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The Mahavamsa

The Great Chronicle of Lanka
from 6th Century BC to 4th Century AD

Translated from Pali
by Wilhelm Geiger



WHEN the subduer of foes had completed the work on the relic-chamber he brought about an assembly of the brotherhood and spoke thus: 'The work on the relic-chamber has been completed by me; to-morrow I will enshrine the relics; do you, venerable sirs, take thought for the relics.' When the great king had spoken thus he went thence into the city; but the assembly of bhikkhus sought out a bhikkhu who should bring relics hither; and they charged the ascetic named Sonuttara, gifted with the six supernormal faculties, who dwelt in the Püja-parivena, with the task of bringing the relics.

Now once, when the Master was wandering about (on the earth) for the salvation of the world, on the shore of the Ganges a bra hman named Nanduttara invited the Sambuddha and offered him hospitality together with the brotherhood. Near the landing-place Payaga the Master, with the brotherhood, embarked on a ship. As then the them Bhaddaji of wondrous might, endowed with the six supernormal faculties, saw there a place where the water whirled in eddies, he said to the bhikkhus: 'The golden palace measuring twenty-five yojanas wherein I dwelt, when I was (the king) Mahapanada, is sunk here. When the water of the Ganges comes to it here it whirls in eddies.'

The bhikkhus, who did not believe him, told this to the Master. The Master said: 'Banish the doubts of the bhikkhus.' Then to show his power to command even in he Brahma-world he rose, by his wondrous might, into the air and when he, floating at a height even of seven talas, had taken the Dussa-thupa in the Brahma-world upon his outstretched hand, and had brought it hither and shown it to the people, he put it again in the place to which it belonged. Thereon he dived, by his wondrous power, into the Ganges, and seizing tht palace by its spire with his toe he raised it high up, and when he had shown it to the people he let it fall again there (to its place). When the brahman Nanduttara saw this wonder he uttered the wish: 'May I (at some time) have the power to procure relics that others hold in their possession.' Therefore did the brotherhood lay this charge upon the ascetic Sonuttara although he was but sixteen years old. 'Whence shall I bring a relic?' he asked the brotherhood, and thereupon the brotherhood described the relics thus:

'Lying on his deathbed the Master of the world, that with his relics he might bring to pass salvation for the world, spoke thus to (Sakka) the king of the gods: 0 king of the gods, of the eight donas of my bodily relics one dona, adored (first) by the Koliyas in Ramagama, shall be borne thence into the kingdom of the nagas and when it will be adored even there by the nagas it (at the last) shall come to be enshrined in the Great Thupa on the island of Lanka. The far-seeing and most wise thera Mahakassapa then, mindful of the (coming) division of the relics by king Dhammasoka, had a great and well-guarded treasure of relics placed' near Rajagaha (the capital) of king Ajatasattu as he brought thither the seven donas of relics; but the dona in Ramagama he did not take, knowing the Master's intention. When the king Dhammasoka saw the great treasure of relics he thought to have the eighth dona also brought thither. But, bethinking them that it was destined by the Conqueror to be enshrined in the Great Thüpa, the ascetics of that time who had overcome the asavas prevented Dhammasoka from (doing) this. The thupa in Rajagama, that was built on the shore of the Ganges, was destroyed by the overflowing of the Ganges, but the urn with the relics reached the ocean and stayed there in the twofold divided waters on a throne made of many-coloured gems surrounded by rays of light. When the nagas saw the urn they went to the naga palace Mañjerika of the king Kalanaga and told him, And he went thither with ten thousand kotis of nagas, and when he had brought the relics to his palace, (adoring them) with offerings meanwhile, and had built over them a thupa made of all kinds of jewels and a temple above the (thüpa) also, he, filled with zeal, brought offerings continually, together with the (other) nagas. There a strong guard is set; go thou and bring the relics hither. To-morrow will the lord of the land set about enshrining the relics.'

When he had heard these words of the brotherhood he, answering 'Yes (I shall do so) ', withdrew to his cell pondering over the time when he must set forth. 'To-morrow the enshrining of the relics shall take place,' thus proclaimed the king by beat of drums in the city, by which all that must be done is set forth. He commanded that the whole city and the road leading hither' be carefully adorned and that the burghers be clad in festal garments. Sakka, the king of the gods, summoning Vissakamma (for this task), caused the whole island of Lanka to be adorned in manifold ways.

At the four gates of the city the ruler of men had garments, food and so forth placed for the use of the people.

On the fifteenth uposatha-day in the evening, (the king) glad at heart, well versed in the duties of kings, arrayed in all his ornaments, surrounded on every side by all his dancingwomen and his warriors in complete armour, by a great body of troops, as well as by variously adorned elephants, horses and chariots, mounted his car of state that was drawn by four pure white Sindhu-horses and stood there, making the (sumptuously) adorned and beautiful elephant Kandula pace before him, holding a golden casket under the white parasol. A thousand and eight beautiful women from the city, with the adornment of well-filled pitchers, surrounded the car and, even as many women bearing baskets (filled) with various flowers, and as many again bearing lamps on staves. A thousand and eight boys in festal array surrounded him, bearing beautiful many-coloured flags. While the earth seemed as it were rent asunder by all manner of sounds from various instruments of music, by the (thundering) noise of elephants, horses and chariots, the renowned king shone forth, as he went to the Mahameghavana, in glory like to the king of the gods when he goes to Nandavana.

When the ascetic Sonuttara, sitting in his cell, heard the noise of the music in the city as the king began to

set out, he went, plunging into the earth to the palace of the nagas and appeared there in a short time before the naga king. When the king of the nagas had risen up and had greeted him and invited him to be seated on a throne, he paid him the honours due to a guest and questioned him as to the country whence he had come. When this was told he asked the reason of the thera's coming. And he told him the whole matter and gave him the message of the brotherhood: 'The relics that are here in thy hands are appointed by the Buddha to be enshrined in the Great Thupa; do thou then give them to me.' When the naga-king heard this, he was sorely troubled and thought: 'This samana might have the power to take them from me by force; therefore must the relics be carried elsewhere,' and he made this known by a sign to his nephew, who was present there. And he, who was named Vasuladatta, understanding the hint, went to the temple of the cetiya, and when he had swallowed the urn (with the relics) he went to the foot of Mount Sineru and lay there coiled in a circle. Three hundred yojanas long was the ring and one yojana was his measure around. When the (naga) of wondrous might had created many thousand (heads with puffed-up) hoods he belched forth, as he lay thare, smoke and fire. When he (then) had created many thousand snakes like to himself, he made them lie about him in a circle.

Many nagas and devas came thither then with the thought:

'We will behold the combat of the two nagas.'

When the uncle perceived that the relics had been taken thence by his nephew, he said to the thera: 'There are no relics with me.' The thera told him the story of the coming of the relics from the beginning, and said then to the nagaking: 'Give thou the relics.'

And to content him by some other means the serpent-king took the thera with him and went to the temple with the cetiya and described it to him: 'See, O bhikkhu, this cetiya adorned with many gems in many ways and the nobly built temple for the cetiya. Nay, but all the jewels in the whole island of Lanka are not of so great worth as the stone-slab' at the foot of the steps; what shall be said of the other (treasures)? Truly it beseems thee not, O bhikkhu, to bear away the relics from a place of high honour to a place of lesser honour.'

'Verily, there is no understanding of the truth among you nägas. It were fitting indeed to bear away the relics to a place where there is understanding of the truth. The Tathagatas are born for deliverance from the sarusara, and thereon is the Buddha intent, therefore I will bear away the relics. This very day the king will set about enshrining the relics; swiftly then give me the relics without delay.'

The naga said: 'If thou shalt see the relics, venerable sir, take them and go.' Three times the thera made him repeat this (word), then did the thera standing on that very spot create a (long) slender arm, and stretching the hand straightway down the throat of the nephew he took the urn with the relics, and crying: 'Stay, naga !' he plunged into the earth and rose up (out of it) in his cell.

The naga-king thought: 'The bhikkhu is gone hence, deceived by us,' and he sent to his nephew to bring the relics (again). But when the nephew could not find the urn in his belly he came lamenting and told his uncle. Then the naga king also lamented: 'We are betrayed,' and all the nagas who came in crowds lamented likewise. But rejoicing in the victory of the mighty bhikkhu the gods assembled, and adoring the relics with offerings they came together with the (thera).

Lamenting, the nagas came to the brotherhood and made right woful plaint sorrowful over the carrying away of the relics. From compassion the brotherhood left them a few of the relics; rejoicing at this they went and brought treasures as offerings.

Sakka came to the spot with the gods bringing a throne set with jewels and a casket of gold. In a beautiful pavilion made of jewels that was built by Vissakamma on the spot, where the thera had emerged (from the earth), he set up the throne and when he had received the urn with the relics from the hand of the thera, and had put them in the casket he placed it on the throne.

Brahma held the parasol, Samtusita the yak-tail whisk, Suyama held the jewelled fan, Sakka the shell with water. The four great kings stood with swords in their grip and the thirty-three gods of wondrous power with baskets in their hands. When they had gone thither offering paricchattakaflowers the thirty-two celestial maidens stood there bearing lamps on staves. Moreover, to ward off the evil yakkhas the twenty-eight yakkha-chieftains stood holding guard. Pancasikha stood there playing the lute, and Timbaru who had set up a stage, making music to sound forth. Many devas (stood there) singing sweet songs and the naga-king Mabäkäla chanting praises in manifold ways. Celestial instruments of music resounded, a celestial chorus pealed forth, the devatas let fall a rain of heavenly perfumes and so forth. But the thera Indagutta created, to ward off Mara, a parasol of copper that he made great as the universe. On the east side of the relics and here and there in the five regions' the bhikkhus raised their song in chorus.

Thither, glad at heart;, went the great king Dutthagamani, and when he had laid the casket with the relics in the golden casket that he had brought upon his head, and had placed it upon a throne, he stood there with folded hands, offering gifts to the relics and adoring them.

When the prince saw the celestial parasol, the celestial perfumes, and the rest, and heard the sound of celestial instruments of music and so forth, albeit he did not see the Brahma-gods he, rejoicing and amazed at the miracle, worshipped the relics, with the offering of a parasol and investing them with the kingship over Lanka.

'To the Master of the world, to the Teacher who bears the threefold parasol, the heavenly parasol and the earthly and the parasol of deliverance I consecrate three times my kingly rank.' With these words he, with joyful heart, thrice conferred on the relics the kingship of Lanka.

Thus, together with gods and men, worshipping the relics with offerings, the prince placed them, with the caskets, upon his head, and when he, surrounded by the brotherhood of the bhikkhus, had passed three times, going toward the left, around the thüpa, he ascended it on the east side and descended into the relic-chamber. Ninety-six kotis of arahants stood with folded hands surrounding the magnificent thüpa. While the king, filled with joy, when he had mounted into the relic-chamber, thought: 'I will lay them on the costly and beautiful conch,' the relic-casket, together with the relics, rose up from his head, and, floating at a height of seven tälas in the air, the casket forthwith opened of itself; the relics rose up out of it and taking the form of the Buddha, gleaming with the greater and lesser signs, they performed, even as the Buddha (himself) at the foot of the gandambatree that miracle of the double appearances, that was brought to pass by the Blessed One during his lifetime. As they beheld this miracle, with believing and joyous heart, twelve kotis of devas and men attained to arahantship; those who attained the three other fruits (of salvation) were past reckoning.

Quitting the form of the Buddha those (relics) returned to their place in the casket; but the casket sank down again and rested on the head of the king. Then passing round the relic-chamber in procession with the thera Indagutta and the dancing-women, the glorious king coming even to the beautiful couch laid the casket on the jewelled throne. And when he, filled with zeal, had washed again his hands in water fragrant with perfumes, and had rubbed them with the five kinds of perfumes, he opened the casket, and taking out the relics the ruler of the land, who was intent on the welfare of his people, thought thus: 'If these relics shall abide undisturbed by any man so ever, and if the relics, serving as a refuge for the people, shall endure continually, then may they rest, in the form of the Master as he lay upon his deathbed, upon this well-ordered and precious couch.'

Thinking thus he laid the relics upon the splendid couch; the relics lay there upon the splendid couch even in such a shape. On the fifteenth uposatha-day in the bright half of the month Asalha, under the constellation Uttarasalha, were the relics enshrined in this way. At the enshrining of the relics the great earth quaked and many wonders came to pass in divers ways.

With believing heart did the king worship the relics by (offering) a white parasol, and conferred on them the entire overlordship of Lanka for seven days.

All the adornments on his body he offered in the relic chamber, and so likewise (did) the dancing-women, the ministers, the retinue and the devatas. When the king had distributed garments, sugar, clarified butter and so forth among the brotherhood, and had caused the bhikkhus to recite in chorus the whole night, then, when it was again day, he had the drum beaten in the city, being mindful of the welfare of the people: 'All the people shall adore the relics throughout this week.' The great thera Indagutta, of wondrous might, commanded: 'Those men of the island of Lanka who would fain adore the relics shall arrive hither at the same moment, and when they have adored the relics here shall return each one to his house.' This came to pass as he had commanded.

When the great king of great renown bad commanded great offerings of alms to the great brotherhood of the bhikkhus for the week uninterruptedly, he proclaimed: 'All that was to be done in the relic-chamber has been carried out by me; now let the brotherhood take the charge of closing the relic-chamber.'

The brotherhood charged the two samaneras with this task. They closed up the relic-chamber with the fat-coloured stone that they had brought.

'The flowers here shall not wither, these perfumes shall not dry up; the lamps shall not be extinguished; nothing whatsoever shall perish; the six fat-coloured stones shall hold together for evermore.' All this did the (theras) who had overcome the asavas command at that time.

The great king, mindful of the welfare (of the people), issued the command: 'So far as they are able (to do so) the people shall enshrine relics.' And above the great relictreasure did the people, so far as they could, carry out the enshrining of thousands of relics. Enclosing all together the king completed the thüpa and, moreover, he completed the four-sided building' on the cetiya.

Thus are the Buddhas incomprehensible, and incomprehensible is the nature of the Buddhas, and incomprehensible is the reward of those who have faith in the incomprehensible.

Thus do the pious themselves perform pure deeds of merit, in order to obtain the most glorious of all blessings; and they, with pure heart, make also others to perform them in order to win a following of eminent people of many kinds.

Here ends the thirty-first chapter, called 'The Enshrining of the Relics', in the Mahavamsa, compiled for the serene joy and emotion of the pious.

 Top of Page | Index
 Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09 | Chapter 10 |
 Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 |
 Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26 | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapter 29 | Chapter 30 |
 Chapter 31 | Chapter 32 | Chapter 33 | Chapter 34 | Chapter 35 | Chapter 36 | Chapter 37

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last updated: 20-May-2003