Story & Photos by Vajira Wijesuriya
A day trip from Anuradhapura, Mihintale is where Buddhism began in Sri Lanka. It is at this location that Arahat Mahinda, who came from India, stopped the Sri Lankan King Dewanampiyatissa from hunting and taught him Dhamma.
Easily underestimated, but with many sites to visit, this place warrants an entire day to be spent roaming about the Mihintale Rock and its immediate vicinity.
The vistas provided by some of the high hills are breathtaking. Mihintale can be easily reached by bicycle although there are a number of buses that take this popular route.
This pond has been given this name because it has a statue of a lion standing on two legs. Water for the bhikkhus’ use was collected here and was supplied by the Naga Pokuna through a tunnel. There are a number of other structures around the Sinha Pokuna.
This is the place monks met to discuss matters of common interest pertaining to monastic life and make decisions on the organizing of Buddhist monasteries in Sri Lanka. The most senior monk may have sat in the middle of the hall. Apparently, 64 pillars once supported the roof of this building.
Walking further on from the Naga Pokuna, before turning right to the Et Vehera, is this Image House. If you pass by the Image House and take a left turn, you will come across steps over the rock that will take you to Mihindu Seya and Maha Seya.
Alms Hall (Dhana Salawa)
This is the place where daily alms were provided for the bhikkhus who resided in the Chetiya Pabbata Vihare. Similar architecture can be seen at the alms halls adjacent to the Anuradhapura Maha Vihare. A rice boat, porridge boat, a kitchen and stores have been identified. The use of a granite cistern to get water to the kitchen area is an unusual scene.
The Relic House has two slab inscriptions, the Mihintale Tablets, erected by King Mahinda IV (956-972 AD). The inscriptions provide information of the administration of the monastery at Mihintale, rules and regulations pertaining to the monk community, intervention of the State, wages and allowances of the employees of the vihare, and information regarding the work in the vihare, the Relic House and the monastic building. One inscription also states nothing belonging to the Relic House can be lent or sold.
After relics of Arahat Mahinda Thera were enshrined, a dagoba that was built on the peak of the Mihintale Mountain by King Upathissa, the younger brother of King Dewanampiyatissa, was identified as a cetiya, according to Mahavamsa. The Brahmi letters, seen on the bricks amongst the ruins, date back to BC centuries. According to these facts, this is one of the oldest dagobas in Sri Lanka.
This is the largest stupa on the summit of Mihintale. It is also called Mahatupa and Maha Cetiya. Maha Seya has been referred to as Ambulu Dagoba in the Pujavaliya. This was built by King Mahadhatika Mahanaga (7-19 AD). It is believed that the ‘Urnaromadhatu’ (the hair in the middle of the forehead of the Buddha) was enshrined here. There is also a devale in the middle of the two stupas.
The Great Stairway leads up to the Mihintale Mountain and consists of over 1,840 rock-cut steps. While some of the neat steps are carved into the rock, the rest are paved with cut granite. Towards the middle of the stairway you find the Mihintale Rock Inscription as shown below.
It lists the tanks, canals, villages, highlands and coconut lands donated for the use of the monks at the Mihintale Vihare. It also records the donations made for the maintenance of the images of Arahat Mahinda and Venerable Itthiya, Uttiya and Bhadrasala Theras. Just after passing the inscription, take a right turn to get to the top via the Naga Pokuna.
According to the Department of Archaeology, the Mahavamsa mentions a pond named Nagacatuska connected to the arrival of Arahat Mahinda in Sri Lanka. The chronicle records much later that King Aggabodhi I (575-608 AD) built a pond named Nagasondi. With this information one can assume that the natural pond known as Nagacatuska was converted to a man-made pond by King Aggabodhi. Filled with rain water, this pond supplied water to the Sinha Pokuna (Lion Pond), Alms Hall and for the daily needs of the monks.
In the north-east of the Ambasthale Dagoba there is a path that leads to a cave with a large flat stone. It is considered the place where Arahat Mahinda lived and the stone on which he rested is found.
Et Vehera Dagoba
At over 300 metres, this is the highest point of the Mihintale mountain range. The term Et Vehera means Inner Temple, and in Pali it is called the ‘Antho Vihara’. In an inscription found on a slab of stone near this stupa, a reference is made to a grant made by King Naga, identified as Maha Dathika Mahanaga (9-21 AD).
The name Cetiya Pabbata or ‘mountain of stupas’ may have been used due to the number of stupas built on the range of mountains at Mihintale. The image on the top shows the Et Vehera Dagoba. The image on the bottom shows the Maha Seya with the Naga Pokuna at the bottom of it.
Mihintale Raja Maha Vihara Vishrama Salawa
On the way to Mihintale, you will pass by this stupa built in the style of Sanchi in India.