Nephew of Devānampiyatissa. He was the king’s chief minister, and led the embassy which was sent to Asoka soon after Devānampiyatissa ascended the throne (Mhv.xi.20). Asoka conferred on him the title of General (senāpati) (Mhv.xi.25). It is said that he had fifty-five elder and younger brothers who all joined the Order at Cetiyagiri at the end of a discourse by Mahinda on the Procedure for Entering the Rains (Vassūpanāyikakkhandhaka) (Mhv.xvi.10). This was before the commencement of the rainy season, but elsewhere (Mhv.xviii.3; perhaps here we have to deal with two different traditions) it is said that Ariṭṭha was sent in the month of Assayuja — after the invitation ceremony (pavāraṇā), when the rains were over — to Pāṭaliputta to fetch Saṅghamittā and the Bodhi tree from the court of Asoka, and that, he agreed to go only on condition that he should join the Order on his return. The king consented, and, his mission successfully concluded, he entered the Order with five hundred others and attained Arahantship (Mhv.xix.5, 12, 66). He died in the reign of Uttiya (Mhv.xx.54).
The Samantapāsādikā (Sp.i.102 ﬀ) gives an account of a recital (saṅgīti) held in Sri Lanka by Mahā-Ariṭṭha. The scene was the pariveṇa of the minister Meghavaṇṇābhaya in the Thūpārāma, where sixty-eight thousand monks were assembled. A seat, facing south, was provided for Mahinda, Ariṭṭha’s seat, the Dhamma teacher’s seat (dhammāsana), facing north. Ariṭṭha occupied this seat at Mahinda’s request, and sixty-eight Mahā-theras, led by Mahinda, sat around him. Devānampiyatissa’s younger brother, Mattābhaya Thera, with five hundred others, were present in order to learn the Vinaya, the king also being present. When Ariṭṭha began his recital of the Vinaya, many miracles occurred. This was on the first day of the pavāraṇā ceremony in the month of Kattikā.
Mahā-Ariṭṭha’s chief disciples were Tissadatta, Kālasumana, and Dīghasumana (q.v.)