Devānaṃpiyatissa (r. 247-207 BCE) was a king of Sri Lanka who is said to have converted to Buddhism and subsequently established Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He is credited as the founder of the Anurādhapura Mahāvihāra, a large Buddhist monastery that played a central role in the development of the Pali textual tradition and the Theravada branch of Buddhism.
According to traditional accounts, Devānaṃpiyatissa was a contemporary of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. Ashoka sent his son Mahinda to Sri Lanka to share the teachings of the Buddha with Devānaṃpiyatissa. After listening to a teaching from Mahinda, Devānaṃpiyatissa converted to Buddhism and offered Mahinda a large garden, where he built a monastery, the Anuradhapura Mahaviharaya, for Mahinda's use.
At Devānaṃpiyatissa's behest, Asoka also sent his daughter Sanghamitta to Sri Lanka to establish a community of nuns there. Sanghamitta traveled to Sri Lanka, bringing with her eleven other nuns and a branch of the the Bodhi tree. With the other nuns, Sanghamitta established a bhiksuni ordination lineage in Sri Lanka; this lineage eventually spread to the other countries of Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos and Cambodia). The branch from the bodhi tree was planted in the Sri Lankan capital of Anurādhapura, and, according to tradition, this tree remains to this day. The tree became a pilgrimage site known as the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.
Conversion to Buddhism
According to the Mahavamsa, Emperor Ashoka sent is son Mahinda Sri Lanka spread the word of the Buddha. In this account, Mahinda and a group of companions traveled through miraculous power to Sir Lanka, and rested for time near a mountain called Mihintale. At this time, King Devanampiyatissa went hunting deer with a large group of soldiers near the same mountain. The king chased a stag into the thicket, and there he came across Mahinda. Upon seeing Mahinda, the king was terrified, mistaking Mahina for a demon (yakka). However, Mahinda declared:
- Recluses we are, O great King, disciples of the King of Dhamma (Buddha). Out of compassion for you alone have we come here from Jambudipa.
Devanampiyatissa then realized that Mahinda was an emissary from King Ashoka. Mahinda then taught the discourse known as The Shorter Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint (Cūḷahatthipadopamasutta) to the king and his entourage. After listening to the teaching, the king and his entourage took refuge in the Three Jewels, thus converting to Buddhism.
- Mahinda arrives, and together with Devānaṃpiyatissa, they establish Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
- Sangamitta arrives: the order of nuns is established and a branch of the bodhi tree is planted in Sri Lanka.
- Establishing the Anurādhapura Mahāvihāra, which became the centre of Theravada Buddhism.
- Construction of Thuparama, the first stupa in Sri Lanka.
- Keown, Damien, Stephen Hodge & Paola Tinti (2003). A Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9.
- The Maha Bodhi Archived 2006-07-02 at the Wayback Machine.
- The Mahavamsa History of Sri Lanka Archived 2007-11-09 at the Wayback Machine. The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka
- Codrington's Short History of Ceylon
- King Devanampiyatissa
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