Sri Lanka: Mihintale – the legendary birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
A climb to the summit of a holy site near Anuradhapura to visit the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
It was during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (250 – 210 BC) that the Arahat Mahinda, son of the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka, led a group of missionaries from North India to Sri Lanka. He, along with his group of followers, settled in caves on the hill of Mihintale. The new religion swept over the land in a wave and the King donated land for a monastery in the heart of the city which was also his own Royal Park.
Black Water Pond
Before heading to the main site at Mihintale we stopped to visit the lovely Kaludiya Pokuna, a natural black water pool where the reflections of the surrounding forest and rocks provide a beautiful setting. As well as the natural wonders there are some ruins of a small monastery that sat on the banks of this that are interesting to meander through. This a great place to explore and spend a little time contemplating life.
Mihintale – the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Not too far (about 12.5km or 7.8 miles) from the ancient city is situated the “Missaka Pabbata” a 1,000 feet (300 m) peak that is known as Mihintale, the cradle of Buddhism, in modern lingo. At this place the belief that
According to Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, Thera Mahinda, a famed Buddhist monk and son of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, came to Sri Lanka from India on the full moon day of the month of Poson (June) and met King Devanampiyatissa. From here he preached the doctrine of Buddha and effectively launched the faith in Sri Lanka. No wonder this place is so revered by the Buddhist faithful in Sri Lanka. This meeting has a big impact on King Devanampiyatissa who subsequently renounced war and took it upon himself to spread the word of Buddha within his kingdom.
This is a large complex which housed a large number of monks over the centuries. At the base of the mountain, there are a number of ruins of what was once a hospital, a large circular stupa (Kantaka Cetiya Vaahalkada) and a spacious refectory.
The current day real action at Mihintale takes places at the top of the mountain. To get there you have to climb a series of steps. There are quite a few steps but they are deep and wide and in fairly good condition. Of course in the humidity of Sri Lanka, you’ll have worked up a sweat by the time you get to the top. Before entering the holy area at the summit you’ll need to drop your shoes off at the booth before heading in.
Ambasthala Dagaba, is a small stupa surrounded with stone pillars. The Stupa is believed to house the relics of the monk Mahinda. It is at this spot that it is said King Devanampiyatissa first met Arahant Mahinda.
This where the monk landed. According to legend he literally landed, transported through the air from India. As there were no helicopters in those days it is more likely that he climbed the rock. Today, its symbolism is not lost and pilgrims who come to Mihintale follow in the footsteps of Mahinda. We are not Buddhists but the draw of climbing these steps to the top of the rock was too tempting. The steps are very worn, almost non-existent and covered in sand – which makes them very slippery. There is a single railing to hold on to, but there is no one-way system, so those on the way up and on the way down have to share. I decided I didn’t fancy negotiating the crowd, but Karen, as usual, was game for the challenge. She got to the top – but did admit afterwards it was hairy – but the views at the top with the sun-setting were worth it.
To the side of the Ambasthala Dagoba is a flight of rock-carved steps leading to a large white Buddha statue. These steps are not a challenging as those to the top of Aradhana Gala but are slippery in a couple of places. But again worth climbing.
As if we were not done with climbing we still had to climb to the very summit of Mihintale Hill to reach the Maha Stupa. More steps but much better than the ones we had just done before! This a whopping Stupa, built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD). The base of this is 136 ft (41 m) in diameter. For many years this Stupa lay in disrepair but has been lovingly restored.
…. In summary
This was a magical place to visit, even if you are not a Buddhist. Sunset is a great time to go as the temperature is falling and if you are lucky you will get to see a spectacular sunset. I think I mentioned that there were a lot of steps, which in some places were sketchy, but if you felt able to negotiate these hazards the rewards were great.
Should definitely put this place on your itinerary if you are visiting the Anuradhapura area.