Sri Maha Bodhi at night, my uncle explaining
Which is over 2,300 years old. Sri Maha Bodhi is a sapling from the Bo tree the Buddha attained enlightenment under. I visited it yesterday with family. The same day, President Mahinda Rajapakse visited and actually got to touch the tree as part of his victory lap around the holy sites. It is a beautiful place and I managed to meditate there for like 20 minutes, through all the chattering families and loudspeakers. Anuradhapura itself is a magnificent city, its stupas (dagobas) some of the largest constructions in the ancient world.
It seems that Mahinda is on a victory lap of holy sites, including Sri Maha Bodhi and the Temple Of The Tooth in Kandy. I personally think this is important, though I hope he visits Hindu, Muslim and Christian holy sites too. Each Buddhist holy site, however, has Hindu elements and particular tributes. At Sri Maha Bodhi, my family gave a pooja (offering) which had very Hindu elements. The priest conducting the ceremony are also descendents of the 32 castes which accompanied the sapling over 2,000 years ago. One particular Hindu estyle ritual is the smashing of the coconut, which you can see in the video below.
At stupas like Jetavana – third highest structure in the ancient world, after the pyramids – there is a separate shrine to Vishnu. In the still active and stunning Ruwanwelisaya there is a statue of there reclining Buddha between Duttugamenu (the last unifer of Sri Lanka) and Elara (his respected Tamil nemesis).
Ruwanwelisaya in particular is a stunning place. At night the stupa glows a bright white and the smells of incense and sounds of chanting form a permanent sense memory. I still remember the place from my childhood, the smell of jasmine and bare feet on sand. I remember everything as bigger, but when I went the place was still quite big.
Anuradhapura is a beautiful place, of a proud civilization. It is a place of reverence, but also sadness. In 1985 the LTTE massacred 146 civilians in the town, from the bus stand to worshipers at Sri Maha Bodhi. They also machine gunned people in Wilpattu National Park on the way out.
This was designed to provoke more communal violence, and strengthen the cycle of hate the LTTE thrived on, for dissolution and separation. Yet that is not the spirit of the place, which is holy, and peaceful. There was random retaliation, on a smaller scale, which was shameful. In this way the LTTE tried to hurt both Sinhalese and Tamils, for their own ends. I’m so thankful they are finished now, though we have to work so very hard to come together through the pain.
worshipers lighting oil lamps outside Sri Maha Bodhi
Today Anuradhapura security is better and I think we’re at least somewhat closer to actually listening to the Buddha and following the spirit of the place. I’m sure many wishes went to the IDPs and people hurt by this war, mine did. It’s a beautiful place, and I’m simply stunned at how old the Sri Maha Bodhi is. It’s the oldest tree in the world with a recorded planting date. These places make you proud to be a Sri Lankan, but I think we have to work hard to really deserve them.