Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja
Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
The second month in Myanmar lunar calendar which approximately corresponds to May is the warmest month of Myanmar summer. Right on the line of the Tropic of cancer the sun sheds its rays directly on Myanmar drying up water in all aquatic bodies – lakes, ponds streams and rivers, reducing the entire country to an almost parched land. More heat is generated by evaporation causing perspiration and loss of saline water in human body. Hence there are two Myanmar folk rhymes to describe this weather wefcl;a&ukef? uqkefa&crf; [In Tagu, water is diminished, in Kason water is dried up.] uqkef? e,kef?aqGUaqGUckef [In Kason and Nayon, the heat is unbearable]. But there is no total absence of rain in this month. Rain clouds would occasionally gather to let down some showers, or sometimes unexpected storms would arise introducing pre-monsoon downpours thus relieving all livings of intense heat.
The natural environment begins to turn green under showers. Among all flora that burst out into buds and blooms, in Kason. Saga [Champak Michelia], a yellow gold fragrant flower is traditionally designated the flower of this month. It is the flower of a kind of timber tree that grows wild in the Mt.Popa area in Dry zone in Upper Myanmar which is its habitat.
In the astrological cycle of seasons Kason is called Vrishabha [Taurus] and its zodiacal sign is a Bull. In the nocturnal firmament, appear astride with the moon Witha Kha asterism – a cluster of 14 stars in Libra resembling a Myanmar musical instrument of drum circle (qdkif;0dkif;).
According to philologists the word Kason is a combination of two words – Ka and Son. Ka means water and son means to pour. So Kason means to pour water. But Pali contend that Kason is derived from Pali word “Kachina” meaning water shortage. Kason is the month of water shortage due to extremely hot weather. Both interpretations are reasonably plausible, because the former implies the supply of water and the latter the demand for it.
In Buddhism, Kason is an auspicious month because of its fullmoon day, on which four major events in the life of Lord Gotama Buddha took place. Firstly, it was on the fullmoon day of Kason that Lord Dipankaya Buddha gave his divine prophesey to the hermit Thumeda that the hermit would become Lord Gotama Buddha. Secondly, it was on the fullmoon day of Kason in the Maha Sakarit year of 68 that baby boy Prince Siddhartha was born of Queen Maha Maya in the forest of Lumbini sal trees. Thirdly, it was on the fullmoon day of Kason in the Maha Sakarit year of 103 that Prince Siddhartha [Bodhisatta], after six ardous years of practicing austerity as a recluse in the forest of uruvela became enlightened and thus became Lord Gotama Buddha. Fourthly, it was on the fullmoon day of Kason in the maha sakarit year of 148 that Lord Gotama Buddha entered Maha parinivirna [Demise] in the sal tree forest of Kusinagara. Because of these four land marks in the Buddha’s life the fullmoon day of Kason is regarded by all Buddhists as most auspicious and fourfold blessed. In Myanmar the full-moon day of Kason is a public holiday as it is marked as Buddha Day. Religious functions are held on this day such as recitation of Parittas, administering of moral precepts by monks and visiting pagodas and shrines by devotees to pay homage and do charity work. In other Buddhist countries this day is called “Vesak Day” which is celebrated by Buddhists by doing religious work such as monks chanting Suttas [The Discourses] and devotees visiting shrines to pray.
There are many evidences in the history of Buddhism to show that Buddhism is green. Prince Siddhartha saw four omens not at his palace but in his royal Park – the Aged, the Infirmity, the Dead, and the Recluse. He renounced his mundane life in quest of truth [Dhamma] and practiced for six years austerities in the forest of Uruvela Finally, he came under the shade of a Banyan Tree [Ficus Religiosa] seated cross- leggedly on a cushion of 8 bundles of freshly – cut green grass, enlightenment was obtained and Buddha-hood was reached.
The legend has it that at the moment of attaining enlightenment, Maya the Evil [Satan] riding a mighty tusker Elephant Yaung Mardin Mingala with his forces attempted to dislodge the Buddha from his seat. The Buddha did not react. He only called upon the Earth as witness to all his good deeds of merit he had performed in previous lives. Whereupon Earth god “wathonedarei” emerged from the Earth to say “Here are the libation water I have collected in my hair at the performances of good deeds by the Buddha in his all existences”. So saying wathonedarei squeezed his hair producing enormous amount of water that turned into stormy oceanic waves washing away Mara the Evil and all his warriors. Thus we have Buddha images and statues with Bumiphathu mudra [earth-touching style is the symbol of the First Victory of the Buddha on the fullmoon day of Kason in the Maha Sakarit year of 103.
If we study our archaeology and pre-history, we will find that tree worship was one of pre-historic beliefs and it was quite prevalent in stone Ages. Later, it was passed down to early civilizations. Myanmar indigenous races have the custom of worshipping tree god [The guarding spirit of tree] called Yokha-soe who is believed to be benevolent to humans. When Hindu Brahmanism arrived here, it brought many Hindu deities including tree god. Hindu Bramans revere the Bodhi Tree because they believe that it is one of the abodes of Vishnu, the Maha Deva. Yok kha soe appears quite often in Myanmar fables legends and folk tales. Even in the Jatakas [Buddha’s birth stories] we find that tree god plays no small role. In the last life of Gotama Buddha there was one incident which proved the dominance of tree worship at that time. While Bodhisatta was seated in meditation under the shade of a Bodhi Tree, Sujata, the daughter of a rich man of Senani Village came to offer to the Bodhi Tree’s Guardian god some boiled concentrated milk she had specially prepared, as a special thanks-giving because her request to have a son made to the tree god of that Bodhi [Banyan Tree] was fulfilled. When she found Bodhisatta sitting under it she thought that he was the tree god appearing. The Bodhisatta part took her offer and let the gold container down the River. In Myanmar, we see little shrines at some big shady trees, with little idols of tree gods and offerings made by believers. Myanmar people respect such trees with such shrines.
Inspite of the tradition of tree worship the rite of pouring water on the Bodhi Tree is Buddhistic in origin. There are references in Buddhist literature pertaining to the worship of the Bodhi Tree in the life time of the Buddha. In the Kalinga Jataka of the 13th Nipada which forms a portion of Tipitaka there is mention of planting of a Bodhi tree by Shin Ananda, the disciple of Lord Buddha. How Shin Ananda induced King Kosala and his people to pay homage to the Bodhi Tree was described in it.
There was historic evidence of Bikkuni Sangha Mitta, the daughter of Emperor Asoka, together with her brother Bikkhu Maheindra, sent out as Buddhist missionaries. They cut the branch of Maha Bodhi Tree in Gaya which was shooting out south direction. Ceylon [Lankadipa] lies to the south of India. They planted that branch in Lanka dipa [Sri Lanka]. It grew into a big Tree well known as Dhekhina Sakha Bodhi Tree in the south – now the only surviving original Bodhi Tree. The one at Bodhgaya to-day is the second generation tree as the original tree died of attack by four elements.
As all Buddhas attained enlightenment under shady trees and major events in the last life of Gotama Buddha took place in the forests, devotees regard such trees and forests sacred and they respect them. The 28 Buddhas, Gotama Buddha and 27 Buddhas his seniors all became enlightened under different trees. These trees were not all banyan trees. They belonged to different genus and species. But they all were Bodhi Tree i.e. Tree under which wisdom and enlightenment was attained. Weithabu Buddha became enlightened under the sal tree [Pentaeme siamensis], Kakusanda Buddha became enlightened under the shade of Kokko tree [Albizzia lebbek], Konagamana Buddha became enlightened under the shade of Yeythahpan tree [Ficus glomerata], Kassapa Buddha became enlightened under the shade of Banyan Tree [Ficus Indica]. Gotama Buddha became under the shade of Lin Lun tree [Ficus Religiosa]. All trees under which the Buddhas attained omniscience are called Maha Bodhi Tree. Bodhi is a Pali word meaning “Knowledge” or “Perceiving”. Maha Bodi Tree is classified as a kind of Paribawga Ceti in which priestly utensils used by the Buddhas were enshrined. So the Maha Bodhi is sacred. The act of pouring water on Maha Bodhi Tree is the expression of piety and respect shown to the Buddhas.
Across the country, Maha Bodhi trees are found in the precints of pagodas and monasteries. They are those grown out of seeds or saplings brought from Bodhgaya in India or Sri Lanka by Myanmar envoys, monks, or VIP personages in different periods of Myanmar history. Rajas of Lanka Dipa [Sri Lanka] used to send to their contemporary Myanmar kings religious objects, sacred Buddha’s relics, and presents, including seeds or saplings of Maha Bodhi Trees. Myanmar Kings dispatched religious, trade and political missions to their counter-parts in India and Sri Lanka, Bodhgaya and Kandy for political and trade relations and to carry out their religious works such as repair, renovation, gilding of religious monuments and donation of votive objects like fans, sweeps and flags made of gold and studded with crown jewels. King Bayint sent to donate to the sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha kept at the Kandy Temple a sweep made of his and his chief queen’s royal hair with a gold handle studded with crown rubies. Paddy lands were purchased to supply rice for Myanmar monks residing there. There were three sects of Myanmar monks residing in Sri Lanka namely Pauk-Kan or Bagan Nikaya founded in the time of Bagan Period by such scholarly monks sent in Anawrahta’s reign later joined by Sapada and Panthaku, Mon or Ramanya Nikaya founded by Mon monks in the time of Queen Shin Saw Pu and her successor King Dhamma-
zedi and Amarapura Nikaya founded by Myanmar monks in the time of Konbaung dynasty especially in the reign of Kings Bodawpaya, Bagyidaw and Mindon. Due to shortage of paddy land in Sri Lanka there was a rule that forbade novices of no land family to become ordained monk. Myanmar kings purchased paddy lands in Sri Lanka and also Myanmar Nikayas there admitted novices of no-land family for ordination. Their food supply was guaranteed by the purchased paddy lands there. Monks and envoys made copies of religious monuments and drawings of Maha Bodhi Trees and brought them home. Myanmar Kings built religious monuments and planted Maha Bodhi Trees at their capitals, exactly on the designs of their origin in India and Sri Lanka. Sapada Cetis in Bagan, Kalayani Sima [Ordination Hall] in Pegu and many Bodhigons at old capitals still stand as historic evidences today.
The earliest historical evidence of planting Maha Bodhi Tree in Myanmar was found in the reign of King Narapatisithu [1173-1210 A.D] of Bagan dynasty. It was in his time that one Myanmar monk named Ashin Kassapa Maha Thera went to Sri Lanka and on his return home, he brought back seeds of Maha Bodhi Tree, drawings of Maha Zedi, Lohapathada pyathat, and many sacred relics which he gave to the king. Other planters of Maha Bodhi Tree were King Uzana of Pinya dynasty who planted it in 1340 A.D. King Narapati and King Maha Thiha Thura of Inwa dynasty both of whom sent their envoys to Sri Lanka in 1442 A.D. and 1468 A.D. respectively. Their envoys brought home saplings of Maha Bodhi Tree. King Dhammazedi of Mon dynasty planted in 1471 A.D. the seed of Maha Bodhi Tree of Sri Lanka on a hillock now called Bodhi-kone to the north-west of Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon. King Bodawpaya of early Konbaung dynasty sent in 18000 A.D. a party of scholars to India to study Maha Bodhi Tree at Bodhagaya. On their return they brought back description and drawings of the sacred Maha Bodhi Tree and two saplings of it presented by its caretakers. The saplings were ceremonially planted by the king himself in the precint of gigantic Mingun Pagoda. His success or King Bagyidaw planted to the south west of his palace the saplings of Maha Bodhi Tree which his envoys brought from Bodhagaya in 1834 A.D. King Mindon, the second last Myanmar Kings who received two saplings of Maha Bodhi Tree sent by Sri Lankan monks in 1860 A.D. planted them at Bodhi Kone to the south of his palace city Mandalay.
There are also four Maha Bodhi Trees at four corners of the precint of Kyauk Taw Gyi Buddha Image at Mandalay. They were brought from Bodhagaya and King Mindon planted them there.
The planting of Maha Bodhi Tree in Myanmar continues in modern times. There is a place near Monywa town in Upper Myanmar where one thousand Bodhi Trees saplings had been planted on a hill range and this place came to be known, at home and abroad, as “Bodhi Ta-htaung” [One Thousand Bodhi Trees]. The entire area and environs have now become religious site of big monuments and Buddha Images and man-made arborea of not only Bodhi Trees but also of indigenous flora. There are other man-made forests in other states, regions and divisions across the country. In Pa-an the capital of Kayin State can boast not only of natural forests but also of man-made arborea called Ingyin Ta-htaung One thousand Sal Trees or Myanmar Lumbini Park. Under each sal tree was a sitting Buddha Image. The whole area is blessed with peace, tranquility and freshness. In Ayeyawady Region near Bogalay Township is another man-made forest called Gantgaw Tahtaung [One thousand Gantgaw trees] [Iron wood mesua Ferrea Linn] were planted.
Buddhist Sayadaw Monks led the organizations of shady trees [Bodhi] planting at various places, on hill range perched plains or islands. The public participated and donors and contributers arrive to give their share of merit.
In the precinct of Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon are the Maha Bodhi Trees – the one at the north-west corner was planted on the day of regaining Myanmar independence 4th January 1948. Next to it on the right is the Bodhi Tree planted in 1905, both were brought from Bodhgaya. There is another Bodhi Tree at the south-east corner [Tuesday Direction] with a brick platform around it. It was planted by head monk rJxD;q&mawmf Meidi Sayadaw. It is at this tree that the ceremony of pouring water on Kason fullmoon day takes place annually.
The rite of pouring water on the Bodhi tree began on the date and day of the arrival of its seeds or saplings in Myanmar. Earliest mention of this rite was found in the Bagan stone inscription of Thingyi Nyaung OK dated 1201 A.D. Later, Saw Hla Win Phaya Stone Inscription of 1291 A.D. also mentions it. One Ka-chin song of Pinya Period has the mention of the pouring of water on the Banyan tree. Myanmar chronicles and literature have graphic accounts of royal performance of this rite on fullmoon day of Kason. Loka Byu Har [or Inyone Sardon] a famous Treatise on Court Ceremonies and Festivals compiled by Minister Thiri Uzana of Inwa Period described how the King and his court participated in the rite of water pouring at the Maha Bodhi Tree and the festivities that followed it.
One noted poet and minister of Konbaung Period named Letweithondara composed a ratu verse while he was in exile at the Meza hills near Katha. In the second stanza of that poem he described the Kason Nyaung Yey festival he saw in the local village.
The above ratu poem proves that Kason festival of watering Bodhi Tree is not confined to the court. It is a public festival in which people from all walks of life take part. In every Buddhist house there is the family shrine altar with a Buddha image and three floral pots called Nyaung Yey Os. Nyaung means Banyan Tree or Bodhi Tree. Yey means water. O means pot or container. Sprigs of Thabyey [Eugenia] and flowers are placed in these 3 pots dedicated to Triple Gems &wemoHk;yg; — the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha. There is an old Myanmar greeting “I pray for four health and happiness by offering Thabyey sprigs to the Buddha and pouring water on the Banyan Tree [Bodhi Tree] (yef;oajy? anmifa&avmif;vdkY bk&m;rSm qkawmif;)/
To-day the best places to watch the ceremony of watering at the Bodhi Tree on fullmoon day of Kason are Shwedagon Pagoda Precinct, Sule Pagoda [where there is one and the only Bodhi tree at the northside with the oldest and still functioning natural fresh water well]. Bodhi-gone Pagoda and Shwe Kyet Yet Pagodas at and near Mandalay and other famous pagodas with Bodhi Trees.
At the appointed time either in the morning or evening Monk Sayadaws begin their religious functions—chanting Paritta, administering moral precepts to the gathering and explaining the history and significance of water pouring on Bodhi Tree on fullmoon day of Kason. Afterwards follow water pouring individually or group by group while Satuditha feast is served gratis for all Myanmar traditional soft drinks and snacks. Music, songs and dances performed by amateurs and merry-makers keep up the festive mood.
In the countryside Kason festival is held at the village pagoda or monastery where there is a Bodhi tree. Mirthful processions of village maidens in their best are seen skillfully balancing on their heads water pots [some could carry each as many as five to even ten pots arranged graduately] as they wend their way with measured steps to the sacred Bodhi Tree to perform the water pouring rite. Behind them follow a party of village swaines playing amid and percussion instruments and singing folk songs. It provides a social occasion for your people to meet freely.
On this occasion of Kason Festival, it is the customary practice of Myanmar Buddhists to remove fishes and turtles from dry ponds and lakes to where there is plenty of water. This merit is called life saving act of charity.
In ecological parlance, Kason festival of watering Bodhi tree and saving aquatic creatures may be taken as a sort of public activity in the preservation of natural environment.
As peace and solitude are two conducive factors for the successful meditation of Samatha [concentration of mind] and of Vipassana [Insight meditation] to discover truth and reality behind illusions, green natural environment is preferably recommended by Myanmar Buddhist monks.