Mahavamsa ෴ මහාවංශය

The Mahāvaṃsa is the meticulously kept historical chronicle of Sri Lanka written in the style of an epic poem written in the Pali language. It relates the history of Sri Lanka from its legendary beginnings up to the reign of Mahasena of Anuradhapura (302 CE) covering the period between the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India in 543 BCE to his reign (277–304 CE) and later updated by different writers. It was first composed by a Buddhist monk at the Mahavihara temple in Anuradhapura about the 5th century CE. In 2021, a petition was made to declare the original leaf book a UNESCO heritage.

The contents of the Mahavamsa can be broadly divided into four categories

The Buddha's Visits to Sri Lanka: This material recounts three legendary visits by the Buddha to the island of Sri Lanka. These stories describe the Buddha subduing or driving away the Yakkhas (Yakshas) and Nagas that were inhabiting the island and delivering a prophecy that Sri Lanka will become an important Buddhist centre. These visits are not mentioned in the Pali Canon or other early sources.

Chronicles of Kings of Sri Lanka: This material consists of genealogies and lineages of kings of Sri Lanka, sometimes with stories about their succession or notable incidents in their reigns. This material may have been derived from earlier royal chronicles and king lists that were recorded orally in vernacular languages, and are a significant source of material about the history of Sri Lanka and nearby Indian kingdoms.

History of the Buddhist Sangha: This section of the Mahavamsa deals with the mission sent by Emperor Ashoka to Sri Lanka, the transplantation of the bodhi tree, and the founding of the Mahavihara. It includes the names of prominent monks and nuns in the early Sri Lankan sangha. It also includes accounts of the early Buddhist councils and the first recording of the Pali canon in writing. This is a significant source of material about the development of the early Buddhist community and includes the names of missionaries dispatched to various regions of South and Southeast Asia, some of which have been confirmed by inscriptions and other archaeological evidence.

Chronicles of Sri Lanka: This material begins with the immigration of Prince Vijaya from India with his retinue and continues until the reign of King Mahasena, recounting wars, succession disputes, the building of stupas and reliquaries, and other notable incidents. An extensive chronicle of the war between the Sinhala King Dutthagamani and Tamil invader, and later king, Elara (861 verses in the Mahavamsa compared with 13 verses in the Dipavamsa) may represent the incorporation of a popular epic from the vernacular tradition.

While much of the contents of the Mahavamsa is derived from expansions of the material found in the Dipavamsa, several passages specifically dealing with the Abhayagiri vihara are omitted, suggesting that the Mahavamsa was more specifically associated with the Mahavihara.

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