Arahat Saṅghamittā's Story


The Mahāvaṁsa is a well-known Chronicle from Sri Lanka that has seen a number of translations into English, most famously by Wilhelm Geiger. First published in 1912. The edition I have access to was published by the Ceylon Govt. in 1950, and reprinted in 1986. There are also translations by George Tourner (1837), Ananda Guruge (1990) and an abridged translation by Ruwan Rajapakse (2001).01

It tells the story of the Kings of Sri Lanka, and the establishment of Buddhism in that country, and the support and challenges the religion has received down the ages.

What is little known to the general public is that there is a secondary version of the text, which its editor chose to call the Extended Mahāvaṁsa. Extended Mahāvaṁsa, Chapters XII-XIV, edited by G. P. Malalasekera, Colombo 1937. Reprinted by the Pali Text Society, Oxford, 1988. I think it would have been better called the Expanded Mahāvaṁsa, as there is a danger of thinking of it as an extension rather than enlargement of the original, and confusing it with the so-called Cūḷavaṁsa.02

This text is almost twice as long as the original text, 5,791 verses against 2,904.03 which has been accomplished in two ways: through addition and through rewriting. It therefore contains much extra information about all aspects of the story, though the additions are unevenly spread. Sometimes the Extended version simply follows the original for a long time, at others it gives a lot of information otherwise not recorded there.04

The sections presented here are those that pertain to the Arahat Saṅghamittā's story. This is not told, as we might like, in a continuous narrative, but rather – as it is incidental to the main story – comes to us it isolated sections.

Be that as it may, we still have a fairly large and interesting amount of information on a Nun who was – and still is – held in the very highest esteem in Sri Lanka.

The episodes cover her birth, going-forth, journey to Sri Lanka and the central role she played in establishing the religion in that country. It also records her passing, along with the passing of the first generation of missionaries.

In what follows the material that is different from the Mahāvaṁsa is set in italics, the materials that coincide are in normal font. The chapter headings are taken from the original end-titles, while the internal headings in square brackets have been supplied by the translator to help give context.

The translations presented here are excerpted from a much larger selection I have been making centered around Asoka and the Missions, For more selections please see and as far as I know they are the first translations into English The text has not yet been translated into Sinhala either.06 of any section from the Extended version of the Mahāvaṁsa.

In preparing this translation I was fortunate enough to be able to consult with two experts on Sri Lankan medieval texts and history: Prof. Dr. Junko Matsumura in Japan and Ven. Dr. M. Wijithadhamma in Sri Lanka. If any mistakes remain it is my fault alone.

The beautiful illustrations are of the Mahāvaṁsa murals at Wat Pho in Bangkok. They are taken from one of the Temple’s publications: Wat Pho’s Phra Vihara of the Reclining Buddha (Bangkok, 2006), and are used by kind permission.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
July 2012