Ata Seta Len (Sixty Eight Caves of Mihintale) – මිහින්තලේ අටසැට ලෙන්

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Mihintale monastery complex is covered with many sub units which the average traveller or the pilgrims are unaware of. 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”.

Mahavamsa, the The Great Chronical of Sri Lanka describes in chapter XVI (Turnour,1837, p.103) that Mahinda thero had spent 26 days in the Mahamevuna Park in the city, and returned to Mihintale. King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC) suspicious of why the maha thero had left the city travelled to Mihintale and asked why they had left the city park. Mahinda thero explained that they have returned to observe the “Vassa” and expounded to the king the ” vassûpanayika” (on the observance of “Vassa“). Having listened to this discourse “Maharittha“, the maternal nephew of the king along with 55 of his brothers were ordained as priests by the the Mahinda thero and reached the “Arhath” status. On the same day, the king Devanampiyatissa had undertaken to build sixty eight caves in the area enclosing the Kantaka Chethiya and return home. On a Esala full moon poya day, the king donated the caves to the Sangha and the sixty two arhaths observed the period of “Vas” on these caves.

According to Mahavamsa (Turnour,1837, pp.215-216) the king Kanirajanu Tissa (31-34 AD) who came to power by murdering his younger brother of Amanda-Gamini Abhaya (22-31 AD) had imprisoned sixty monks who continued to defy the new king in the Kanira cave of Chethiyagiri mountain (Mihintale). It is now believed that the Kanira Caves mentioned in the Mahavansa are the Ata Seta Len complex.

Early Brahmi inscriptions carved on the drip ledges of the caves confirms that these have been prepared for the use of Buddhist monks during the 3rd -2nd centuries before Christ.


  1. Turnour, G. (1837). The Mahavanso in Roman Charactors: Vol. 1. Containing the first thirty eight chapters. Cotta Church Mission. (Original work published by Mahanama in 5th Century)

Also See

Map of the Ata Seta Len complex at Mihintale

ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින් – Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map –

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 Ata Seta Len complex at Mihintale

Mihintale can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttalam (Puttalama) and though Kurunegala. Traveling from Puttalam 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 : Negombo – Chillaw – Puttalam
Distance :228 km
Travel time : 5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Central Expressway – Badagamuwa – Dambulla
Distance : 223 km
Travel time : 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 :232 km
Travel time : 5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Distance :12 km
Travel time : 30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map


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