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by Tathālokā Therī

Sanghamitta's Pilgrimage Route: from Bodhgaya to Anuradhapura with the Bhikkhunī Sangha and Southern Branch Sapling of the Srī Mahā Bodhi tree Offered with my veneration to our awakened women arahantī foremothers in the Buddhism, with reverence, love and appreciation for all the ancient trees that have been refuges, seats and shelters for so many beings, and for the deep work of our human hearts.

According to the ancient chronicles and traditions, in the 3rd century BCE, at the request of Sri Lankan vicereine Anulā, Arahant Mahinda Thera, and Anulā Devī's elder brother-in-law Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa, Mahinda Thera's Arahantī bhikkhunī sister Sanghamittā Therī was requested to come from India to Sri Lanka to grant vicereine Anulā's wish to enter the Buddhist monastic community--the Bhikkhunī Sangha--bringing a quorum of bhikkhunīs and a sapling of the sacred fig tree under which the Buddha experienced great awakening--known as the Mahā Bodhi tree--with her.

This story is passed down in several ancient and more recent Pāli-text Buddhist chronicles: first the Dīpavaṁsa, then the Mahāvaṁsa and extended Mahāvaṁsa, the Vinaya commentary Samantapasādikā, and the later Mahābodhivaṁsa.

These past several years i've had the opportunity first to read about these ancient and venerable luminaries in the ancient texts and their translations, as well as to be inspired by the artwork of them and the reverence which my Buddhist friends from Sri Lanka tell their story.

In the past three years, i've had the great good fortune to visit many of these ancient sites, and to sit with many of these ancient trees, including the venerated Anuradhapura Sri Mahā Bodhi tree, several of it's "eight fruits" (astaphala) and thirty-two fruits children, and the Anuradhapura Sri Mahā Bodhi's heir now standing at the Diamond Seat--the Vajrāsana--in Bodhgaya, at the site of the Buddha's great awakening.

I've also had a chance to visit the replanted Bodhi tree and memorial shrine at the site of Sanghamittā Therī's great arrival with the original Sri Mahā Bodhi's southern branch sapling at old Jambukolapatthana (Dambakolapatuna) port on the northern point of the Island of Sri Lanka near Jaffna.

I trace her route here, as recorded in the ancient texts and traditions, including the research of modern scholar and archeologist Dr. A.K. Prasad here on these maps.

We begin at the site of the original Jaya Sri Mahā Bodhi at Bodhgaya in Bihar India, at the golden mark of the tree.

We then travel with the Emperor Ashoka, his bhikkhunī daughter Sanghamittā Therī, and the southern branch Bo tree sapling to Asoka's capital city Pātaliputra, when he sends of Sanghamittā Therī on a seven day voyage via ship down the Ganges to the ancient Tamralipti port on the Bay of Bengal, the modern Tamluk.

Bodhgaya, Pātaliputra, and the Indian land and river routes

Gold: the southern branch sapling travels by land from Bodhgaya to Asoka's capital Pātaliputra.

Orange: Sanghamittā Therī's route along the Ganga (the Ganges from Pātaliputra to the ancient Tamralipti port at modern Tamluk.

Green: the old trade cart routes from Bodhgaya and from Pātaliputa south to the ancient Tamralipti port at Tamluk (with credit to the research of archeologist Dr. A.K. Prasad).


Meanwhile, we trace Dr. A.K. Prasad's latest research on the ancient cart trading routes and rock shelters through the Vindhya range which the emperor Ashoka and his large retinue took, also arriving at the Tamralipti port, where the emperor Asoka offered a great sendoff for the Bodhi tree, Sanghamittā Therī and the Bhikkhunī sangha, and the great delegation.

Bodhgaya, Pātaliputra, and the Indian land and river routes.

Green Dhamma wheels: indicate sites of ancient rock shelters with inscriptions (some of Dhamma wheels).

Green Dhamma hickers: indicate the towns along these ancient routes.

It is not known which of these routes the emperor Asoka would have taken with his great entourage. According to the chronicles, he would travelled from Pātaliputra south, likely through Bihar Sharif to Nawada, and then from there to Tisri -- i guess via the middle route.
From Tisri, the route continues south to Jamua, to Giridih, Tundi, Govindpur, Raghunathpur, Bankura I, and Kharagpur, to Tamluk (ancient Tamralipti port).


Indian land and river routes

Gold: the southern branch sapling travels by land from Bodhgaya to Asoka's capital Pātaliputra.

Orange: Sanghamittā Therī's route along the Ganga (the Ganges from Pātaliputra to the ancient Tamralipti port at modern Tamluk.

Green: the old trade cart routes from Bodhgaya and from Pātaliputa south to the ancient Tamralipti port at Tamluk (with credit to the research of archeologist Dr. A.K. Prasad).

Blue: sea route south from the ancient Tamralipti port at Tamluk to the old Sri Lankan Jambukolapatthana port.


The Bo tree was blessed by Indian emperor Samrat Ashoka with coronation and sovereignty over all of his domain (Jambudvipa) and he gave the instruction that the Sri Lankan king, Devanampiyatissa, was to do likewise upon receiving it, ensuring that it would be both highly honored and well protected.

Indeed that honor and protection came to be all the more important when later the original tree was cut down in jealousy by Asoka's last wife.

We then trace Sanghamittā and the Sri Mahā Bodhi tree's sea route.

We show the port of Visakhapatnam, which the Sri Lankan Dambakolapatuna memorial shrine map shows as a stop. This area has several ancient Buddhist sites from the period.

Traditional/potential stops at Visakhapatnam and Udurru.

Nearby Visakhapatnam are the ancient co-contemporary Buddhist sites of Bavikonda Ancient Buddhist Monastery, Thotlakonda Ancient Buddhist Monastery, and the Pavurallakonda Ancient Buddhist Site.


We also show one more reported stop, the 2,400 year old Buddhist site of Adurru, which records a tradition of Sanghamittā Therīs stopping there on her journey to lay the foundation stone of the stupa.

I note, neither of these stops, either at Visakhapatnam or Adurru, are recorded in the Sri Lankan chronicles, but this doesn't mean they didn't happen.

Traditional/potential stops at Udurru.

Traditional/potential stops at Udurru. Close-up pic.


According to the chronicles, the nagas approached the ship and Bodhi tree, and requested to also be able to extensively revere the Sri Maha Bodhi, before the mission continues on to and then quickly arrives at Jambukolapatthana.

There, they find the Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa already awaiting them, as he too has been on a journey of seven days, having left his capital of Anuradhapura in the heart of the Island, gathering many nobles and preparing and decorating the roads, to welcome the great entourage.

Overview of arrival at Jambukolapatthuna (Dambakolapatuna), and the route south to Anuradhapura.

The great arahanta Mahinda Thero, and also vicereine Anulā Devī and her large retinue of stream-enterer and stream-winner ten-precept women renunciates awaiting ordination gather.

King Devanampiyatissa builds the Samuddapannasala Hall to welcome and receive them, and when he sees the ship coming, he enters the water neck deep to receive Sanghamittā Therī and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Sapling, taking the tree ashore atop his head.

In some recensions, vicereine Anulā Devī and her monastic retinue are ordained by Sanghamittā Therī and the bhikkhunī sangha then and there, almost immediately becoming arahants.

Becoming not only Sri Lanka's first bhikkhunī, Anulā Therī is recorded as the first among the Sri Lanka people to become an arahantī, a fully awakened one, done with all fetters and afflictions, completely liberated.


I've been contemplating in Sanghamitta's Story, her stopping for a week along the way to allow the Nagas to venerate the Awakening Tree...
At first i thought that maybe this referred to one or more of Sanghamitta Theri's possible stops at Visakahapatnam and Adurru shown previously.

However, what is now Dambakolapatuna Sangamiththa Viharaya named after the Pali "Jambukola," is quite nearby an island known as Nagadipa in Pali (Nainativu in Tamil on the contemporary map), which traditionally back in the old days was inhabited by Naga peoples.
So perhaps Sanghamitta Theri landed first at Nagadipa, and then proceeded to Jambukolapathuna=Dambakokapatuna?


The large company then begins to slowly make its way along the great road south.

Note, this great road is, to my knowledge, no longer known, so on our map we fully the contemporary road, as i did as a pilgrim.

Arrival at Jambukolapatthuna (Dambakolapatuna) and the beginnings of the route south to Anuradhapu

We pass south through Vavuniya, where still exists an old Bo tree thought to be a direct descendant of the original tree.

This place is marked on our map here. We too, on our pilgrimage, passed through Vavuniya.

Route out from Vavuniya south to Tantrimale (Thanthirimale)

We continue on southwest to Tantrimale (Thanthirimale) at the ancient site of the village of the Brahmin Tivakka, where the great company rested for one night.

In one Sri Lanka telling, then and there, the Bodhi tree gave forth a new sprout, which was planted at Tantrimale.

In the Pāli-text chronicles however, only after arrival in Anuradhapura, the Bodhi tree gives off eight fruits which are planted at Mahinda Thera's direction, and these become the Astaphala Bodhi (Ashtapal Bodhiya), one of which is then gifted to the Brahman Tivakka, who then plants it at Tantrimale, where it lives on the top of the hill overlooking the site beautifully to this day.

"Sanghamittā's Rest," an ancient prehistoric site adjacent to the 3rd century BCE village of the Brahmin Tivakka.

It was here that Sanghamittā, the Bo tree, and the great entourage, stopped for the night. One of the Astaphala (Ashtapal Bodhiya) first generation of Bodhi fruit saplings was planted in the 3rd century BCE and still lives here on the hilltop.


From Tantirmale we continue south.

According to the ancient texts, there was a great northern road which emerged from the northern gate of the Anuradhapura royal citadel and travelled along the Malwatu Oya. On contemporary roads on our maps, we try to come as close as possible to this no-longer existent route, although we in our pilgrimage followed the Thanthrimale Road.

According to the chronicles, before arriving at the Anuradhapura Citadel, the great company made a rest stop at the Pācinnārāma, which is just east of Anuradhapura out of the eastern gate of the citadel,* along the route to Mahintale, by which Mahinda Thera himself had first came and often come and gone between his mountain refuge in Mihintale at Missakapabbata and the capital at Anuradhapura.

(*noting there is another Pācinnārāma up north which might be the site referred to in the chronicle - this is not clear).

Overview of two traditions of story-telling diverging at the ancient stone bridge on the Mawathu Oya stream (marked by a castle icon).
*Note: on this section of the map there is a general route in thick brown line and a more precise contemporary local route in lighter-weight brown line.

(1) Going east: with arrival and rest at Pācinnārāma just to the east outside of Anuradhapura (according one chronicle).

(2) Going south: direct entry along the great northern road (now Sanghamitta Mawatha).


Arrival and rest at Pācinnārāma just to the east outside of Anuradhapura.

According to local traditions, the ancient great northern road is none other than the road now called Sanghamitta Mawatha, named after Sanghamittā Therī and the route she took to enter the citadel with the Sri Mahā Bodhi tree through the north gate.

We show this route as well.

Overview - Arrival at Anuradhapura

Closeup overview of two traditions - Arrival at Anuradhapura.

1) arrival and rest at Pācinnārāma just to the east outside of Anuradhapura at the mark of the Dhamma wheel (according one chronicle) before entering the citadel of the Anuradhapura capital through the northern gate.

2) direct entry along the great northern road (now Sanghamitta Mawatha) and direct entry to the citadel via the northern gate (the northern, southern and eastern gates to the citadel are marked by castle icons).


The chronicles agree that the great retinue, with the sovereign Sri Mahā Bodhi tree, entered the citadel via the north gate, passed through the citadel, and then emerged via the south gate.

Closeup of the northern gate to the ancient capital of Anuradhapura citadel.

With the thick brown line proceeding from the eastern gate to the north, then entering the northern gate to the citadel, and proceeding south through the citadel on Sanghamitta Mawatha (Sanghamittā road).

The thin brown line shows arrival along the great northern road on Sanghamitta Mawatha.

It is not known if the northern stretch of Sanghamitta Mawatha is leading to the Bhikkhunī ārāma at which Sanghamittā Theri later lived with the bhikkhunī sangha, or is the route of her arrival. Both speculative traditions exist. The famous and highly revered Samadhi Buddha image and the Twin Ponds stand near the crossroads of Sanghamittā Mawatha (north-south) and Anula Mawatha (roughly east west).


From the south gate they continue south past the area now known as the Sanghamittā Stupa (Sanghamiththa Sohuna) built over the ashes of Sanghamittā's later cremation and later installed by King Uttiya with her crematory relics, just east of the Thuparama.

Sanghamittā Theri and the sovereign Bodhi tree's exit through the south gate (marked by castle icon).

Passing south by the later contemporary site of Sanghamittā Therī's crematory stupa (Sanghamiththa Stupa aka Sanghamiththa Sohuna marked by the brown Dhamma wheel) said in the chronicle to be just east of the Thuparamaya and within sight of the Sri Mahā Bodhi Tree planted just to the south.


They continue south on what then becomes Mahābodhi Way, to the site of the Mahāmeghavanāramā monastery aka the Mahāvihara, in the garden of which the southern branch sapling of the Sri Mahā Bodhi came to be planted and lives to this day.

The great compound of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree's southern branch sapling, now one of the oldest recorded trees in the world (at the gold tree icon)

According to the chronicles, upon arrival, the Srī Mahā Bodhi showed its splendor and was welcomed by auspicious and fruitful natural forces.

It then and there gave forth the Astaphāla Bodhi (Ashtapal Bodhiya) -- the eight fruits, which became eight great native Bodhi tree first generation descendants.

I share on a subsequent map (linked to below), the sites of the venerable Astaphala Bodhi, most of which are still living, several of which i've visited in person. Astaphāla Bodhi Map: 

I hope these maps may be of help for anyone who wishes to take all or part of this pilgrimage.

Walking in the footsteps on the awakened ones, sitting under the roots of the trees who have known arahantas and arahantīs, can be a special and profound experience, as the stories we have read and heard then land in the earth in the body in real contemporary time, sitting upon the noble roots of and shaded by the rustling and gleaming leaves of the Mahā Bodhi trees.

-- I invite any readers who have better knowledge about anything i've written to share with me or with us. ---

Ven Anandajoti Bhikkhu has done wonderful work with making these ancient chronicles available in both the Pāli text and good contemporary English, as well as documenting the great mural of Sanghamittā and the Bo tree's journey on the walls of Wat Bo in Bangkok, Thailand.

My thanks and "Anumodana!" for the Venerable's significant support in researching and getting me started on making these maps.

A short illustrated talk by Ven Anandajoti on the significance of the Full Moon Day in December (Sanghamitta Day or Bodhi Day): 

I would also like to thank independent researcher Mr. Deepak Ananda for his work with the ancient India Buddhist carika or pilgrimage routes, and for connecting me to archeologist Dr. A.K. Prasad who's article on the ancient cart trade route from Pātaliputra to Tamralipti provided the basis for all this is green on this map.


This post is part of a series on the Sanghamitta Story Cycle:


The Journey of Sanghamittā & the Bodhi Tree Part III The Journey's Route

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