The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa, Sri Lanka's two great religious chronicles, contain accounts of Mahinda travelling to Sri Lanka and converting King Devanampiyatissa. These are the primary sources for accounts of his life and deeds.
Mahinda together with fellow monks Itthiya, Uttiya, Sambala, Bhaddasala and Saamanera Sumana(who was the son of Sanghamitta) were sent to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism, following the Third Buddhist Council, upon the recommendation of Moggaliputta-Tissa.
He was also accompanied by a lay disciple Bhankuka, who was a maternal grandson of his aunt.
Though Ashoka wanted his prodigal eldest son Mahendra to succeed him and made several attempts to bring him out of renunciation, due to the orthodox Hindu community's refusal to accept a Buddhist Crown Prince from a Vaishya mother as well as Majhendra's own lack of enthusiasm to take over an empire, he gave up.
Ashoka had feared that Mahendra would be killed just like Sushima, so in order to keep him safe and to avoid any succession war, he sent to Sri Lanka. The party left from Vedasagiri vihara, believed to be modern day Sanchi.
Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa, the chronicles of Sri Lanka, record the arrival of the party on the full moon of Jettha, a national festival at the time. At the time, King Devanampiyatissa was partaking in a hunting expedition in the Mihintale hills.
It is said that Asoka and Devanampiyatissa were previously acquainted and on good terms, having exchanged royal gifts upon their respective ascensions to the throne. Upon meeting the shaven-headed monks Devanampiyatissa was taken aback by their appearance and inquired as to who they were.
Mahinda subsequently gave two public talks sanctioned by Devanampiyatissa, in the Royal Hall and in the Nandana garden in the Royal Park, leading to the start of the public embrace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
As a result, a second royal funded monastery was built there. Later, Mahinda organised for a stupa to be constructed, and a part of the bodily relics of Gautama Buddha were transferred from the Maurya Empire to Sri Lanka.
Mahinda outlived Devanampiyatissa, and died at the age of 80 in Sri Lanka. King Uttiya, who succeeded his brother, organized a state funeral for Mahinda and constructed a stupa to house his relics at Mihintale.
Significance and legacy
The 20th century Sri Lankan monk Walpola Rahula described Mahinda as "the father of Sinhalese literature" as he had translated and written commentary for the Tripitaka in Sinhalese, turning it into a literary language.
Pilgrimages are traditionally undertaken in the month of June (Poson in the old Sinhala calendar), when Mahinda is believed to have arrived in Sri Lanka on the full-moon night of the month, a traditional time for religious observances in Theravada Buddhism