The Sri Maha Bodhi Tree - History and Facts | History Hit

The Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

Anuradhapura, North Central Province, Sri Lanka

The Sri Maha Bodhi Tree is derived from a cutting of the tree under which Buddha was enlightened.

Peta Stamper

12 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

The Sri Maha Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka is one of Anuradhapura’s most important Buddhist sites and is a sacred place of pilgrimage. It is thought the tree grew from a cutting of the fig tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment, making the tree almost 2,000 years old. Pilgrims continue to flock to see the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree.

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree history

In the 3rd century BC, the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Theri, daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka. The bodhi tree she brought to Sri Lanka originated from the Bodhi Fig Tree located in Bodh Gaya in India. This tree was sacred because the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was said to have reached enlightenment under a tree in the same place around 500 BC.

In 288 BC the tree at Anuradhapura, a cutting of its Bodh Gaya parent, was planted by King Devanampiya Tissa on a high terrace about 6.5 metres about the ground. Devanampiya Tiss was one of Sri Lanka’s early kings based at Anuradhapura, and was noted for the rise of Buddhism in Sri Lanka after it was brought over by the Emperor Ashoka.

The site of the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree was developed by successive kings: Vasabha in the 1st century AD placed 4 Buddha statues around the tree; Voharika Tissa in the 3rd century AD added metallic statues; Mahanaga in the 6th century constructed a water canal and the present wall was built by Thero under King Kirti Sri Rajasinha’s reign in the 18th century. The tree was therefore protected by wild elephants and constantly watered.

The tree lost two branches to storms in 1907 and 1911, as well as having one stolen in 1929. In 1985, during Sri Lanka’s civil war, the sacred site also witnessed the massacre of Sinhalese-Buddhists by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam in what is known as the Anuradhapura Massacre.

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree today

The Sri Maha Bodhi Tree today is the oldest verified specimen of any flowering tree and is open to visit. The site continues to host numerous acts of worship throughout the year. You can approach the mighty tree surrounded by tall railings, with vibrant prayer flags streaming down on all sides.

Note that entry costs SLR 200 and there are security checks. Visitors may also not enter the upper terrace as this is where rituals and sacrifices happen. It is best advised to wear light colours, particularly white, and to cover your shoulders and ankles to observe Buddhist cultural practice.

Getting to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree

For those driving, there are several car parks on site including one on the corner of the AB25, 100m from the tree. Via transport, the Anuradhapura Railway Station that links to most railway lines and Mawatha Bus Stop are a 25 minute walk from the site.

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