May 2019


Tripitakabhivandana (ත්රිපිටකභිවන්දනා) To Recognise The Theravada Tripitaka As A World Heritage
May 2019




The ancient scriptures preserve the wisdom taught by the Buddha, the Great Teacher.

Sri Lanka is a proud Theravada Buddhist nation that embraced the philosophy espoused by the Great Teacher who attained enlightenment over 2500 years ago. The Dhamma that had been preserved through oral tradition was documented for posterity during the first century BC by the Theros of the island. Thus the Tripitaka, the scriptures of Buddhism that enabled the continuity of the Dhamma, was declared a National Heritage by President Maithripala Sirisena. Taking a step further, acknowledging the country's responsibility and as the guardian of the Tripitika, Sri Lanka has taken the initiative to obtain global recognition for the Theravada Tripitika as a UNESCO World Heritage.

Words: Udeshi Amarasinghe.
Photography: Menaka Aravinda and President Media Division.

The Tripitaka is composed of the three Pitakas; Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka. As described in the Theravada tradition, following the Parinibbana of the Enlightened One, there was a need to ensure that the Buddha's teachings (Dhamma and Vinaya) were protected in its pure form. Therefore, the first Sangha Council was held three months after the Buddha's passing, with the participation of 500 senior Buddhist monks, representing the Sangha, at Rajagrha (modern Rajgir in India). It is said that both Sutta and Vinaya pitakas were rehearsed separately and Abhidhamma pitaka was absorbed as a part of Sutta pitaka. The three pitakas were assigned to groups of Buddhist monks so that it was their responsibility to ensure the preservation of the Dhamma. Second Sangha Council was held 100 years later due to disciplinary issues that arose within the Sangha. Thus 700 senior monks assembled to ensure the Tripitaka was protected.

The nation became the guardians of the Theravada Tripitaka Dhamma and the Sangha of the island took it upon themselves to protect and pass on the Teachings of the Buddha...

The Third Sangha Council was held under the patronage of Emperor Asoka (c. 268 to 232 BCE) with the gathering of 1000 members of the Sangha to resolve various issues that had emerged. The Tripitaka Dhamma that was ratified at this Council was introduced to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda Thero, the elder son of Emperor Asoka. Thus with the advent of Buddhism to Sri Lanka, the nation became the guardians of the Theravada Tripitaka Dhamma and the Sangha of the island took it upon themselves to protect and pass on the Teachings of the Buddha from generation to generation, while also spreading the word of the Dhamma to countries such as Myanmar and Thailand upon invitation.

Preserving the Tripitaka Dhamma by oral tradition became a challenging task due to famine and foreign invasions that endangered the lives of the Sangha. The first century BCE was a period of great hardship, and thus it was apparent to protect the Dhamma for posterity, it had to be documented. As such it was during the second reign of King Walagamba (c.89-76 BCE), following an extensive period of famine and South Indian invasions, that the Great Sangha gathered at the Alokalena in Matale to document the Tripitaka Dhamma in Pali on ola leaves.500 Bhikkus over three years, three months and three days tirelessly transcribed the three Pitakas; Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, and Abhidhamma Pitaka.

President Maithripala Sirisena presented the official request to UNESCO to declare the Theravada Tripitaka as a World Heritage.

Alokalena known as Aluvihare Temple, to this day protects the original scriptures of the Tripitika that is preserved within its confines. It has become the centre of Buddhist knowledge in the world and its role in the history of protecting the wisdom that dispels darkness is indeed reflected in its name as well.

The Tripitaka was declared a National Heritage by President Maithripala Sirisena in January 2019, recognising the importance and the responsibility of Sri Lanka in protecting the oldest and only complete documentation of the Theravada Tripitaka, which is believed to have been preserved by the lineage of theros most faithful to the earliest teaching. Thus the Theravada Tripitaka is not only important to Sri Lanka but to the entire world.

As a nation that has a legacy of protecting the Tripitaka as well as sharing the wisdom of the Dhamma with the world, President Maithripala Sirisena presented the official request to UNESCO to declare the Theravada Tripitaka as a World Heritage.

The Tripitakabhivandana national week concluded with the ceremony at the Maha Maluwa (Great Terrace) of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, in which President Maithripala Sirisena officially presented the proposal to declare the Theravada Tripitika, a World Heritage.

Sri Lankan life and culture are inherently linked with Theravada Buddhism, yet the wisdom imparted by the Great Teacher is not merely for one country but for the betterment of the entire world. And thus, the steps taken to recognise the Theravada Tripitaka as a World Heritage are undoubtedly a noble deed.

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    Vinaya Pitaka, one of the three Pitakas, bound in Ola leaf books.

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    The gathering of Sangha to preserve the Dhamma, in a painting at Kelaniya Temple.

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    Documentation of Tripitaka as depicted at Aluvihare.

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    The Alokalena, or Aluvihara Temple protects the ancient scriptures of the Tripitaka to this day.

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    President Maithripala Sirisena presents the declaration of the Tripitaka as a National Heritage to Most Ven Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thero, Asgiriya Chapter. Most Ven Niyangoda Vijitha Siri Thero, Malwathu Chapter and Most Ven Aggamaha Panditha Kotugoda Dhammawasa Thero, Amarapura Chapter, Sarath Ekanayake, Chief Minister of Central Province and Members of Parliament are also present in the photograph.

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    Ven Inamaluwe Nandarathana Thero, Chief Incumbent of Aluvihare presents a ceremonial ola leaf book to President Maithripala Sirisena during the ceremony that declared the Tripitaka as a National Heritage.

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    President Maithripala Sirisena hands over the proposal to declare the Theravada Tripitaka as a World Heritage to Hanaa Singer, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Sri Lanka.

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