The tree was planted on a high terrace about 21 feet (6.5 m) above the ground and surrounded by railings. Today, the tree is one of the most sacred relics in Sri Lanka, respected by Buddhists all over the world. A wall was built around the tree during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha, to protect it from wild elephants.
Still the site of active worship, it is a great place to watch the crowds and get drawn in by the ritual. Although there are many bodhi trees inside the shrine (made from cuttings of the original), getting a good view of the original tree is quite difficult. Nevertheless, it is one of our recommended sites given its impactful symbolic and religious associations.
- Originally under ruler Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BCE), but rebuilt repeatedly over the centuries since.
- On the southern edge of Mahavihara monastery, in the southwest corner of the old city. Toggle Map above.
- Tree at center. The sacred bodhi tree (Sri Maha Bodhi) — now nearly 2300 years old — sits at the center of the arrangement with several large limbs held aloft by golden supports. As recounted in the introductory section on bodhi tree shrines, this tree was reportedly grown from a cutting of the actual tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment; it was brought to the island by Sangamitta, Mahinda’s sister, in the 3rd century BCE. All of the other bodhi trees on the island are its progeny.
- Walled courtyard. Visitors first enter a walled courtyard on the north side. The courtyard surrounds the shrine, enabling the faithful’s ritual clockwise circumambulation of the tree prior to making their way inside.
- Three level arrangement. The shrine consists of three levels: the first level (on the east side) holds a Buddha image; the second level (on the west side) has an altar for water offerings to the tree; the third level, accessible only to monks, supports the sacred tree itself.
- Single Buddha image. The shrine currently has only one east-facing Buddha image, recalling the celebrated event that occurred under the tree. That said, it is possible that four Buddha images earlier surrounded the tree on the cardinal points, in an arrangement similar to what we saw at Abhayagiri Monastery’s Samadhi Buddha bodhi tree shrine.