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Archive for August, 2011

Mahavansa, A Narration by Fr. S. G. Perera, S. J.

Sunday, August 21st, 2011


The great Sinhalese Chronicle, The Mahavansa (Mahavamsa) covering the period of 543 B. C. to A.D 301 together with Culavamsa that carry on the narrative to1795, the beginning of the British colonial period, and together too called Mahavansa is the greatest mine of Sinhalese history. Mahavamsa is an exceedingly well written, dramatic narration. Sri Lanka Holidays tourists would find it extremely handy to buy a copy of the translation by Dr. Wilhelm Geiger or Dr. Ananda W. P. Guruge in Colombo and study it throughout their stay in Sri Lanka.

Following is a narration upon Mahavamsa written by the Historian & Scholar Father S. G. Perera, S.J. (1882-1950) (born in Kalutara of south-western coastal belt of Sri Lanka Holidays; educated at Holy Cross College at Kalutara and Jesuit College in India; taught at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo and Wesley College, Colombo)

The year 1937 is the centenary of the first publication of the translation of The Mahavansa by George Turnour. We are now so familiar with the name and significance and authority of the great Pali chronicle, and we have so many editions and translations of the work into English and Sinhalese, that we can scarcely realize the epoch-making character of Turnour’s work. It was he who first vindicated the authenticity of the chronicle and it was his publication that established its reputation for good. Before his day it was of course known that there was a chronicle called The Mahavansa; but it was known but vaguely and was looked upon as a mere collection of legend and fable, a sort of relgio-mythical purana, scarcely worth the serious attention of historians.

The reason for this misleading view was the great neglect into which the chronicle and Pali studies had fallen in the very country which was the subject of the chronicle.Not more than two copies were even known to exist at the time.Even sixty years later, when Geiger was preparing his critical text, the chief manuscripts that he consulted were two copies in the Burmese character brought from Mandalay. It had never been translated into Sinhalese. [1]There was a general belief among the literati that a commentary of The Mahavansa had been in existence, though not even the most learned had ever seen it, till the investigations of Turnour succeeded in tracing one in the Mulgirigala Vihara in 1827. The Mahavansa strictly so-called is the epic poem of Buddhist priest Mahanama. It continued by Buddhist priest Dharmakiriti, according to tradition, at Anuradhapura under King Parakrama Bahu the Great; Buddhist priest Tibbotuwe at Kandy under King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe; and by other scholars afterwards. The continuation is not The Mahavansa properly so-called; though of course the term Mahavansa may be used to denote the whole historical compilation, and is sometimes so used in the chronicle itself. This The Mahavansa is the old chronicle, and the later chronicle is The Sulavansa.

Footnotes by bunpeiris [1] Since then the Mahavansa has been translated into Sinhalese several times. The latest edition was published by Buddhist Cultural Center, No. 125, Anderson Road, Nadimala, Dehiwale (the town immediately to the north of Mount Lavinia of Sri Lanka Holidays), Sri Lanka in 2003. ISBN: 955-8540-84-6

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