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monk who bore the title Mahānāma, and was the uncle of King Dhātu-Sēna (463–479 A.D.); and that most probably soon after the death of that king he completed the book up to his own day. It is recorded in the Ṭīkā, or 'Commentary' on the Mahāvansa, a work of somewhat later date, that he derived his materials from Chronicles written long before in Sinhalese, one of which owed its authorship to the monks of the Uttara Piriwena (the Northern Monastic residence) at the Mahā Wihāra, the great Buddhist temple founded at Anurādhapura in the middle of the third century B.C.
It is expressly mentioned that several histories were extant in his time, and were consulted by him. Some of them were also termed Mahāvansas. In the Commentary it is stated: 'Thus the title "Mahāvansa" is adopted in imitation of the history composed by the fraternity of the Mahā Wihāra... . In case it should be asked in this particular place, "Why, while there are Mahavansas composed by ancient authors in the Sinhalese language, this author has written," etc.1 Mahānāma himself insists on the accuracy with which he adheres to the accounts of the early chroniclers. At the beginning, he states: Having bowed down to the supreme Buddha, immaculate in purity, illustrious in descent; without suppression or exaggeration I celebrate the Mahāvansa.' can hardly be doubted, from the amount and accuracy of the details which Mahānāma gives in his work, that at least one of these prior Chronicles was begun in the third century B.C., and certainly not later than the second century B.C.
It is important to understand clearly that as regards the pre-Christian and early post-Christian details which are found in the Mahāvansa we have got, not the opinions or fancies of a monk who lived 500 years after Christ, but a work carefully compiled from annals that were committed to writing in the second or third century before Christ, and continued without a break up to the time of the reverend author. With respect to the information to be collected from the work regarding the earliest rulers, we have at least the opinions of
1 Turnour. The Mahawanso, Introduction, pp. xxxi, xxxii.
annalists, or traditions recorded by them, dating from a time that was perhaps only a century and a half later than the earliest local events of which they preserved the story. Some of these early chroniclers may have seen, or have known persons who had seen, the great king Paṇḍukābhaya, the record of whose reign is of the utmost value for the light it throws on the position occupied by the aborigines in the third and fourth centuries before Christ.
There are other historical works of subsequent date, nearly all written in the Sinhalese language. Occasionally they contain supplementary details of the early period which are not found in these two first books, thus showing that their composers had also access to some manuscripts that are now lost. Among such works may be noted the Rājāvaliya, the Rājaratnākara, the Pūjāvaliya, the Thūpāvansa, and the Dhātuvansaya.
It has been already mentioned that the later parts of the Rāmāyana and the Maha-Bhārata contain the statement that Ceylon was once occupied by a class of beings termed Yakshas, under their sovereign Kuvēra or Vaisravana, the God of Wealth, the Wessawana of the Sinhalese. The Rāmāyana also incidentally adds that some Yakshas dwelt on the Arishṭha hill at the period of the mythical invasion by Rāma, and on the mountain Mahendra-at the southern end of the Vindhya chain, the Western Ghats-on the opposite coast of India. It is possible that the person who composed that part of the epic had heard of the stories related by Indian traders regarding the first settlement of the Sinhalese in Ceylon.
Apparently, at the time when the first Magadhese traders 1 came to Ceylon from the lower part of the Ganges valley, they described the inhabitants whom they found occupying the central and southern forests as beings who were scarcely
1 The way of the tradesman [is the occupation]* of Magadhas. Ordinances of Manu, Translation by Burnell and Hopkins, x, 47. The translators state that the Commentator Medhātithi specifies 'the way' as referring to both land and water.
* Throughout this work, the words in square brackets are inserted by me.
human, a custom of many later travellers when delineating aborigines. They may have exaggerated and embellished their accounts of them with a view to deterring others from venturing into Ceylon, so as to enable them to retain a lucrative trade in their own hands. However this may be, the chronicles of their descendants, the Sinhalese, applied the Pāli term Yakkha, 'demon,' to the beings whom they found in the island, but described them as devoid of most of the supernatural attributes of the Yakshas of the early Indian works. They were no longer beings of a semi-divine nature, but were looked down upon as approaching much more nearly to the class of evil demons, just as the references to the aboriginal Dasyu of Vedic times are often couched in terms that might equally describe the characteristics of demons. They no longer possessed the power of aerial flight and of passing through the water.
The historical works of Ceylon contain a mythical story of three visits that were supposed to have been paid to the island by the last Buddha, Gōtama, as well as by the three previous Buddhas. It is not found in the canonical works, and is therefore not accepted by the more intelligent Buddhists in the island, whether monks or laymen; but it is credited as an article of faith by the less-instructed classes, and it has had the effect of greatly enhancing the prestige of the Buddhist remains at Anuradhapura and Kaelaṇiya, the sites of two of the supposed visits.
In them an account is related of the miraculous expulsion of the Yakkhas from the island at the last Buddha's first visit, in the ninth month after he attained Buddhahood, in order to render it habitable by the Gangetic settlers who were about to occupy it after his death. The Dipavansa gives the story as follows (i, pp. 46 ff., Oldenberg's translation): At that time the ground of Lanka was covered with great forests, and full of horrors: frightful, cruel, blood-thirsty Yakkhas of various kinds, and savage, furious, and pernicious Pisachas [a lower form of demon] of various shapes and full of various (wicked) thoughts, had all assembled together. [The Teacher thought] "I shall go there, in their midst; I shall dispel the
Rakkhasas and put away the Pisachas; men shall be masters (of the island).'
He came through the air from the Anōtatta Lake in the Himālayas, and alighted at Mahiyangana, on the eastern side of the Central mountains. There he first sent down 'rain, cold winds, and darkness,' and afterwards intense heat, to escape from which the unfortunate Yakkhas could merely stand on the shore.
In the end he permitted the Yakkhas and Rākshasas (who are suddenly introduced into the story) to escape to an island called Giridipa,' the Island of Hills,' a name which may possibly indicate Malayālam, 'the Mountain Region.' The Rājāvaliya terms the place Yak-giri-duwa, 'the Island of Demon Hills.' This place is described as 'beautifully adorned by rivers, mountains, and lakes . . . full of excellent food and rich grain, with a well-tempered climate, a green, grassy land . . . adorned by gardens and forests; there were trees full of blossoms and fruits.' It was situated in the great sea, in the midst of the ocean and the deep waters, where the waves incessantly break; around it there was a chain of mountains, towering, difficult to pass.'
The second visit of the Buddha is stated to have been paid in the fifth year of his mission. In this case he visited the Nāgas, a class of beings entirely different from the Yakkhas, who were engaged in a civil war in Northern Ceylon.1 He first cowed them in the manner which had proved so effective with the Yakkhas, by means of a deep terrifying darkness,' and then reconciled them and converted great numbers to Buddhism. On this occasion he was accompanied by Indra as his attendant, who brought with him a large Kiripalu tree (Buchanania angustifolia) in which he commonly resided, and held it as a sunshade over his illustrious master, finally planting it in northern Ceylon as an object for the Nāgas to worship. The third visit was made in his eighth year. On the fullmoon day of Wesak (April-May), accompanied by 500
1 The Rājāvaliya fixes the incident at Kaelaniya, and states that he then remained three days in Ceylon. It omits his visit to that place on the occasion of his third journey.
monks, he is represented as going to Kaelaniya, on the western side of Ceylon, near Colombo, at the invitation of Mani-Akkhika the Nāga king of Kaelaṇiya, who had undertaken a journey to India in order to invite him to come. Mani-Akkhika, who is stated in the Dhatuvansa to have been the maternal uncle or father-in-law of Mahōdara, one of the kings who was at war on his former visit, is described as a devout Buddhist, having been converted at the Buddha's first visit to the Yakkhas. The Naga king erected a highly-decorated pavilion for the reception of the distinguished visitors, and distributed a great donation to the monks. After this, the Buddha is believed to have first left the impression of his foot on the Sumana Kūṭa mountain (Adam's Peak), and to have afterwards proceeded to the site of the future Dighavāpi, on the eastern side of Ceylon, and finally to Anuradhapura, where he visited the sites subsequently occupied by the celebrated Bō-tree and three dāgabas.
According to these accounts, the Nāgas were apparently considered to be a comparatively civilised race. The incident of the planting of the Rajayatana (Kiripalu in Sinhalese) tree of Indra in their country Nāgadipa, 'the Island of the Nāgas,' plainly shows that they belonged to the older faith of India, and were worshippers of Indra, and not of Siva. They were ruled by their own kings, and had a settled and regular form of government. They seem to have been confined to the western and especially the northern part of Ceylon, this latter tract being invariably referred to in the histories for many centuries as Nāgadipa. In these works the expression' island' is often applied to a tract of land only partly surrounded or bordered by water. Similarly, in the Sinhalese histories India Jambudwipa or Dambadiva, 'the Island
is always known as
of Jambu (trees).'
Nāgas are generally understood to be a form of nondescript beings with the bodies of serpents attached to the upper parts of human beings; but they are never represented in this manner in Sinhalese carvings, nor at Bharhut and Amaravati in India. In the Bharhut carvings they resemble human beings in all respects, and can be recognised as Nāgas only