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Poson: The gentle spiritual awakening

“Samanas (monks) are we, Oh great king, disciples of the King of Truth (the Buddha). From compassion towards thee are we come from Jambudipa (India).”
- Mahawamsa, Chapter 14

The word Poson makes the soul of Sri Lankans resonate with spiritual vibration. This sacred Full Moon Poya day is intimately associated with an unparalleled gentle revolution in the religious annals of mankind.


The Mihintale Aloka Pooja is conducted by the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. annually

The story of this profound transformation is replete with rivetingly dramatic elements.

We can vividly picture the series of impactful events that took place on that revolutionary Poson Day, nearly 2,250 years ago.

Though centuries have passed since the day of that momentous episode, we still conjure the series of events that took place on that occasion.

National holiday

The monarch of the land, a devoted Hindu ruler at that time, had declared Poson day a national holiday, by royal decree. King Devanampiya Tissa was routinely perpetuating the tradition of observing the Poson Full Moon Day as the occasion of the annual spring festival.

The scene shifts to the wooded plain under the shadow of the rock that rose skywards from the surrounding forest. Located about eight miles to the east of the capital city, Anuradhapura, this forested land was the chosen hunting ground of the Monarch.

On this festive day, he conducted his royal chase in this wooded region, well-known for its extensive mango groves. Accompanied by a retinue of about 40,000 men, the Royal Hunter rushed through the wood, armed with a bow and arrows, pursuing a stag he had targeted. (Even while at chase, the Royal Hunter was alert to the proper ethics of the game.) Seeing that the animal he targeted was eating, he thought it unseemly to kill it when it was preoccupied.

The King thrummed his bow-string. The stag, alerted to the danger, started running for its life. It is only then that the King gave it chase, involved fully and totally in the spirit of the game.

Suddenly, his concentration was shattered by someone calling out to him by his first name “Tissa”. This disturbed him to the depth and core of his soul, as there was no one who could call him that intimately. When he looked around, he beheld a solitary saffron-clad, shaven-headed individual, standing on the rock. In a trice, five more persons appeared before him, as if by some miracle. Awed by this vision, the King stood there, very much nonplussed by it. Then, in a serene and subdued tone, the saffron-clad stranger, Arahant Mahinda indicated the purpose of their compassionate mission.

King of Righteousness

“Mighty King, we are the disciples of the King of Righteousness – the Supreme Buddha. We have arrived in compassion towards you.”

At those calmly intoned, disarmingly soothing words, the weapons of the chase in the hands of the Royal Hunter fell, involuntarily as it were, to the ground. He knelt before the saintly sage, instantly changed. Thus, shunning weapons became our cultural hallmark.


Mihintale, where Arahant Mahinda arrived

The seething thoughts of harming life left King Devanampiya Tissa’s mind. His heart and soul were cleansed. Love and compassion dominated his personality. He was ready to embrace the doctrine of non-violence and love for all beings. Sudden enlightenment dawned upon him.

A sense of guilt assailed his inner-self. In that transforming moment, he became an ardent devotee of the Buddhist faith, ready even to offer his whole kingdom to the dispensation of the Buddha.

Such swift and comprehensive changes from evil to total goodness – between one breath and another as it were – are indeed rare in the progress of human spirituality. King Devanampiya Tissa possessed a mindset inclined towards the timeless teachings of the Tathagatha, because of the salutary influence of Emperor Asoka – the Righteous of India.

From that moment on, Sri Lanka inherited a gentle, compassionate spirituality that has made this sacred island enshrine the eternal human values upheld by the Buddha. Buddhism, introduced so dramatically by Arahant Mahinda, to the wise King Devanampiya Tissa, has given our indigenous culture its characteristic ethos.

Recorded history

On that historic Poson Day, Arahant Mahinda held the first IQ test in Sri Lanka’s recorded history, to assess the Monarch’s intellectual agility, to assure himself that the ruler possessed the potentiality to imbibe the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. The great Arahant was convinced that he did.

In historical hindsight, it becomes starkly clear that the Great Missionary Emperor Dharmasoka (Asoka the Righteous) had a remarkable awareness of Sri Lanka’s lasting role as the custodian of Buddhism.

He supervised a second crowning of King Devanampiya Tissa. He sent his son, daughter, and two grandsons to strengthen the Buddhist culture of our land.

He gifted us a sapling of the Sacred Bodhi Tree, sent along with his daughter Theri Sanghamitta. Craftsmen skilled in a variety of specialised tasks formed part of the Theri’s retinue.

One cannot help but wonder, whether there was any crucial reason for Emperor Asoka to lavish all these unparalleled privileges upon us.

As a missionary emperor, he sent spiritual emissaries to many great realms, but, those personalities did not possess the high stature of his family members sent to Sri Lanka.

Why? What set off these special privileges?

The formal history of Emperor Asoka’s life is not quite clear about his last days.

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