Tuesday, 28 September 2010

POSON Utsava - Poson Festival

(Stupa photo from Dinamina)
Poson celebration is one of the major Buddhist ceremonies in Sri Lanka and it only seconds to Vesak festival. This special ceremony is held in order to commemorate the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and also to pay gratitude to arahant Mahinda. As a result of King Dharmashoka’s Buddhist mission, arahant Mahinda and his missionary group, consisting of arahant Ittiya, Uttiya, Sambhala, Bhaddasala, Samanera Sumana and Upasaka Bhandhuka arrived in Sri Lanka on the full moon day of June in the year 236 of B.C. Arahant Mahinda was a son of Emperor Asoka. Since Emperor Asoka and Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa (beloved of gods) were unseen friends, Emperor Asoka (devanampriya priydarshi – beloved of gods) would have had special favour to Sri Lanka. That would be the reason for him to send his son to Sri Lanka.
Arahant Mahinda is respected in Sri Lanka with a special epithet, ‘Anubudu Mihindu’ which means the ‘Second Buddha Maha Mahinda’. It is not an exaggeration because arahant Mahinda was the person who introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka. If Theravada Buddhism exists in the world today it is because of him. Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos are the major Theravada countries in the world. Sri Lankan culture is based on Theravada Buddhism. Written and spoken language, the Buddhist scriptural language Pali, arts, architecture, and Buddhist cultural are the heritage of Buddhism.
Unlike Vesak festival, Poson celebration is unique to Sri Lankan Buddhism since it is connected with the historical beginning of Sri Lankan Buddhism. Sri Lanka annually celebrates Poson ceremony on the full moon day (poya day) of June. Sri Lankan Buddhists who live in other countries do not forget to celebrate this special event every year. For instance, the story of arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka has been moulded in outdoor of Sri Lankarama temple in Singapore and every year Sri Lankans celebrate a grand Poson ceremony there.
During Poson celebrations, as same as in the Vesak ceremony, people give a special place for practice the Dhamma (pratipatti puja) observing eight precepts at monasteries. Amisa puja (various offerings, and giving dana) is practiced throughout the country by almost all the Buddhists. During Poson hundred thousands of people visit Mihintale, the historical rocky monastery, the place where King Devanampiyatissa and Arahant Mahinda met for the first time.
Among various meritorious deeds which are performed on Poson, some of the activities are very popular. For instance:
i. Observing eight precepts
ii. Pilgrimage to Mihintala Vihara
iii. Poson Perahera (Mihindu Perahera)
iv. Poson Torana
v. Dansela – offering free food and drinks
vi. Mintala Alokapuja

Observing eight precepts is one of the major parts of every full moon day in Sri Lanka. But for the Poson Poyaday, as a custom, thousands of devotees go to Mihintala Vihara to observe precepts. The main purpose of observing precepts at Mihintala Vihara is to pay the respect to their ‘Second Buddha’ Arahant Maha Mahinda Thera. Beside Vesak, Poson is the biggest full moon day for Sri Lankans to observe eight precepts. Many government schools organize eight precepts programmes for students during the Poson week. Except Sri Lanka, we do not find this kind of ‘sila vyapara’ (precepts programmes) for school children anywhere in the world.

During Poson many people arrange pilgrimage to Mihintala Vihara to respect Arahant Mahinda. Mihintala Vihara and Anuradhapura become the most crowded area during Poson. Government and social welfare organizations provide facilities for the people during their pilgrimage. The main purpose of the pilgrims is to climb the rock, (Mihintalava) on which the arahant Mahinda landed with his missionary group. [It is said that these 7 members who had psychic power had arrived there neither land nor water. It signifies that they appeared by means of psychic power].Poson perahera or Mihindu perahera is the most colourful event in the Poson festival. Poson perahera is held to pay gratitude to arahant Mahinda. The major part of the perahera is the image of arahant Mahinda. The image of arahant Mahinda is placed on a decorated floating vehicle and illuminated with electric lights adding an aura. If perahera is held in the night, it’s always a stately looking pageant. Usually, the image of arahant Mahinda is always in standing posture and very often it represents the Abhaya mudra (fearless gesture).
Apart from these events, there are many other religious and meritorious activities are done all over the Island. Some of them are:
i. Hospital service
ii. Blood donation
iii. Social service
iv. Helping needy
v. Freeing cattle (cows) from slaughtering and so on.

Aloka puja or offering of lights in the name of the Triple Gem and arahant Mahinda is one of the major events at Mihintala Monastery. In order to respect Arahant Mahinda, all the precincts of Mihintala vihara including the Mihintala stupa are eliminated with oil lamps and electric bulbs. It is a kind of repayment for his wisdom light by which he made Sri Lanka a Land of Dharma or a Dharmadvipa.
Dear Sri Lankans, pay your gratitude to our motherland with outmost respect.
SRI LANKA - The LAND like NO other!

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