Mihintale – The Cradle of Buddhism – මිහින්තලාව

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Aradhana Gala (The rock of invitation) at Mihinthale
Aradhana Gala (The rock of invitation) at Mihinthale
Photo By : Kenta Adachi

In the 3rd century BC, area of Mihintale (mihinthalaya) was a thick jungle area inhibited by wild animals and was a hunting ground reserved for the royals. All this changed in 250 BC when the son of the Indian Emperor Asoka, Mahinda Maha Thero arrived at the Missaka Pauwa to meet king Devanampiyatissa for the first time and asked the famous questions to decide whether he is intelligent enough to understand the philosophy of the Buddha.

Initially Mahinda Maha Thero’s residence, but later Mihintale (mihinthalaya) became a main center for Theravada Buddhism and is considered the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and was developed throughout the millennia by many kings as massive monastic complex complete with hospitals for the sick bhikkhus.

Mihinthale is a collection of four mountains each about 1000 feet in height.

They are

  1. Mihinthalawa
  2. Ath Vehera mountain
  3. Anaikutti mountain
  4. Rajagiri Lena mountain

Mihinthalawa is the main mountain and where the Aradhana gala (The rock of invitation) and the main Mahaseya stupa is situated.

alternate names : mihinthalawa, Mihinthalaya, mihinthale

Most Commonly visited places in Mihintale

From the main carpark, pilgrims will pass the following main sites in Mihintale while walking up to the Aradhana Gala, the Rock of Invitation. Walking along the massive stone footsteps, you will arrive at the ‘Meda Maluwa’ , the middle courtyard.

Refectory or the Alms Hall

The Refectory of Mihintale Monastery

The Courtyard is situated to the left at the end of the third flight of steps just before reaching ‘Meda Maluwa’. To the left of the courtyard is the refectory. The quadrangle is 62 feet (19 m) in length and 25 ft (7.6 m) in breadth and is surrounded by the storeroom. Since a part of a pipe line has been discovered here, it can be concluded that a systematic and well planned pipe borne scheme was provided. Two stone troughs can be seen here, which would have been used to store food close to the refectory. [ … more information … ]


Dalada Ge (Relic House and the Inscription of King Mahinda IV)

Relic House and the Inscription of King Mahinda IV - 4වන මිහිඳු රජුගේ මිහින්තලේ පුවරු ලිපි

This building lie on the ‘Meda Maluwa’ it self. It is a large building made using large stone pillars. It is quite possible that this relic house had an upper storey as well. If that was so, it is quite reasonable to believe that the upper storey was a wooden structure and decayed with the passing of time. However, some of the stone columns have remained intact so far. Two massive slab inscriptions of king Mahinda IV (956 to 972 AD) stands on the side of the entrance. The rules and regulations pertaining to the administrative purposes of the monastery are engraved on these 2 stone slabs. [ … more information … ]


Assembly Hall

Sannipatha Shalawa

This building lie on the ‘Meda Maluwa‘ it self and on the right to the Relic House. An integral part of a Buddhist monastery is the Sannipatha Salawa or the Assembly Hall where the Bhikkhus of the monastery met to discuss matters of common interest pertaining to the rules of discipline administration. The stone slab at the center is where the most senior of the monks sat surrounded by the rest. The Hall is square in plan with a side about 62 feet in length. It had no enclosing walls or rooms attached to it. The roof was carried by symmetrically arranged stone pillars that still survive though now without the roof. [ … more information … ]


Sela Chaithya (Ambastala Dagoba)

Ambastala Dagoba at Mihitale

Climbing up the 1,840 steps of Mihintale, this is the first relic which comes to view once you reach the upper terrace of Mihintale Complex.  Ambastala Dagaba believed to be built by  by King Mahadatika Mahanaga (09-21 AC) on the exact place where the great Mahinda Thero met the King Devanampiyatissa. The ruins show that there has been a stupa house built encircling the stupa. The Dagaba itself is said to enshrine the relics of the great Apostle Mahinda. [ … more information … ]


The Cave of Arahat Mahinda (Mihindu Guhawa)

Cave of Arhat Mahinda - Mihindu Guhawa

When proceeding from Ambastala dagaba along the narrow road to the left, on the slope is the cave known as Mihindu Guhawa or the cave of Arahant Mahinda, where he resided. Out of the caves the most famous and incidentally the most sacred to Buddhists is this cave. where the place where the great Arahat sat and meditated is one of he most interesting sites on this monastic complex. This rock shelter with a stunning view, has his seat is carved into the rock. with its flattened slab is where Thera Mahinda meditated. [ … more information … ]


Maha Seya of Mihintale

Mihintale Mahaseya

To the right of Ambastala Dagoba, this large stupa known as the Maha Seya is on the summit of the Mihintale hill, built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD) the base of which is 136 ft (41 m) in diameter. The stupa which was in a dilapidated condition has been completely restored. According to popular belief, the urna roma of the Buddha is enshrined in this stupa. The thirteenth century Sinhalese literary work Pujavaliya and the slab inscription of Mahinda. IV at Mihintale refer to this stupa as Ambulu dagaba. [ … more information … ]


Mihindu Seya

Mihindu Seya

To the west of the Mahaseya at Mihintale are the remains of a smaller stupa identified as the one which king Uttiya , Devanampiyatissa’s (250-210 BC) successor built enshrining the relics of the great Mahinda thero. In the process of the excavations, amongst the fragments of brick which form the core of the stupa was found a relic casket. It was of polished black earthenware which he says was of a type hitherto unknown in Sri Lanka or in India. The casket is cylindrical in shape, 5 3/8″ in height and 2 7/8″ in diameter at the base. It is formed of three pieces fitting one to the other, the uppermost to serve as the lid and the other two forming two separate compartments. [ … more information … ]


Aradhana Gala (The Rock of Invitation)

Aradhana Gala (The rock of invitation) at Mihinthale

Straight past Ambastala Dagoba lies the icon of Mihintale, the Rock of Invitation. In the ancient books such as the Mahavamsa it is written that Mahinda came to Sri Lanka by travelling through the air. He along with his companions came down and landed on the top of the Aradhana Gala where he met King Devanampiyatissa for the first time. Even during very windy weather pilgrims do not fail to visit this rock, which has iron railings to help them to climb. [ … more information … ]



Other more interesting sites of Mihintale Monastery

Although all pilgrims take the above route visitng the most common placed, this is a massive monastic complex with interesting ruins lying off the beaten track where few would bother to visit. These site are briefly described below with a link to a detail description.

Eth Vehera

Eth Vehera Stupa in Mihintale Monastery - ඇත් වෙහෙර

Out if the 4 peaks of Mihintale, Eth Vehera is the highest peak and provides the best vantage point to view the surrounding area. The hike to Eth Vehera peak starts from the ‘Meda Maluwa‘ of Mihintale through a narrow stairway and winds through jungle and edge of the mountain giving a fascinating view of other peaks and a aerial view of the Maha Stupa. This is a little more strenuous but a rewarding trek compared to the climb to top of Maha stupa and the path only roughly paved with stones. The distance from Meda Maluwa to the peak is about 700 meters in distance and a climb of about 125 meters and from the bottom of Mihintale, you would travel about 1 km and climb about 180 meters.

At the top of this hill is a restored stupa by the same name. This ruined rick built stupa on the summit is comparatively small, the diameter at its base being about 27 meters. History does not seem to record the origin of this stupa or the person responsible for erecting it.  [ … more information … ]


Kantaka Chethiya

Kantaka Chethiya at Mihintale - කන්ථක චෛත්‍යය

Kantaka Cetiya is a circular stupa having a base circumference of about 425 feet. It has three stepped rims. It has four frontispieces in the four cardinal directions. The frontispiece is called Vahalkada. All the Vahalkadas are decorated with sculptures of dwarfs, animals, human, divine figures and floral motifs.

Vahalkada is a special architectural feature which are four projective front pieces on the four sides of the stupa. The southern vahalkada is the best preserved. This gives a excellent example of the design of vahalkada at the very early periods. The band of ‘Ghana’ figures on top the structure take special place in most buddhist buildings. They are also called ‘Vamana’ figures or ‘Bahirawa’ figures. They are sort of mythical dwarfs in various amusing positions.

It is unknown who built this stupa but it is said that the King Lanjatissa (119-109 BC) has built a stone mantel for this stupa. Therefore we can assume that the stupa was built prior to 119 BC. [ … more information … ]


Ancient Hospital Complex

Hospital Complex of Mihintale - වෙද සල

Between the old Jaffna road and the Archeology Museum of Mihintale, lies the Hospital Complex of the ancient Mihintale Monastery. It was reported by Chinese Mahayana Buddhist priest “Fa- Hsien” who visited the cave in the 5th century that Mihintale was home to over 2000 Buddhist monks at that time. To support that number of monks, Mihintale should have been a complete monastery with all facilities for the resident monks.

The complete Veda Sala or the hospital complex is one of these support facilities which can be still seen today. The ruins of the present hospital is attributed to King Sena II (853-887 AD). But it is believed that there was a hospital at Mihintale long before this building. The inner Chamber of the hospital is centered around a Buddha Shrine. [ … more information … ]


Maninaga Mandiraya

Maninaga Mandiraya

This is a ruined complex which lies at the base of the main stairs in Mihintale. Five rectangular buildings are are enclosed within a large wall. At the center is a square building which is presumed to be a image house. On the four corners are ruins of four buildings at equidistance from the center building. These are thought to be living quarters of the monks. The positioning of the buildings are similar to the panchavasa architecture where 5 buildings are built as a cluster. All pilgrims pass this monastery but really stop and turn to visit these ruins. You can see stone carved Nagaraja Guard Stones, Balustrades and moonstones among the conserved ruins.


Singha Pokuna (Lion Pond)

Sinha Pokuna (Lion Pond) at Mihinthale
Sinha Pokuna (Lion Pond) at Mihinthale

There are 3 well designed stone ponds which had been used by the meditating bikkus in Mihinthale. They are Naga Pokuna (The Cobra Pond), Sinha Pokuna (Lion Pond) and the Kaludiya Pokuna (a pond with dark coloured water). The first two lie close the the main ruins and Kaludiya Pokuna little away and a monastery itself.

though it is called a pond, it is more a water rail. It is an open air bath which was probably used by the monks who were living in the caves of the neighborhood. It is called a pond because of the water tank above the figure of the standing lion from whose mouth the water comes out. Half of it is cut out of the natural rock and the other half is constructed of monolithic blocks to form a square pond.

The two meter high raging lion has been classed as one of the best animal carvings of ancient Lanka. [ … more information … ]


Pothgula (Ancient Library Complex)

This building structure known as the “Pothgula” (Library) in Mihintale Monastery is a rather hidden and unknow structure. Remains of this ancient building lies on a terrace above Singha Pokuna pond. This building can be easily identified with its massive granite door frame majestically standing in front. There is not much information of this building.


Naga Pokuna (Cobra Pond)

Naga Pokuna of Mihintale - නාග පොකුණ

Naga pokuna boasts of one of the main sources of natural water at Mihintale. It is situated on an elevated plateau on the side of a hill just below the Maha Thupa and Mihindu Seya. Naga pokuna literally translated as Cobra pond takes its name from the five hooded cobra cut in low relief on the rock surface above the pond. The tail of this cobra sculpture is said to reach the bottom of the pond.

It was connected in one hand with the Sinha pokuna or the Pond of the lion and on the other with the Bat-ge or Refectory by means of channels and spouts made of stone. The spouts on pillars at the Bat-ge site can still be seen. As such the water required for bathing at the Sinha pokuna and the water required for the alms hall was supplied by the Naga pokuna. [ … more information … ]


Ata Seta Len (Sixty Eight Caves of Mihintale)

Ata Seta Len (Sixty Eight Caves of Mihintale)

Traveling few meters past the Lions Pond (Singha Pokuna) on the old road, you will come across a massive rocky outcrop on the right. The cluster of caves which has been built using these rock shelters are collectively called “Ata Seta Len” or the “Sixty Eight Caves”.

On advise of Mihindu Maha Thero, king Devamapiyatissa has built these 68 caves for the priests in Mihintale 250 years before the birth of Christ. Early Brahmi inscriptions carved on the drip ledges of the caves confirms that these have been prepared for the use of Buddhist monks in the pre Christian era. It is said that this was place of learning for the monks.


Indikatu Seya Monastery

Indikatu Seya Complex at Mihintale

Some of the best ruins of Mihintale is found along the A9 (Jaffana – Kandy Road). From the Mihintale Junction, turning in to A9 towards Kandy, you will come across ruins of the Indikatu Seya Monastery. A stone parapet encloses the monastic establishment identified as the Indikatu Seya. The complex includes two stupas the larger being known as the Indikatu Seya. The stupa here has basal terraces that differs from the other stupas of Mihintale. The stupa is 20 feet in circumference. The 6 foot high platform on which it is built depicts Mahayana structural features constructed during 8-9th centuries. [ … more information … ]


Katu Seya Stupa

Katu Seya Monastery Complex at Mihintale - මිහින්තලේ කටු සෑය ආරාමය

The Katu Seya is the second stupa found belonging to this Indikatu Seya Monastery. It lies about 115 meters passing Indikatu Seya stupa along the A9 road. According the legend the smithy instruments and tools used in the construction of Mihintale Monastery is enshrined in this stupa. This has been identified as the “Katu Seya” mentioned in the slab inscription of Mihindu IV (956-972 AD). It mentions that the land offered to this chethiya must be managed by the officers who took cared of Eth Vehera (another stupa of Mihintale complex). However the initial builder of this stupa is not known.

In an excavation conducted in early 19th century of the area around the stupa, copper plates with inscriptions of Mahayana Suthra verses in Sanskrit and Sinhala written between 8th and 9th centuries had been discovered. According the Archaeology Department, evidence gleaned from the architectural features of the stupa centered monastic complex of the Mahayana tradition has established that this it belongs to the Anuradhapura period. [ … more information … ]


Kaludiya Pokuna Monastery

Kaludiya Pokuna (Blackwater Pool) of Mihintale

This large monastry built centered around a large pond known as “Kaludiya Pokuna” lies 500 meters passing Katu Seya stupa on the A9 road. Situated at the foot of the western slopes of Mihintale it is the largest of the three ponds. Most experts believe that Kaludiya pokuna may probably be the ancient Porodini Pokuna mentioned in the slab inscriptions of Mahinda IV found at the Dalada Ge of Mihintale.

Kalu-diya pokuna, literally translated means the black water pool. It is said that the name evolved out of respect to the sombre reflections of trees and boulders of the neighboring forests and mountains, and is true to its description at most times of the day.

The complex of well planned buildings around the pond is witness to an advanced hydraulic civilization with artificial moats running through some of the buildings; the bath houses, the toilets within the buildings. [ … more information … ]


Rajagiri Kanda Caves

Rajagiri Kanda of Mihintale - රජගිරි කන්ද

Opposite the turn off to the Kaludiya Pokuna on A9 road, another gravel road is seen traversing in opposite direction towards the Jungle. Traveling 250 meters on this unmarked path leads you to the rocky hill of Rajagiri Kanda and the ruins of the monastery built surrounding the caves of this hill.

In this area are found rock caves which have been occupied by monks of great virtue and wisdom from time to time. A number of cave inscriptions belonging to the earliest periods of Buddhist era have been found on the drip ledges of these caves.

A short climb up a flight of rock cut steps under an avenue of profusely flowering white araliya trees leads to its summit where nestles the Rajagiri lena. The cave comprising of many compartments, appears to have once included a shrine. [ … more information … ]

All the Places of Archeological Interest in Mihintale

Map of Mihinlale

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

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Driving Directions to Mihintale

Mihinthalawa can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttlam (Puttalama) and though Kurunegala. Traveling from Puttlam you will pass scenic Wilpattu area. the From Kurunegala there are two main routes to Mihintale. The most common route is through Dambulla. The other route is though Galgamuwa. Out of all the routes, the commonly used is the Kurunegala – Dambulla route (Route 2).

Route 01 from Colombo to Mihintale (A3) Route 02 from Colombo to Mihintale
Though : Negambo – Chillaw – Puthlam
distance from colombo :211 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Dambulla
distance from Colombo : 213 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps
Route 03 from Colombo to Mihintale Route from Anuradhapura to Mihintale
Though : Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
distance from colombo :220 km
Travel time : 3.45 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
distance from colombo :15 km
Travel time : 40 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map
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