Das im 3. Jahrhundert v. Chr. gegründete Hauptkloster auf Sri Lanka.
The great monastery at Anurādhapura, for many centuries the chief seat of Buddhism in Ceylon. It was founded by Devānampiyatissa, on the counsel of Mahinda, und included the Mahāmeghavana. The Mahāmeghavanārāma henceforth came to be included in the Mahāvihāra. The boundary of the vihāra was marked out by the König ploughing a circular furrow starting from near the Gangalatittha on the Kadambanadī und ending again at the river (Mhv.xv.188ff.; MT.361; Mbv. 135, 136 says that the ford on the Kadambanadī was Pāsānatittha).
A list is given in the Mahābodhivamsa (pp. 135f) of the places through which the simā (boundary) of the Mahāvihāra passed - Pāsānatittha, Kuddavātakapāsāna, Kumbhakāraāvāta, the Mahānīpa tree, Kakudhapāli, Mahāangana tree, Khujjamātula tree, Marutta pokkharanī, the northern gate of the Vijayārāma park, Gajakumbhakapāsāna, then passing Avattimajjha, Bālakapāsāna on the Abhayavāpi, Mahāsusāna, Dīghapāsāna, the left side of Candalagāma, the Nīcasusāna to the left of Kammāradeva Sīmānigrodha, Veluvangana, round the hermitages of the Niganthas Jotiya Giri und Kumbhanda, to the right of the various hermitages of the Paribbājakas, by Hiyagalla, along the shrine of the brahmin Dīyavāsa, through Telumapāli, Tālacatukka, to the right of the stables (assamandala), on to Sasakapāsāna und Marumbatittha. It then proceeded up the river to Sīhasinānatittha, on to Pāsānatittha, ending at Kuddavātakapāsāna.
The Mahāvihāra contained thirty two Mālakas (Mhv.xv.214) und had numerous buildings attached to it, apart from sacred shrines, such as the Mahābodhi tree, Thūpārāma, Mahā Thūpa, etc. In its early period, the precincts of the Mahāvihāra contained other buildings besides those dedicated to the service of Buddhism z.B., the hermitages of the Niganthas und the Paribbājakas (as erwähnt above) und the shrine of the guardian deity of Anurādhapura (Mhv.xxv.87). In the time of Vattagāmanī, the Mahāvihāra monks divided into two factions, und one party occupied Abhayagiri, built by the König (Mhv.xxxiii.97f). At first the differences between these two factions were trivial, but, as time went on, Abhayagiri grew in power und riches und proved a formidable rival to the older monastery.
From time to time various kings und nobles made additions und restorations to the Mahāvihāra. Thus Vasabha (Mhv.xxxxv.88) built a row of cells, und Bhātikatissa erected a boundary wall (Mhv.xxxvi.2), while Kanitthatissa removed the boundary wall und constructed the Kukkutagiri parivena, twelve large pāsādas, a refectory, und a road leading from Mahāvihāra to Dakkhinavihāra (Mhv.xxxvi.10f). Vohārikatissa appointed a monthly gift of a tausend to the monks of Mahāvihāra (Mhv.xxxvi.32), while Sirisanghabodhi built a salāka house (Mhv.xxxvi.74). Gothābhaya erected a stone pavilion und made a padhānabhūmi to the west of the vihāra (Mhv.xxxvi.102,106).
Towards the latter part of Gothābhaya's reign, a dispute arose between the Mahāvihāra und Abhayagiri on matters of doctrine, und sixty monks of Abhayagiri, who had adopted the Vetulyavāda, were banished. They obtained the assistance of a Cola monk, named Sanghatissa, und at a solemn assembly of the monks concerned, at Thūpārāma, Sanghamitta expounded his heretical doctrine, refuting the opposition of the Mahāvihāra monks, und succeeded in winning over the König, who was present, in spite of the efforts of his uncle, Gothābhaya Thera, to bring him round to the orthodox party. Sanghamitta became tutor to the König's sons, und when one of these, Mahāsena, became König, he prompted him to destroy the Mahāvihāra. A royal decree was issued forbidding the giving of alms to the Mahāvihāra. The monks thereupon left the monastery, und for nine years it remained deserted. Many of the buildings were destroyed, und various possessions belonging to the Mahāvihāra were removed to Abhayagiri; but the people, led by the König's minister und friend, Meghavannābhaya, revolted against the impious deeds of Mahāsena und his admirers, Sanghamitta und Sona, und the König was forced to yield. Sanghamitta und Sona were slain by one of the queens, und the König, mit the help of Meghavannābhaya, rebuilt several parivenas und restored some of the possessions, which had been removed. But Mahāsena's allegiance to the Mahāvihāra teaching was not lasting; acting on the advice of a monk named Tissa, he built the Jetavanavihāra in the grounds of the Mahāvihāra, against the wish of the monks there; the latter left again for nine months as a sign of protest against the König's attempts to remove the boundary of the vihāra. This attempt, however, he was forced to abandon (Mhv.xxxvi.110f.; xxxvii.1 37).
Mahāsena's son, Sirimeghavanna, on coming to the throne, exerted himself to undo the damage which had been wrought by his father. He rebuilt the Lohapāsāda und restored all the demolished parivenas, together mit their endowments (Cv.xxxvii.54ff). Mahāvihāra had, by now, become famous as a seat of learning; it was the centre of Theravāda Buddhism, und was the repository of various Commentaries, of which the chief were the Sīhalatthakathā on the Pāli Canon. Thither, therefore, came scholars from various countries, among them Buddhaghosa (q.,v.), who resided in the Ganthākara parivena und compiled his Pāli Commentaries (Cv.xxxvii.215ff).
When Dhātusena became König he had the walls of the Mahāvihāra painted mit various ornamental designs (Cv.xxxviii.43). The Dhammarucikas seem to have been favourites of this König und to have occupied the Mahāvihāra, later moving to Ambatthala vihāra (Cv.xxxviii.75). Mahānāga instituted a permanent distribution of soup to the inhabitants of the Mahāvihāra (Cv.xli.99) und Jetthatissa III. planted another Bodhi tree there, called the Mahāmetta (Cv.xliv.96).
Udaya I. built a new salāka hall (Cv.xlix.14). Aggabodhi IX. discontinued the habit of the monks of the smaller vihāras surrounding Anurādhapura from coming to Mahāvihāra for their supply of medicines und made other arrangements for their distribution (Cv.xlix.88). Sena I. und his queen Sanghā erected und endowed the Sanghasena parivena (Cv.l.70), while Kassapa IV. built the Samuddagiri parivena und gave it for the use of the Pamsukūlikas, while for the forest dwelling monks of Mahāvihāra he built forest dwellings (Cv.lii.21f.; Cv. Trs.i.163, n.8). Kassapa's kinsman, the general Rakkha, built a vihāra in the village of Savāraka und gave it to the incumbents of Mahāvihāra, to be used as a padhānaghara, while Mahālekhasena built, in Mahāvihāra itself, the Mahālekhapabbata (Cv.lii.31ff). Udaya IV. gave a diadem of jewels to the Buddha image in Mahāvihāra, while his wife Vidurā added to it a network of rays made of precious stones (Cv.liii.49ff).
During the invasions of the Colas und the Pandus from South India, und owing to the consequent confusion prevailing in the country, the Mahāvihāra seems to have been neglected. Many of the buildings were destroyed und their priceless possessions plundered. Discipline among the monks became slack und there were many dissensions. Later, when Parakkamabāhu I. had restored peace, he wished to purify the religion, but met mit great opposition, und it was only after strenuous efforts that he brought about a reconciliation between the different parties (Cv.lxxviii.11ff).
It is said (Cv.lxxviii.25) that the König could not find one single pure member of the Order. He, therefore, held a special ordination ceremony, admitting many monks into the Order.
After the removal of the capital from Anurādhapura to Pulatthipura, Mahāvihāra lost its importance; the centre of activity was now at Pulatthipura, und later, at other capitals, und the Mahāvihāra fell into neglect und decay, from which it has never recovered.