12 June 2014
Today is a special day for Sri Lankans.
We dumped our bags at the guesthouse and biked our way around Anuradhapura. Police presence was huge and roads were blocked. We parked our bikes around the gate area and followed the locals as they marched towards the site. Normally it would cost you 25 USD to see the holy tree and other surrounding attractions but given it was Poson Full Moon Poya, we were allowed in for free. Time to join in the celebration.
Every festival is rooted in that country’s history and/or faith. The Poson Full Moon Poya is a Buddhist celebration which commemorates the beginning of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Mahinda, a Buddha disciple came to Sri Lanka from India on the full moon day of Poson (June) and preached the doctrine through meeting the King and the people. Clearly we can see that this is an important festival and it makes a great family trip.
Oh yes..people! Adorned with their newest and whitest gowns, the locals, like white doves, flock towards the Bodhi Tree Temple. As the second most sacred place in Sri Lanka (after Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth), this Bodhi Tree is allegedly cut from the original Bodhi tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment. Guarded, worshipped and loved continuously for 2000 years, it is the oldest authenticated tree in the world. Many travel across the country to pay their respects to the Bodhi Tree and no doubt ask for blessings.
It was a pleasant walk from the gate to the temple. There were countless stores, shops, stupas and friendly locals. The place was filled with great energy and we couldn’t resist the great ice cream cones.
The walk was slow and pleasant. Fishe and I watched on as locals sat quietly with their families around the complex. We were the only tourists there so we couldn’t escape being spotted by very enthusiastic locals who shook our hands wherever we went. But in a way, we did blend in. Nothing is as memorable and as touching than joining in a local festival with citizens of what was once a foreign land who has so generously adopted you as one of their own.
After lining up and inching our way through the entrance, the Bodhi Tree appears in front of us- sheltered by shrine/windows and worshippers
This is a symbolic place for the spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
This tree must have been brought from India by Mahinda, the Buddhist disciple and son of Emperor Ashoka of India. A young monk inspired Ashoka with his message of peace and so the Emperor embraced Buddhism and sent his own son to Sri Lanka to further spread the doctrine. Buddhism was introduced to the island 236 years after Buddha’s passing away.
The locals had their eyes fixed on the holy tree, they threw money and placed lotus at the shrine. We watched on in fascination and felt that this is as close as we can get to enlightenment. Like the royal family and nobility during the Anuradhapura period, we also felt a strong attachment to Buddhism and the teachings. Although short, it was a great moment!
We said goodbye to the police and the sacred Bodhi Tree, all standing strong under the midday sun. We walked past locals who sat outside the Bodhi Tree Temple, chatting, reading and discussing Buddhist teachings. A quiet moment ~
Darling Fishe and I walked towards the car park and we saw many people lining up outside a tent. From the Chinese characters on the hanging lanterns, we realized that a group of Buddhist followers from Malaysia came to Anuradhapura to hand out goods to the local people. It was heartwarming to witness this peace and inclusiveness.
Some Facts about the Kingdom of Anuradhapura
- As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Anuradhapura is an ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Her cultural riches and historical past propelled the city to being listed as UNESCO WHS.
- The Anuradhapura Kingdom, believed to have lasted from 4.BC to 11 Century AD, was a center of stable political power.The town and suburbs were laid out in a well-organized fashion along with reservoirs ( the ancients understood the importance of water management and the urgency to have a water storage and irrigation system).
- The Royal family paid great attention to health care and education.The 4th century King Upatissa II provided quarters for the crippled and the blind. Many other Kings appointed physicians and set out hospitals.
- Anuradhapura had some of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world also the best engineers.
- Anuradhapura Kingdom started off with a weak army then gradually expanded. Although it was prone to attacks from South India, the navy was not considered to be important and thus, rarely maintained.
- Trade, export and import thrived during this period. The country’s geographic position made it the centre of international trade.
- Agriculture = Economy. Irrigation= a steady agriculture and is needed for rice cultivation as well as cotton, sugar cane and sesame.