• Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association

Conservation and Restoration of Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Shrine

Deshamanaya K.H.J. Wijayadasa

The Sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

The sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura is reck- oned as the oldest surviving historical tree in the world. It was brought to Sri Lanka by Theri Sangamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka of India and was planted in the Mahameghavana Park in Anuradhapura in 307 B.C. by King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka. It is one of the most hollowed objects of Buddhist worship in the world being the southern branch of the original Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. The Mahavamsa or the great chronicle of the Sinhalese provides an elaborate account of the establishment of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in the island. Bodhi means wisdom that understands the Four Noble Truths. Thus the tree which assisted Lord Buddha to achieve wisdom or enlightenment is called Bodhi.

Historical and literary records indicate that King Devanampiyatissa sent his nephew Arittha to India on the impor- tant mission of accompanying Theri Sangamitta to Sri Lanka to establish the Bhikkuni Sasana and to bring along with her the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi sapling. The Mahavamsa (5th century A.C.), the Samanthapasadikã (5th century A.C.) and the Maha Bodhivamsa (12th century A.C.) describe the miracles that were said to have occurred at the time the Maha Bodhi Sapling was obtained from the parent Bodhi Tree as well as on arrival in Sri Lanka. It was conveyed ceremonially and established at Anurdhapura amidst great pomp and pageantry. The dispatching 95 of the Maha Bodhi sapling to Sri Lanka had been associated with great celebrations. Emperor Asoka himself had been present at the port of Tamalitta when the ship carrying the Maha Bodhi Sapling left the shores of India. The Maha Bodhi was welcomed with great honour and respect at the Port of Jambukolapattana in Sri Lanka. King Devanampiyatissa himself was present at the port to receive the Maha Bodhi. According to the Mahavamsa Emperor Asoka had said at the port that “I have honoured the Maha Bodhi by bestowing my kingdom thrice to the Bodhi; let my friend King Devanampiyatissa too honour the Bodhi by bestowing his kingdom”

Eighteen different classes of artisans who were required to perform various services to the Maha Bodhi had accompanied the sapling. After the establishment of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi it was accorded the same veneration as for the living Buddha because there was a belief the Sacred Bodhi was directly connected to Kingship. The ancient chronicles have recorded various steps taken by numerous Kings down the ages for the protection of the Maha Bodhi and the enhancement of the aesthetic beauty and the serenity of the precincts. Also, the royalty considered it their duty to attend to improvements and restorations as and when neces- sary. Around the middle of the 12th century A.C. as a consequence of a series of South Indian invasions the glorious Rajarata civi- lization which had lasted nearly 1500 years collapsed and sacred places in Anuradhapura were encroached by jungle. It is on record that King Vijayabahu 1 (1070-1111 AC) and King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186) were among the last of the Sinhala royalty who ruled from Plonnaruwa to have renovated once magnificent Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi temple complex.

However, Anuradhapura was not completely abandoned nor depopulated. Courageous Sinhala Buddhists who continued to live in isolated pockets around small village tanks battling against malaria, drought and wild animals looked after the numerous sacred places especially the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi to the best of their ability.

 For several centuries thereafter, the management of the Atamasthana (eight sacred places of worship in Anuradhapura including the Maha Bodhi) as well as the appointment and dis- missal of the Atamasthanadhipathi have been vested in the Atamasthana Committee. The Chief of the Nuwarawewa family hereditarily enjoyed the privilege for being the lay custodian of the Atamasthana as well as Chairman of the Atmasthana Committee. However till the dawn of the 21st century the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Shrine remained in a neglected state without any sig- nificant conservation or restoration work. The only visible improvements which had been effected in the latter part of the 20th century were the addition of the golden railing at the upper level of the Uda Maluwa, the construction of the ceremonial approach road from the New Town and the Sanghawasa (residence for Bhikkus).

The Establishment of the Ranveta Fund Heralds the Dawn of a New Era

The present day renaissance at the Maha Bodhi dates back April 2002 when at the request of the Atamasthanadhipathy Venerable Dr. Pallegama Sirnivasa Nayake Thero, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe appointed the Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Ranveta Fund consisting of several eminent persons drawn from both public and private sectors to construct the sec- ond Ranveta (golden railing) in place of the dilapidated iron rail- ing at the lower level of the Uda Maluwa with public subscrip- tions. This magnificent golden railing constructed at a cost of Rs.35 million was declared open in May 2003.

Thereafter the Ranveta Fund directed its energies to the planning and coordination of the construction of the Perahera Mawatha (Procession Route) at a cost of Rs.25 million and the Mahavihara Dharmasalawa (Preaching Hall) at a cost of Rs.130 million which were funded by the State on the direction of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Chandrika Kumaratunga respectively. 

Simultaneously the Ranveta Fund directed its attention to resolving the recurring problem of inundation of the Weli Maluwa (Lower Terrace) during the rainy season and the clearing of scrub jungle, landscaping and regular maintenance of the Mahamewna Uyana (Garden) around the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Maluwa (Courtyard). All these improvements have transformed this premier Buddhist place of worship from a state of neglect and decadence to a well maintained and serene shrine of aesthetic and environmental harmony.

Establishment of the Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Development Fund

In January 2004 a Bill was tabled in Parliament for the incorporation of the Ranveta Fund as a body corporate with per- petual succession and a common seal under the name and style of Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Development Fund as the successor to the Ranveta Fund. The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Development Fund (Incorporation) Act No. 41 of 2006 became law on the 06th November 2006.

In the meantime on Sunday the 12th December 2004 at 9.30 a.m. the Bodhi Prakaraya (Retaining Wall) which stood as a sen- tinel of protection of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi for several cen- turies collapsed due to incessant rain and structural aging. It emphatically signaled the onset of a great calamity, which even- tually struck Sri Lanka by way of the tsunami on Sunday the 26th December 2004. It brought in it wake death and destruction of disastrous proportions and untold mystery and hardship to mil- lions of people. The Ranveta Fund made use of this opportunity to turn adversity to advantage and embarked on the construction of a new Bodhi Prakaraya hewn in granite at a cost of Rs.30 mil- lion in conformity with the art, architecture and sculpture of the Anuradhapura period. Design and construction was entrusted to the Central Cultural Fund under the supervision of the Department Archeology. The intricately sculptured granite com- ponents, some weighing as much as ten tons were manufactured 98 by Star Granite Industries, Minuwangada. The layout of the new Bodhi Prakaraya which provided for the doubling of the space available for pilgrims at the Devala Maluwa (Devala terrace ) was declared open in April 2007.

Thereafter, the Development Fund embarked on the renova- tion of the Vihara Mandiraya (Main Shrine Room) and the Bana Maduwa (Preaching Hall) at a cost of nearly Rs.10 million. Concurrently, the Development Fund undertook the construction of the new Vihara Prakaraya (Parapet Wall) at a cost of Rs. 40 million and the Sath Sathi Mandira at a cost of Rs. 15 million. The Vihara Prakaraya too was designed in conformity with the art, architecture and sculpure of the Anuradhapura Period by the Central Cultural Fund. The masterly crafted granite components were sculptured by Star Granite Industries of Minuwangoda. The project was executed under the supervision of the Department of Archeology. All conservation and development work in the 5 Maluwa’s (5 terraces) comprising the inner courtyard of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi has been completed on schedule to last a thou- sand years and dedicated for the “serene joy and emotion of the pious” congregating at the Maha Bodhi from all four directions far and wide.

The Legal, Institutional and Administrative Framework

The Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Development Fund is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a commom seal incorporated by Act of Parliament No. 41 of 2006. Among its objectives are the construction and maintenance of a ranveta (golden fence) around the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, conservation and development of the various structures, buildings etc. of the Maha Maluwa as well as the area outside the Maha Maluwa with the approval of the Archeological Department with a view to facili- tating the performance of traditional Buddhist and cultural rites.

The members of the governing body are appointed by the Prime Minister on the advice and recommendation of the Ven. Atmasthanadhipathy Nayake Thero who functions as the Chief 99 Patron of the Fund. Of the twenty members of the Board of Governors five are ex officio members namely Director General of Archeology, Director General of Central Cultural Fund, Director General of the Department of Buddhist Affairs, Director General of the Department of National Physical Planning and the District Secretary of Anuradhapura. The Head Office of the Fund is situated at No. 22/3, Old Kesbewa Road, Nugegoda. Telephone / Fax 011 2854465, E mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The office is usual- ly kept open during normal working hours and the Chairman of the Fund and/or the Administrative Officer will be in attendance.

All moneys received by way of gifts, donations, grants etc. are credited to the Development Fund through Current Account No. 204100140085125 maintained at the Headquarters Branch of the Peoples Bank, Colombo - 02. Payments from the Fund as and when approved by the Board of Governors are effected by account payee only cheques. Except the money required for day today expenses and to meet authorized expenditure, all other bal- ance funds are invested through State Banks in Fixed Deposits, Treasury Bills, Treasury Securities etc. All cheques issued are signed by the Chairman and Treasurer or Secretary of the Fund.

The financial year of the fund is the calendar year from 01st January to 31st December. The Treasurer prepares a statement of expenditure in respect of each month and presents same to the meeting of the Board of Governors of the ensuing month for scruti- ny and approval. The annual statement of accounts for each cal- endar year is presented to the meeting of the Board of Governors before 31st January of the ensuing year for approval. Thereafter, the statement of accounts is presented to the Auditors M / s B.R. de Silva & Company, Chartered Accountants for audit. Upon receipt of the report of the Auditors it is presented to the Board of Governors for information and necessary follow up action.

Future Plans

There are two more projects in the pipeline to be undertak- en by the Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Development Fund 100 namely the conservation of Maha Gal Prakaraya (outer granite wall) and the construction of the Mahavihara Sanghavasa (Residence of Bhikkus of the Mahavihara) at a cost of Rs.250 million in order to ensure that the glory that was the Mahavihara during the Anuradhapura period with the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at its apex is fully preserved and restored.

The Maha Gal Prakaraya which is quadrangular in shape had been constructed by the Ven. IIupendeniye Aththadassi Thero with the permission of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy in the 18th century to prevent wild elephants from gaining entry to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi premises to eat the tender leaves of the Bo Trees which they relished. This granite wall is approximately 330 ft. in lenght and 274 ft. in breath, 10 feet in height 6 feet in width and made of granite pillars, slabs etc. collected from the ruins of Lovamahapaya, Mayura Pirivena, Buddhagosha Pirivena and other Mahavihara Monasteries in the vicinity of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. The dismantling of the Maha Gal Prakaraya for conservation and restoration would reveal invaluable historical information hidden and buried among these colossal ancient granite columns, pillars etc. The approximate cost of this project is Rs.50 million.

The Mahavihara Sanghavasaya had been constructed in 1940’s or 1950’s as a residence for the Bhikkus of the Bo Maluwa Temple and is in a dilapidated state today. It has been decided to replace it keeping with the present day requirements of the Atamasthana, The Maha Bodhi and the resident Bhikkus of the Bo Maluwa Temple at a cost of around Rs.200 million. The architec- tural designs and drawings are currently on the drawing boards. Deshamanya

K.H.J Wijayadasa
Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Development Fund.
22/3 Old Kesbewa Road,
Tel : 011-2854465

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