Research paper by London swaminathan
Post No. 1280; dated 10th September 2014.
Mahavamsa Research article No-2. Yesterday I posted “Astrology in Mahavamsa”.
There are lot of miraculous anecdotes in the Mahavamsa as any old book would have. Some of the stories have remarkable coincidence with Sangam Tamil Period anecdotes. Stories resembling Manuneethi Choza and Kumanan episodes of Sangam age are in the book. Buddha’s miracles in Sri Lanka are also reported in the book. If we get rid of the miracle portion of those stories, we can get some historical information.
What is Mahavamsa?
Mahavamsa is a book in Pali language narrating the history of Kings of Sri Lanka. It gives a continuous history from the date Vijayan from Bengal ( India ) landed in Sri Lanka. It covers the period between 543 BCE and 361 CE. The book was called Mahavamsa following the Raguvamsa of Kalidasa in which Kalidasa gives history of solar race that ruled Northern India. Mahavamsa means Great Dynasty or Great Chronicle.
In the chapter 10 on consecration of Pandu abhayan, we hear about a miracle of banyan leaves changing into gold cups. Later the princess was called Swarnapali (Swarna means god). We have similar stories in Mahabaharta. Whoever donates food can change something into gold. Half of A mongoose changes into gold by rolling on the leftover food of a poor charitable family.
In chapter 11 on King Devanampiya Tissa, we hear about miracles of gemstones coming out of earth on its own. Eight types of pearls were heaped on sea shores. He decided to send them as gifts to his friend, the great king of India, Asoka. But they had never met until then. It is similar to Tamil king Kopperunchoza and poet Pisiranthaiyar who became great friends without meeting.
A few “earth quake miracles” are in Mahavamsa. In Chapter 15 on The acceptance of the Mahavihara, when the king donated the Mahamegha park area to the Buddhist brotherhood, the earth shook. The king asked the (thera) Guru why the earth quaked, and he said, “Because the doctrine is founded in the island”. When the thera scattered the jasmine flowers given by the king, again the earth shook. Now the thera gave another explanation about the Bhodi tree getting rooted in the island.
A lot of miracles are about Buddha or his disciples travelling through sky and landing like air planes. We hear about such stories in the Hindu Puranas. Narada is one of the space travellers. He is an interplanetary and inter galactic traveller according to Hindu mythology. This type of miracle is found throughout Mahavamsa.(Eg.Chapter 14)
In Chapter 17- The Arrival of the Relics, the urn containing Buddha’s bones and ashes rose in the air from the back of an elephant to the amazement of the king and the people.
In the chapter 19- The Coming of the Bodhi Tree, the tree rose into air 80 cubits high and was floating and sending forth six colour rays. When it landed the earth shook. Though Hindus wore worshipping trees from time immemorial, Sri Lankan Buddhists took the tree worship to new heights. It was worshipped, decorated, taken into processions and temples were built over them.
In the chapter 28 on building a Thupa, we hear about iguana miracle. Hindus have similar stories in most of the temples: some animals or birds worshipping or indicating the divinity or sanctity of the place. Here an angel appeared in the form of an iguana and led the hunters to a brick kiln. He immediately informed the king about bricks in the middle of the forest which can be utilised for building a Stupa. Later different types of precious metals and gem stones appeared everywhere. People gathered them and presented them to the king.
I have already reported Elephant Miracles from Indian literature separately. We have such reports in Mahavamsa as well. One of them is in chapter 35- Twelve Kings. A servant maid takes a child to an elephant to be beheaded by the elephant. When she said to the elephant that the queen has sent the child for beheading, the elephant cried and went to the prison where the king was imprisoned. It broke open the prison gates and took the king on its back and helped him to cross the river. He came back after three years with a big army and won his territory back and the same elephant was made the royal elephant.
Tamil literature is full of elephant miracles:
a)Tamil saint Murthy Nayanar was crowned as a king by an elephant
b)Famous Tamil king Karikalan was made a king by an elephant.
c)Mighty king Mahendra Pallava sent an elephant to behead saint Appar, but it refused to kill him.
d)Tamil Choza king ordered beheading of a child, but a bold poet stopped it
e)An elephant stopped grazing the crops and listened to a Tamil girl’s song.
f)Kanchi Paramacharya made one hesitant elephant to be on its track again.
g)U.Ve.Swaminatha Iyer, Doyen of Tamil literature, also gave a similar story about a crying elephant in his essays.
h)The elephant name Asvattama changed the course of the Mahabharata war.
i)Kalidasa gives information about elephant bridge for the army.
j)Hannibal took the first elephant to Europe.
k)Hindus lost war because of cats scaring the elephants in North West Frontier.
l)Pallavas had a mysterious elephant crown like an Indo-Greek king.
m)Tiruvanaikaval Temple is based on a spider and elephant story.
n)Gajendra Moksha story happened again in African jungle
o)Buddha tamed elephant Nalagiri
p)Udayana and Kovalan tamed elephants.
q)Hindu temples and religious Mutts do Gaja Puja (Elephant worship) every day.
I have posted all the proverbs and anecdotes about elephants in my earlier posts. So Mahavamsa story is not uncommon.
I have reported all the Rain Miracles separately. We have a similar rain miracle in Chapter 36- Thirteen Kings. King Sangabhodi made a vow to bring rain to drought affected areas. He went into Maha Vihara (Buddhist temple) and lied in the corridor. Until the Devas (angels) bring rains to my land I woudn’t budge an inch. I will die here if there is no rain, he said. Immediately there was copious rain which was brought by the Devas.
There are a lot of miracles about Buddha’s visit to the island in The Mahavamsa.