Sanghamitta Bhikkhuni arriving in Sri Lanka

A large section of the walls in Wat Pho in Bangkok illustrate the Sri Lankan Theravāda Chronicle, the Mahāvaṁsa. The story is a long one, from the Buddha’s lifetime to around 1,000 years later in the original section of the story, written in the 5th century CE.

One of the major events during that period was the introduction of Buddhism by the Arahant Mahinda; and the introduction of the Bhikkhunī Sangha and the bringing of the national palladium, the Bodhi Tree, to Lanka by his sister, the Arahant Bhikkhunī Sanghamittā.

The latter events are found illustrated on the walls of Wat Pho. As is typical for the style of the paintings, stories are presented side by side, within the same space. The first photo below shows the whole scene:

Mahavamsa-001

Now we can separate the scenes out and show them one by one. The first shows Ven. Sanghamittā on the high seas. On the bottom right King Devānampiyatissa is coming through the seas to the boat to receive the Tree (note the Thai artists knew very little about Bhikkhunīs and omit their obligatory blouse, which would cover their otherwise bare shoulder and bosom):

Mahavamsa-002

In the second the King, surrounded by his courtiers, takes the Tree from the boat as the Bhikkhunīs look on:

Mahavamsa-003

In the last scene the King has dedicated the Kingdom to the Tree and enthroned it for seven days to show his reverence:

Mahavamsa-004

Note there are only six Bhikkhunīs shown, but Ven. Sanghamittā came with eleven other Bhikkhunīs, who later gave higher ordination Queen Anulā, 500 of her courtiers and 500 other women. Unfortunately I cannot find an illustration of this in the murals.

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