The Full Wiki

Mahavamsa: Wikis

  
  

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Encyclopedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theravāda

  Asokanpillar-crop.jpg  

Countries

  Sri Lanka
Cambodia • Laos
Burma • Thailand
 

Texts

 

Pali Canon
Commentaries
Subcommentaries

 

History

 

Pre-sectarian Buddhism
Early schools • Sthavira
Asoka • Third Council
Vibhajjavada
Mahinda • Sanghamitta
Dipavamsa • Mahavamsa
Buddhaghosa

 

Doctrine

 

Saṃsāra • Nibbāṇa
Middle Way
Noble Eightfold Path
Four Noble Truths
Enlightenment Stages
Precepts • Three Jewels
Outline of Buddhism

 

The Mahavamsa ("Great Chronicle") is a historical poem written in the Pali language, of the kings of Sri Lanka. The first version of it covered the period from the coming of King Vijaya of Kalinga (ancient Orissa) in 543 BCE to the reign of King Mahasena (334–361).

The first printed edition and English translation of the Mahavamsa was published in 1837 by George Turnour, an historian and officer of the Ceylon Civil Service. A German translation of Mahavamsa was completed by Wilhelm Geiger in 1912. This was then translated into the English by Mabel Haynes Bode, and the English translation was revised by Geiger.[1]

Contents

Buddhism

While not considered a canonical religious text, the Mahavamsa is an important text in Theravada Buddhism. It covers the early history of religion in Sri Lanka, beginning with the time of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. It also briefly recounts the history of Buddhism in India, from the date of the Buddha's death to the various Buddhist councils where the Dharma was reviewed. Every chapter of the Mahavamsa ends by stating that it is written for the "serene joy of the pious". From the emphasis of its point-of-view, it can be said to have been compiled to record the good deeds of the kings who were patrons of the Mahavihara temple in Anuradhapura.

History

Buddhist monks of the Mahavihara maintained chronicles of Sri Lankan history, starting from the 3rd century BCE. These annals were combined and compiled into a single document in the 5th century CE by the Buddhist monk Mahathera Mahanama. According to Wilhelm Geiger, there is evidence that there was a prior compilation known as Mahavamsa Atthakatha, and that Mahathera Mahanama relied on this text. Another, earlier document known as the Dipavamsa, which survives today, is much simpler and contains less information than the Mahavamsa, and was probably compiled using the Mahavamsa Atthakatha as well.

A companion volume, the Culavamsa ("lesser chronicle"), compiled by Sinhala Buddhist monks, covers the period from the 4th century to the British takeover of Sri Lanka in 1815. The Culavamsa was compiled by a number of authors of different time periods.

The combined work, sometimes referred to collectively as the Mahavamsa, provides a continuous historical record of over two millennia, and is considered one of the world's longest unbroken historical accounts. The historical accuracy of the document, given the time when it was written, is considered to be astonishing[2], although the material prior to the death of Asoka is not trustworthy and mostly legend. However, that part of the Mahavamsa is one of the few documents containing material relating to the Nāgas and Yakkhas, the dwellers of Lanka prior to the legendary arrival of Vijaya.

As it often refers to the royal dynasties of India, the Mahavamsa is also valuable for historians who wish to date and relate contemporary royal dynasties in the Indian subcontinent. It is very important in dating the consecration of the Maurya emperor Asoka, which is related to the synchronicity with the Seleucids and Alexander the Great.

Indian excavations in Sanchi and other locations, confirm the Mahavamsa account of the Empire of Asoka. The accounts given in the Mahavamsa are also amply supported by the numerous stone inscriptions, mostly in Sinhala, found in Sri Lanka.[3] Karthigesu Indrapala [4] has also upheld the historical value of the Mahavamsa. It is in this sense that the Mahavamsa differs from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and other epics that have no direct historiographic value. If not for the Mahavamsa, the story behind the large stupas in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, such as Ruwanwelisaya, Jetavanaramaya, Abhayagiri, and other works of ancient engineering would never have been known.

Most important Pali epic poem

Besides being an important historical source, the Mahavamsa is the most important epic poem in the Pali language. Its stories of battles and invasions, court intrigue, great constructions of stupas and water reservoirs, written in elegant verse suitable for memorization, caught the imagination of the Buddhist world of the time. Unlike many texts written in antiquity, it also discusses various aspects of the lives of ordinary people, how they joined the King's army or farmed. Thus the Mahavamsa was taken along the silk route to many Buddhist lands.[citation needed] Parts of it were translated, retold, and absorbed into other languages. An extended version of the Mahavamsa, which gives many more details, has also been found in Cambodia.[5] The Mahavamsa gave rise to many other Pali chronicles, making Sri Lanka of that period probably the world's leading center in Pali literature.

Political significance

The Mahavamsa has, especially in modern Sri Lanka, acquired a significance as a document with a political message.[6] The Sinhalese majority often use Manavamsa as a proof of their claim that Sri Lanka is a Buddhist nation from historical time. The British historian Jane Russell[7] has recounted how a process of "Mahavamsa bashing" began in the 1930s, especially from within the Tamil Nationalist movement. The Mahavamsa, being a history of the Sinhala Buddhists, presented itself to the Tamil Nationalists and the Sinhala Nationalists as the hegemonic epic of the Sinhala people. This view was attacked by G.G. Ponnambalam, the leader of the Nationalist Tamils in the 1930s. He claimed that most of the Sinhala kings, including Vijaya, Kasyapa, and Parakramabahu, were Tamils. Ponnambalam's 1939 speech in Navalpitiya, attacking the claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese, Buddhist nation was seen as an act against the notion of creating a Buddhist only nation. The Sinhala majority responded with a mob riot, which engulfed Navalapitiya, Passara, Maskeliya, and even Jaffna.[7][8] The riots were rapidly put down by the British colonial government, but later this turned through various movements into the current civil war in Sri Lanka.

Various writers have called into question the morality of the account given in the Mahavamsa, where Dutthagamani regrets his actions in killing the Chola king Elara and his troops. The Mahavamsa equates the killing of the invaders as being on par with the killing of "sinners and wild beasts", and the King's sorrow and regret are assuaged. This is considered by some critics as an ethical error. However, Buddhism does recognize a hierarchy of actions as being more or less wholesome or skillful, although the intent is as much as or more important than the action itself. Thus the killing of an Arahant may be considered less wholesome and skillful than the killing of an ordinary human being. Buddhists may also assert that killing an elephant is less skillful and wholesome than killing an ant. In both cases, however, the intent must also be considered. An important thing to note is that Dutthagamani regretted his act, and this was also true of King Asoka, who became a pacifist after a series of bloody military campaigns.

An eminent historian who has come to the defense of the Mahavamsa is Karthigesu Indrapala.[4] He has argued that the popular presentation of the Mahavamsa as a work of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism is incorrect, and that the Mahavansa writer was singularly fair in his presentation.

Bibliography

Editions and Translations

  • Turnour, George (C.C.S.): The Mahawanso in Roman Characters with the Translation Subjoined, and an Introductory Essay on Pali Buddhistical Literature. Vol. I containing the first thirty eight Chapters. Cotto 1837.
  • Sumangala, H.; Silva Batuwantudawa, Don Andris de: The Mahawansha from first to thirty-sixth Chapter. Revised and edited, under Orders of the Ceylon Government by H. Sumangala, High Priest of Adam's Peak, and Don Andris de Silva Batuwantudawa, Pandit. Colombo 1883.
  • Geiger, Wilhelm; Bode, Mabel Haynes (transl.); Frowde, H. (ed.): The Mahavamsa or, The great chronicle of Ceylon / translated into English by Wilhelm Geiger ... assisted by Mabel Haynes Bode...under the patronage of the government of Ceylon. London : Pali Text Society 1912 (Pali Text Society, London. Translation series ; no. 3).
  • Guruge, Ananda W.P.: Mahavamsa. Calcutta: M. P. Birla Foundation 1990 (Classics of the East).
  • Ruwan Rajapakse, Concise Mahavamsa, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2001

Possibly an early edition (of parts?):

  • Upham, Edward (ed.): The Mahavansi, the Raja-ratnacari, and the Raja-vali : forming the sacred and historical books of Ceylon; also, a collection of tracts illustrative of the doctrines and literature of Buddhism: translated from the Singhalese. London : Parbury, Allen, and Co. 1833 (3 vol.).

See also

Guruge, Ananda W. P. Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka, A New Annotated Translation with Prolegomena, ANCL Colombo 1989

References

  1. ^ Mahavamsa. Ceylon Government. 1912. http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/. 
  2. ^ de Silva, K.M. (1981). A History of Sri Lanka. New York: Penguin. http://books.google.com/books?id=338cAAAAMAAJ. 
  3. ^ Geiger's discussion of the historicity of the Mahavamsa;Paranavitana and Nicholas, A concise history of Ceylon (Ceylon University Press) 1961
  4. ^ a b K. Indrapala, Evolution of an Ethnicity, 2005
  5. ^ Dr. Hema Goonatilake, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka. 2003
  6. ^ H. Bechert, "The beginnings of Buddhist Historiography in Ceylon, Mahawamsa and Political Thinking", Ceylon Studies Seminar, Series 2, 1974
  7. ^ a b Communal politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931–1947, Tissara Publishers, Colombo 1982
  8. ^ Hindu Organ, June 1 1939 issue (Newspaper archived at the Jaffna University Library)

External links








Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message