Declare  Sangamitta Day as the National Women’s Day in Sri Lanka
Posted on December 4th, 2017


This year, Unduwap full moon   falls on 3rd December, the day commemorating the arrival of Bhikkuni Sangamitta to bestow (pabbajja )ordination on Sri Lankan women and also  bringing  with her a sapling of the Great Bodhi tree at Buddhagaya.

It was 2263 years ago that Thera Mahinda arrived in this island .According to Geiger that was in the year 246 B.C., on the full moon day of Poson . His arrival with the five disciples opened a new chapter in the history of the island. They not only introduced a new faith based on the sublime teachings of the Buddha , but also  gifted the country with a new civilization and a culture.

Arrival of Theri Sangamitta in the Island six months later marked the second stage of this Cultural Revolution.

When Anula, consort of King Devanampiyatissa sought ordination and the King concurred, the Thera Mahinda addressing the King, told him,  It is not allowed to us O Great King ,to bestow the pabbajja (ordination) on women. But in Pataliputta there lives a nun , my younger sister known by the name Sangamitta .She who is ripe  in experience shall come hither, bringing with her the southern branch of the great Bodhi –tree and  bringing also bhikkhunis renowned. When this Theri is here she will confer the pabbajja upon these women.”

A request was sent to Asoka by Devanampiyatissa to send Bhikkhuni Sangamitta to bestow pabbajja on Sri Lankan women. Recalling, his son   Mahinda and Sumana the grandson, leaving  to Sri Lanka few months back, Asoka was not keen  to part with her daughter too. But Sangamitta was keen not to disappoint the brother. She said, Weighty is the word of my brother .Therefore I must depart there.”

Accordingly, Theri Sangamitta sailing from Pataliputta to Tamalitti at the mouth of the Ganges and from there, braving the Indian Ocean   with a retinue of bhikkhunis and a mixed group of laymen  arrived  at Jambukola north of the Island on the full moon day of Unduvap. Among the bhikkhunis who accompanied her, according to Dipavamsa were  Uttara, Hema , Pasadapala,Aggimitta , Dasaka, Phegghu,Pabbata , Matta , Malla and Dhammadasiya. It also mentions that they were   young, probably as they had to face the vagaries of a foreign climate which was different from that of Pataliputta. Although Thera Mahinda arrived with five other Theras, Theri Sangamitta was accompanied by a bigger group of bhikkhunis ; there was a big task awaiting her. Already Queen Anula with five hundred women of the royal palace and an equal number of maidens were ready to receive the ordination .Once they received the ordination there were many to follow them .Dipavamsa mentions names of several others like Soma ,Dhamma Sobhani , Dhamma and others who subsequently entered the Order.

The bhikkhunis from Jambudvipa also had the added task of teaching the Vinaya (disciplinary rules) to the newly ordained nuns, and all the bhkkhunis who came from Pataliputta were well versed in Vinaya.  Dipavamsa mentions several of the local bhikkhunis, namely Mahila ,Sata Kali and Uttara who mastered the  Vinaya rules within a short time.

Theri Sangamiita  while being  mindful of  the progress of the doctrine was also keen on the welfare  of the bhikkhunis .At her request additional dwellings  were erected for the increasing numbers of women entering the Order.King Devanampiyatissa who visited the Theri   had arranged to erect a pleasing convent for the bhikkhunis which came to be known as Hatthalakavihara.

With the royal patronage received and the establishment of the Bhikkhuni Order, thus two thousand two hundred and sixty three years ago Sri Lankan women came to be liberated.The fetters that tied them to the material world were broken . Spiritually they could reach the highest levels. It has to be mentioned that the planting of the Bodhi sapling from Buddha Gaya was as equally important as the establishment of the Bhikkhuni Order. Elaborate arrangements had been made in Pataliputta for its dispatch and in Anuradhapura for its reception .Once it was planted eight shoots had grown from it and they were planted in several places around Anuradhapura and  in Katargama; the two main Aryan settlements in the island. Another thirty two had been planted in different places covering most of the key points in the country affirming the establishment of the Buddhist Order in the major parts of the Island.

Theri Sangamiita was also accompanied by eighteen princes from royal families to watch over the Bodhi tree and eight from Brahman families and of traders and persons from the cowherds, the weavers, the potters and from all other handicrafts. While the Thera Mahinda with  bhikkhus and Theri Sangamitta with the bhikkhunis were concentrating on the spiritual advancement of the people, the craftsmen would have taken upon them the task of improving the economic and social advancement .For  example bringing   cowherds itself was important. To dissuade a community which for centuries mainly  lived by hunting, obviously needed an alternate occupation if they were to live by the teachings of the Buddha. Though pottery, weaving and paddy cultivation were known to pre Devanampiya tissa times as seen from the archeological remains, chronicles and folk lore, the arrival of craftsmen from overseas would have given a new impetus and brought in new technologies which blossomed later into a culture  of its  own identity.

The arrival of the Theri  Sangamitta to establish the Bhikkhuni Order ,with the Bo sapling, accompanied by a group of disciplined and erudite Bhikkhunies is an unparalleled event in the history of the Island. She was a unique lady. Being the daughter of the most powerful ruler at the time , her renunciation itself has  to be admired . Following the words of the Buddha caratha bhikkave carikam bahujana hitaya bahujana sukhaya.” (Go forth o monks for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many) she left her mother ,father and her motherland.She perhaps is one of the few early bhikkhunis who undertook missionary work to propagate Buddhism. Most of the theris mentioned in Theri- gatha during the time of the Buddha mainly looked for their own salvation .She  came over to Sinhala -deepa and spent the rest of her life in this island serving the people, particularly the women for a better spiritual and a worldly life. It is the lead given by her that resulted in such heroines like Viharamahadevi ,Somadevi etc to play a vital role in the history of the country .The bhikkhuni order she set up in the Island was instrumental in establishing the Order in other countries too. According to Chinese tradition Bhikkhuni Devasara” from Sri Lanka set up the Bhikkhuni Order in that country. Thus she was the torch bearer for the emancipation of women not only in Sri lanka but also in some of the South Eastern and Eastern Asia countries.

‘International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 every year. It commemorates the movement for women’s rights.  After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations as International Women’s Day’(wikipaedia)

The International Women’s Day  is of recent origin and  is an alien concept and has no bearing on women of this island whereas women in Sri Lanka two thousand years back  threw away the shackles that  bound them. Declaring the day Bhikkhuni Sangamitta arrived in the Island as the National Women’s Day  is the least the present generation could do to honour this great lady.

It is for all these reasons that SriLanka should   be grateful and remember this great personality. It is suggested that the Sangamitta day be made the National Women’s Day in Sri Lanka.


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