Poson Poya day- Story behind the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka


History says it was on a Poson Poya day that Arahath Mahinda, son of the great King Asoka of India, and a group of missionaries came to Sri Lanka to spread the word of the Buddha.

It was on the memorable Poson fullmoon day in the month Jattha (June), in BC 306, (i.e., 237 years after the demise of the Buddha), that the Arhat Mahinda, the illustrious apostle of Buddhism met King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka, atop the Mihintale rock (then known as Missaka-pabbata), situated about 12 km. east of Anuradhapura. This confrontation paved way for the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Arahath Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa

Poson full moon day was regarded as an auspicious day during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. The king with a retinue of 40,000 went hunting to the Missaka Rock, which got its name as it was a mixture of stone and sand.

Legend has it that the god in charge of the Missaka Rock changed himself into a deer, crossed the path of the king and started to graze. The king who thought that it was not appropriate that he should kill a grazing deer made a noise to make it run.

The deer started to run and the king gave chase. It was then that the king heard the call, “Tissa, Tissa.’ He was surprised and looked up to find a saffron robed monk looking down at him. “Samanamayan Maharaja -Dhammarajassa Savaka Thameva Anukampaya -Jambudeepa Idhagatha” Arahath Mahinda, the son of the emperor of India uttered this stanza introducing himself.

The king at once realized that this was a messenger from his pen friend King Dharmasoka. He had already heard about how King Dharmasoka became a Buddhist realizing the evils of war. Later he saw the retinue of Arahath Mahinda namely Arhath Ittiya, Uththiya, Sambhala , Bhaddhasaala and Sumana (the novice monk) and Bhanduka, the lay person (Upasaka).

King Became a Buddhist

The king threw down his bow and arrows, and so did his retinue. Then they sat to listen to the first sermon of Arahath Mahinda. Arahath Mahinda recited the “Chulla Haththi Padopama Sutta” (The Sutta of the elephant footprints) to the king and the king and his retinue became Buddhists. The king invited the Arahath Mahinda and his retinue for alms in his palace the next day; and returned to the capital Anuradhapura.

“Ambasthale”, the jungle area where the Missaka rock is situated thus became Mihintale on this Poson full moon day. The rocky cave in which the Arahath Mahinda slept became Mihindu Guhava. The rock from which Arahath Mahinda looked down at King Devanam Piyatissa became Aradhana Gala (invitation rock).

After the king went away Arahath Mahinda ordained Bhanduka (the lay person) of the king’s group as a monk. He was also given the higher ordination then and there. Bhanduka, who was an Anagami attained Arahathhood with the higher ordination. This is believed to be the first ordination and attainment of Arahathhood on the soil of SriLanka.

The next day Arahath Mahinda and his retinue went to the city to fulfill the king’s invitation for alms. The king built a dagabo- Patthamaka Chethiya- to mark the spot on which the retinue descended.

Once Arahath Mahinda and his retinue finished partaking of alms, the queen of Mahanaga the deputy king and a retinue of 500 ladies worshipped the arahaths and awaited eagerly for a sermon. Arahath Mahinda in order to explain how one gains merits by doing good an
d how one gets sinful results by doing evil deeds described incidents from “Petha Vaththu’ and “Vimana Vaththu’ and “Sachcha Samyuththa’. Later he recited the Devadutha Sutta and Baala Panditha Sutta to those who came to listen to him.

On the second day Arahath Mahinda and his retinue stayed at Maha Megha Gardens. On a later date the king built “Nivanthaka Chethiya ” to commemorate the event. King Devanampiyatissa built Kaala Prasada (a hermitage) and offered it to Arahath Mahinda and his retinue according to the great chronicle “Mahavamsa”.

Gift from India

With the advent of Buddha Dhamma, our island followed in the footsteps of our closest neighbor India. The greatest gift we received from India on a Poson Full Moon Day is a doctrine based on non-violence.

There are more stories and events based on this Legend arrival of Buddhism. You can read following stories on our other post.


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