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The Mahavamsa

The Great Chronicle of Lanka
from 6th Century BC to 4th Century AD

Translated from Pali
by Wilhelm Geiger


  1. ACARIYA - 'teacher, master'
  2. ARAHANT - Literally 'able worthy', a person who has reached the ideal. In an Arahant the asava, the deadly drugs of delusion, are brought to an end; he is no longer subject to rebirth, but lives in Nirvana, the final liberation.
  3. ARAMA - 'park, garden.' Designatin of a Buddhist convent = vihara.
  4. ASAVA - The term is hardly translatable. According to Buddhaghosa, wel matured spiritous liquors are called asava. The underlying idea is therefore, that of 'overwhelming intoxification', not that of a deadly flood. There are four asava: (1) kama 'lust, desire', (2) bhava '(desire of a future) existence', (3) avijja 'ignorance (of the four holy truths)', and (4) ditthi 'false belief'. Kinasava is 'one whoe has overcome the asavas', and anasava is 'one who is free from the asavas', are epithets of the arahant.
  5. BHIKKHU(NI) - mendicant monk, nun. Member of the Buddhist order.
  6. BUDDHA - (Sambuddha, Samma-Sambuddha convey the same notion in a heightened degree) denotes a being who by his own force has attained to possession of the highest knowledge. He is neither man nor god. He is able to perform certain wonders in accord with the laws of nature. In an endless series of existences the Buddha prepares himself for his state of Buddhahood. During the whole of this time he is called a bodhisatta (Skt. bodhisatta) till in his last existence as a man-the last but one he generally spends in a heaven of the gods- he attains to knowledge (bodhi, sambodhi, abisambodhi). In the ancient texts sambodhi is always the insight of an Arahant. Since this event comes to pass for the historical Buddha under an assattha tree (Ficus religiosa), this is the sacred tree of the Buddhists, and the Bodhi-tree (Sinh. bogaha) is not lacking in any Buddhist sanctuary in Lanka. A Paccekabuddha has also reached Nirvana (see below) by his own force, but does not come forward as a teacher. The historical Buddha is called, after his family, Gotama Buddha or Sakyamuni, 'the sage of the house of the Sakyas.'
  7. CETIYA - See under THUPA
  8. DAMILA - a Tamil.
  9. DEVATA - divinity, genius, particularly applied to the spirits which, according to popular belief, inhabit trees, wells, hills, and in fact every place. In Mah. 28.6 a devata of the royal parasol is mentioned.
  10. DHAMMA - truth, religion, the sum-total of Buddhist doctrine. Opposed to vinaya, 'Discipline, the monastic rule,' Dhamma in the more restricted sense denotes the second part of the tipitaka (which see).
  11. KARISA - first a measure of capacity; in another sense an area of about 4 acres, i.e. as much ground as can be sown with a karisa of seed-corn.
  12. KHATTIYA - (Skt. ksatriya), the class of nobles or warriors. This was one of the four ancient vanna, or social grades. The Buddhists and Jainas put them first in the list, the Brahmans put themselves first. The Khattiyas have been sometimes called a caste; but they never formed an organized community, like the modern castes, with connubium and commensality between all Khattiyas.
  13. MANTA - formula, sacred formula, charm, spell, designation of the Vedic hymns.
  14. NAGA - designation of supernatural beings, snakedemons, sometimes represented in human form with a snake's hood in the neck, sometimes as mixed forms, half man half snake. They are distinguished by devout reverence toward the Buddha. Their sworn enemies are the Garuda, winged beings resembling the griffin.
  15. NIBBANA - (Skt. nirvana). One of the terms for Arahantship. It is defined as the destruction (in the heart) of raga, dosa, and moha (lust, iliwill, and stupidity); and is stated to be sttainable by the eightfold Path.
  16. PABAJJA - Literally 'going forth'; the technical term for giving up the household life and becoming a religieux, entering an order. The rules for the reception of candidates for membership varied in the various orders. When a candidate is first admitted he is called a samanera, novice.
  18. PARIVANA - monk's cell, the private dwelling of a bhikkhu within the monastery.
  19. PAVARANA - 'invitation,' name of a festival held by the bhikkhus at the close of the vassa, i.e. the rainy season, spent in the monastery.
  20. SAMANA - 'ascetic,' designation of the Buddhist priests as opposed to the Brahmana.
  21. SAMANERA - See under PABBAJJA.
  22. SAMGHATTHERA - See under THERA.
  23. SUDDHA - (Skt. Sudra) a man of the fourth, non-Aryan
  24. TALA - Lit. 'palm,' a measure of length.
  25. TATHAGATA - one of the terms of veneration applied to the Buddhas. The Buddha usually speaks of himself thus. The meaning is a matter of controversy. The native commentators explain the word in quite different ways.
  26. THERA(I) - (Skt. sthavira), term of respect applied to monks and nuns, especially to those of venerable age. Samghatthera is the denotion of the senior priest in any assembly of bhikkhus, or in the whole community.
  27. THUPA - (Skt. stupa, tope), name of edifices which serve as receptacle for a relic or as monument. They are hemispherical or bell-shaped, and rest upon a base of three concentric stories which form ambulatories round the tope; they sustain a cubical erection, the so-called tee from which rises the spire (chatta) which crowns the whole. The relic-chamber (dhatugabbha, whence the name 'Dagaba', used in Lanka for the whole edifice) is in the interior, below the tee. The expression cetiya (Skt. caitya), originally the most general term for 'sanctuary 'a tree, too, can be a cetiya is used in the Mah. mostly as a synonym for thupa. Cf., for instance, Mahacetiya or Mahathupa as the name of the Ruwanweli-Dagaba in Anuradhapura. There is frequent mention in the Mah. of a thupaghara or cetiyaghara, \ 'house of the thupa or cetiya.' There can be no doubt, from Mah. 31. 29, that sometimes a sort of roof or temple was built over the tope. In Anuradhapura the Thuparama-Dagaba is surrounded by four concentric rows of pillars. It appears as if the two inner rows, where the capitals of the pillars have tenons, were intended to bear the roof of a thupaghara. PARKER (Ancient Ceylon p. 270) considers it altogether possible, differing in this from SMITHER (Anurdhapura, p. 7). Of course such temples could only be constructed over the smaller thupas, and, as far as I can see, are only mentioned is naturally only a question of building round and not over the sacred tree.
  28. TIPITAKA - Lit. 'three baskets,' collective name for the canonical scriptures of the Buddhists. They fall into three main divisions, Vinaya-pitaka, Sutta (or Dhamma), and Abhidhamma.
  29. UPASAMPADA - the solemn ordination of the monk who is a novice until that time, by a chapter of the order; the higher consecration of the priesthood.
  30. UPOSATHA - (Skt. upavasatha). The Buddhist sabbath which is considered a holy day both for priests and laymen. It occurs four times in the month: on the full and new-moon day, and on the eighth day following full- and new-moon. On two of these four days the recitation of the Patimokkha-precepts (patimokkhuddesa) takes place, i.e. the priestly ceremony of confession, in which every member of the order is to acknowledge the faults he has committed. Uposathagara, or uposathaghara, is a building belonging to the monastery used for the performance of the uposatha ceremonies.
  31. VEDI or VEDIKA - (Skt. the same), means first 'terrace, altar'. When in Mah. 36. 52 a pasanavedi around the bodhitree is mentioned, it means a stone terrace, on which such sacred trees usually stand. In the same sense silavedi, Mah. 36. 103. Further, this word has the sense of 'terrace with balustrade'. It is to be understood thus in the description of Sudassana's palace. Exactly in the same manner, by sopana a 'staircase with balustrade' is meant, and in both passages an accurate description follows, not of the terrace or of the staircase, but especially of the rail. When a muddhavedi and padavedi of a thupa are mentioned (Mah. 35. 2) the former is the so-called tee, the latter the storied base (see no. 26). Railings in relief are frequently added to both. Finally the meaning 'balustrade, railing' supersedes the others. Thus by the coralvedikas to the kutagara, the 'window-chambers' of the Lohapasada, the parapet-balustrade to the windows is evidently meant.
  32. VESSA - (Skt. vaisya), a man of the third social grade.
  33. VIHARA - dwelling, habitation for gods as also for monks, therefore temple or convent . In the Mahavamsa the latter meaning prevails.
  34. YAKKHA- (f. yakkhini; Skt. yaksa, yaksini), designation of certain supernatural beings who are under the rule of Vessavana (Skt. Vaisravana, name of the god Kubera). In the Mah. the aboriginal inhabitants of Lanka are frequently called Yakkha.
  35. YOJANA - a measure of length. According to the system of the Abhidhanappadipika, 1 yojana is = 4 pilvuta = 80 usabha = 20 yatthi = 7 ratana (or hattha 'ell') = 2 vidatthi (span) = 12 angula. According to RHYS DAVIDS, the native tables of linear measures make the yojana between 12 and 12 .5 miles, but in actual practice it must have been reckoned as 7-8 miles.

 Top of Page | Index
 Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09 | Chapter 10 |
 Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 |
 Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26 | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapter 29 | Chapter 30 |
 Chapter 31 | Chapter 32 | Chapter 33 | Chapter 34 | Chapter 35 | Chapter 36 | Chapter 37

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last updated: 20-May-2003