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
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
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.
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
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
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.