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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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