Sri Saddhatissa Dhamma Sermon - Historical Importance Of The Mahavamsa In Buddhism

Photographs by Tissa Madawela

Ven.(Dr) Akuretiye Nanda Sangha Nayaka Thero delivered the third sermon of the series and the topic was the historical importance of the  Mahavamsa to Buddhism . It was most appropriate because the Venerable is a member of the editorial committee updating the Mahavamsa,  preparing parts  five and six .Also the  Fourteenth  United Nations International Vesak Festival will be held in Sri Lanka from 12 to 14 May 2017 in Sri Lanka.

The Mahavamsa records the history of Sri Lanka from its very beginning. No other country has such a continuous record of its history. It was initiated by Bhikku Mahanama of the  MahaVihara. But it portrays not only the religious history, but also the important  educational, cultural and economic scene in those times. The Thupavamsa, the Bodhivamsa, Dhatuvamsa were  written in connection with Buddhist Places of Worship but they possess a wealth of information about Sri Lankaía civilisation. Modelling ones life according to Buddhist education has been story of Sri Lanka for over 3000 years.

The first part of the Mahavamsa introduces Theravada Buddhism and how it influenced the islands civilizations since the third century B.C. With the introduction  of Buddhism,  keeping records of  achievements became common place . The Samanthapasadika commentary  to the Vinayapitaka shows the first  effort at writing  the history  with religious incidents. While the clergy maintained written records, Kings and Queens started inscriptions to record not only matters of importance to Buddhism, but also record royal enactments. The Mahavamsa and the inscriptions have been even helpful in  unravelling certain events in neighbouring India.

Western intellectuals  who studied Pali,  to gauge the historical  importance of the Mahavamsa, like George Turner and  James Priricepdeclared so in their works. The Mahavamsa recorded the rullerís religious activities as shown in the Pugnapotha or pinpotha, the Daladavamsa, Kesadatuvamsa, Bodhivamsaya

The  British Civil  servant, George Turner, who had studied Pali to do  research on the historical importance of the Mahavam,  published in 1839 an English version of this great historical journal  with the assistance of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters. Around 1879, Batuwanthuduwe Sri Derarakshita  Thero  and Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thero , after collecting copies of the Mahavamsa  from various Temples, also published a complete  Mahavamsa in 1874.

The deficiencies of Wilhelm Geigerís edition of the Mahavamsa was corrected by , among others, Ven. Polwatte BuddhaDhatta Thero, G.C.Mendis, Senerat Paranavithana, C.W.Nicholas and the corrected version was published by the government press in 1950.

The third edition of the Mahavamsa was published in 1935, the fourth in 1986 and the fifth in 2010. The sixth edition covering 1978 to 2110 is being compiled.


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