Adam's Peak: Its History

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Road Sign to Adam's Peak

Adam's Peak

Adam's Peak Triangle

Adam's Peak

Adam's Peak

Adam's Peak

Adam's Peak

Adam's Peak

Buddhist devotees who climb the Peak regard God Maha Sumana Saman as their benevolent protector. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanam Piya Tissa (307-266 B.C). He was the grandson of King Pandukabhaya (437-366 B.C), the pre-Buddhist founder of Anuradhapura, capital of Lanka, which lasted for 1500 years up to the middle of the 9th century AD.

It is believed that the first person to discover the Sacred Footprint was King Valagambahu (104-76 BC) while he was in exile in the mountain wilderness, better known to our people as "Sri Pada Adaviya" (Domain of Sacred Footprint), to escape the marauding Cholians. He had been led to the summit of the mountain by a deity in the guise of a stag. Thereafter not only ordinary pilgrims but Royalty with their court retinue paid homage to the Foot Print of the Buddha from ancient times. The Sinhalese kings alone, in their devotion and persistence made the Peak accessible to the crowds of devotees who annually trekked the mountain.

The first historical mention about Sri Pada comes during the reign of Vijayabahu. Professor Senarath Paranavitana states: "It is in the reign of Vijayabahu" (1065-1119 AD) we have the earliest historical evidence in chronicles and inscriptions by the cult of the Footprint on Adam's Peak. It is recorded of this monarch that he, having seen the difficulties undergone by the pilgrims on their way to worship the Buddha's footprint on Samanthakuta dedicated the village named 'Gilimale' to provide for their needs. Stone inscriptions of Vijayabahu have been found at Gilimale and Ambagamuwa confirming the statement of the chronicle.

The thousands of pilgrims who make their annual pilgrimage to Sri Pada today perhaps do not realize the difficulties their ancestors had to undergo in order to pay their need of homage at the Sacred Foot Print. Whatever route they undertook to ascend the Peak their difficulties must have been almost insurmountable. Marco Polo (1254-1324 AD) who visited the Peak in the 14th century remarked that in places flights of steps were out in the rocks but none upwards and towards the summit.

The mountain has been climbed for at least 1000 years. King Vijayabahu (1065-1119 AD) built shelters along its route, work continued by Parakaramabahu the 2nd (1250-1284 AD) who cleared jungle & built a road & bridges to the mountain.

King Nissankamalla (1198 AD-1206 AD). is stated to have visited the Samanthakuta with his four-fold army and worshipped the Footprint with great devotion. He had re-granted the Village Ambagamuwa and it has been recorded in an inscription found in a cave known as Bhagavalena. He had constructed a concrete slab to protect the Footprint.

A Pali poem "Samantha Kuta Vannama" by a monk named Vedeha in the 13th century confirms the increasing interest shown by the Sinhala-Buddhists to the cult of this Footprint. In our recorded history, a good number of ancient kings have visited the mountain from time to time. Parakramabahu the 2nd (1250-1284 AD) visited the Footprint and paid homage. His minister, Devaprathiraja constructed roads leading to the mountain and installed iron chains on iron posts to make the ascent easy and conducted great festivities in celebrating to worship of the Footprint. Parakramabahu's son, Vijayabahu, and other kings like Vikramabahu, Vimaladharmasuriya (1592-1603), his son King Narendrasinhe (1705-1737) were among Sinhala Kings who had visited the Footprint to pay homage.

King Vimaladharmasuriya constructed a silver umbrella over the Footprint. King Sitawake Rajasinhe (1581-1593), the ferocious warrior king, who strode in to battle against Portuguese at the age of eleven & throughout his reign inflicted heavy defeats on Portuguese at Mulleriyawa (Mulleriyawa marshy land had turned into a red flood with the blood of the slaughtered Portuguese) & held the Portuguese Fort in Colombo under siege (besieged Portuguese were reduced to survive on slaughtering dogs & chasing cats & rats for meat), had also visited the Footprint. Śrī Vijaya Rajasinghe (1738-1745 AD) had also visited the mountain. King Kirthi Śrī Rajasinhe (1746-1778) during whose reign, Buddhist renaissance took place had visited the Footprint and restored to the temple properties frozen by King Sitawake Rajasinhe, who was told, by the Buddhist monks, that patricide was an almost eternal sin & couldn't be redeemed during his lifetime. Kirthi Śrī Rajasinhe also donated the village, Kuttapitiya and the copper plate charter in support of this donation is still in existence.

Among the artifacts devised to ascend then almost inaccessible peak were massive iron chains affixed to stanchions of the same metal secured to the bare rock face. The chains were secured to the stanchions with rivets of iron and bronze. Commenting on the ancient artifacts on Śrī Pada, the Englishman Robert Percival, who served with the British garrison in Colombo in the early nineteenth century, notes: "The iron chains on the rock face of Adam's Peak have the appearance of being planted there at a very early date, who placed them there or for what purpose they were set up there is difficult for anyone to know". The beliefs and superstitions of the natives present difficulties. Whatever it is, all evidence indicates that the Peak was in the limelight long before the recorded history of the Island. Remains of these artifacts are still evident. Early pilgrims to the peak made use of these chains to hoist themselves up to the summit.

The Mountain of Sarandib

"We saw it from the sea when we were nine day's journey away, & when we climbed it we saw the clouds below us, shutting out our view of base. On it there are many evergreen trees & flowers of various colours, including a red rose as big as the palm of a hand. There are two tracks on the mountain leading to the Foot, one called the Baba track & the other the Mama track, meaning Adam & Eve. The Mama track is easy & is the route by which the pilgrims return, but anyone who goes by that way is not considered to have made the pilgrimage at all. The Baba track is difficult & stiff climbing. Former generations cut a sort of stairway on the mountain, & are fixed iron stanchions on it, to which they attached chains for climbers to hold on by. There are ten such chains, & the tenth is the "Chain of the Profession of Faith", so called because when one reaches it & looks down to the foot of the hill, he is seized by apprehensions & recites the profession of faith for fear of falling. From the tenth chain to the cave of al-Khidr is seven miles; this cave lies in a spacious place, where there is a spring which is also called by his name; it is full of fish, but no one catches them. Close to this there are two tanks cut in the rock on either side of the path. At the cave of al-Khidr the pilgrims leave their belongings & ascend for two miles to the summit of the mountain where the Foot is. The blessed Footprint, the Foot of our father Adam is on a lofty black rock in a wide plateau. The blessed Foot sank into the rock far enough to leave its impression hollowed out. It is eleven spans long. In the rock where the Foot is. there are nine holes cut out, in which the infidel pilgrims place offerings of gold, rubies & pearls..."
Ibn Battutah

The Mountain of Sarandib is Adam's Peak, to which Adam is supposed to have descended when expelled fro Paradise. Ibn Battutah visited Adam's footprint on its summit.

God Maha Sumana Saman

God Maha Sumana Saman is one of the four deities, who undertook to protect the island and Buddhism in Lanka, according to Mahavamsa, the great chronicle in Sri Lanka. Sakra, Natha & Upulvan are the other three deities.

During the Buddha's first visit to Mahiyangana he preached his doctrine to celestial beings. One of the prominent figures at the assembly was Prince Sumana of the Samantha Kuta. Prince Saman attained the first fruit of the path of 'Nirvana' (Sotapatti Phala) and requested the master for an object for worship. The Buddha gave Him a lock of hair from his head and it was enshrined in the Mahiyangana stupa, the first Dagoba constructed in the Island during the lifetime of Buddha at the initiative of Prince Saman.

When the Buddha visited the island for the third & last time of Kelaniya, at the request of Prince Saman, the Buddha left the trace of His footprint on the mountain, according to Mahavamsa. Following his death Prince Saman became God Maha Sumana Saman. The god has never been identified as a Hindu God. There are two important and significant shrines constructed at Ratnapura and Mahiyangana dedicated to Maha Sumana Saman.

Visit of Alexander the Great

Ashraff, the 15th century poet describes the odyssey of Alexander the great to Sri Pada in his 'Zaffer Namah Skendari'. After landing in the Island and indulging himself and his retinue in orgies and revelry he explores the wonders of the Island. Here Alexander is known to have sought the assistance of the Philosopher Bolinas, a celebrated Greek occultist and magician, to climb the Sacred peak, then supposed to be zealously guarded by various deities. The belief that Alexander visited Sri Pada existed before Ashraff. Ibn Batuta, the romantic 14th century Arab pilgrim traveller from Tangiers in Morocco who sojourned in the Island visiting the Sacred Mount, refers to a grotto at the foot of the peak with the word "Iskander" inscribed on it. This 'Iskander' and 'Skendari' of Ashraff are identical; both names refer to none other than the celebrated Alexander the Great himself. Notes Batuta in his memoirs: "The ancients have cut steps of a sort on the vertical rock face, to these steps are fixed iron stanchions with suspended chains to enable pilgrims clamber up to the top with ease and minimum risk."

Apart from scanty and much belated Arab sources, history is strangely silent for over seventeen centuries on the visit of Alexander to the Island and his journey to Sri Pada. Neither the Great Dynastic Chronicle Mahawamsa nor any other historical record of significance refers to it. Records of Alexander's exploits were centered mainly in and around Persia and the Persian Empire, the legends and folklore of the early Persians were, as a matter of course, handed over to their Arab posterity. GO TO ADAM'S PEAK ASCENT