Golden Jubilee of Mihintala Aloka Pooja
The single most significant event that took place in the recorded history of our country was the introduction of Buddhism in the third century BC following the 3rd Buddhist Council convened by the Mauryan Emperor Asoka of India. (273-232BCE) Emperor Asoka was a follower of the brahmanical faith at the beginning of his reign.
In the early years of his reign he followed an expansionist policy and in the eighth year of his coronation he conquered Kaalinga. (Modern Orissa) The Kalinga war is said to have killed about 100,000 people and an equal number of people taken prisoners. But the carnage of the Kaalinga war caused him much grief and atonement, and the king was attracted towards the nonviolence humanistic teachings of the Buddha.
According to our chronicles, Emperor Asoka had one day witnessed a young novice Bhikku named Nigrodha thero, walking serenely with down cast eyes. The king was so impressed of his relaxed gentle calm and dispassionate nature and approached the Bikkhu and engaged in a conversation with him. The king listen to the Thero and was much impressed about what he preached and embraced Buddhism.
After Emperor Asoka became a Buddhist, Buddhism flourished in Jambudeepa, under his royal patronage. He inculcated the teachings of the Buddha and set up edicts of morality at numerous places of his empire so that everyone would adhere to them and his successors might follow him. He himself followed those morals and set an example to the others. The king built 84,000 stupas. The monks or the order of Maha Sangha were provided with all their requisites. The king encouraged his son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamittaa to join the Order of Monks when they were twenty and eighteen years of age respectively. These two illustrious disciples became noted for their piety, attainments, learning and profound knowledge of the Dhamma.
Emperor Asoka did not stop there. He sent the message of the Buddha Dhamma to all neighbouring countries and as part of this programme he sent his son Arahath Mahinda Maha thero and daughter Sangamitta to Lankadeepa with the massage of the Buddha Dhamma.
Thus on the full-moon day of the month of Jettha in the year 236 b.c, Mahinda thero accompanied with six other monks and a lay decuple departing from Vedisagiri, rose up in the air and alighted on the pleasant Missaka Pauwa, presently Mihintale. The thero alighted here for he had perceived that he would meet the king of Lanka there on that day. He met the King Devanampiyatissa who was with forty thousand men out on a hunting expedition.
There the king of Lanka, Devanampiyatissa saw the theras with shaven heads dressed in yellow robes, of dignified mien and distinguished appearance, who faced him and addressed him not as ordinary men addressing a king but as those to whom a king was their inferior. The conversation impressed the king and his immediate surrender to the wisdom and piety displayed by the thero was complete. Mahinda Thero in reply to the king's inquiry as to who they were and whence they had come from said
"Sama.naa maya.m Mahaaraaja Dhammaraajassa saavakaa tav'eva anukampaaya Jambudiipaa idhaagataa."
We are the disciples of the Buddha the enlightened one, We have come from Jumbudeepa out of compassion for you.
When he heard these words of the thero, the king laid aside his bow and arrow, and approaching the thero, exchanged greetings with him and sat down near him. Mahinda thero then had a conversation with the king, and realizing that the king was intelligent enough to comprehend the Dhamma, preached the Cuulahatthipadopama Sutta. At the end of the Dhamma sermon, the king and his party of forty thousand people embraced Buddhism having invited Maha thero and his team to the city the king left for his palace. Mahinda thero spent his first day in Lanka at Mihintale where he performed the first ecclesiastical act by admitting to the Order the lay-follower Bhanduka who had accompanied him from India.
Thus the Buddhism became the national religion of the Sinhalese people of this country from that date.
If one surveys the state of the island and its social and political developments and the culture and character of the people immediately preceding this period, Lanka did not have a properly organised religion. It was with the introduction of Buddhism, Lanka transformed itself in to a nation state. The Buddhism brought about a far-reaching revolution in the beliefs, manners, customs and character of people. The fundamental change took place not only in the social fabric of Lanka but it made immense progress in literature, art and culture that has been manifested in every aspect of the day today life of the people.
Due to unbounded royal patronage of King Devaanampiya Tissa, hundreds of thousands of people embraced Buddhism and thus the Buddha Dhamma was firmly established and a linage of unbroken order of Maha sanga firmly established in this county. Our country came to be known as Dhamma Deepa and the granary of the East.
Both Mahinda thero and Sanghamitta therani survived king Devaanampiya Tissa. Mahinda Thero lived to the age of 80 years and Sanghamittaa Therani to the age of 79 years. They spent nearly 48 years in the island. The Maha thero passed away in the eighth year and Sangamitta Therani in the ninth year of the reign of King Uttiya, the brother and successor of king Devaanampiya Tissa. Uttiya performed their funerals with great honour and built stuupas over their relics and Arahath Mahinda Maha thero became the Anu Budu (second Buddha) in the hearts of the Sinhala Buddhists.
Mihintale is the birth place of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and hence it is of great significance to people of Lanka. The radiant that emanated and flowed from Mihintale shaped the destiny of our nation and it fashioned the great Buddhist civilization of the Sinhala nation. Budhism brought about a new way of life, thinking and a political culture based on Dasaraja Damma. It fostered the art and literature. Buddhism Inspired the creation of vast Dagabas like Ratnamali and the art of making sculpture in stone such as Awukana Buddha statue, the moon stone, man-made Wewas, (reservoirs) and irrigation systems that no other nation in the world can boast about.
It is for these cogent reasons that the ANCL decided to honour Mihintale with it social commitment in mind. Pilgrims have been worshipping the sacred Mihintale for a period well over two millennia. They climb the rocky mountain mostly during the night as climbing the mountain during the day time is difficult in the scorching sun. Pilgrims holding burning torches in the night climbed the mountain in their thousands. This caused immense hardships to pilgrims and a way out had to be found to ease the harsh conditions faced by the pilgrims.
In 1962 under guidance and direction of Mr. Ranjith Wijayawardene and GPS Gomes, steps were taken to illuminate Mihintale sacred area and its precincts for the convenience of pilgrims who flock to Mihintale for the Poson festival. Electricity was the major problem. Organizers have had to hire generators and taken to Mihintale from Colombo for the three day illuminations. This was the beginning of a massive public utility project that was to take shape in the years to come. The first Mihintale illumination was held on the Poson full moon day of June in the year 1962. It was a novel experience for millions of people who never had in their life time experienced such a marvellous scene of meticulously lit Mihintale . Common amenities such as permanent toilet facilities were constructed on the Meda Maluwa area Sanitation drinking water supplies with the help of Local government authorities enhanced. Mihintale illuminations as it was known then, became an important item on the ANCL annual programme and continued as such up until late 1970s. The total cost of Mihintale illumination was born by the ANCL.
It was Ranapala Bodinagoda who decided to create a Trust under the name style of Mihintala Aloka Trust for the administration and carrying out of the work associated with Mihintale illuminations. A Deed of Trust was drawn up establishing a Trust for the objectives set out under the object clause. Board of trustees consists of five was appointed. The ANCL chairman and the Secretary of the Company for the time being are the ex-officio chairman and the secretary of the trust under the provisions of the trust instrument. Chief incumbent of the Mihintale Rajamahaviharaya is also a member of the Trust. Later the public trustee of Sri Lanka U. Mapa and the Commissioner of Buddhist affairs S.Kariyawasm were invited to be honorary trustees of the Trust. They accepted the invitation very willingly and happily and made their contribution in every way possible.
Up until late 1980s Mihintala annual illuminations were carried out with the main concern on the provision of facilities and common amenities to pilgrims. However Mihintale illuminations took a definite turn under the chairmanship of Sunil Rodrigo who was keen to go one step further than illuminating the sacred area for Poson. He had a vision in line with ANCL mission. He convened a meeting of the Aloka Trust and mooted the idea that people of Mihintale must be given something tangible in addition to annual illuminations and it was decided to donate a maternity ward for the Mihintale Hospital as the first step.
I remember I was asked to give a programme of action, a definite time frame for completion of the job and to find a sponsor who would finance the project. ANCL Engineers Walagedara and Jayamega were asked the supervise the building work and Maheepala was made to oversee the construction work at the site. The maternity ward was ready for opening on the Poson full moon poya day of 1990. This programme became a permanent feature of the Mihintale poson illumination and the name illumination was changed to Aloka pooja since.
This project followed a series of donations every year. A carpentry work shop for the Kammalakulama Vidyalaya , a well equipped library for the Mihintale Maha Vidyalya, a dental Clinic for the Kanishta Vidyalya, a computer training centre for the Mihintale Maha Vidyalaya, a nursery school for the children of Katupotha village of Mihintale, a water cooler for the supply of cold water for pilgrims, to mention a few public utility projects that were carried out during this period.
Also beginning from 1990 a simultaneous two programmes were carried out with the participation of the school children in the Mihintale area. That was to get the school children participated in observing Atasil on the Poson poya day. Thousand children selected from among the schools and Daham Pasalas took part in the Atasill programme as part of Aloka pooja. These children were provided with Sil clothing and Dane while an island wide essay competition among the school children was organised annually. An oratorical contest for senior and junior school children were also organised with utmost successes. This contest was open to the children of Anuradpura district only. We found many talented young speakers who displayed immense potential for public speaking. ANCL received the support of teachers, the staff of the GA’s office, and the ministry of education of the provincial Council in all of these endeavours.
Mihintala Aloka pooja of ANCL has taken it proper shape now. It is now institutionalized and taken as part and parcel of cultural life of the people of this country. This is evident by the fact that many non-buddhists too visit Mihintale during poson. Mihintle Rajamaha viharaya has come to be known as Lake House Temple for its inseparable bond with this great institution of House by the Lake. Aloka pooja is a three day function. It concludes with the Deva pooja on the final day of aloka pooja which take place at the Maha Chetiya premises . It is an offerings to Devas to ward off the malefic effects if any following the massive task and a job well done. During the last 5o years, ANCL has kept an unbroken tradition of performing the Aloka pooja even during the height of political turbulences. I used to look at the faces of ANCL employees who were coming down the steps after the Deva Pooja. There were no signs of fatigue. Their faces bespoke of a satisfaction they gained through commitment and dedication. I still remember how committed they were and believe they still are. The Maha sangha of the Mihintale Rajamaha viharaya extended their unstinted support to ANCL. Late Ven Sri Ratanapala Ratanajothi nayaka thero was a source of inspiration to all of us at ANCL and we had the benefit of listening to him on all occasions when we called on the Mahanayake athero at the Udamaluwa.
Before I conclude, I wish to make reference to commendable work done by Miss Upeksha Senadheera and Champa Perea towards Mihintala Aloka pooja during the turbulent periods. Sunil Sendanaike did the talking and did not let anyone else to touch the microphone, and Waruna Mallawaarachchi was under pressure to raise funds. Kamal Wijesuriya kept to the printing schedules. They all are still in service. Premasiri Abeysinghe, former editor of Budusarana was a key player. Ganadasa of CDN editorial and E.A. Perera and many others were actively involved in the Aloka Pooja work. I may have left out many names unintentionally, for which I may be forgiven. The only surviving ANCL staffer who took part in the first Mihintala illuminations in 1962 is none but Tyrell Fernando now in retirement.
The ANCL celebrates the golden jubilee of Akola Pooja, on the 4th of June 2012, the Poson Poya day, I try to imagine the splendid grandeur of it which I am unable to experience in person today. Nevertheless, every day I feel the warmth of Mihintala Aloka Pooja.
Writer was the General Manager of ANCL and the Secretary of Mihintala Aloka Trust
- Asian Tribune -