Every full moon, or poya, means a public holiday in Sri Lanka—and none is so important as the poson poya, on June 8 this year, which celebrates the arrival of Buddhism on our shores nearly 1,500 years ago.
Legend has it that during the June poya in BC306, Arahath Mahinda, son of the great King Asoka of India, and a group of missionaries arrived to spread the word of the Buddha.
He met King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka atop the Mihintale rock, a landmark 12km east of Anuradhapura, a meeting of minds that paved way for the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
It is a story infused with mystery and mysticism, harking back to a time when poyas were already established as auspicious and timely reminders of the mystery and magic of Sri Lanka’s long history.
The legend says that the king had been out hunting with a retinue of 40,000 near the Missaka Rock, and that the rock god transformed himself into a deer and crossed the king’s path.
The king gave chase—and on hearing the call ‘Tissa, Tissa’, beheld a saffron-robed monk, none other than Arahath Mahinda, the son of King Asoka and a messenger from his friend, the Sri Lankan King Dharmasoka, who had already became a Buddhist.
The rest is shrouded in the mists of time. Who can say exactly what happened, or when or how? All we know is that we owe our Buddhist heritage to that chance encounter—if that is indeed what it was!
The story is woven into the fabric of our modern lives, and the Buddhist relics, monasteries and sacred places found throughout Sri Lanka’s famed Cultural Triangle are its living testaments.
So next time you are visiting one of our ancient historic Buddhist sites, perhaps even on the poson poya day itself, pause for a moment to recall the spirit of King Devanampiyatissa—and the Buddha.
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