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`Sri Lanka has its roots in India’

Saturday 28 May 2005

Staff Reporter

Syncretism in Buddhism took place in India

"We have man-made geographical and political boundaries but in truth we are one."

CHENNAI: The culture of Sri Lanka in its entirety - be it religion, language, customs, belief systems, rituals, cuisine or dress - is rooted deep in the Indian tradition, K.N.O. Dharmadasa, Editor-in-Chief of Sinhala Encyclopaedia and former Professor of Sinhala, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, said on Wednesday.

Delivering the third Vesak Commemoration Lecture-2005, organised by the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission here, Mr. Dharmadasa said Vedda, an aboriginal language, came in to contact with Sinhala, leading to the emergence of the present Veddas language.

"Tree worship in the form of worshipping the Bodhi tree would have been an extremely convenient amalgamation of an existing religious practice with the newly introduced Buddhism," he said pointing out that a sapling of the original Bodhi tree in Gaya under which Sakya Muni (Buddha) attained enlightenment was transported to the island.

Eight saplings were planted at eight important sites and soon 32 more saplings were planted for veneration.

Religious syncretism took place in Buddhism in India before its spread to the island-nation. While Buddha was the supreme being, the pantheon of deities included Natha, Vishnu (different from the Indian deity) Skanda and Pattini (Kannagi of Silappathigaram), followed by the regional Gods, Pitiye, Ayyanaka, Pulleyar (Lord Ganesha), Devol and Saman, and then the lowly spirits, the Yakshas and Pretas. There were 242 gods, deified kings, village chieftains and immigrants.

Sumith Nakandala, Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Southern India, said the Vesak lectures, started in 2003, commemorated the birth, enlightenment and Maha Parinibbana of the Buddha.

R. Champakalakshmi, former professor of history, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, said the study of syncretism of beliefs was one of the areas where research on Sri Lanka and India would be particularly useful.

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