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Reflections on Poson Poya Day

Poson marks the great arrival of Arahant Mahinda, son of Emperor Asoka of India, with the Buddha's teachings to spread in Sri Lanka. It was indeed a momentous event in the history of Lanka. It marked the strengthening of nation building in the island and built up of relationship with India and other countries in the region professing the new teaching of Buddha.

Embracing Buddhism by Devanampiyatissa, the King of Lanka and the people, soon led to a phenomenal progress of the new faith with thousands of Lankans entering the Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni orders, to teach and spread the noble message of the Buddha for the wellbeing of the many in the Island. In course of time two other significant events took place in the history of Lanka.

It was the arrival of Sangamitta Maha Therani, the daughter of Asoka Emperor bringing a Bodhi Sapling from the Bodhi Tree from Gaya in India. This was a gift of Emperor Asoka to the King by Devanampiyatissa and people of Sri Lanka for purpose of venerating.

The Bo Sapling was planted in Mahameuna Uyana in Anuradhapura by the King himself with great pageantry and honour.

The Therani Sangamitta also introduced the Buddhist order for women in Lanka and brought several guilds of skilled craftsmen from India to build and maintain monuments and monasteries expressing and teaching the new faith.

The second significant event was the arrival of The Sacred Tooth Relic of The Buddha which took place in the 4th century. Originally it was housed in Anuradhapura in close proximity to the kings palace.

Convention

Thus establishing the convention that possession of Sri Dalada by the ruler symbolised the legitimacy in the island. It is adhering to this very convention that Sri Dalada travelled with the SinhaIa Kings when the state capital was shifted to different locations for security reasons. Soon it came to be established that the possession of Sri Dalada under care of one ruler was the single most important aspect in the development of monarchy and unitary state in Sri Lanka.

For this very reason Wimaladharamasuriya II who seized the throne of the Kandyan Kingdom in the 16th century brought Sri Dalada to Kandy, the seat of power from Delgamuwa Vihara in Kuruvita, before it could fall into the hands of the marauding Portuguese.

The Progressive development of Kingship and Statehood in Sri Lanka is thus closely linked to the progress of Buddhism.

The rulers of Lanka became to protector and promoter of Buddhism and Sasana. The two institutions, the monarchy and Buddhasasana became inseparable in the development of statehood of Lanka.

The progress of Theravada Buddhism made the most profound impact on art, literature and architecture and also on public policy on development.

The high moral basis of the state of Lanka came to be based on the profound teaching of the Buddha and in the practices of Dana, Seela and Bawana which prevailed throughout the country.

The Sinhala Kings' massive efforts in the development of large and small reservoirs, for agriculture development and the constructions of public roads, parks and townships are in fact a reflection of the application of the noble concept of Dana in public policy.

Resources

Considering the small size of the country and its limited resources, the construction of such massive development projects using advanced traditional knowledge of hydrology and the construction engineering appear to puzzle to modem observers of the civilisation, found in Anuradhapura, Polonnaurwa and Magama regions.

The fact that all the achievements were made in a short period of five to six hundred years (3rd Century BC to 4th Century AD) without any external help, aid, loans or assistance or by conquering and robbing neighbouring lands, but using only local resources, may continue to puzzle many people even to this days.

In ancient times many factors might have contributed to these achievements: A unified state with one powerful ruler can bring about a unity of purpose in public policy and development. Thus rulers such as Dutugamunu or Mahasen could undertake such massive projects that we can see today, using locally available resources and man power.

King Mahasen is credited with the construction of the world's tallest brick building (Jethavana Dagaba) and several large reservoirs such as Minneriya. He was even called a Deva by the people at the time.

Besides the availability of skilled labour and local material for constructions there would certainly have been appropriate social organisation and management systems and techniques with a reservoir of social capital to match the task of construction.

Building

Building of large public projects for the wellbeing of many was no doubt imbibed by the Buddhist concept of Dana, for the welfare of people (Bahu jana Hithaya, Bahu jana Sukhaya).

On the other hand the excellence of art and architecture that public building constructed, then displayed and continue to even today though in ruined form certainly reflect the high sense of appreciation of aesthetic values enjoyed by the ordinary people at the time. This aspect is hardly appreciated by the present generation.

Many Sinhalese Kings that built and maintained the magnificent monuments, monasteries, temples, hospitals and townships did so not merely to please themselves but to satisfy the ordinary people as well.

Therefore we can only guess their high sense of aesthetic values and tastes, which could only exist with the quality of life enjoyed by the people. Do we reflect this when we visit Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa today?

The arrival of Arahant Mahinda with the profound message of the Buddha thus led to the blossoming of civilisation in Malwathu Oya basin in the North Central plains of Sri Lanka.

This resulted in the establishment of a sovereign, unitary state in the small Island of Lanka, achieving a very high level of civilisation and prosperity. However, the ancient Sinhalese were never war-like but preferred peace and tranquility.

For this very reason Sinhala Kings in the past appeared to have not maintained a standing army of the sort that modern states maintain today to defend the land.

Thus, no wonder Sri Lanka became easy prey to foreign invaders and marauding adventurers.

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