The Sacred Bodhi, It's arrival and those connected with it.
Home >> Karava

The Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest tree in the world, still venerated by millions of Buddhists, is a source of pride and joy to all in Sri Lanka. The events of its dispatch, arrival, celebrations, ceremonies and the retinue that accompanied it are preserved both in tradition and historical works.

There are many classes or guilds that came to the Island in the service of the Bodhi. Many families of rank were appointed custodians of the sacred tree. Occasionally claims are made of ones ancestors having accompanied the Saplings. Whether these are direct or indirect descendants of the families is a matter of conjecture. Some even claim to be the kinsmen of the Sakaya Prince himself, but unless such claims can be established by their Kshatriya origin then we have to disregard such claims as fictitious and a figment of their imagination.

Our Great Chronicle* describes how Dharamasoka dispatched the Saplings, and its reception by Devanampiyatissa in Sri Lanka. We also get a glimpse of the Society in the Island at this period.

"When the Lord of chariots (Dharamasoka) had appointed to watch over the Bodhi tree eighteen persons 1 from royal families and eight from families of ministers, and moreover eight from brahmin families and eight from families of traders and persons from cowherds likewise and from the hyenas and sparrowhawk clans 2 (from each one man), and also from the weavers and potters and from all the handicrafts, from the nagas and yakkas; when the most exalted prince had given them eight vessels of gold and eight of silver, and brought the great Bodhi-tree to a ship on the Ganges, and likewise the Theri Sangamitta with eleven bhikkunis and when he had caused those among whom Arittha was first to embark on that same ship, he fared forth from the city, and passing over the Vinjha mountains the prince arrived, in just one week, at Tamalitti" 3. "He commanded that the same noble persons, eight of each (of the families) appointed at the foot of the great Sala-tree to escort the great Bodhi-tree, should raise up the great Bodhi-tree".

"He the splendid (King DevanampiyŠtissa) descended even neck deep into the water; and when together with sixteen persons 4 (of noble families) he had taken the great Bodhi-tree upon his head, had lifted it down upon the shore and caused it to be set in a beautiful pavilion, the king of Lanka worshiped it by (bestowing on it) the kingship of Lanka".

"He had brought (the tree) to the spot worthily prepared by Sumana's command, to the lovely place where the former Bodhi-trees had stood, he with those sixteen noble persons who were wearing royal ornaments, lifted down the great Bodhi-tree and loosed his hold to set it down.''

"The great Thera Mahinda and the bhikkhuni Sangamitta went thither with their following and the king also with his following. The nobles of Kajaramama 4 and the nobles of Candanagama and the Brahman Tivakka and the people who dwelt in the island came thither also by the power of the gods, (with minds) eagerly set upon a festival of the great Bodhi-tree".

"Of the eight Bodhi-saplings one was planted at the landing place Jambukola on the spot where the great Bodhi-tree had stood, after leaving the ship, one in the village of the Brahmin Tivakka, one in the Issarrassamanarama, one in the Court of the First thupa, one in the arama of the Cetiya mountain, one in Kajaragama and one in Candanagama." "The eight (persons from the) merchant guilds who had brought the great Bodhi tree hither were named therefrom the "Guild of the Bodhi-bearers".

It is quite evident that the retinue that came with the Great Bodhi tree correspond with the traditional caste - system (a) Kshattriya (b) Brahman (c) Vaisya (d) Sudra. 5 The Vaisyas referred to as merchants and the Sudras having the various divisions 1.Govi-cowherds, 2. Taraccha -. Navandana, 3. Sparrohawk - 'kulinga', which is the Chunam or Hunu. (4) Weavers (5) Potters (6) other handicrafts, and finally (7) the Yakkas and Nagas. This group the Yakkas and Nagas may have represented the out-caste, the indigenous population who were conquered by the Aryan immigrants who became the Lords and aristocrats reducing the vanquished aboriginal races, the Yakkas and Nagas to bondsmen and slaves-Chandala. This feature is universal in keeping with the Immigration and Amalgamation theory of Weber.

A comment on the Rodiyas is pertinent "On a close examination it has been ascertained from several old and well informed men on caste, that according to a legend prevalent among them, their ancestors were Weddhas or hunters and that they trace their transportation to Anuradhapura across the sea, with the sacred Bo-tree, by Sangamitta about 2000 years ago. If this be credible it may be mentioned that there are even up to this day, certain persons devoted to particular services, towards the sacred tree known as Vil-li or Vil-li Dureas. These Vil-li Dureas have relations in this district who inhabit several large and important villages such as Maduve, Malie-Elle etc., whose services to the king under Kandyan Government consisted in the supply of venison to the palace" 6

It is further observed, "every Rodiya proper name has the suffix Villiya, is not without its own significance also seems obvious. Villi or Villiya as in Rodiya names such as Jayaratne Villiya or Someratne Villiya, is a specialty of Rodiya personal names, and would seem to mean a 'bow-man' or hunter. Duraya is a Portuguese word, denoting headman. Villi Duraya would thus mean a headman of the Rodiyas" 7. They probably protected the sacred Bo-tree from monkeys with their bows and arrows.

During the revival of Buddhism in the times of the Kandyan Kings, the veneration of the sacred Bo-tree which was reduced to neglect at that time, was revived and the king searched for a person whose family claimed descent from one of the original entourage that came to Sri Lanka with the sacred Bodhi-tree from India, and found one in poor circumstances, and he was elevated to the post of Dissawa, and appointed lay custodian of this Bodhi.

The sacred Bodhi-tree was received with such veneration by King Devanampiyatissa that only the Kshattriyas were allowed to be personally associated with it and the eight Bodhi saplings were planted in places of no mean repute as noted above.

The Mahavansa further elaborates on the sites where the eight Bo-saplings were planted. The first was at the spot of landing at Jambukola; the second in the village of the Brahman Tivakka, evidently the first of his clan to venerate the Bodhin and the first to embrace Buddhism; the third at the Thuparam; fourth in the Court of the Pathma-Cetiya; the fifth at the Mihintale Cetiya; the remaining three Saplings were planted in places associated with the Kshattriyas, namely the Issa-rasa-manaka Vihara where five hundred nobles received the pabajja from the great Thera Mahinda, the other two saplings were cited at "Khattiyagama" (Kataragama) and Candagama (Mahagama). The Vaisyas or the merchant class, eight of whom accompanied the Bodhin as earlier observed were honoured as the "Guild of the Bodhi bearers". Five hundred of this clan too received the pabajja from the great Thera Mahinha at Vessagiri Vihara, so named after them, Vessa being Vaisya. 8

The Janvansa records that, "After time had thus passed, in the 207th year after our Buddha had gone to Nirvarana, at the time when Dewenipaetisa Narandraya was reigning over Lakdiva, Dharmasokka Narapati of Dambadiva, sending to Sri Lankadiwipa together with the great-in-splendour, all fear-dispelling, fearless-rendering victorious Maha Bodhin, and with the two princes Mahinda and Sanghamitta, archers employed in bow-craft, and people accustomed to fight with swords (Khadga), javelins (kuntha), pikes (tamara), shields (palis), and the like; saying '(holding), the pearl umbrellas, white canopies our kin are going, it is not proper for us to stay', forty-nine in number these also came for the Bo Mandala business" ....

"Thus because princes, who attained the kingship from time to time belonged to this race and attained it, Bhuvaneka Bahu on account of the dangers that arose from foreign enemies, bringing to this Lakdiva from the city of Kanchipura ninety-five of them in number, showed them royal kindness, and established them there. From that time, keeping everything that was needed, appointing the five doers of service, he protected them." 9 This is the reference to the Kaurawas who accompanied the Bo-tree and their later arrival in Sri Lanka at the request of Bhuvaneka Bahu I.

There are many Kaurawa families bearing the name "Bodiyabaduge" evidently direct descendents of the group of forty-nine of this clan that came with the Bodhin. It is believed that they migrated to Kataragama and joined the Kshattriyas of this place. As time went on these moved along the South Western coast and are to be seen in large numbers in this area. Some clans are Buddhists and not a few are Christian. One of the many banners of the Kaurawas reproduced by Raghavan 10 depicts a ship carrying on board a tree and very probably is a record of the arrival of the Bo-sapling as conveyed by its owner the Headman of Maggona, Mr. R. D. M. Arasakulasuriya in 1940*

According to certain traditional sources some of the Kaurawas who accompanied the Bo-Tree consisted of the following clans,

  1. Jayawarnakulasuriya Jayasiri Addittiya Tantulage.
  2. Virasannada Virabala Jayasuriya Kuru-Uttampala Atthadeva Gunaratna Patabendige.
  3. Mahamarakkala Mahabala Jayasuriya Kuru-Uttumpala Atthadeva Kurukulasuriya Patabendige.
  4. Varnakulasuriya Mahamendige.
  5. Varnakulasuriya Wadu Mestrige.
  6. Kurukulasuriya Merrennge.
  7. Sungam Mandadige.
  8. Jayaraja Jayavaranakulasuriya Gamapalanage (Gampolage).
  9. Jayasiri Vijayamaha Bodhige (Bodia Baduge).
  10. Arsa Nilayitta Sellaperuma Kurukulasiuriya Patabendige.
  11. Jayasindhu Palihawadana Ralalage.
  12. Warnadepathige Diggala Chandrakulasuriya.
  13. Kurukula Wickrama Addittiya Palamandadi.
  14. Kurukula Addittiya Jayasuriya Pornavawaduge.

These clans dispersed in diverse directions settling down mainly in the South -Western coastlands and are still evident in Kalutara, Panadura and Moratuwa. The ancestors of the Bodiabaduge i.e., the Jayasiri Vijaya Maha Bodhige also called Kurukula Addittiya Jayasiri Vijaya Maha Bodhige planted a sapling of the Bo-Tree and built a Vihara at Kalutara - Kalutota, Kalatittha (circa 306. B.C.) The ancient Raja Maha Vihara was probably on this site. 11

The Kshattriyas who accompanied the Sacred Bo-Tree were entrusted with the duty of guarding it and one such person so appointed bore the name of Suriya Kumara Singha (descendant from a prince of the Solar and Lion Race). A few years ago (1972) an attempt was made to connect a then Minister bearing a name similar, but in reverse, to an original family that accompanied the Bodhin. The fantastic story trotted out was that some Suriya settled down near Manipay since they were too tired to proceed to Anuradhapura. It was also claimed that they took the name of Kumarasuria and accepted the Tamil culture and language. Further "a branch of the original Bo-tree is still found near an old Hindu Kovil". According to this claimant, one of the Suriya Kumars who settled in Anuradhapura took the name of Bulankulame and "in Colonial times signed as Suriya Kumara Bulankulame". Enlarging on the point he adds, "This is enough proof of their affinity to the Kumarasuriars of Chulipura". There is no documentary evidence to show that any Suriya Kumaras were entrusted to guard a Bo-tree near Manipay, nor was the late P. B. Bulankulame Dissawa able to explain how the Bulankulama families derived this honorific "Suriya Kumara". The clue to this mystery can be found in the files of the Anuradhapura Kachacheri. The last of the Suriya Kumaras adopted the first Bulankulama who was permitted to use the name of "Suriya Kumara". Our former Minister of Health when confronted with this exclaimed that he had "no blue blood in his veins". This was indeed a frank admission that he was not a descendant of the Suriya Kumara Kshattriyas who accompanied the Bo - tree. We have yet a recent claim that a kinsman of the Sakaya Prince Gautama too accompanied the Bo-tree. Neither the Mahavansa nor Janavansa records this and such a claim of the Buddha's descendants being among the present V.I.P.'s is a matter of conjecture and a subject for researchers. Such a claim in the first instance should have even a remote Kshattriya origin.

Regarding the Suriya Kumaras history and guardianship of the Sacred Bo-tree and its present day custodians it is relevant to quote at length from four British Officials.

  1. "During our stay at Anuradhapura a Kandian lady presented a petition to the agent of Government, requesting his interference on behalf of her son, who was detained as a State prisoner for having been implicated in the rebellion of 1817-1818. She stated that he was her only son and that the large family estates were now ravaged by wild animals; that in this remote district, for want of his superintendence, the tanks for irrigation were neglected, and cultivation was rapidly decreasing; moreover that he was the hereditary guardian of the sacred edifices of this ancient capital, and that in his absence the buildings and temples were neither protected nor repaired, that revenues being either misapplied by the priests, or appropriated to their use. The old lady also alluded to the antiquity of their family, whose ancestor she said had accompanied the branch of the sacred tree from Patalipoora, B.C. 307 (modern Patana). On inquiring, I found that the very remote antiquity of this family was acknowledged by the jealous chiefs of the mountain districts; and could not help feeling an interest in the last scion of a race, whose admitted ancestry reached far beyond the lineage of Courtenay or Howard."

    "This chief soon afterwards obtained permission to visit his estates; and at a subsequent period, having assisted in securing the pretender to the Kandian throne, (who had been secreted since 1818 in this part of the country), he was only permitted to return to his estate, but was re-instated in office as chief of the district. Although not a clever man, his appearance and manners were dignified and gentlemanlike; he died in 1837, leaving a family to continue the race, and bear the dignified appellation of Suriya Kumara Singha (descended from a prince of the solar and the lion race)" 12
  2. "Before leaving for Aripo, the priests of the great temple waited upon me bringing with them a youth, the lineal representative of an ancestor who accompanied the Bo-tree in its voyage from Magha to Ceylon B.C. 289. The chiefship of the district has been ever since in the same family and the boy who bears the title of Suriya-Kumara-Singha, 'Prince of the Lion and the Sun' can boast an unbroken descent, compared with whose antiquity the most renowned peerages of Europe are but creations of yesterday" 13
  3. An interesting reference to a title existent in the time of Parakrama Bahu VI mentioned in the Kavyasekara, that of "Jaya Maha Lena" is quoted by H.C.P. Bell. This was a term signifying "Chief Secretary connected with the Sacred Bo-Tree" - The Title 'Jaya Maha Lena' was first conferred by King Devanampiya Tissa on Bodhi Gupta and Sumittra, two of the seven princes who brought over the Bo branch from India (Bodhivansa). In a registered tudapata .(N.W.P. No. 3397) granted by Sri Parakrama Bahu III in Saka 1212 (1290-9l. AD) the donee is styled 'Savulu Bala Suriya Jaya Maha Mudaliya', direct descendant of 'Bal„ Suriya Bandara' son of 'Suriya Got Kumaraya', who escorted the branch of the sacred Bo-Tree" 14

    Bell had also observed that the last scion of the Suriya Kumaras was a lady who died in 1890. Major Forbes who was appointed to the Civil Service in 1826 was presented a petition by an old lady regarding the plight of her only son who died in 1837 "leaving a family to continue the race". Emmersion Tennant twenty years later who joined the Service in 1845 relates a similar story of a "youth, the lineal representative" of the Suriya Kumaras. This youth was evidently the son of the chief who died in 1837. It seems possible that he had no male heir and the lady who died in 1890 was his daughter the last of the line. It is also likely that it was he who adopted a son from the "Bulankulama" family and according to custom was permitted to use the title of Suriya Kumara.
  4. According to another source, there were two branches of the Suriya Kumara family commonly known as 'Bulankulama' and 'Nuwarawewa' from the two tanks near which the Walawwas were built 15. "A dispute having arisen between these families judgment was delivered in favour of the former" and the rights as chief of Nuwarakalayia were decreed to belong to the plaintiff, Suriya Kumara Warnasingha Banda of Bulankulama son of the Mudiyanse who died in 1837" 16.

A significant feature to be observed in connection with the Bo-tree festivals is the place accorded to women. Also the importance played by the established caste system existent at the time. In the first instance, the saplings were entrusted to Theri Snaghamitta and eleven other bhukkunis and a large retinue accompanied her. 17 Four Kshattiya virgins were also dispatched to pour water on the tree during the festivals at the port.18 Like at the consecration of a King, the Bodhi tree was sprinkled with water by virgins of the Raja, Bamunu and Velanda Kulas. The bhikkunis were assigned the duty of attending on the Bo-tree at Anuradhapura and their needs were seen to by a certain village. Devanampiyatissa established the Perahara-biso or four Kshattriya virgins to sprinkle water on the Bodhi. They were held in high esteem and it was the duty of the king to protect these maidens and they resided at the Palace. They were gaily dressed and highly ornamented with great splendour.19 Most of these festivals continued till the reign of King Dhatusena (459-477 A.D.) who modified the ceremonies and scrapped the office of the Perahara-bisos since it was a great responsibility to look after these virgins.

I am indebted to Dr. P. V. D. Fernando for his invaluable notes on the Society in Sri Lanka at the time of the Arrival of the Sri Maha Bodhi, especially the existence of the caste system at that early period.

F.B. Jagath Wijayanayaka

From 'Kurukshetra' Volume 4, 1978

* Gieger Wilhelm - Mahavansa (1934) Ch. xix vv. 1-10; 29;42;53;60;67

  1. Ibid Note I. p. 128 In this royal families denote Devakula which Gieger observes that "word deva is evidently to be taken in the sense of 'king' and merely as a synonym of Khattiya" - Kshatttriya.
  2. Ibid-Note 2."Taraccha (= Skt taraksa) 'hyena' and kulinga (= skt kulinga) the name of a bird of prey, the 'fork-tailed shrike', seem here to designate certain clans or crafts". This note is not quite clear. The hyena is not a bird but a mammal. The sparrow-hawk is a bird of prey. The Sinhala equivalent of Taraccha is 'Tarachala', tara meaning ape or monkey. Then Taraccha would probably refer to Tarachala a term applied to the Navanda people and their banner depicts the Ape and is known as the Hanuman Kodiya. (Sinhalese Banners and Standards by E. W. Perera (1916) Plate I.
  3. Ibid - Ch. XI. Note 4. p.80 Tamaliti (Skt Tamralipiti) a habour in the region at the mouth of the Ganges, now Tamluk. Dharmasoka travelled by land over the Vindhya mountain to this Port.
  4. Ibid - Ch. XIX Note 1 p. 132 Kajaragama is the present Kataragama on the Menik Ganga; about ten miles north of Tissamarama in the province of Rohana.
  5. Grieger Wilhelm. - Etymologic Des Sinhalestein: Simhala-Bodhi. vamsaya pp.213-iS
  6. Ferguson A. M. - "Rodiyas" Monthly Literary Register 1895 In pp. 247, 257, 285 - 288
  7. Raghavan M. D. - Handsome Beggars, The Story of the Rodiya p. 77'
  8. Geiger Wilhelm - Mahavansa. Ch. XX. 14, 15. Notu 3
  9. Nevill Hugh - Taprobanian April 1886 p. 109.
  10. Raghavan M. D. - The Karava of Ceylon, Society and Culture, Plate XVII
    * This banner was seen by me in 1940 and in 1961 it was reproduced by Dr. M. D. Ragbavan. in 1977 it was purchased by the National Museum Colombo.
  11. Fernando - J. S. A. Insignia of the Kaurawa Vansa (1941) pp.3, 8 & 9
  12. Forbes Major - Eleven Years in Ceylon (1840-41) Vol. 1. pp. 228-229
  13. Tennant Sir Emmerson - Ceylon (1860) Vol. p. 625
  14. Bell H. C. P.- Proceedings on Vijaya Bahu NI. JI. R. A. S. (C.B.) Vol. XXII No. 65. 1912. p. 343, note
  15. Antoninus Rev. Dr. P. A. B. J.- Ceylon Observer 14 March 1972
  16. Ivers E. W - Manuel of the N.C.P. p. 42
  17. Geiger Whilem- Mhv, ch. XIX. v. 5
  18. Simhala - Bodhivamsaya, P.202
  19. Ibid - P. 203.


This article has been reproduced from the 'Kurukshetra', a journal published by a group of researchers on Indo - Sri Lanka history, culture and society with special emphasis on the Kshatriya or Karawa groups.