Ven. Sanghamitta and the Bodhi Tree set out for Lanka

from the Extended Mahāvaṁsa, XIX. The Journey of the Great Bodhi Tree
ExtMhv 1-37 cf. Mhv 1-22

The Nuns Set Sail (Mural at Wat Pho, Bangkok)

The Nuns Set Sail
(Mural at Wat Pho, Bangkok)

In order to protect the Great Bodhi Tree, the Best of Charioteers appointed eighteen from royal families, and eight from ministerial families, eight from brahminical families, eight from merchants’ families, and from the foremost and faithful cow-herders families, the sparrow weavers, 1 the potters families, the hyena families, eight of each were also appointed.

He sent Nāgas and Yakkhas together with their assembly and sprinkled it with water brought for the purpose day by day and gave eight gold and eight silver water-pots, as was desired. Then taking the Great Bodhi Tree and worshipping it in various ways, he said: “In whatever way you like go from city to city.”

The Ruler of Men, surrounded by his army, dismissing them went immediately with his elephants, horses and chariots, and by crossing through the jungle called the Viñjhā forest he arrived at Tāmalitti 2 within seven days.

The gods, Nāgas and men quickly assembled on the highway and worshipped the Bodhi Tree in the way they liked, and worshipped it with a great offering day by day with manifold Heavenly Musicians’ music and song, and going gradually they also arrived on the seventh day. 3

translator’s note: the text here is translated from the Extended version of the Mahāvaṁsa, for more information see the preface to this series. Where the extended version and the original differ the text is italicised.

The Lord of the World placed the Great Bodhi Tree on the bank on the Great Ocean and worshipped it with various offerings for seven days, and the Guardian of the World, the Best of Charioteers, consecrated the Great Bodhi Tree with sovereignty over the whole of the Rose-Apple Isle.

On the first day of the lunar fortnight in the bright half of Maggasira 4 he raised the Great Bodhi Tree with help given by eight of each from the high-born families appointed at the root of the Sāl tree with all kinds of offerings. He descended into the water up to his neck and established it properly on the ship and invited the Great Elder Saṅghamittā with eleven other nuns 5 onto the ship with various offerings.

Then he uttered this statement to his chief minister Mahāriṭṭha: “This Great Bodhi Tree, Dear, I consecrated three times with sovereignty over the whole of the Rose-Apple Isle. Now, after bringing the Great Bodhi Tree myself and arranging all kinds of ceremonies here in the port town, I descended up to my neck into the water and established it on the ship with the Elder Nun Saṅghamittā.

Seeing that you are sent back from the city to my friend, the King should also worship it with sovereignty in the same way. As I have made all kinds of ceremonies and offerings my friend the Great King Devānampiyatissa should also make all the offerings that have been made by me.”

Having given this advice to his friend, the resplendent Guardian of the World, lamenting tearfully, uttered this statement: “Alas, the Bodhi Tree of the virtuous one, the One of Ten Powers! While it is still emitting a net of twenty coloured rays we have gladly given it up.”

Having said this, the Great King, after making reverential salutation with his head, seeing the Great Bodhi Tree going with the Elder Nun, stood depressed on the bank with a shower of tears set rolling.

While watching the ship with the Great Bodhi Tree on board going from the multitude and the King, after crossing the water someway, the waves settled down for a league all round on the great sea.

Five coloured lotuses on all sides blossomed, and in the firmament manifold instruments played. Manifold offerings were made by the gods, and the Nāgas worked magic in order to seize the Great Bodhi Tree.

The Great Elder Saṅghamittā, who had gained the strength of psychic powers took the form of a Supaṇṇa 6 and frightened the Great Snakes.

Trembling and fearful, seeing the spiritual power and the splendour of the Great Elder Nun, they worshipped the Elder’s feet with their heads and begged for their lives, saying: “Don’t be angry with us, Noble Sister, on this journey today there will be no obstacle for you, you will be safe; we have come in order to ask for the Bodhi Tree.”

She gave the Great Bodhi Tree to the Nāgas to worship and they took the Great Bodhi Tree to the Dragons’ abode. They worshipped it with various offerings and gave it sovereignty over the Nāga realm for seven days, brought it back and placed it on the ship, and that same day the ship arrived at Jambukola in Laṅkā. 7

King Dhammāsoka, affected with grief 8 over separation from the Great Bodhi Tree, helpless, looked longingly towards that region, and after making great lamentation, he went back to his city.

End Notes

1 It is unclear why the weavers are designated as sparrow weavers, or what the hyena families mentioned below were. Geiger suggests these may be totem clan names.
2 On the coast of the Bay of Bengal, near to modern-day Kolkata.
3 This account is different from the Mahāvaṁsa, where the Bodhi Tree is put on board ship and sails down to Tāmalitti. Here it appears to be taken by the land route, before it sets sail.
4 Normally falling in December.
5 These are named in Dīpavaṁsa, XVIII, vv. 11-12 as follows: Uttarā, Vicakkhaṇā, Hemā, Pasādapālā, Aggimittā, Dāsikā, Pheggu, Pabbatā, Mattā, Mallā and Dhammadāsiyā.
6 The traditional enemies of the Nāgas (a mythical snake) were the Supaṇṇas (a mythical bird).
7 This is the same port from which the envoys had left Laṅkā, see Ch. XVIII, vs. 8 above.
8 A play on his name: Asoka means griefless, here he is said to be sasokavā, with grief.

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