Saturday Magazine
The sacred Bo tree was no dwarf Bonsai

srimaha.jpg (21983 bytes)by Godwin Witane
The Bo Sapling brought to Lanka by Theri Sangamitta 2300 years ago was no dwarf Bonsai. It was the right branch of the parent Bo Tree under which Prince Siddartha Gautama attained Enlighment - the Dakshina Saakawa. The Mural as illustrated by the famous artist Solias Mendis at Kelani Viharaya was his fertile imagination put into drawing.The description how the branch of the parent Bo Tree was obtained by King Asoka is explained in the Mahawansa, the Great Chronicle of the Sinhalese. Having got on to a platform to the height of the branch, King Asoka took red arsenic with a golden brush, drew a line and made "Satthiyak Kriya" affirmation of the truth,

‘If the great Bodhi Tree should go from here to the island of Lanka and if I am unalterably firm in the Faith of the Buddha, let the auspicious Right Branch of the Great Bodhi Tree sever by itself and be placed in the Golden Bowl here’ The Great Bodhi Branch severed itself at the time and stood above the Bowl filled with fragrant earth. King Asoka drew around the trunk of the Bodhi Branch ten arsenic lines, each three finger breadths apart. Behold ten big roots from: the first line and ten small roots from each of the others issued forth and dropped down in the form of a net. Seeing this miracle the King was greatly happy. Mahawansa says that the earth trembled and quaked at the miracle. It further describes how new Saplings sprung up from a ripe fruit. In actual practice the Southern Branch of the Sacred Bo Tree - Dhakshina Saakaawa, would have been planted in a great receptacle of huge proportions and tendered carefully by renowned Botanists until it grew in strength with the aid of a cluster of roots.

It was important that the Bo Tree should withstand inclement weather during its arduous voyage by sea from Tamlaripiti in India to Jambukolapatuna in Lanka. Although the artist had illustrated a tender tree safely in a begging bowl, the container in which the sapling was planted would have weighed heavy needing many hands to handle it conveying it to the sailing vessel by which it was taken to Lanka. This opinion was disclosed by a panel of learned professors at the recent discussion under Purana Sinhala Wansa Katha conducted by the famous actor and lyricist Mr. Jackson Anthony in the Swarnawahini. It is said that King Devanam Piyatissa of Lanka (250-210 B.C.) during whose reign the Bo Sapling was brought to Lanka he went to Jambukolapatuna and waded in the sea up to his hips in his royal garb to accept the Noble Gift sent by King Asoka. The Bo Sapling was brought to Anuradhapura in a procession in great pomp probably placed in a beautifully decorated heavy carriage drawn by elephants. This is a symbol of Faith to all Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

King Asoka took great interest in the propagation of Buddhism that besides sending a branch of the Sacred Bo Tree he despatched royal personages for securing of same. He sent his son and daughter and also relatives to establish in Lanka 8 of the tribes of Supra Devi, the mother of Arahat Mahinda and Theri Sangamitta. A son of Sangamitta, Sumana, too accompanied Mahinda in his first visit to Mihintale.

The sacred Bo Tree has great significance to the Buddhists the world over as it was under the shade of the Bo Tree at Buddha Gaya that Prince Siddhartha Gautama attained Englighment.

The Bo Sapling was planted in 288 B.C. in Anuradhapura which is today enduring the changing millennia. A large square with four entrances formed the courtyard of the Bo Tree. The stone wall measuring 274 feet from East to West and 338 feet from North to South and 10 feet in height enclosed the courtyard. The width of the wall or Prakaaraya was 5 feet. The Bo Tree was known as aswatha at the beginning but came to be known as Bodhi Tree after Bodhi Satwa attained Buddhahood under it. After the passing away of Buddha the Bo Tree became the symbol of His presence. Even during Buddha’s time Buddha Himself recognised the adequacy of the Bo Tree as a fitting symbol to respect and venerate Him in His absence. The various Chronicles provide information about the constructions and restorations carried out during the time of different monarchs at the Bodhi Shrine. King Vasabha (61-III A.D.) added a temple to the courtyard of the Bodhi Shrine.

The Bo Tree was neglected during the Cholian period. It was King Vijayabahi I of Polonnaruwa who restored the Bodhi Tree. A small number of dedicated Monks living in Monasteries in Anuradhapura continued to maintain the sacred precints without anybody’s patronage. The Sacred Bo Tree has survived for over 2300 years withstanding the test of time. At present the Sacred

Bo Tree is under the care and protection of the National Army as well as under the supervision of the Director Botanical Gardens who tends to its health.

The propagation of a plant is done in various ways. The easiest is through the seed. Next comes grafting where a twig or bud of a parent tree is grafted to a smaller stock in order to obtain fruit within a shorter period.

There are very many trees where the propagation is difficult when the trees do not bear fruit. In this instance people resort to a method called ‘Layering’ Having selected a suitable branch of the tree or creeper a section of the bark is taken out called ring barking. To this spot is clamped a handful of earth enriched with fertilizer and a covering done by tying the ends like in a ‘Bond Aluwa’ of Thala guli. After careful wetting the spot daily with water roots spring up through the clamp of earth when it is severed from the parent tree and planted like a new plant. The Bo tree belongs to the family of Ehetu (fig) and Banyan (nuga) and all these belong to the family of parasitic plants. The fruits of these trees contain innumerable number of seeds and when birds eat them and drop their dung on trees or in crevices in buildings the seeds spring up and grow to huge dimensions sometimes swallowing the whole of the host tree. Once Wellawatta Market building appeared a jungle of Bo trees that had taken root on the walls and the roof.