Mihindu Seya of Mihintale Monastery – මිහිඳු මහා සෑය

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To the west of the Mahaseya at Mihintale are the remains of a smaller stupa identified as the one which king Uttiya, Devanampiyatissa’s successor built enshrining the relics of the great Sage Mahinda

Mihindu Seya

Mihindu Seya

It is interesting to recount here the re-discovery of this stupa in the words of the great scholar and archeologist Dr. Senarat Paranavitana himself who discovered that what appeared to have been a heap of debris was in fact a ruined dagoba. Paranavitana embarking on the excavation of this site writes that in 1951 the base of the stupa was completely cleared of debris revealing two flights of lime stone steps with wing walls of brick which gave access from the stone paved courtyard of the Mahaseya to the terrace on which this smaller stupa stood.

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.

This prized artifact according to Paranavitana was at the time it was found the oldest and most important specimen of ceramic art so far discovered in the Island.

In the upper compartment of this casket was a reliquary of thin gold foil, 1 ¼” in height and 1 9/16″ in diameter at the base made in the shape of a miniature stupa of the oldest type known in India or Ceylon. Inside the reliquary were found in addition to beads and trinkets, minute fragments of bone and a small quantity of ash.

In the other compartment was a miniature reliquary, in a shape of a stupa without chattra. In this too was found a small quantity of bone and ash. A number of amalaka – shaped beads, some made of crystal, others of carnelian, were also amongst the contents of this compartment.

According to Paranavitana, the type of stupa which the reliquary reproduced is the same as that exemplified by the earliest stupa known in India at Sanci. It is reasonable to assume that those who fashioned this reliquary reproduced the form of the stupa current in their times, which may therefore, be surmised as of the third or second century BC. This tallies in date with the early type of Brahmi letters incised on the bricks found in the debris. The original stupa and the reliquary may be taken as belonging to the same date, and the funerary remains found in the casket may have, therefore, been of a highly venerated personage of the time considered worthy of being honored by the erection of a stupa to enshrine his remains.

Further excavations revealed in the center of the mound a relic chamber. 6′ . square on plan and 3′ 6” in height with its walls constructed of neatly joined and well made bricks coated with plaster which had almost peeled away.

When the chamber was opened it was reported that most of the floor part was covered by an ant hill and a thin layer of fine earth covered most of the objects deposited therein and the objects had fallen down from the positions in which they were originally deposited. On each side of the chamber was a niche on the wall at the height of 9″ from the floor. The niche on the western side contained a bronze Buddha image with traces of gilding, 5 ¾ ” in height, seated in the dhayana mudra. It was said to be in an excellent state of preservation, and was counted amongst the most artistic Buddha images in metal. found in Sri Lanka. Two other images of the Buddha 2″ and 2 ½ ” in height, modeled out of some kind of paste and covered with gold foil was picked up from the floor, which evidently had been deposited in two of the other niches. However one of the four niches did not appear to have been occupied by a Buddha image.

Paranavitana says that the mysterious appeal of the number three to those who consecrated this relic chamber – as indicated by the triangular form given to the roof and the three images of the Buddhas – is repeated again in the three lamps also contained herein.

Placed in the middle of the floor of the chamber was a stone chattra. Here covered with an earthen bowl was a miniature stupa of terracotta, inside of which was a reliquary 5 ¾” in height in a shape of a miniature stupa with an elongated dome and conical spire. Its base was studded with peals, three rows to mark the three courses of molding at the pesa-valalu. It was documented that inside this reliquary was found, in addition to coral, pearls and other small objects a flower made of gold foil, and placed on this was a soldered tube of gold foil in which was the sacred object, the enshrining of which was the purpose of the elaborate arrangement of the chamber.

According to Paranavitarana the style of the Buddha images and the reliquary found in this chamber indicates a date in the 7th or 8th century. which presumably was also the date of the relic chamber.

Thus according to these archeological findings and expert deductions, this small stupa is said to have enshrined deposits of two different periods.

One separated from the other by about a millennium. It is believed that an original stupa, after having existed for some centuries crumbled down, probably due to natural causes and the casket that was originally deposited in it remained in the midst of the debris. In renovating the old stupa, the ruins of the early monument was encased in fresh brick work containing a new relic chamber.

Such is the hallowed story of a otherwise mound of bricks.

by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror

Also See

  • Mihintale – The cradle of Buddhism
  • Anuradhapura – The City of the God Kings
  • List of Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka

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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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