Sanghamitta’s Birth


The Mahāvaṁsa is a well-known Chronicle from Sri Lanka that has seen a number of translations into English, most famously by Wilhelm Geiger. 1

It tells the story of the Kings of Sri Lanka, and the establishment of Buddhism in that country, and the support and challenges the religion has received down the ages.

What is little known to the general public is that there is a secondary version of the text, which its editor chose to call the Extended Mahāvaṁsa. 2

This text is almost twice as long as the original text, 3 which has been accomplished in two ways: through addition and through rewriting. It therefore contains much extra information about all aspects of the story, though the additions are unevenly spread. 4

The sections presented here are those that pertain to the Arahat Saṅghamittā’s story. This is not told, as we might like, in a continuous narrative, but rather – as it is incidental to the main story – comes to us it isolated sections.

Be that as it may, we still have a fairly large and interesting amount of information on a Nun who was – and still is – held in the very highest esteem in Sri Lanka.

The episodes cover her birth, going-forth, journey to Sri Lanka and the central role she played in establishing the religion in that country. It also records her passing, along with the passing of the first generation of missionaries; and I will serialize the story over the coming weeks.

In what follows the material that is different from the Mahāvaṁsa is set in italics, the materials that coincide are in normal font.

The translations presented here are excerpted from a much larger selection I have been making centered around Asoka and the Missions, 5 and as far as I know they are the first translations into English 6 of any section from the Extended version of the Mahāvaṁsa.

In preparing this translation I was fortunate enough to be able to consult with two experts on Sri Lankan medieval texts and history: Prof. Dr. Junko Matsumura in Japan and Ven. Dr. M. Wijithadhamma in Sri Lanka. If any mistakes remain it is because I didn’t get them corrected with these two scholars.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
July 2012

from V. The Third Recital
ExtMhv 246-263 cf. Mhv XIII 8-11

King Asoka Worshipping (Mural at Wat Pho)

King Asoka Worshipping (Mural at Wat Pho)

Formerly in the Moriyan lineage, a son called Bindusāra was born to the previous King called Candagutta 7 in the city of Pāṭaliputta, and after the death of his Father, while still growing, he became the King.

To that King there were two sons of the same mother, and to those two, there were ninety-nine other sons of the King who were brothers by different mothers.

To the eldest of them all, prince Asoka, the Lord of the Earth gave the vice-sovereignity over the country of Avanti. Then one day the King came to the attendance hall and seeing his son, he sent him off saying: “Go to the country and dwell in the city of Ujjenī.”

In accordance with his Father’s bidding, he went to Ujjenī by the interior road, and there in the city of Vedisa he arranged to make his dwelling in the house of the merchant Deva.

Seeing the merchant’s daughter he reflected gladly and said this: “I have heard she is endowed with auspicious marks, wealth, affection, and is amiable, if they will receive these gifts I will win her favour.”

They received what was given, and he became intimate with her. After life arose in the womb, she was led to the city of Ujjenī, and there she gave birth to the Prince’s handsome son, called Mahinda, and also had a daughter called Saṅghamittā.

When Bindusāra was lying on his death-bed he remembered his son, and sent ministers to fetch him from the city of Ujjenī. They went to Asoka with the news and announced his bidding, and he went quickly into their presence.

He placed his children and wife there on the interior road of the city of Vedisa, and went into his Father’s presence. When his Father died in the city of Pāṭaliputta he did the proper duties to the body for seven days. Then he had his ninety-nine brothers by different mothers murdered, and raised the Royal canopy over himself, and was consecrated right there in the city.

After the two children were sent out of the presence of the King, the venerable Mother herself resided right there in the city of Vedisa.

End Notes

1 First published in 1912. The edition I have access to was published by the Ceylon Govt. in 1950, and reprinted in 1986. There are also translations by George Tourner (1837), Ananda Guruge (1990) and an abridged translation by Ruwan Rajapakse (2001).
2 Extended Mahāvaṁsa, Chapters XII-XIV, edited by G. P. Malalasekera, Colombo 1937. Reprinted by the Pali Text Society, Oxford, 1988. I think it would have been better called the Expanded Mahāvaṁsa, as there is a danger of thinking of it as an extension rather than enlargement of the original, and confusing it with the so-called Cūḷavaṁsa.
3 5,791 verses against 2,904.
4 Sometimes the Extended version simply follows the original for a long time, at others it gives a lot of information otherwise not recorded there.
5 For more selections please see
6 The text has not yet been translated into Sinhala either.
7 Candagutta was the founder of the Mauryan Empire, which eventually Asoka inherited.


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