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Sanghamitra was a Buddhist nun and preceptor. She was born in 282 BCE of Devi and Ashoka Maurya, then king of the Mauryan Empire at Vidisha, and later Emperor of India. She and her younger brother Mahinda were both deeply impressed by the father’s Buddhist leanings and dedicated their lives to the cause of Buddhism.

In 268 BCE Sanghamitra was married to Agni-Brahma and had a son by him called Sumana. Agni-Brahma was ordained in 266 BCE, and two years later, when her father Ashoka asked her if she was prepared to take the vow also, Sanghamitra said yes, and was renamed Ayapali. She renounced the world and entered the sangha as a member.

In 252 BCE Ashoka sent a mission to the court of Devenampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka led by Sanghamitra’s son Suman and her brother Mahinda. The mission was very successful and many Sri Lankans became Buddhists. It was then that Ashoka sent Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka at the express desire of Tissa. She went there with a cutting of the Bodhi tree and instructed the women in Buddhism. Together with her brother, she was engaged throughout her life in evangelical work and converted many women, including members of the royal household, to Buddhism. She established a nunnery and took charge of the training of nuns. It is said that when she died, the king of Sri Lanka paid her tribute by performing her last rites himself.

Rita Dalmiya
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