The sacred mountain of Mihintale lies just 12 kilometres away from Anuradhapura and is the site where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka. Mihintale in the Pali language means simply ‘Mahinda’s Peak’, denoting the location where Ven. Mahinda first met King Devanampiya Tissa in 247 BCE before converting him and his followers to Buddhism.
Part of a mountain range 300 metres high, it is now a sacred site for pilgrims with many stupas and other places of religious and historical significance.
The Kantaka Cetiya
Dating to around the 1st century BCE, this small stupa is located a short distance away from the main pilgrimage areas of Mihintale. It is decorated with carvings of elephant, geese and dwarfs. Monks lived in the nearby caves around the stupa.
The remains of this dining area for monks is almost 19 meters long and more than 7 metres wide. There was an elaborate drainage system with large stone rice troughs where monks collected their food before taking their meal elsewhere to eat.
The Great Staircase
A long 122 meter staircase with 1,840 steps leads to several monasteries and stupas, and eventually to the main terraces at the top of Mihintale. The steps are cut from granite, and nearby are the remains of an ancient hospital and medicinal baths meant for monks.
The Ambatthala Stupa
This small stupa is traditionally believed to mark the exact spot of the first meeting between Ven. Mahinda and King Devanampiya Tissa. It is also said to enshrine some of Ven. Mahinda’s ashes. Along its side is a stone with a symbol of the Buddha’s footprint. Nearby are some caves containing statues representing various scenes of the famous meeting.
The Mahaseya Stupa
Right at the summit of Mihintale is a huge bubble-shaped white stupa built in the 1st century CE. It is 44 metres high with a diameter of 41 metres, and relics of the Buddha are believed to be enshrined within it. Right next to this stupa is a much smaller one called the Mahinda Stupa, where some of his remains are enshrined.
Island of Light by T Y Lee