October 2018


The Month of Vap
October 2018




King Suddhodana pay salutations to his infant son, who was found meditating

October heralds the time to plow the land and sow seeds of paddy to ensure the nation's granary is filled. More importantly, it is also the month when the full moon day of Vap Poya, shines and beckons Buddhists in Sri Lanka to participate in age-old religious activities to sustain their spiritual growth.


Words: Manu Gunasena


Whilst October is the month when the nation's agricultural hopes are planted on its soil to be reaped six months hence, it is also the season of giving. Especially, to the monks of the Buddha Sasana whose long line ensured the Dhamma survived through its history, and kept alive the Buddhist philosophy for mankind.


The Vap Poya is probably the third most important in the Sri Lankan Buddhist calendar. The first being Vesak Poya in May when Buddhists world over commemorate the Birth, Enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Buddha, followed by Poson Poya in June that observes the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka over 2,300 years ago.


Vap Poya is significant due to the many historical events that took place on this full moon day. Over 2,500 years ago in the northern plains of India, Suddhodana, the Sakya King of Kapilavasthupura, discovered that his young son would grow up to be a great man one day, just as the royal astrologers had predicted at his birth. As the Buddhist scriptures state, the event happened at the royal Vap Magula (Ploughing Festival) where the king was the first to furrow the land and make the soil ready to receive its first batch of paddy seeds. The King had taken his son and heir Prince Siddhartha - the future Gautama Buddha - to witness the ceremony. Whilst the king was engaged in ploughing the land, Prince Siddhartha, who was five-months old, had gone missing. In panic, the king, rose from the field and began to search for the prince. Prince Siddhartha was found in a leafy glade seated cross-legged in a lotus pose, absorbed in deep meditation; with his frame in a state of levitation. Moved by this extraordinary sight, King Suddhodana could not help but pay salutation to his son.

Vap Poya is significant due to the many historical events that took place on this full moon day.


It was also on this full moon day, years later, that Gautama Buddha is said to have returned to Sankassa Pura from visiting the heavenly abode of Tavatimsa where his mother who had passed away seven days after giving birth to him resided. Here, he had preached the Abidhamma - the deepest aspect of his philosophy - to his mother. It enabled her to attain ‘Sotapanna', the first of the four states to attaining Enlightenment. Also on Vap Poya, the future Buddha, the Maithri Buddha, as a Bodhisattva still on the path, entered the Order with 500 followers.


Sri Lankan Buddhists, also commemorate on this day important events in relation to the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. At the request of his sister-in-law Anula Devi who was keen to become a Bhikkuni, King Devanampiyatissa entreated Indian Emperor Asoka to send his royal daughter Sanghamitta Theri to the island. The Emperor had sent his son Arahant Mahinda earlier to introduce Buddhism to Sri Lanka. During her sojourn, Sanghamitta Theri established the Order of the Bhikkuni, thus enabling Anula Devi to be ordained as a Buddhist nun. She also brought to Sri Lanka a sapling of the sacred Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha had attained Enlightenment. This millennia-old tree still thrives in Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka.


King Devanampiyatissa who converted to Buddhism after hearing Arahant Mahinda's sermon on Mihintale, had asked how Buddhism could be firmly rooted on Sri Lankan soil. The Arahant Mahinda replied, "Dear King, until such time a person born and bred in Sri Lanka enters the order, after a complete and thorough study of ‘Vinaya' - the disciplinary code relating to monks, then only will Buddhism be firmly established throughout Sri Lanka." Thus, the King's Minister, Aritta entered the order. He did so on a Vap Poya, marking another significant milestone of Buddhism being firmly established on the island's soil according to the Arahant Mahinda's advice.

A special plowing ceremony called Vap Magula is held. Similar to the kings of yore, the country’s Head of State, ventures to the paddy field and, along with farmers, wields the ploughshare to cleave the earth.


Another important aspect of Vap Poya is the Katina Pinkama, observed for an entire lunar month until the November full moon day. During the Buddha's time, the rains came early in the month of July and ceased with the climax of the Vap Poya. During this rainy period, called ‘Wassana Kalo' in Pali, the monks were unable to go on ‘Pindapatha' seeking alms from lay people. Instead, the laity provided the daily meals and other necessities, a tradition continued even today despite changes in weather patterns. As the monks emerge from their rainy retreat, after Vap Poya the devotees focus their attention to offer new wherewithal. Called the Katina, amongst other gifts, Buddhist monks are offered new sacred saffron robes, also known as the Cheevara Pooja. While offerings are made individually, many gather in groups and make their way to the temple with the robes in perahera. The procession is one of great faith and fervour, and is considered one of the greatest meritorious acts for Buddhists.


Today, the October monsoon rains making the land soggy, signal the start of the Maha (main) paddy season with the ploughing of the fields to sow the seeds of the nation's staple diet - rice. A special plowing ceremony called Vap Magula is held. Similar to the kings of yore, the country's Head of State, ventures to the paddy field and, along with farmers, wields the ploughshare to cleave the earth. At each turn, the soil is ready to receive paddy seeds, with the prospect of delivering the nation's bowl of rice and sustenance to all her people.

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    Gautama Buddha had visited Tavatimsa to preach Abidhamma to his mother

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    The arrival of Sanghamitta Theri
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    Sewing the katina cheevaraya
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    The katina cheevaraya is taken to the temple on a procession

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