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Was the Buddha Born in Sri Lanka?

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Bhante Dhammika of Australia

Just a few weeks ago the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prizes were announced. I always follow the announcement because I’m interested in the great men and women who have contributed so much to improving and enriching human life. But I have sometimes thought that there should also be an annual prize for the most useless, the most harmful or the most ridiculous invention, idea or scribbling each year – just to remind us that humans can also be incredibly stupid. It could be called the Ignoble Prize. If there was such a prize and I were one of the judges tasked with selecting the winner, this year I would award this Ignoble Prize to those who are claiming that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka.

As there is not an atom of evidence for this laughably claim I will lay out just some of the mountain of evidence that the Buddha, the greatest of men, was an Indian, born in India, and who spent his whole life in India.

(1). Throughout the Tipitaka, the subcontinent we now call India is known as Jambudipa. The Buddha described India like this, “In this Jambudipa there are few pleasant parks, pleasant groves, pleasant stretches of land and lakes while more common are the steep rugged places, uncrossable rivers, dense thickets of thorny trees and inaccessible mountains.” This is a rather good description of India and quite at odds with the topography of Sri Lanka which most people agree is green, lush and fertile. There is no literature from either India or Sri Lanka where the name Jambudipa is given to Sri Lanka.

I may also mention that the English name ‘India’ comes from ‘Sind’ the name the ancient Greeks and Arabs used for India, and which is derived from the Indus (i.e. Sind) River, which is now in Pakistan, not Sri Lanka.

(2). The region of India where the Buddha was born was known to him and his contemporaries as the Middle Land (Majjhima Desa) because it was roughly centrally situated in northern India. Again, no ancient sources refer to Sri Lanka by this name, in fact, it is always described as being an island. The Buddha mentioned that in his time there were 16 states and kingdoms in India – Magadha, Kosala, Vamsa, etc. – and no states or kingdoms with such names are mentioned in Sri Lankan history. Likewise, none of the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka – Anuradapura, Rajarata, Ruhana, Polonnaruwa, etc. – are mentioned in any Indian sources. Further, archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of Rajagaha the capital of Magadha, Savatthi the capital of Kosala, and Kosambi the capital of Vamsa and identified them conclusively by ancient inscriptions found at the sites. All these and other cities visited by the Buddha are in northern India, not Sri Lanka.

(3). In the Rathavinita Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya the Buddha described the Sakyan country as “the land of my birth” (jatibhumaka). All ancient sources without exception mention that the Sakyan land and its capital Kapilavatthu were in northern India. When, in the fifth-sixth centuries, several Chinese pilgrims journeyed to India and visited Kapilavatthu, one of them, Xuanzang, gave quite precise details of how to get there; and it was in India. He spoke to the monks living the monastery at Kapilavatthu but none of them told him that if he wanted to visit ‘the real’ Kapilavatthu he’d have to go all the way to Sri Lanka.

(4). In the Cullavagga of the Vinaya, the rules for monks and nuns, is a long account of the lead up to and the enactments of the Second Buddhist Council which took place about 100 years after the Buddha’s passing. There it says, “Lord Buddhas are born in the eastern districts” (puratthimesu janapadesu buddha bhagavanto uppajjanti). The Pali word uppajjati means ‘to arise’, ‘appear’ or ‘to be born’.

But what about the words puratthima and janapada? Does this mean that the Buddha was born in the eastern provenance of Sri Lanka? In Batticaloa perhaps, or Ampara? How about Kalmunai, Uhana or Pulladiputti? As ridiculous as it sounds, there are actually a few people who might argue that this is possible.

But if the Middle Land is really in India as I have mentioned above, why does this passage from the Vinaya refer to it as “the eastern district?”

During Buddhism’s first few decades it gradually spread throughout India but particularly so to Gandhara which was in what is now northern Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan which are to the west of the Middle Land and thus it was known to the Buddhists of Gandhara and other regions beyond the Middle Land as “the eastern district.”

(5). In the year 249 BCE King Asoka made a pilgrimage to Lumbini, the site of the Buddha’s birth and erected a great stone pillar there to mark the place and commemorate his visit. The inscription on the pillar clearly mentions that the Buddha was born at this location. This pillar has stood solid and unmoved since it was erected all those centuries ago and it was in India, until the British surveyed and drew the India-Nepal border in 1867 so that it ended up just inside Nepal, unbeknown to everyone until it was discovered in 1896.

(6). In 1897 excavations were done at a large mound near a village named Pippahwa in northern India very close to the border with Nepal. As the excavations proceeded it became clear that the weed-covered mound was actually an ancient Buddhist stupa and so it was decided to dig into this stupa and see if it contained anything. A sandstone relic casket was discovered which had an inscription on it, very possibility the oldest decipherable writing from India. The inscription reads, “This casket of relics of the blessed Buddha of the Sakyas [is gifted by] the brothers Sukirti, jointly with their sisters, sons and wives.” This inscription confirmed that the Buddha was a real person, and from India.

In the early 1970s the eminent Indian archaeologist K. M. Srivastava did further excavations at Pippahwa to see if it was, as many experts believed, the sited of Kapilavatthu, the Buddha’s hometown. In the process he uncovered nearly 40 clay sealings which included the words “Kapilavatthu bhikkhu sangha” thus proving beyond any doubt that Pippahawa is the town where the Buddha spent the first 35 years of his life. This site is in India, the casket and the sealing inscriptions are in an Indian language, King Asoka’s inscription on the Lumbini pillar is likewise in an Indian language, proving conclusively that the Buddha was born in India. Do any inscriptions found in any ancient sties in Sri Lanka mention that the site is Kapilavatthu or Lumbini? No! Not one!

(7). The authors of the Dipavamsa, the Mahavamsa, the Thupavamsa, the commentaries (atthakattha) to the Tipitaka and their sub-commentaries (tika) all agree that the Buddha was born in India. According to the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, King Asoka sent his son Mahinda to Sri Lanka to introduce the island to Buddhism. If the Buddha was a Sinhalese from Sri Lanka, the opposite should have happened, King Devananpiyatissa should have sent his son to King Asoka’s court to introduce Buddhism to India. To say that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka is to turn 2000 years of history and tradition on their heads. It is to render the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa to nothing more than useless novels whereas almost all historians agree that they contain a great deal of historically accurate information.

It would be easy to marshal much more evidence to show that the Buddha was born in India but perhaps this is sufficient, and there is little point in spending any more time debunking a notion that has no credibility. But how could someone come to believe and then promote a notion so patiently false? Why would someone oppose an idea that not only goes against the unanimous consensus of all historians of Indian culture and history, all Buddhist scholars, and the belief of 99.009% of the world’s Buddhists for the last 2,500 years? It could be plain common ignorance but this seems unlikely. Anyone with any education, especially living in a country where knowledge of Buddhism is widespread, could not possibly be unaware that the Buddha was an Indian. There must be some other reason for people holding to this view. Another possibility is a personality trait which has been identified by sociologists and psychologists. Some people, for whatever reason, feel the need to stand out from the crowd and to be the centre of attention. They lack the originality, the skills or the virtues that usually warrant acclaim so they adopt a belief, or sometimes a style of dress so ridiculous that everyone starts talking about them.

There are others who derive a perverse pleasure from being annoying. One way they do this is to pretend to believe something so outlandish that others try to convince them they are wrong and get frustrated when they fail to do so. There are many examples of people behaving like this – those who insist that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, that Marlow really wrote Shakespeare, etc. Another thing that sometimes drives people to adopt fringe theories is super-nationalism. They will insist that their country or countrymen excel all others and are better than all the other. They feel the need to adopt some great personality as one of their own to glorify their country and themselves by proxy. Napoleon was doing this when he famously said, “All great men are French.” Hitler did the same when he shouted, “The German Aryans are the apex of humanity.”

But the notion of the Buddha being a Sri Lankan is more than just a harmless delusion, the result of an inadequate personality or the hot air of an inflated ego; it is also potentially harmful. While it is now only the opinion of a few, it could spread and cause confusion, doubt and divisions within the Buddhist community and that would not be good for the progress of the Dhamma. King Asoka long ago said, “Truth triumphs” (Satyameva jayate) and hopefully it will in this case.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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