Methods of worshiping Buddha prevailed in the initial periods in Heladiva

Even in the time that Gautama Buddha lived in Janbudveepa in Helabima, the followers of Dhamma– the Buddhist – wanted to pay their homage to Buddha and for that purpose they had few objects of offerings which were allowed, recommended by Buddha himself. They can be classified in to three parts.

I               Paribogika objects.
II             Uddesika objects.
III            Saririka objects.[1]

It is very clearly mentioned in Tripitaka Canon, Mahavamsa and Deepa Vamsa that the follower of Buddha Dhamma – the Buddhist – who lived in the very initial periods in Helabima  had paid his homage to all these three parts.

It was in this Helabima  that Sidduhat Bosath was born, Gautama Buddha gained his Enlightenment and he preached his Dhamma for a period of forty five years. The followers of Buddha Dhamma – Buddhist people – who lived in the initial period in this Helabima had the custom of paying their homage to all these three parts of sacred objects in the memory of the Buddha. They had done it with utmost respect and honor.

In the very initial periods, Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi [2]which gave shelter for Buddha in his Enlightenment, what he used, Pariboga, and also the sacred offshoots of Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi were the most important object of worshipped by the people in Helabima.  It is mentioned in the history books written in our country that following the advices given to Ananda Thero by Gautama Buddha, an offshoot of Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi was taken in procession from Hiriwadunna to the grounds of Jethavanarama monastery in the city of Savath, planted it there and paid the due respects. This Jethavanarama monastery was situated in the Naa forest (in Jethwana, the forest of Jetha) in the archeological ground in Ritigala, as we call it nowadays. This Bo tree, Ananda Bodhi, was grown in Naa forest in Ritigala. It seems that it is covered by the thick jungle and extinct today.

In addition to this, the followers of Dhamma in Heladiva, i.e. the Buddhists, had worshipped the Vajrasana used by the Buddha. What is still there at the base of the Hiriwadunna Siri Maha Bodhi, what is worshipped by the Buddhist world is nothing else, but the Vajrasana used by Gautama Buddha. Though it is seen some more Vajrasanas like this at different sacred places in Helabima, today they cannot be seen in public.

The Uddesika object of offering which was used by many followers of Buddha from the time of Gautama Buddha was the sacred footprint of Buddha. These sacred footprints endowed with amazing symbols. Because of this, rock slates were carved with these special symbols and the followers of Buddha who lived in the ancient times used to worship these sacred footprints. During the time that Buddha lived, there were eight sacred footprints which were blessed by Gautama Buddha himself. People in Helabima  started to place them in eight different locations and pay their homage. There are locations where the sacred footprint has been placed as a pair and in another place it has been placed as one single sacred footprint. These places, later, were popular as Atamasthanas – The Great Eight Places – among the followers of Buddha lived in those days. And people used to go on pilgrimages to these places.  A book called “Hasthasaalinie” written in the Anuradhapura period says that even in the period of Anuradhapura, many kings in Hela kingdoms, noblemen and the Counts had gone to these places for worshipping in royal parades.

During the time of Gautama Buddha, He recommended the paying homage to Saririka objects, i.e. the relics. Gautama Buddha said to construct the Chaityas & the Dagabas and enshrine the relics of the Buddha, relics of a Pachcheka Buddha, relics of an Arahant and the relics of a Chakravarthi King and pay homage to them. Just after few days of His Enlightenment, “Thapassu Balluka”, the merchant brothers asked for something form Buddha to worship and Saririka object given to them by Buddha was some hair relics. The Dagaba built by them enshrining these hair relics was known as “Girihandu Seya”. This Dagaba was situated in a place in the kingdom of Anga near Trincomalee. All the Buddhists do not have any doubt over this. The Dagaba built by King Sumana in Mahiyangana was the second Dagaba in Helabima built in the name of Gautama Buddha. The history says that Buddha’s sacred hair relics had been enshrined and built a Dagaba there. The Tripitaka says that a Chaitya, a Dagaba had been built in the city of Rajagaha enshrining the sacred body relics of the ten Arahants of Great Eighty Disciple of Buddha, Asu Maha Sravaka, such as Arahant Sariyuth and Arahant Mugalan who passed away before Gautama Buddha and due respect had been paid for it. The ruins of all these ten Chaityas still exist at Rajagala in Ampara.  Then it’s proved that it was the custom of the ancient Buddhists, followers of Buddha, of visiting and paying their homage to the Chaityas and Dagabas which were built even many eras prior to Anuradhapura era.

When Gautama Buddha attended in to his Parinibbana in the city of Kusinara (Budugala) that day, all the sacred body relics of Gautama Buddha were divided in to eight potions and given among eight kings who reigned in this Helabima. From that day onwards these sacred relics were revered by the people in Helabima. It is not mentioned in any place, not in any historical text, not Mahavamsa either that sacred relics had been taken in procession to Lanka from India. It was from the city of Kusinara in Budugala, not from anywhere else, that the Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha took in procession the sacred tooth relic of Gautama Buddha to Anuradhapura. The city of Kusinara too was situated in Janbudveepa. In today’s context it was Budugala in Rathnapura district.

From the day that Gautama Buddha was living, the custom of paying homage to the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi was practiced by the world of Hela Buddhists. Following this custom of growing and paying homage to the offshoots of sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi, during the time that Buddha lived itself, the very first offshoot was taken in procession to Isipathanaarama monastery in Isinbassagala. In the past this place called Isipathanaya in Madawachchiya was coming under the kingdom of Kasi. The sacred offshoot of Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi planted that day in the Raja Maha Vihara of Isinbassagala is well secured and living there. Even to this date Buddhist people in Helabima  pay their homage to this sacred Bodhi tree.

It is again in the same time that Gautama Buddha lived an offshoot of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi was planted in the Veluvanarama monastery in the city of Rajagaha in Rajagala in Ampara and people used to pay their most respect to it. The region of Rajagala was covered by the great Jungle for more than 1000 years and because of this no any trace can be found about this sacred Bo tree.

Another branch of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi was planted in Lumbini where the Prince Sidddhartha was born (today it is Bambaragala), it can be seen even today at the ground of Wewagama Raja Maha Vihara monastery.

The city of Kusinara where the Gautama Buddha attended in to his Parinibbana was another place that one offshoot of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi was taken in procession and planted. The most ancient Bodhi tree which is well known as Tampitayaya Bodhi which is located in between Budugala and Kuragala is nothing but another offshoot taken in this manner. There is a story in Bodhi Vamsa which revolves around the true story of taking in procession an offshoot of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Hiriwadunna by Meheni Sangamiththaa to Anuradhapura after 280 years of the Parinibbana of Gautama Buddha.

Bodhi Vamsa was written in the reign of Dambadeniya and the story about this is briefly highlighted in Uththara Vamsa, Mahavamsa and Deepa Vamsa.

During the reign of King Ashoka, Prince Mahinda escaped from India with three princesses namely   Sangamiththaa, Sumana and Sunanadaa and those prince and the princesses were secretly hiding themselves in Veluvanarama monastery in Rajagala in Ampara. All these four are the princes and princesses of a royal family in the region of Kalinga. These members of the royal family who are related to King Ashoka in blood escaped from him by the fear of the war. It’s a well know fact that King Ashoka massacred his own relations, the members of the royal families of the regional kings in India. These princes and princesses escaped from there and came to Helabima  to save their life. First, all these princes and princesses entered in to the Order, became Bhikkus and Bhikkunis. It was nobody else but Mahinda Thero, who lived in Veluvanarama monastery in Rajagala in Ampara, entered in to the Order as Great Arahant Mahinda, experienced the fruitions in the supermundane path, learnt Sinhala, Maghadi and also Buddha Dhamma and later introduced Buddha Dhamma to Anuradhapura. Later, when King Ashoka converted himself in to Buddha Dhamma and known as Dharmashoka, Arahant Mahinda Thero went to India and worked for spreading out the Buddha Dhamma in India. Arahant Mahinda Thero spent the later part of his life and attended in to Parinibbana in the city of Rajagaha which was known as Rajagala in Ampara.

This is proved even to this date by an inscription written on a rock slate found in Rajagala in Ampara and also some ruins of a Chaitya located near that inscription. According to this, the Veluvanarama monastery situated in the city of Rajagaha, what is known as Rajagala in Ampara today was the World’s Centre for Buddha Dhamma where Mahinda Thero entered in to Sanga, learnt Dhamma and experienced the fruitions in the supermundane path. If Arahant Mahinda Thero had come to Anuradhapura from somewhere in India, there should be a very valid reason for him to choose Rajagala, a very faraway place from Anuradhapura, to spend his latter part of life and also to attend in to his Parinibbana. Based on this, it can be proved that Arahant Mahinda Thero came to Anuradhapura from the city of Rajagaha, went back to the city of Rajagaha and by that time there was a well developed and wealthy kingdom of Hela in Rajagala and it was popular as a Buddhist academy.

Arahant Mahinda Thero lived in Veluvanarama monastery in Rajagala and his sister Princess Sangamiththaa too entered in to the Order in one Meheni Arama[3]situated in the same grounds of Veluvanarama monastery. Later she also experienced the fruitions in the supermandane path and went to Anuradhapura with Arahant Mahinda Thero to establish the Meheni Sasna, the Order of the nuns, in Lankapura. Bodhi Vamsa says that on her way to Anuradhapura, she had taken an offshoot of Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Hiriwadunna for the Buddhist people in Anuradhapura.

When the time that Gautama Buddha gained his Enlightenment, the region of Hiriwadunna was ruled by King Muchalinda of the Naaga tribe. This King Muchalinda in the Naaga tribe built a chamber for Buddha which is to be used for the protection from the rain and a rock seat to be used for sleeping. These two can be seen even to this date at Hiriwadunna. The seat used in the Enlightenment, the Vajrasana, too was built by King Muchalinda. When the time Meheni Sangamiththaa came to Hiriwadunna to take an offshoot of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi tree, it was reigned by the kings of the Naaga tribe. A true story to prove this is included in Bodhi Vamsa and also in Mahavamsa. That is the story of paying homage to the offshoot of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Naalowa, the world of Naa tribe, before it was taken in procession to Anuradhapura.

“Naa lowa sathiyak puda lada bodiya – the sacred Bodhi tree which was revered in the world (the country, kingdom) of Naa (the tribe)”, this poem or stanza in the Bodhi Vandana[4] depicts this story. In the past Naa lowa was this kingdom which came under the powers of the tribe of Naa. That day there were many kingdoms of Naa tribe in Helabima .

Princess Sangamiththaa came to Hiriwadunna from the city of Rajagaha (Ampara), got the patronage from the king of the Naaga tribe and took in procession the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi along in the river Neranjana. The river called Hurulu Oya and Yaan Oya today were the river Neranjana and it was a large river in the past.  The offshoot of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi was taken in procession in this river and handed over to King Devanampiyathissa at one ferry near Maha Kanadarawa.

The Mahavamsa says that many kings who reigned in Ruhuna & east got invitations to Anuradhapura for the ceremony of planting this offshoot of Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi, these members of the royal families who came there had gone to Hiriwadunna on their way to Ruhuna, had taken some offshoots from the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi and planted them in Ruhuna. The sacred Bodhi tree in Katharagama was one of these Bodhi trees.

Somewhere closer to this period, one offshoot taken from the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Hiriwadunna had been gifted to King Ashoka who reigned in India. The history says that King Ashoka had planted it in the artificial Buddha Gaya built by him and had paid the due respects. The illustration in the gateway of Sanchi Vihara is this ceremony of accepting the offshoot of the Bodhi tree by King Ashoka.

The history says further that during the latter stage of King Ashoka’s life, this offshoot of the sacred Bodhi tree had been destroyed by one of his queens by piercing it with poisonous thorns. It says that another attempt had been made later to take another offshoot of the Bodhi tree to India, but it had not been successful.  This Bodhi tree for which an attempt was made later to take in procession to India had been successful only up to the sacred grounds of Thanthirimale, but not beyond that, and even to this date this offshoot of the Bodhi tree still living there in the sacred grounds of Thanthirimale and people can pay their due respects for it.

Here in this Helabima, during the time period that Buddha was living, eight sacred Bodhi trees were planted at eight different places for the purpose of worshippings of Buddhist community. The Buddhists lived in the past used to place the sacred footprints of Buddha at all the places where they grew the offshoots of the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi, also at the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Hiriwadunna, got the blessings for them from Gautama Buddha and paid their homage to them. In the past, there were six places where the sacred footprints were placed as in pairs in Deva Hela in Janbudveepa in Helabima. These six sacred places are the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Hiriwadunna, Isipathnaaraamaya monastery in Isinbassagala, the birth place of Sidduhath in Bambaragala, Tampitayaaya near Budugala in the city of Kusinara, Jethavanarama monastery in Ritigala and Veluvanarama monastery in Rajagala. In addition to these, the sacred footprints were placed in Mokkema (Kalpitiya) which came under the kingdom of Naaga and on the peak of Samanala Kanda.[5] There should be a very special reason to place one single sacred footprint in Mokkema and in Samanala Kanda and to place the sacred footprints as pairs in other places.

The sacred footprint of Buddha, which was placed for the worshipping for the Buddhists at the grounds of Hiriwadunna where the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi was resided, had been taken out from that place just after Meheni Sangamiththaa took in procession a sacred offshoot of Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi to Anuradhapura and enshrined it in a newly built Vihara situated next to the royal palace in Anuradhapura. The members of the royal family and also the people in the county used to pay their homage to the newly planted offshoot of the sacred Siri Maha Bodhi tree and the Vihara built near the royal palace enshrining the sacred footprint of the Buddha. According to this, it was the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi and the sacred footprint of Buddha that people that used to pay their homage in the very early stage in Anuradhapura period.

The practice of worshipping the sacred footprint of Buddha came to an end gradually along with the constructions of the great Dagabas, the Ruwanweli Maha Chaitya and Thooparama Maha Chaitya. After the beginning of worshipping of Buddha statues, paying homage to the sacred footprint of Buddha placed in the Peak of Samanala Mountain in to being. But the practice of paying homage to the sacred footprints of the Buddha got totally extinct. The Buddhist community living today pays their respect to the sacred footprint of Buddha placed in the Peak of Samanala not as a way of paying their due respect to Gautama Buddha but does it in a way of showing their devotion and their interest in different sacrifices & offerings to God Saman.

Once, these most sacred Paribogika objects of Buddha were revered by the kings & queens and the Buddhists in the ancient Helabima. But in the later stage the fate experienced by them was very regrettable.

King Muchalinda of the Naaga tribe made a pair of sacred footprints of Buddha, placed them near the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in Hiriwadunna and made arrangements for people to pay their homage to them. These sacred footprints had received the blessings from the Buddha himself. Later, they were removed from that place, brought them down to Anuradhapura and placed in a newly built Vihara which was situated closer to the royal palace in Mahamewna Uyana. People used to pay their homage to them. From the time of King Devanampiyathissa, the kings of Heladeepa who reigned in Anuradhapura paid their homage to these sacred footprints of the Buddha for a very long period of time. But, this sacred custom of worshipping the sacred footprints of the Buddha practiced by the ancient Buddhists in the Helabima  got totally extinct along with the beginning of building and worshipping great Dagabas and Buddha statues.

The most brutal incident than this is that the sacred pair of the footprints of the Buddha found from the Jethavanarama monastery in Ritigala, which was revered by the kings and the people in Heladiva, and some few such pairs of the sacred footprints of the Buddha found from different sacred places had been fixed in to the Salapathala Maluwa[6] in Ruwanweli Maha Seya and today people step on and walk on them. Professor Paranavithana says that Mr. HCP Bell had stated in his diary that this pair of sacred footprints of the Buddha which was considered as relics found from Ritigala was fixed in to the grounds of Salapathala Maluwa in Ruwanweli Maha Seya for the protection.

And also the pair of the sacred footprints of the Buddha which was taken in procession from Hiriwadunna to Anuradhapura with all royal respect & honor is just thrown now on the ground in front of the old museum in Anuradhapura and they do not get any protection from the rain and burning sun heat. Today it is considered only as an object with some antique values.

The sacred footprint of the Buddha placed at Isinbassagala monastery is not used now for any worshipping and used just as a base to place a statue of Buddha. The Buddha statue which is situated near the sacred Siri Maha Bodhi in Isinbassagala is placed now on these sacred footprints of Buddha.

The worshipping of the sacred footprint of Buddha was practiced even in Budugala in the past, but today this pair of sacred footprint of the Buddha is covered with cement and a statue of a sleeping Buddha is built on them.

It was during the reign of Portuguese that a naval base had been built on the sacred footprints of Buddha which were placed in Mokkema in Kalpitiya.

The pair of sacred footprints of Buddha which was placed in the Veluvanarama Vihara in the city of Rajagaha was discovered recently and today they are just exhibits for public and kept on the ground of the Archaeological Office (Rajagala).

Accordingly, the most sacred footprints of Buddha which were blessed once by Gautama Buddha, respected, honored & worshipped by the ancient Buddhist world, kings & queens, later became some objects of antique values and the practice of paying homage to them got extinct. The Buddhists living in Heladiva today who just hold that title, the Buddhist who are not aware of Buddha’s teachings, the Buddhists who have the faith in religions pay their homage not to the most sacred objects which were blessed by Buddha but only to the statues of Buddha.

Next Chapter…


[1] Or named as Cetiyas. Paribogika Cetiyas, Uddesika Cetiyas, Saririka Cetiyas. (Read more in Appendix).

[2]  The sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa) under which The Buddha attended in to his Enlightenment.

[3]A monastery for Bhikunis.

[4]These are the different poems or stanzas composed in Pali and in Sinhala language used, recited by Buddhists in paying their homage to the sacred Bodhi tree. It’s a very common scene to be observed in every temple where Buddhists offer flowers and other things to the Bo tree and recite these poems while going around or sitting beside the Bo tree. Sometimes this is done while they pour waters to the Bo tree as well.

[5] Samanala Kanda (Kanda – the mountain or the peak) or Sri Pada kanda : In the present day, after the colonial era, this mountain is called Adam’s peak which is seriously wrong. ‘Siri is a synonymous used for Buddha. ‘Sri’ is its Sanskrit formation. ‘Pada’ means the foot. The peak where the Buddha in-printed his sacred foot print is called Sripada Peak.

[6] Stone laid terrace.

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