Binara Poya (Binara Pura Pasalosvaka Poya Day) usually falls in September. Binara Poya is the day when Sri Lankan Buddhists commemorate the establishment of the Bhikkhuni Sasanaya (Bhikkhuni Sangha) or Order of the Female Buddhist Monastic. The very first bhikkuni ordained was the stepmother of Gautama Buddha, Mahapajapathi Gothami.

Binara Poya: A breif History

Mahapajapathi Gothami was the younger sister of Queen Maha Maya, the mother of Gautama Buddha. The Queen died seven days after the birth of her son and the prince was brought up by Mahapajapathi Gothami who subsequently married his father King Suddodhana, becoming his stepmother.

Seven years after renouncing his title and leaving the royal palace, Siddhartha Gautama returned to visit his family. After his visit Mahapajapathi Gothami made a request that she be allowed to enter the Order of the Sangha, but the Buddha turned it down on three occasions. Undeterred, Mahapajapathi Gothami and 500 other women (who were all ladies of the court) donned yellow robes and with shaven heads stood outside Nigrodharamaya in Kapilavasthu where the Buddha was residing.

Ayasmanta Ananda, who was the Buddha’s half brother and Mahapajapathi Gothami’s son (also known as Ananda Maha Thera) made a final request on their behalf on Binara Full Moon Poya day. Buddha then granted the women permission to enter the Sasanaya. The women were allowed into the Order on condition that they abide by The Eight Garudhammas – a strict set of rules. Mahapajapathi Gothami accepted the 8 vows which constituted her full ordination ‘Upasampada‘ and became the first bhikkhuni. She was followed by the 500 women who had come with her.

The Period of ‘Vas’

The ‘Vas’ retreat continues during the month of Binara. The bhikkhus maintain their secluded existence, while engaging in acts of providing advice and guidance to devotees. Bhikkhus lead a very simple life and require just four essentials as preached by the Buddha – Ceevara (robes), Pindapatha (alms), Senasana (shelter) and Gilanopastana (medical care). These requirements are provided by the devotees during the period of ‘Vas’.

The Mahiyangana Perahera

If you plan to visit Sri Lanka in September, be sure to visit Mahiyangana on Binara Full Moon Poya day and witness the marvelous sight that is the annual Mahiyangana Perahera. One of the special features of this Perahera is the Wannila Aththo ‘Veddha People’s’ dance, performed by the island’s indigenous people.

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This is the annual Perahera of the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya and the Maha Saman Devale. The Mahiyangana Stupa located in the premises of the Viharaya is believed to contain sacred Hair Relics of the Buddha, given by the Blessed One on a visit to Sri Lanka.