Ceylon; an Account of the Island Physical, Historical, and eBook

James Emerson Tennent
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 892 pages of information about Ceylon; an Account of the Island Physical, Historical, and.

[Footnote 1:  The ceremonial of the mysterious severance of the sacred branch “amid the din of music, the clamours of men, the howling of the elements, the roar of animals, the screams of birds, the yells of demons, and the crash of earthquakes,” is minutely described in an elaborate passage of the Mahawanso.  And its landing in Ceylon, the retinue of its attendants, the homage paid to it, its progress to the capital, its arrival at the Northern-gate “at the hour when shadows are most extended,” its reception by princes “adorned with the insignia of royalty,” and its final deposition in the earth, under the auspices of Mahindo and his sister Sanghamitta, form one of the most striking episodes in that very singular book.—­Mahawanso, ch. xviii. xix.]

[Footnote 2:  The planting of the Bo-tree took place in the eighteenth year of the reign of King Devenipiatissa, B.C. 288; it is consequently at the present time 2147 years old.]




[Sidenote:  B.C. 289.]

Almost simultaneously with the establishment of the Buddhist religion was commenced the erection of those stupendous ecclesiastical structures, the number and magnitude of whose remains form a remarkable characteristic in the present aspect of the country.

The architectural history of continental India dates from the third century before Christ; not a single building or sculptured stone having as yet been discovered there, of an age anterior to the reign of Asoca[1], who was the first of his dynasty to abandon the religion of Brahma for that of Buddha.  In like manner the earliest existing monuments of Ceylon belong to the same period; they owe their construction to Devenipiatissa, and the historical annals of the island record with pious gratitude the series of dagobas, wiharas, and temples erected by him and his successors.

[Footnote 1:  FERGUSON, Handbook of Architecture, b. i. c. i. p. 5.]

Of these the most remarkable are the Dagobas, piles of brickwork of dimensions so extraordinary that they suggest comparison with the pyramids of Memphis[1], the barrow of Halyattys[2], or the mounds in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates.

[Footnote 1:  So vast did the dagobas appear to the Singhalese that the author of the Mahawanso, in describing the construction of that called the Ruanwelle at Anarajapoora, states that each of the lower courses contained ten kotis (a koti being equal to 100 lacs) or 10,000,000 bricks.—­Mahawanso, ch. xxx, p. 179.]

[Footnote 2:  “The ancient edifices of Chi-Chen in Central America bear a striking resemblance to the topes of India.  The shape of one of the domes, its apparent size, the small tower on the summit, the trees growing on the sides, the appearance of masonry here and there, the shape of the ornaments, and the small doorway at the base, are so exactly similar to what I had seen at Anarajapoora that when my eyes first fell on the engravings of these remarkable ruins I supposed that they were presented in illustration of the dagobas of Ceylon.”—­HARDY’s Eastern Monachism, c. xix. p. 222.]

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