It is in an atmosphere of war and romance that one hears of Vedisa – the birthplace of Arahat Mahinda and Sanghamitta. Asoka, the son of Bindusara, the grandson of Chandra Gupta, was sent by his father Bindusara, to Gandhara (the present day Kandhara in Afganistan) to suppress a rebellion.
Upon his accomplishment of this mission ruthlessly, he was made governor of the Western Provinces. The kingdom was called the Malwa, and Ujjani was its seat of administration. Prince Asoka proceeded to Ujjani in the year 274 B.C. On this journey he had his first youthful romance.
The historical records state the event as follows :- “When the Prince Asoka, while ruling over the realm Avanti, that his father (Bindusara) had bestowed on him, halted in the town of Vedisa, before he came to Ujjani and met there a lovely maiden named Devi, the daughter of a merchant, he made his wife, and she was (afterwards) with a child by him and bore in Ujjani, beautiful boy Mahinda, and when two years had passed she bore a daughter, Sanghamitta”.
Asoka, spent a few years thereafter having gained the affection of Devi, the lovely daughter of the chief merchant of Vedisa. It is thus in a setting of war and romance and a political conspiracy that Vedisa (Vessanagara. Vedisagiri Besnagar) and its immediate neighbourhood received mention in historical literature. And Vedisa (Sandu) itself entered the political arena.
Perhaps, the most important event in the history of Buddhism in this country is the coming of Mahinda. The establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is attributed to this son of Asoka, who brought the religion with him when he came here about the middle of the 3rd Century B.C. at the conclusion of the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra (in Patna) under the royal patronage of Asoka.
A very interesting convesation is recorded in the Buddhist chronicles regarding the establishment of Sasana in this country.
“It runs thus : Therea Moggaliputta answered the King’s (Asoka’s) question. Even in the lifetime of the Blessed One there was no generous giver like thee’. When the King heard this, he was rejoiced yet more and asked, ‘Nay then, is there a kinsman of Buddha’s religion like unto me?’
The Thera perceived the destiny of the King’s son Mahinda and his daughter Sanghamitta, and foresaw the progress of the dhamma that was to arise from them and he on whom lay the charge of dhamma, replied thus unto the King : ‘Even a lavish giver of gifts like thee is not a kinsman of the religon : O ruler of men. But he who has son or daughter enter the religious order is a kinsman of the religion and a withal a giver of gifts.
“Since the monarch would fain become a kinsman of the religion, he asked Mahinda and Sangamita who stood near, ‘Do you wish to receive the Pabbajja, dear ones ? The Pabbajja is held to be a great (good).’
When they heard their father’s words, they said to him. ‘This very day we would fain enter the order, if thou, O king, dost wish it : for even as for thee, will blessing come of Pabbajja”.
Although the monarch wished to confer on Mahinda the dignity of Prince Regent, yet did he consent to his ordination. This (last) is the greater dignity.
“So he permitted his dear son Mahinda, distinguished (above all others) by intelligence, beauty and strength, and his daughter Sanghamitta, to be ordained with all solemnity.
At that time Mahinda, the King’s son, was twenty years old, and the King’s daughter Sanghamitta was them eighteen years old. On the very same day did he receive the Pabbajja and also the Upasampada Ordination, and for her the Pabbajja Ordination and placing under a teacher took place on the same day”.
The meeting of the King Devanampiyatissa and Mahinda at Mihintava (now known as Mihintalava) is a very fascinating episode. The King Devanampiyatissa who had arranged a water festival for the dwellers in the capital and he himself set forth to enjoy the pleasure of the chase.
The King pursued a stag and of a sudden saw Mahinda, who addressed him at Mihintalava “Sramanas (Bhikkhus) are we. O great king, disciples of the king of Thuth (Dharmaraja). From compassion towards thee are we come hither from Jambudipa”.
The King laid bow and arrow aside and approaching the sage exchanged greetings with the Thera and sat down near him. The Thera said. ‘Jambudipa is gleaming with yellow robes ; and great is the number of those Arahats learned in three Vedas, gifted with miraculous powers, skilled in reading the thoughts of others, possessing the heavenly ears, the disciples of Buddha.” It is known that for the residence of the Bhikkhus the King made an offering of the Royal Maha Meghavana, extending southward from the city to the banks of Kadamba river.
On the extensive grounds dedicated by Devanampiyatissa to the use of the Bhikkhus of the new religion was to rise the Maha Vihara, which for many centuries was held in esteem as a great centre of learning. Viharas were built with all possible speed for the accommodation of the members of the Sangha.
Nearly two hundred years had elapsed since Prince Vijaya landed at Tammanna, and consolidated the Kingdom of Sinhala as an Aryan settlement when the royal apostle Arahat Mahinda arrived in Lanka to propagate his message to the people Perhaps no more appropriate time for initiating the people into the Buddhist Dharma could be thought of than the middle of the third century BC.
For the capital being securely established and the different provinces carved out, the provisional towns had come into existence, and a network of communications constructed. It is said that from Ambatale Mahinda had his first glimpse of the city of Anuradhapura.