Like in Jambudweepa Lanka too had the tradition of sooth-sayers and when Chitra was born they predicted that she will bear a son who will kill all his uncles and become king of Lanka; fearing this eventuality there were moves by the nine brothers to get rid of the sister; the eldest brother Abhaya opposed this and he rather wanted to keep her in watch in a solitary house built on one pole (ek-temge) disallowing anybody to get in contact, and not allowing her to get married watched over by Kaladevala and-Chiththaranjan.

Prince Dighayu’s son was Digha-Gamini who was serving in the King’s court; he fell in love with this exceptional beauty and had a liaison with Unmada-Chitra who was over-protected by the Uncles. This moving historic episode is well documented; the son of Digha-Gamini and Unmada Chitra was Pandukabhaya - the Great ancestor of the Sinhala Race.

When he was born, in fear of his being killed by the uncles, he was sent to Doramandalawa and was protected until he was strong enough to look after himself. There were trying moments in his childhood and attempts on his life that he eliminated uncles who were against him and he became the first Monarch in Anuradhapura. He married his uncle Girikhanda Siva’s daughter Swarnapali. He spared the two uncles Abhaya and Girikhanda Siva. His son was Mutasiva, and Devanampiyatissa was Mutasiva’s son. This lineage provides sufficient evidence to show that Lanka had extremely close blood links with the Sakya Kingdoms, and Sri Lanka- India relations were at the zenith due to the Buddhist Doctrine.

Perhaps, any attempt to twist and turn this history with whatever motive, is sacrilegious to say the least.

Sacred Tooth Relic :-

When the Buddhist Kingdoms in India faced any threats they looked to Sri Lanka for refuge. Even the Tooth Relic was sent to Sri Lanka by King Guhasiva of Kalinga when he could not protect it from enemy King Khiradhara and Princess Hemamala hid it in the hair locks until it was handed over to the King Siri Meghavanna, at Kida Galgama Dalada Viharaya. According to Most Ven. Muwaetagama Ananda Thero, of Madu Kanda Vihara, the sacred relic journeyed through Sema Madu, Ransi Madu, Ma Madu and Maha Kidagama to Saliyapura Sri Dalada Viharaya.

This episode points to the traditional closeness of the kingdoms, after the introduction of Buddhist doctrine officially. Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala son and daughter-in-law of King Guhasiva were especially sent with this sacred treasure; as stated they travelled through jungle terrain staying at places, which are historic temples like Madu Kanda. It was during the reign of King Siri Meghavanna that Sacred Tooth Relic arrived from King Guhasiva of Kalinga, in 805 B.E. 311 A.D. and this bound the two Nations for eternity.

The sacred Tooth Relic became an important object in the protection of kingship in Sri Lanka, that the Monarch always had the Sacred Relic in his domain and custody. There had been several incidents of usurpers trying to own the Relic but it got preserved and protected with the timely action by the rulers. Even terrorists have attempted destroying the Relics but none had succeeded; and our Land is protected only with the Blessings of Sacred Dantha Dhathu, and there is no doubt about it.

Landmarks :-

I only selected the most significant contributions Buddhism had made to the creation, welfare, and the protection of our beloved Sri Lanka at the very formative stages. It was the direct contribution of the Land of the Buddha to Lanka, (India to Sri Lanka). It was on this edifice the rest was built and we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Enlightened One, The Buddha, His Doctrine and His disciples, the Sangha.

Later Links :-

Later political history of Sri Lanka mostly was entwined with the decadence of Buddhism in India. While the Buddhist rulers were sympathetic towards Sri Lanka, other dynasties with different faiths, obviously, did not have the same closeness in relations. Conflicts ensued: and when dynasties sprung in Southern India they viewed Sri Lanka only as another political entity, bereft of the doctrinal linkages. The invasions from South India at different eras happened in this non-homogenous doctrinal environs; however, some of those rulers embraced the Doctrine if they ruled Sri Lanka at least for a brief period, as it was an insurance against internal rebellions.

This was the earliest history of India-Sri Lanka links based on Buddhism; this should be nurtured and preserved. Present day diplomacy too should be placed on this historic sub stratum without any fear of contravention, as we became a Nation and a Civilization, building on those ancient traditions held high both in Sri Lanka and India.

The Highest Esteem for Buddhism by Indian Leaders :-

Raj Pal Rana Managing Trustee of Bombay Buddhist International said, in Maha -Bodhi Centenary Souvenir 1991, which I quote as it speaks volumes to this relationship.

"In 1931, when Panditji was the General Secretary of the Indian National Congress, he along with Shri Prakashji, who was the then Governor of Assam, and Treasurer of the Mulagandhakuti Vihara Building Fund at Saranath together attended the opening ceremony of the Vihara, although Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did not speak at the gathering he announced that the Indian National Congress would send a replica of the then National Flag as a momento to the Vihara. The promise was faithfully kept and sometime later a silver replica of National Flag encased in a sandalwood box was sent to the Vihara at Saranath. Never did we then imagine that when the struggle for Independence ended successfully, our late Panditji would be the first Prime Minister and he would substitute the Chakra on the National Flag with the Dharma Chakra (the Wheel of Law) of Ashoka. Late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said it was not a flag of domination over anybody but a symbol of freedom not only for ourselves but for all the peoples who may see it. Such is the glorious tradition of the Ashok Chakra." This flag is being kept as a historic momento at the museum in the Saranath Temple.

The Prime Minister and the Indian leaders made the Ashoka Lion Sthambha the National Emblem giving pride of place to Buddhism and the first Buddhist Emperor. This is the undercurrent that runs through the whole spectrum of Sri Lanka-India relations. How some of our Leaders promoted our mutual relations, based on this factor and used it also to overcome difficult issues is a fascinating story, which should be understood and followed.

The Indian Leaders gave support to our great world renowned Buddhist Revivalist, Anagarika Dharmapala (Most Ven Devamitta Dhammapala ) in taking the Buddha Message back to India from Sri Lanka. The Indian leaders always acknowledge that Sri Lanka is a steadfast friend who stands behind them both in joy and sorrow, which could not be obliterated by small beings by devious methods. There is this golden thread that binds us -The Dhamma of the Blessed One.

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