The Mahavamsa or The Great Chronicle of Ceylon

The Mahavamsa or The Great Chronicle of Ceylon

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Book Specification

Item Code: UAI281
Author: Wilhelm Geiger & Mabel Haynes Bode
Publisher: Eastern Book Linkers
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9788178543376
Pages: 361
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 520 gm

Book Description

About The Book

This book is a new and revised edition of George Turnour's trans lation of Mahavamsa published in 1837. It had again been reprinted in Wijesinha's Mahavamsa in 1889.
Why the need of a new and revised edition?
Because R.O. Franke suspected the trustworthiness of historical traditions mentioned in Mahavamsa and considered it only Pali quolations from Jatakas and other canonical works.
Kern in his "Manual of Indian Buddhism" (vide his book Noch einmal Divp. und Maha.) showed that for most ancient time the sources of historical events of Ceylon could not be accepted.
V.A. Smith in his 'Ashoka" expressed that the Ceylonese Chronology prior to BC 160 is absolutely and compretely rejected
... positively false in its principal preposition."
There were objections, untrust worthiness and absurdities regarding contents of Mahavamsa.
Therefore Ceylon branch of Royal Asiatic Society constituted a com mittee. The Committee appointed T.W. Rhys Davids the Editor for the book. Plan stated for revision and to respond to the above-started pre vailed situation about Mahavamsa.
Prof. Wilhelm Gieger had been the head of this work. He translated the Mahavamsa into German, and from German it is translated into the English by Mrs. Mabel Hanyes Bode.
This book has the following specialities (1) In the Introduction to book ancient manuscripts as Mahavamsa Tika under the title *Vamsathappakasini', Dipavamsa of fourth century AD, and Atthakatha commentary literature and Attha katha-Mahavamsa are analysed.
(2) External evidences (support) for chronicle in the form of Indian kings before Ashok, Rock Edicts of Ashoka and history of Mission to Ceylon, History of Buddhist Councils and Acariyaparampara of India and Ceylon are dicussed.
(3) Table-works for chronologies of kings-a very valuable conclusion as evidence is vital part of the book.
There are also Appendices to book. In net shell, this book a may be termed as reference book.


A FEW words are necessary to explain how the present work came to be written; and one or two points should be mentioned regarding the aims it is hoped to achieve. Early in 1908 the Government of Ceylon were contemplating a new and revised edition of Turnour's translation of the Mahavamsa, publihed in 1837 and reprinted in L.C. Wijesinha's Mahavamsa published in 1889, and were in correspondence on the subject with the Ceylon. Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. The Society appointed at numerous and influential Committee, and recommended myself as Editor for Europe. By their letter of July 18, 1908, the Government of Ceylon requested me to undertake that post. I took the opportunity at the Congress of Orientalists held at Copenhagen in August, and again at the Congress on the History of Religions held in September at Oxford, to consult my colleagues on the best plan for carrying out the proposed revision. They agreed that the method most likely to lead to a satisfactory result within a reasonable time was to entrust the work to one competent critical scholar who could, if necessary, consult members of the Ceylon Committee, but who should be himself responsible for all the details of the work. I reported to Government accordingly, and recommended that Prof. Geiger, who had just completed his edition of the text, should be asked to undertake the task. The Government approved the plan, and asked me to make the necessary arrangements. Those arrangements have resulted in the publication of the present volume.
Professor Geiger has made a translation into German of his own revised critical edition published by the Pali Text Society in 1908; and added the necessary introduction, appendices, and notes. Mrs. Bode has translated the German into English; and Professor Geiger has then revised the English translation.
The plan has been to produce a literal translation, as nearly as possible an absolutely correct reproduction of the statements recorded in the Chronicle. It is true there is considerable literary merit in the original poem, and that it may be possible hereafter to attempt a reproduction also, in English unrhymed verse, of the literary spirit of the poem. But a literal version would still be indispensable for historical purposes. For similar reasons it has been decided to retain in the translation certain technical terms used in the Buddhist Order. In a translation aiming at literary merit some English word more or less analogous in meaning might be used, regardless of the fact that such a word would involve implications not found in the original. Thus bhikkhu has often been rendered 'priest' or 'monk'. But a bhikkhu claims no such priestly powers as are implied by the former term, and would yield no such obedience as is implied in the other, and to discuss all the similarities and differences between these three ideas would require a small treatise. There are other technical terms of the same kind. It is sufficient here to explain that when such terms are left, in the present translation, untranslated, it is because an accurate translation is not considered possible. Most of them are, like bhikkhu, already intelligible to those who are likely to use this version. But they are shortly explained in foot-notes; and a list of them, with further interpretation, will be found at the end of the volume.
The Ceylon Government has defrayed the expense of this, as it did of the previously published translations of the Mahavamsa.


1. Literary questions concerning Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa

The Literary Questions connected with the Mahavamsa and the development of the historical tradition in Ceylon have been thoroughly discussed in my book Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa. I believe that I have there demonstrated that the two Ceylonese Chronicles are based upon older materials and for this reason should claim our attention as sources of history.
Now, however, R.O. Franke has taken a decided stand against my inferences. He disputes the existence of an older historical work as foundation of Dip, and Mah.
The former appears to him to be only a botched compilation of Pali quotations from the Jatakas and other canonical works, But the author of the Mah. has merely copied the Dip. and the same applies to Buddhaghosa and his historical introduction to the Samanta-Pasadika. I have however, I hope, succeeded in combating the doubts and objections raised by Franke.
The defects of the Dip., which naturally neither can nor should be disputed, concern the outer form, not the contents.
But that the author of the Dip. simply invented the contents of his chronicle is a thing impossible to believe.
Thus it is our task to trace the sources from which he drew his material. This is made possible for us by the Mahavamsa-Tika, i.e. the native commentary on our chronicle which, under the title Vamsatthappakasini, was composed by an unknown author. I will then here briefly sum up the principal results of my labours, referring, for confirmation in detail, to my earlier works.
1. In Ceylon there existed at the close of the fourth century AD, that is, at the time in which the Dipavamsa was composed, an older work, a sort of chronicle, of the history of the island from its legendary beginnings onwards. The work constituted part of the Atthakatha, i.e. the old commentary-literature on the canonical writings of the Buddhists which Buddhaghosa took as a basis for his illuminating works. It was, like the Atthakatha, composed in Old-Sinhalese prose, probably mingled with verse in the Pali language.
2. This Atthakatha Mahavama existed, as did the Atthakatha generally, in different monasteries of the island, in various recensions which diverged only slightly from one another. Of particular importance for the further development of the tradition was the recension of the monks of the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura, upon which the author of the Mah. Tika drew for his material.
3. The chronicle must originally have come down only to the arrival of Mahinda in Ceylon. But it was continued later and indeed. to all appearance, down to the reign of Mahasena (beginning of the fourth century AD), with which reign the Dipavamsa as well as the Mahavamsa comes to an end.
4. Of this work the Dipavamsa presents the first clumsy redaction in Pali verses. The Mahavamsa is then a new treatment of the same thing, distinguished from the Dip. by greater skill in the t employment of the Pali language, by more artistic composition and by a more liberal use of the material contained in the original work. While the authorship of the Dip. is not known the author of the Mahavamsa is known as Mahanama."
5. It is also on the Dip. that Buddhaghosa bases his historical introduction to the Samantapasadika; but he completes and adds to its information with statements which could only have been drawn directly from the Atthakatha.
6. The Mahavamsa-Tika brings to the contents of the Dip. and Mah. further additions, taken from the original work. It was certainly not composed till between 1000 and 1250 AD. But there can be no doubt that the Atthakatha-Mahavamsa lay before the author, as he also supposes it to be known to his readers and essible to all. For this reason his statements as to the original work, its form and its contents, naturally acquire particular importance.
These conclusions are not in any way altered if I am now inclined to consider the relation between Mah and Dip. as a closer one than in my first work. That the author of the former knew the latter and used it I have naturally never disputed. But I should now wish, in agreement with Fleet to go much further and regard the Mah. as a conscious and intentional rearrangement of the Dsp., as a sort of commentary to this latter. I also think now that the quotation of the "Mahavamsa of the ancients' in the proaemium of our Mah. refers precisely to the Dip. I have besides already indicated the possibility of this view in my Dip, and Mah., p. 17. Fleet then translates the well-known passage of the later Culavamsa (38.59) datvà sahassam dipetum Dīpavamsam samadisi in very illuminating fashion: 'he (king Dhatusena) bestowed a thousand (pieces of gold) and gave orders to write a dipika on the Dipavamisa.
The interpretation hitherto given: that this is an allusion to a public recitation of the Dip. must then be abandoned. But this dipika, which was composed by order of Dhatusena, is identified by Fleet with our Mahavamsa. Thus, at the same time, the date of its origin is more precisely fixed. Dhatusena reigned according to calculations which are to be confirmed further on, at the beginning of the sixth century after Christ. About this time the Mahavamsa was composed. **Contents and Sample Pages**

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