The third century BC in Indian history witnessed growth of Buddhism and enormous cultural changes in Indian society. The great Indian Emperor Ashoka and his family came under the Buddhist fold and patronised the new found religion while embracing it at different stages of their lives. Ashoka had a strong desire to propagate Buddhism.
MAHINDA – The reluctant prince
Mahinda was the eldest son of Ashoka and Devi and elder sibling of Sangamitta. Mahinda was deeply influenced by his Buddhist mother from his early childhood since he spent his younger days at vidisha at Maharani Devi’s paternal home. Mahinda was more interested toward Buddhist principles of peace and non-violence than archery and warfare. Eager to learn the Tipitaka he found a Guru in Moggaliputta –Tissa the Royal spiritual teacher an authority on Buddhism in those days.
At a very young age he chose monkhood than becoming a successor to his father. At twenty, Mahinda was tempted into Monkhood by his Dhammapala and he continued to study under his master with his fellow monks.
MAHINDA – Renunciation of Maurya Throne
Ashoka expected Mahinda to succeed the throne and tried to convince Mahinda to withdraw himself from Monkhood and to resume his duty as a prince. But the reluctant prince was persistent toward his progress on spiritual path. At the same time the Hindu community of the state at large opposed to accept Mahinda the monk as their prince. Ashoka failed to convince his son and allowed him to continue as a monk.
Mahinda travels to Sri Lanka
After the Third Buddhist Council on the advice of Moggaliputta to spread Buddhism beyond India, the King sent Mahinda to Sri Lanka, since he had cordial relations with the ruler of the Lanka. Some scholars say that the prince life was at risk in India as he was the heir apparent hence it is debatable that the intention of sending him as a religious envoy was weather purely missionary.
Mahinda – with a team of fellow monks – his nephew Sumana, Bhaddasala, Sambala and others sailed to Sri Lanka from Sanchi, India.
There is a reference in Buddhist religious records of Sri Lanka Deepavamsha and Mahavamsha that Mahinda and his entourage were welcomed in Sri Lanka on the day of a certain national festival. The Ruler of the land Devanampiyatissa is said to have become Buddhist and gave up hunting influenced by Mahinda thoughts of non-voilence on Chulahattipadopama Sutta. Impressed by the young monk the king welcomed him to his capital Anuradhapura and requested for spiritual public discourses arranged at the Royal hall and Nanadana garden. A large number of people got into the Buddhist fold impressed by his discourses.
The Regal estate Mahamegha was renamed Mahavihara where Mahinda and his entourage resided which later became the earliest Sangharama in Sri Lanka.
MAHINDA – Planting Bodhi Sapling in Sri Lanka and later life
When few Sri Lankan women impressed by Mahinda discourses showed keen interest to join the Buddhist order the ruler Devanampiyatissa supported him to invite his sister Sangamitta from India to start a nunnery for women. Meanwhile a bodhi sapling was also brought by her and was planted in Mahavihara.
After giving religious lectures for a few days Mahinda returned to Mihintale where he had already started a monastery. A Stupa was set up to house the relics of Buddha. He attained Niravan at the age of 80 in Mihintale.
By: Rashmi P. Rao