Saṅghamittā (Saṅghamitrā in Sanskrit) was the eldest daughter of
Ashoka (304 BC – 232 BC) and his first wife, Devi. Together
with her brother Mahinda, she entered an order of
Buddhist monks. The
two siblings later went to
Sri Lanka to spread the teachings of Buddha
at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa (250 BC – 210 BC) who was a
contemporary of Ashoka.
Ashoka was initially reluctant to send his
daughter on an overseas mission. However, because of the insistence of
Sangamitra herself, he finally agreed. She was sent to Sri Lanka
together with several other nuns to start the nun-lineage of
Bhikkhunis (a fully ordained female
Buddhist monastic) at the request
of King Tissa to ordain queen Anulā and other women of Tissa's court
Anuradhapura who desired to be ordained as nuns after Mahindra
converted them to Buddhism.
After Sanghamittā’s contribution to the propagation of
Sri Lanka and her establishing the Bikhhunī Sangha or Meheini Sasna
(Order of Nuns) there, her name became synonymous with "Buddhist
Monastic Order of Theravāda Buddhism" that was established not
Sri Lanka but also in Burma,
China and Thailand, in
particular. The day the most revered tree, the Bodhi tree, a sapling
of which was brought by her to
Sri Lanka and planted in Anuradhapura,
and which still survives, is also celebrated every year on the Full
Moon day of December as "Uduvapa Poya" or "Uposatha Poya" and
"Sanghamittā Day" by Theravāda Buddhists in Sri Lanka.
2 Early life
3 Middle life
4 Later life
6 Uduvapa Poya festival
8 External links
Sanghamitra is known for the proselytisation activity among women that
she pursued as her lifetime goal in Sri Lanka, along with her brother,
Mahendra (called Mahinda in Sri Lanka) at the initiation of her
Ashoka of the
Maurya dynasty who ruled in
India in the
3rd century BC. Ashoka, after adopting Buddhism, took to spreading
Buddhism in nine other countries of the region. His
contemporary in Sri Lanka, King Devanampiya Tissa, in close alliance
with Ashoka, saw the arrival of
Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
However, before deputing missions abroad in the region around India,
Ashoka, in consultation with Venerable
Moggaliputta Tissa convened a
meeting of the Third
Buddhist Council in which 1,000 Arahants
participated. The purpose of this council meeting was not only to
purge the Sangha of undesirable elements but also to take a view on
the proselytisation of
Buddhism in view of the strong challenge faced
Hindu religion. Moggaliputta presided over the
Council meeting where it was decided to send nine delegations to
different regions to spread Buddhism.
Ashoka then sent out missionaries in nine different directions.
The delegation that was sent south to Sri Lanka, at the request of
Tissa, was led by Ashoka's son Mahendra. Before taking the long
journey, Mahendra sought blessings of his mother. The delegation
(considered a diplomatic mission) comprised six other Arhats, namely
Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala, young
Samanera (nephew of
Mahendra) and a Bhanduka (also a cousin of Mahendra). All members of
the mission belonged to the royal family, indicating the importance
Ashoka attached to spreading
Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
This was also considered an opportune moment to spread
Buddhism in Sri
Buddha himself had created awareness of his philosophy and
Buddhism among the royalty and the common people during
his three visits to
Sri Lanka undertaken in the eight years following
his enlightenment. Buddha, during his lifetime, had also created a
social structure for the practice of
Sanskrit: Dharma), which comprised the Sangha – order of bhikkhus
(monks) and bhikkunis (nuns) to preserve his teachings for
posterity. However, it was only King Tissa, realising the poor
status of the religion in his country, desired fresh efforts by a
delegation from India.
Mahendra arrived with his delegation at
Anuradhapura where King Tissa,
accompanied by his sister-in-law (brother's wife) Princess Anula with
her entourage of 500 women, met him at the Mahamegha Garden. The
Mahendra mission was very successful in introducing
Buddhism to Sri
Lanka. He established the Bhikkhu Order for men. However, thousands of
women, starting with Anula, who had converted to
Buddhism along with
the King Tissa, wished to be ordained into the
Bhikkuni Order. Thera
Mahindra expressed his inability to do so since this ordination had to
be performed by a priestess or a Theri Arahat. He therefore advised
the King to write to Emperor
Ashoka and seek the services of his
younger sister Theri Sangamitta, who was "profoundly learned", to be
Sri Lanka for the purpose. He also desired that a sapling
of the right branch of the Bodhi-Tree (where the
Tathagata got his
Bodh Gaya should also be brought by her to Sri
Lanka. King Tissa then chose his Minister Prince Arittha (his nephew)
for the purpose since the minister had volunteered to go to
the condition that on his return he would also be ordained into the
Bhikkhu Sasana by Thera Mahindra. This was agreed.
Sangamitta's parents were the Emperor
Ashoka and his first wife, Devi,
who was a Buddhist. Her birth in 285 BC, as popularly known in
published texts was as the second child of
Ashoka and younger sister
of brother Mahindra. She was born in Ujjeini (present day
Madhya Pradesh in India). Her mother did not join
Ashoka when he was
crowned and her two children had embraced Buddhism. She was married at
the age of 14 to Agribrahmi, a nephew of Emperor Ashoka, who was also
an Arhant. She had a son, Saamanera Sumana who also later became an
Arhant and went along with his uncle Mahindra to
Sri Lanka to preach
Buddhism. Her teacher was Ayupala. She was ordained at the age of 18
Buddhism Order by their preceptor Dhammapala. Her
brother was also ordained at the same time. With her dedicated
Dhamma she became an Arhant Theri and resided in
Pataliputra (now known as Patna).
Mahindra’s mission in
Sri Lanka was very successful. Among his new
converts was Princess Anula, King Tissa’s sister-in-law who became
Sotapanna and requested ordination. King Tissa wrote to Emperor Ashoka
Sangamitta for the purpose. Mahindra also wrote to his
father to depute his sister
Sri Lanka as requested by
Following this invitation from the King and also the request made by
his son Mahindra,
Sanghamitta with a retinue of 10 other
learned bhikkunis (priestesses) to accompany her and to give
ordination to the Sri Lanka's princess Anula and other women. Ashoka
was initially distraught at the prospect of sending his daughter away
Sangamitta herself persisted that she would like to go to Sri
Lanka. She appealed to her father stating:
"Great King! the injunction of my brother is imperative and the
females who are to be ordained in Lanka are many; on that account it
is absolutely essential that I should go there.
The purpose was also to establish the
Bhikkuni Order to spread
Buddhism in that country with the devoted participation and assistance
Ashoka finally agreed to send her. She travelled to Sri
Lanka by sea carrying a sapling of Bodhi-Tree in a golden vase. She
landed at Jambukola in the North. King Tissa himself received
Sangamitta and the sapling of the Bodhi-Tree with deep veneration.
They were then ceremonially escorted by the king and his people to
Anuradhapura. They entered at the northern gate of
a road sprinkled with white sand. The Bodhi sapling was planted with
great fanfare in the Mahāmeghavana Grove in Aunradhapura. It is still
seen at the same location.
In Dipavamsa chronicle, the number of nuns who accompanied Sangamitta
has been mentioned differently – three figures have been quoted but
the figure of 11 including
Sangamitta is inferred as the plausible
number. The names of the young nuns who accompanied here on the ship
were: Uttara, Hema, Pasadpala, Aggimitta, Dasika, Pheggu, Pabbata,
Matta, Malla, and Dhammadasiya. In addition, the delegation headed
by the Sri Lankan Ambassador Prince Athitha, which returned to Sri
Lanka, comprised the Chief priestess
Sangamitta and ten other
priesteses, eight people of royal lineage of
Magadha (Bogut, Sumitta,
Sangot, Devgot, Damgot, Hirugot, Sisigot and Jutindhara), eight
members of nobility (families of ministers), eight Brahmins, eight
Vaishyas (traders), herdsmen, Hyaenna, Sparrow-hawk, Nagas, Yakkas,
craftsmen, weavers, potters and many members of other castes.
A legend mentioned related to the journey of
Sangamitta to Sri Lanka
is that Nagas encircled the Bodhi tree.
Sangamitta drove them away by
assuming the form of
Garuda (half-man half-bird form). Sanghamitta
was 32 years of age when she took this journey. Her son
Sri Lanka as he had joined his uncle Mahindra's mission to
Sangamitta performed the formal Pabbajja
ordination of Princess Anula. Anula was the first Sri Lankan woman to
be ordained as a bhikkuni; concurrently her companions numbering more
than 1000 who were also observing Dasa Sil were bestowed with Pabbajja
ordination. This formally created the "first ecclesiastical life of
Bhikkuni Sasana in Sri Lanka". The ordination covered not only
the royalty but also common people of various strata of the society.
She pursued every effort to enhance the status of woman, with
sustained devotion, dedication and diligence.
Sangamitta, on arrival at Anuradhapura, was put up initially at the
‘Upasika Viharaya’ along with the bhikkunis who had accompanied
her. An additional 12 buildings (ashramas) were built to accommodate
the bhikkunis. Subsequently, the King also built a separate house for
Sangamitta known as 'Hathalakha-Vihara' acceding to the request of the
nuns to reside in a secluded place where they could exclusively
concentrate on devotional religious pursuits.
Dipavamsa, a chronicle written in 400 BC, records that after the
Bhikkuni Sangha was established, there was widespread following in the
country among women of all ages and from all levels of society. The
women who ordained were highly learned in the scriptures and they
readily taught their knowledge of the
Vinaya or rules of discipline to
Bodhi tree and celebrations
Bodhi tree brought by
Sangamitta and planted at Anuradhapura,
Sri Lanka -Oldest surviving Bodhi Tree
Sangamittā carried the right south branch of the Bodhi-Tree (selected
Ashoka from the Maha Bodhi-Tree in Gaya) on a ship to
Anurādhapura, during the 12th year of Ashoka's reign. The sapling was
planted by Devānāmpiya Tissa in the Mahāmeghavana in Anurdhapura.
It seems that "the Buddha, on his death bed, had resolved five things,
one being that the branch which should be taken to Ceylon should
detach itself". The journey route followed by
Sangamitta who carried
the tree branch was from Gayā to Pātaliputta and then to Tāmalittī
in Bengal. Here, it was placed in a golden vase in the ship and
transported to Jambukola across the sea. The entourage reached
Anurādhapura, staying en route at Tivakka.
The planting of the
Bodhi Tree was a grand ceremony performed by the
king himself with assistance from the nobles of Kājaragāma,
Candanagāma and Tivakka, in the presence of
Sangamitta and her
brother Mahindra. The tree took eight roots, yielded fruits and seeds.
As fresh eight saplings emerged, they were moved and planted at
Jambukola (present Colombogaon in north Sri Lanka), in the village of
Tivakka, at Thūpārāmā, at Issaramanārāma, in the court of the
Pathamacetiya, in Cetiyagiri, in Kājaragāma and in
The tree, as it stands, is on raised mound. In 1907, it was 32 feet
(9.8 m) in height with 8.17 feet (2.49 m) in girth. Th tree
and the shrine have been built around a compound wall measuring 61
feet (19 m) x 57 feet (17 m) and 21 feet (6.4 m) in
height, primarily to protect the tree and the shrine built around it.
Ten more trees of the same species are also seen within precincts of
the enclosure. A damaged
Buddha statue made in bricks (attributed its
creation during Tissa's rule) is a marker to locate the main
Bodhi-Tree here. 32 more saplings, from four other fruits,
were also planted in the near vicinity.
The Bodhi-Tree at
Anuradhapura was well tended by successive royal
family members of
Sri Lanka over the centuries, so much so that a
village near Anurādhapura was also earmarked to provide for
maintenance of the tree.
A recent comment by Historian
H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells on this oldest historical
tree in the world, which is well maintained states:
In Ceylon there grows to this day a tree, the oldest historical tree
in the world, which we know certainly to have been planted as a
cutting from the Bodhi-Tree in the year 245 BC. From that time to this
it has been carefully tended and watered.
Sangamitta died at the age of 79 in the ninth year of the reign of
Uttiya at her residence in Hatthaloka Upasikaramaya Anuradhapura.
Uttiya performed her last rites. The occasion was also marked with
observances in her honour throughout Sri Lanka, for one week. She
was cremated to the east of the Thūpārāma near the Cittasālā, in
front of the Bodhi-Tree. The location for the cremation had been
selected by the Therī herself before her death. A stupa was erected
Uttiya over her ashes.
A bhikkuni of the Chinese Mahayana tradition
Bhikkhuni Sangha (a Dhamma-vinaya heritage started by Lord Buddha
during his lifetime in India), locally known as "Bikhhuni Sasana" or
"Meheini Sasna" (Order of Priestesses or Nuns) that was established by
Sri Lanka prospered for over 1000 years, till it
disappeared in 1017 AD. The reason for such an end is attributed to
the invasion of Cholas,
Hindu rulers from South India, whereafter
Bhikkhus and Bhikkunis were not seen in
Sri Lanka for quite some
Bhikkuni ordination is the third and ultimate stage of ordination of
nuns; the earlier two stages are the sramanerika (novice) and
siksamana (probationary). In India, the
Bhikkuni Order was established
Buddha six years after the Bhikkhu Order was established, in the
6th century BC. It was spread to
Sri Lanka by
Sangamitta in the 3rd
BC. Initially, with spread of
Buddhism in ancient India, 18 (eighteen)
Vinaya schools developed. However, now only three are extant. These
Theravada practiced in
Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia; the
Dharmaguptaka that is practiced in Taiwan, China, Korea, and Vietnam;
and the third school is the
Mulasarvastivada adopted in Tibet.
In 429 AD,
Bhikkuni Devasara had realised that
Bhikkuni Sanga, on
account of war and famine, could vanish from Sri Lanka. She,
therefore, had led a mission to
China to establish the Bhikkuni
Sasana. The original
Bhikkuni lineage established in China
since 429 AD has continued to function to this day. However,
Asarana Sarana Saranankara Maha Thera
Asarana Sarana Saranankara Maha Thera re-introduced the Higher
Ordination from Thailand. He is credited with re-establishing the
Order of Monks in
Sri Lanka in 1753 AD. It is now said that there are
more than 400 Bhikkunis in the country.
In Thailand, the lineage is well established. A clay statue of
Sanghamitta made by Dhammananda in 2002, is deified in a shrine room
at Songdhammakalyani Monastery in Nakhonpathom. Her image is flanked
by images of 13 Arahat Theris.
It is also reported that a few women from western countries practising
Theravada tradition and a few women from
Thailand have been
ordained to bhikkuni order in
Sri Lanka in recent years.
Uduvapa Poya festival
Unduvapa Poya festival is observed in
Sri Lanka on the
Full Moon of
December to commemorate two specific events namely, Theri Sangamitta
day of arrival from
India to establish the Order of Nuns and to also
mark her bringing a sapling of the sacred Bodhi-Tree from Bodh Gaya
and planting it in Aunradhapura. The festival day has been designated
Sanghamitta Day". On this day, ten ordained nuns initiate the
festive celebrations every year. This observance was revived in
1903 at the suggestion of the Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka.
This Observance is performed by Buddhists by first following the 'Five
Precepts'; bathing, shaving, wearing white robes, and kneeling with
clean bare feet in a shrine before a Buddha-statue. The kneeling and
bowing is done first three times with feet, hands, elbows, knees and
head touching the floor. This is followed by reciting loudly the
memorised prayers, with folded hands (palms at the heart). The prayers
offered from sunrise until the next dawn starting with the words are:
As long as this life lasts.
I hereby take refuge in the Buddha.
I hereby take refuge in the Dhamma.
I hereby take refuge in the Sangha.
I hereby seek shelter in the
Buddha for the 2nd time.
I hereby seek shelter in the
Dhamma for the 2nd time.
I hereby seek shelter in the Sangha for the 2nd time.
I hereby request protection from the
Buddha for the 3rd time.
I hereby request protection from the
Dhamma for the 3rd time.
I hereby request protection from the Sangha for the 3rd time.
I will hereby respect these Three Jewels the rest of my life!
I accept to respect & undertake these 5 training rules:
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Killing.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Stealing.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Sexual Abuse.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Dishonesty.
I hereby accept the training rule of avoiding all Alcohol & Drugs.
As long as this life lasts, I am thus protected by these 5 precepts...
It is also a prayer offered on this day for the revival of Bhikkuni
Sri Lanka and with the hope that it will flourish in the
future. It is proposed that the day should also be celebrated as the
International Women’s Day, as a mark of honour to
established the women's Order.
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Vinaya and Ordination Lineages. Retrieved 2010-05-03.
Sanghmitra Theri, A liberated woman
Arahat Theri Sanghmitra
She is celebrated @ Fullmoon in December
Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya
Temple of the Tooth
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Buddha Jayanthi Chaithya
Dambulla cave temple
Dimbulagala Raja Maha Vihara
Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera
Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thero
Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero
Madihe Pannaseeha Thero
Narada Maha Thera
Wariyapola Sri Sumangala
Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera
Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera
Gangodawila Soma Thero
Mapalagama Wipulasara Maha Thera
Peter De Abrew
Charles Alwis Hewavitharana
Don Carolis Hewavitharana
E. W. Adikaram
A. T. Ariyaratne
Don Baron Jayatilaka
K. N. Jayatilleke
Henry Steel Olcott
Nalin de Silva
Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka
Relic of the tooth of the Buddha
Vesak in Sri Lanka
Dasa sil mata
Sri Lankan Forest Tradition
Jathika Hela Urumaya
Bodu Bala Sena
Ellawala Medhananda Thero
Athuraliye Rathana Thero