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The Tripitaka committed to writing at Aluvihara

Situated in the central province is the world famous, carefully preserved sacred place reflecting the ancient culture of the island where rich Buddhist heritage is preserved and a temple rich in tradition based on Buddhism. Little away from the main Kandy Dambulla road, a steep path leads towards famous historic place – Aluvihara of unique and unparalleled fame, unequalled among the holy places in the world.

History was created here in a very special sense. It is believed that nearly five centuries after the Parinibbana of the Buddha the Tripitaka was committed to writing here in the present form. According to Prof. G.P. Malalasekera, the text was rehearsed and commentaries were revised and distributed.

According to history at the first Buddhist Council held shortly after the Parinibbana of the Buddha, during the reign of king Ajathasaththa in Rajagaha, the entire Dhamma had been preserved. At the second council held 100 years later at Vesali, the traditional Vinaya rules were strictly upheld and during the third council held during the Emperor Asoka, the Tripitaka was more or less defined in its present form into the Vinaya, Dhamma Sutta and Abhidhamma. It was at the third council that the momentous decision was taken to send missionaries to Asokan kingdom and beyond, carrying with them, the magnificent message of the Buddha Dhamma in the form of three Pitakas and it was this very same treasure that was committed to writing at the above mentioned Aluvihara at Matale, which was one of the fertile settlements on the lower hills of Malayarata.

From very early times there had been flourishing trade in spices cultivated in the area. Prior to this task, the sacred scripture was maintained as an oral tradition through generations passed down from teacher to pupil (Guru-Gola) by word of mouth retained in their memory as the literature was considered too sacred to be written down. According to historical evidence, the practice maintained in the monasteries was referred to as Vanapoth Kireema.

Purity of Dhamma

When and where was this sacred task performed? During the reign of king Vattagamini Abhaya, the youngest son of king Saddhatissa, the younger brother of king Dutugemunu, is of great interest in this regard. His reign is well-known for two important events. One was the rise of Mahayanism and the other most magnanimous – the committing into writing of the Tripitaka.

History records that there was a Pandyan invasion of Rajarata with which he fled to the central highlands. It is said that he took refuge in many rock caves which were inhabited by Bhikkhus and hermits. Tradition has it that one such was Aluvihara which had offered him safety and security and in return he had shown his gratitude by recommending the place for the great task. The inscriptions reveal that another reason for selecting Aluvihara was the fact that when Sri Maha Bodhi was planted in Anuradhapura, one of the shoots that sprang up had been planted at Aluvihara, giving it immense sanctity.

Royal support

There was overwhelming royal support and assistance and the king took the lead in using Aluvihara as the site for the convention - ideally located for the purpose in every respect.

Prior to this event, the political conflict and the economic decline that followed in early years led to a severe famine known as “Beminitiyasaya”. The Bhikkhus were the most affected. Many died.

The few who survived fearing that the sacred doctrine would perish supported the bold decision of the king to preserve it by writing. History records that the event was celebrated with a great festival under the patronage of King Valagamba and that it went on for three years, three months and three weeks.

Both the Mahawamsa and Deepawamsa mention that two Tripitaka text written on gold leaves were enshrined, one in Abhayagiri Chetiya and the other in Aluvihara. It is said that still later, these were despatched to the other Viharas and also to foreign countries such as Burma and Siam where Theravada doctrine was upheld.

The Mahawamsa gives an elaborate account of how the chamber had been decorated for the occasion, with Ralli Palam garlands of flowers and flags inside the caves, well plastered in white, painted with scenes from the life of the Buddha and Jathaka stories. Precious mats had been spread according to the number of Bhikkhus said to be 500 participants.

Aloka lena became famous as a great centre of Buddhism. Five centuries after the great convention, erudite scholar monk, Buddhagosha had visited the temple and translated the Tripitaka into Pali and the Mahawamsa author so taken up by his work had called him Bodhisatva Metteyya.

Later the name and fame of Aluvihara was badly affected with the coming of Kalinga Magha of the island followed by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British invasions of Kandy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Ceylon faced unhold suffering and misery under the yoke of colonial masters.

The temple treasury was looted. Ancient statues were destroyed and the premises were plundered, damaging the ancient caves and the valuable inscriptions. Despite the upheaval faced at various stages, sacred texts continued to be preserved and still remain as the most venerated and honoured place where the noble teachings of the Buddha and the Buddhist heritage is preserved.

 

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