WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka
RELIGIOUS CONDITIONS IN
PRE-BUDDHIST SRI LANKA
Prior to the advent of Buddhism, there was evidently no national or state religion systematically organised in the Island of Sri Lanka. In the words of Xuan Zang (Hsuan-tsang) "The Kingdom of Sinhala was addicted to immoral religious worship.
Different kinds of primitive cults were prevalent in the Island in which supernatural being and Yaksas & Yaksinis played an important role. Yaksas called Kalavela and Cittaja were the two most important Yaksas worshipped by the pre-Aryan aborigines. These Yaksas and Yaksinis resided in the Cetiyas. It also appears that people believed in the fact that faithful and devoted persons after their death were born as Yaksas and Yaksas and continued to watch over the interests of their former friends, dear ones and patrons. In fact, Mahinda is reported to have preached on the second day of his arrival in Sri Lanka from the Petavatthu and the Vimanavatthu, two Buddhist texts dealing with the spirits of the dead. This perhaps indicated that Mahinda, at the beginning of his missionary activities in Sri Lanka, thought of winning the hearts of people by appealing to their sentiments through a sermon which they could easily understand and appreciate.
Apart from the two Yaksas mentioned above, following were the important deities worshipped by the Sri Lankans prior to the arrival of Buddhism :
1. Cetiya (also called Valaramukhi)
2. Cetiya's husband, Jutindhara
5. Kammara-deva: god of smiths.
6. Pura-deva : god, who presided over city
7. Vyadha-deva : god of huntsmen
8. Pacchima-rajini : "Western Queen" -- nothing much is known about her.
Some of these deities were actually the ancestors of the people. Houses, shrines and cetiyas were built to honour these deities.
It is only natural to expect that Mahinda overcame and converted some superhuman beings in Sri Lanka. Mahinda appears to have converted at least one such superhuman being called 'rakus' (demon) who later served Buddhism quite well.
God Sumana of Samantakuta (Adam's Peak) was also pre-Buddhist deity. He was, perhaps, originally a Yaksa, and later on was elevated to the position of a deva after his conversion to Buddhism by the Buddha during the latter's first visit to Sri Lanka.
Even after the Sri Lankans were converted to Buddhist they desired to continue to venerate their friendly deities. But being Buddhists, they did not like to worship a non-Buddhist deity. They, therefore, converted these deities to Buddhism and elevated them to a higher plane, as in the case of Sumana. Such is also the case with most of the other local gods. There may have been some minor deities who were not converted to Buddhism, but almost all the important deities who survived the introduction of Buddhism became Buddhist sooner or later.
Tree-worship was also prevalent in the pre-Buddhist Sri Lanka. Tree-worship, as a popular cult is regularly mentioned in the early Buddhist texts and some trees, in fact, were termed cetiyas. In the pre-Buddhist period, banyan and palmyrah were treated as sacred.
The Niganthas (Jainas) appear to have already made their presence felt in the pre-Buddhist Island of Sri Lanka, but they were not very many in numbers and were not organised. Jotiya, Kumbhanda and Giri were the three Jainas at the time of King Pandukabhaya. They all had their own monasteries. We hear no more of the monasteries of the Niganthas in later times, and there are no archaeological remains found to indicate the sites of any Jaina monasteries Anuradhapura or elsewhere in Sri Lanka. The Jaina monasteries were probably converted to Buddhist viharas, just as in the case of Giri's monastery in Anuradhapura or the old cetiyas of yaksas in ancient Sri Lanka.
There is reason to believe that Saivism also existed in pre-Buddhist India. The Mahavamsa records that Pandukabhaya built a sivika-sala where Sivalinga was established.
The following types of ascetics (samanas) were also present in the Island in fair numbers.
1. Paribbajakas : Pandukabhaya built a monastery for them.
2. Ajivikas : Pandubhaya built a house for them.
5. Tapasa : Pandubhaya built a monastery for them.
Cult of astrology was also prevalent in the Island of Sri Lanka prior to the arrival of Buddhism. Even names of persons and some festivals were given after certain constellations. Soothsayers were also known in the pre-Buddhist Sri Lanka.
WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka