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Of great Buddhist significance, but unique to Sri Lanka, is the Poson pilgrimage during the full moon in June. The festivals history dates back to 247 BC when Sri Lankan King Devanampiyatissa was on a hunting expedition on the Mihintale mountain. In pursuit of a stag, he found himself lured to the mountain peak where he beheld a serene, dignified figure in saffron robes who beckoned to him. This was Mahinda, son of the Indian Emperor Asoka and Sri Lanka’s first Buddhist missionary. He preached the Buddha’s teachings of Peace and Compassion to the king, triggering a dramatic conversion to Buddhism of the monarch and 40,000 of his men.
The inception of the Buddhist faith in the island is commemorated annually, as it has been for over two thousand years. Each year, streams of pilgrims in pristine white ascend to the summit of the forest-covered Mihinthale, offering fragrant frangipani and lotus blossoms to the dagoba built by King Devanampiyatissa. They walk in slow reverential columns to where Mahinda meditated, seated on a bed of stone, in a primitive rock cave perched at the steeply dropping peak.