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The generic name given to the tree under which a Buddha attains Enlightenment (D.A.ii.416). The tree is different in the case of each Buddha. Thus,

The site of the Bodhi tree is the same for all Buddhas (BuA.247), and it forms the navel of the earth (J.iv.233) (puthuvinābhi). No other place can support the weight of the Buddha’s attainment. J.iv.229.

When no Bodhi tree grows, the Bodhimaṇḍa (ground round the Bodhi-tree), for a distance of one royal furlong (karīsa), is devoid of all plants, even of any blade of grass, and is quite smooth, spread with sand like a silver plate, while all around it are grass, creepers, and trees. None can travel in the air immediately above it, not even Sakka (J.iv.232 f).

When the world is destroyed at the end of a world-cycle, the Bodhimaṇḍa is the last spot to disappear; when the world emerges into existence again, it is the first to appear. A lotus springs there bringing it into view and if during the world-cycle thus begun a Buddha will be born, the lotus puts forth flowers, according to the number of Buddhas (DA.ii.412).

In the case of Gotama Buddha, his Bodhi tree sprang up on the day he was born (DA.ii.425; BuA.248). After his Enlightenment, he spent a whole week in front of it, standing with unblinking eyes, gazing at it with gratitude. A shrine was later erected on the spot where he so stood, and was called the Animisa-cetiya (q.v.) The spot was used as a shrine even in the lifetime of the Buddha, the only shrine that could be so used. While the Buddha was yet alive, in order that people might make their offerings in the name of the Buddha when he was away on pilgrimage, he sanctioned the planting of a seed from the Bodhi tree in Gayā in front of the gateway of Jetavana. For this purpose Moggallāna took a fruit from a tree at Gayā as it dropped from its stalk, before it reached the ground. It was planted in a golden jar by Anāthapiṇḍika with great pomp and ceremony. A sapling immediately sprouted forth, fifty cubits high, and in order to consecrate it the Buddha spent one night under it, wrapt in meditation. This tree, because it was planted under the direction of Ānanda, came to be known as the Ānanda Bodhi (J.iv.228 ff).

According to the Ceylon Chronicles (e.g., Mhv.xv), branches from the Bodhi trees of all the Buddhas born during this world-cycle were planted in Sri Lanka on the spot where the sacred Bodhi tree stands today in Anurādhapura. The branch of Kakusandha’s tree was brought by a nun called Rucānandā, Koṇagamana’s by Kantakānandā (or Kanakadattā), and Kassapa’s by Sudhammā. Asoka was most diligent in paying homage to the Bodhi tree, and held a festival every year in its honour in the month of Kattikā (Mhv.xvii.17). His queen, Tissarakkhā was jealous of the Tree, and three years after she became queen (i.e., in the nineteenth year of Asoka’s reign), she caused the tree to be killed by means of mandu thorns (Mhv.xx.4 f). The tree, however, grew again, and a great monastery was attached to the Bodhimaṇḍa. Among those present at the foundation of the Mahā Thūpa are mentioned thirty thousand monks, from this vihāra, led by Cittagutta (Mhv.xxix.41).

Kittisirimegha of Sri Lanka, contemporary of Samudragupta, erected with the permission of Samudragupta, a Saṅghārāma near the Mahābodhi-vihāra, chiefly for the use of the Singhalese monks who went to worship the Bodhi tree. The circumstances in connection with the Saṅghārāma are given by Hiouen Thsang (Beal, op.cit., 133 ff) who gives a description of it as seen by himself. It was probably here that Buddhaghosa met the elder Revata who persuaded him to come to Sri Lanka.

In the twelfth year of Asoka’s reign the right branch of the Bodhi tree was brought by Saṅghamittā to Anurādhapura and placed by Devānāmpiyatissa in the Mahāmeghavana. The Buddha, on his death bed, had resolved five things, one being that the branch which should be taken to Sri Lanka should detach itself (Mhv.xvii.46 f). From Gayā, the branch was taken to Pāṭaliputta, thence to Tāmalittī, where it was placed in a ship and taken to Jambukola, across the sea; finally it arrived at Anurādhapura, staying on the way at Tivakka. Those who assisted the king at the ceremony of the planting of the Tree were the nobles of Kājaragāma and of Candanagāma and of Tivakka. From the seeds of a fruit which grew on the tree sprang eight saplings, which were planted respectively

  1. at Jambukola,
  2. in the village of Tivakka,
  3. at Thūpārāmā,
  4. at Issaramanārāma,
  5. in the court of the Pathamacetiya,
  6. in Cetiyagiri,
  7. in Kājaragāma, and
  8. in Candanagāma (Mhv.xix.60 ff; for details in connection with the bringing of the Bodhi tree, see Mbv.144 ff).

Thirty-two other saplings, from four other fruits, were planted here and there at a distance of one league. Ceremonies were instituted in honour of the Tree, the supervision of which was given over to Bodhāhārakula, at the head of which were the eight ministers of Asoka who, led by Bodhigutta and Sumitta (see Mbv.165 f., for the names of the others), were sent as escorts of the Tree. Revenues were provided for these celebrations.

Later, King Dhātusena built a Bodhighara or roof over the Tree (Cv.xxxviii.431) while Silākāla made daily offerings at the shrine (see Cv.Trs.i.32, n. 6; Cv.xli.29), and Kittisirimegha had the Bodhighara covered with tin plates (Cv.xli.65). Mahānāga had the roof of the Bodhighara gilded, built a trench round the courtyard and set up Buddha images in the image house (Cv.xli.94). Aggabodhi I erected a stone terrace round the Tree and placed, at the bottom of it, an oil pit to receive the oil for illuminations on festival days (Cv.xlii.19). Aggabodhi II had a well dug for the use of pilgrims (Cv.xlii.66), and Moggallāna III held a great celebration in the Tree’s honour (Cv.xliv.45).

Aggabodhi VII found the Bodhighara in ruins and had it rebuilt (Cv.xlviii.70); Mahinda II instituted a regular offering in its honour (Cv.xlviii.124), and Udaya III gave a village near Anurādhapura to the service of the Bodhi tree. Cv.liii.10.