Mihintale- The Cradle of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization
Flight of Steps
This is the highlight and the landmark of Mihintale. Exceptionally wide and stunned granite stone steps lead to the middle section of the terrace. There are 1840 steps in number up to the summit and the unique formation of these steps one can be climb slowly with complacent manner. According to the archeologists, these steps were especially designed for Buddhist monks who can walk slowly. There are beautiful Araliya or temple flower trees (Plumeria obtuse) with bunches of flowers in white color along the path of steps in both sides give an appealing, calm and peace of mind feeling.
Ancient Mihintale Hospital (Vejja sala)
Mihintale Ancient hospital is located at the foot of Mihintale Hill. The great chronicle “Mahavamsa” describes that King Sena II (853-887 AD)- 9th Century AD built this hospital in Mihintale Monastery complex. This is one of the best example for the advance health care system in ancient days. The hospital was very well similar to the modern hospitals. These hospitals were mainly used for the Buddhist monks and sometimes for the public too. According to the ground plan of this hospital, it is 118 ft in length and 96.6 in width. Main entrance to the east and there is a reception adjoining the entrance to register the patients.
On the left side of the entrance, you can see the store rooms, a kitchen and a large lobby area. This area was used for outdoor patients.
“Janthagara” (Steam Bath units) can be seen on the right side of the lobby. Steam bath was very popular among Buddhist monks as it was highly recommended for well being of the monks. Archeology excavations have found an inscription in the premises of the hospital and according to Mihintale slab inscription by King Mahinda IV (956-972 AD) – 10th Century AD, that there were two specialist doctors. One is called “Mandowwa Weda” – the Orthopedic Doctor and the other one is called “Phunda Weda”- The doctor who did treatments using leaches. The doctor in charge is called “Maha Wedana” and he was paid in gold and dry rations. According to the archeologists, they say there were 27 rooms with open doors used as wards and an image house of Buddha was in the middle of the warding rooms. The main reason of having a Buddha statue in middle of the hospital was to give the peace in mind of all well being. This set up is a perfect example for the concept of mind and body treatment of holistic approach of patient’s treatments in the Sri Lankan traditional health care system.
At the North east corner of the hospital, there is a medicinal trough (Beheth Oruwa) that was carved out of granite with the length of 7ft , the width of 2.6ft. The depth of the this medicinal trough is 2ft. This trough was filled with herbs, milk and oils. The treatments were used for snakebite and Rheumatic patients.
This stupa supposed to have a shelter and this style is called “Thupagara”. According to the Chronicle, this is the place where the historical meeting between Sri Lanka King- King Devanampiyatiss and Enlightened Mahinda Tera took place. This is a small stupa and you can see the granite pillars around the Stupa. The pillar capitals are flat and decorated with engraving of gnomes, lions and swans figures. The Diameter of the base of the stupa is 29 feet and constructed on a stone laid terrace and diameter of the stone laid terrace is 97 feet. During the ancient period, the area of Sela stupa was full of mango trees therefore the name of the stupa “Ambastala” was given. According to the great chronicle, “Mahawamsa” says that during period of King Kantittatissa (167 – 186 AD)- 2nd Century AD and King Gotabhaya (249-262 AD)- 3rd Century AD, the stupa was renovated.
Maha Saeya (The Great Stupa)
This is the largest stupa in Mihintale Monastery and built on a higher elevation of Mihintale Mountain which can be seen from faraway. According to the Mahawamsa Chronice, this stupa was built by the King Maha Dathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD) 1st Centaury AD. According to the folklore, The Buddhas clockwise hairy spiral formation between brows had been enshrined in the stupa. Still the square enclosure of the stupa is in original condition and the diameter of the Stupa is 136 Feet.
The Cave of Arahat Mahinda (Mihindu Guhava)
This holy cave can be found when someone proceed from Ambastala Stupa along the narrow path adjacent to the living quarters of monks, there you can see on the slope. This cave is known as “Mihindu Guhawa / The Cave of Englighetned Mihindu Thera”. According to the chronicles and folklore this is the place where he resided while staying in Mihintale. There are about 68 caves in Mihintale, this is the most famous and the most sacred cave to the Buddhists. Inside the cave you can see a highly polished floor due to constant use on which Mahinda Thera used to rest. From this cave, there is a panoramic view of the oldest declared sanctuary in the world- “Mihintale Sanctury” can be seen. You can see a beautiful frontispiece, lofty terraces and the dome.
Kanthaka Chethiya (Stupa)
This is a truncated stupa where you do not find the square enclosure, cylindrical shaft, spire and the crest gem. According to the archeological excavations, the ruins at present Kanthaka Chetiya, its considered as the well preserved Stupa in its original form. This stupa is believed to be built before 2nd Century BC. Before 1934, this mound was unidentified and named as “Kiribada Pawwa”. There is an inscription that was found near by Kanthaaka Chethiya which is belong to 1st Century AD recorded the stupa as “Kataka Ceta”. The great chronicle “Mahawamsa” has not mentioned about the builder of this stupa but it describes that King Saddatisa (137-119BC) and his son King Lanjitissa (119 -109 BC) did some renovations to the stupa. This happened in 2nd Century BC- 2100 years ago. According to the Mahawams Chronicle, King Lanjitissa (119-109 BC) made a mantle to the stupa with stone. The present height of the stupa is 40 Feet and on the four sides of this stupa, you can see four projective frontispieces which are unique architectural features called “Vahalkada”. It depicts the highly admired sculpture skills and architectural knowledge of the ancient sculptors and architects. The earliest form of the stone carvings, terra cotta figures and the oldest form of frontispieces with four animals depicts the four cardinal directions. Figures on the frontispiece and decorated steles are adorned with beautiful stone carvings such as flora creepers with peacocks, gnomes (Small mystical human figures) and elephants.
The refectory of Mihintale is located on the side of the middle courtyard after reaching via the flight of steps. The area of the refectory is 62 X 25 Feet. Refectory is the place where meals were served to Buddhist monks. According to the Chinese monk Fa- Hsein who was a student at Abhayagiriya Sect, he has mentioned that there were 2000 Buddhist monks were at Mihintale in 5th Century AD (1600 years old). The Western and the southern sides had been used as the kitchen and storage rooms. Amidst the kitchen area a gutter was placed on monolithic pillars to supply water to the kitchen. The water was supplied by using well planned underground conduits from Naga Pond which was located on a higher elevation. The hall of the refectory is situated to the North with a length of 45 Feet has been used as the dining hall. There are two stone troughs which were proximately placed to pile up rice or yams or gruel or vegetables. The larger trough was used mainly for rice. According to the archeologists, inner sides of troughs were covered with copper plates. The food had been served to the monks according to the seniority, but novice monks could collect the sick monk’s meals.
Kaludiya Pokuna (Black Water Pond)
This is one of the famous ponds in Mihintale and located to the north of “Rajagiri Lena” mountain. The meaning of Kaludiya Pokuna is “Black Water Pond. (Kalu = Black, Diya= Water, Pokuna= Pond) The name was derived from the fact that the water in the pond appears to be black in color because of the green hedge and aquatic plants. Therefore the dark color of the pond has been given the name “Black Water Pond”. In the premises, there found remnants of bathing units (cells), double flat formed meditation chambers, remains of monastic hermitages, urinals with stone carvings and rock caves for dwelling and rock inscriptions about donations.