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Home > Heritage > Mihinthale


In the 3rd century BC, area of Mihinthalawa was a thick jungle area inhibited by wild animals and was a hunting ground reserved for the royals. All this changed in 250 BC when the son of the Indian Emperor Asoka, Mahinda Maha Thero arrived at the Missaka Pauwa to meet king Devamnampiyatissa for the first time and asked the famous questions to decide whether he is intelligent enough to understand the philosophy of the Buddha. Initially Mahinda Maha Thero’s residence, but later Mihinthale became a main centre for Theravada Buddhism.

Mihinthale is a collection of four mountains each about 1000 feet in height. They are

  1. Mihinthalawa
  2. Ath Vehera mountain
  3. Anaikutti mountain
  4. Rajagiri Lena mountain

Mihinthalawa is the main mountain and where the Aradhana gala (The rock of invitation) and the main Mahaseya stupa is situated.


Places of archeological interest in Mihinthale

Sila Stupa and the Vatadage –

Sila Stupa
Sila Stupa

The first monument you see when you enter the upper level of the mihinthale mountain. Thought to be built iin the pre Christian Era, the location is said to be the place the Buddha himself rested and meditated on his 3rd visit to the Island. The vatadage is a later addition in the 2nd centaury AC.

Aradhana Gala (The rock of invitation)–

Aradhana Gala
Aradhana Gala

This is located at the top of the Mihinthale mountain. This is said to be the rock where Mahinda Thero stood with his disciples and spoke to king Devamnampiyatissa who was chasing after a deer at the bottom of the mountain. Others believe that Sumana Samanera (novice monk) got on to the top of this rock and invited the deities and gods of the heavens above to listen to the sermon of the Mahinda Maha Thero.


Mihindu Guhava ( Cave of Mahinda Maha Thero) –

After passing Sila Stupa you can reach this cave formation. This cave is open from both sides. This is said to be the location where Mahinda Thero rested and meditated.


Mihinthale Mahaseya Stupa–

Mihinthale Maha seya Stupa
Mihinthalawa Maha Seya
source :

This is the biggest stupa in the Mihinthale. This bubbled shaped stupa located at the top of the Mihinthale mountain is built by king Mahadathika Mahanaga (9-21 AC). It is believed that the “urna-roma” of the Buddha is enshrined in the stupa. This stupa was found destroyed and vandalised by treasure hunters in 1890 and after several attempts, the restoration was completed few years back. This stupa is 45 feet high and has diameter of 136 feet. (more)

Kantaka Chethiya -

Kantaka Chethiya as at today
Kantaka Chethiya as at today
source :

Kantaka Chethiya was renovated in 1930's to the current status. When this stupa was discovered, it has been a just a mound of earth covered by various debris. This has been known as the Kiribadapavu Dagaba, Kiribat Vehera, or Giribhanda during this time. But a stone inscription found close by has identified the original name of this stupa as Kantaka Chethiya. It is unknown who built this stupa but it is said that the King Lanjatissa (119-109 BC) has built a stone mantel built for this stupa. Therefore we can assume that the stupa was built prior to 119 BC. The present stupa is 425 feet in diameter and is about 40 feet high.

Kantaka Chethiya vahalkada
source :

This stupa is most popular for one of the most well preserved vahalkada which can be seen today. Vahalkada is a special architectural feature which are four projective front pieces on the four sides of the stupa. The southern vahalkada is the best preserved. This gives a excellent example of the design of vahalkada at the very early periods. The band of 'Ghana' figures on top the structure take special place in most buddhist buildings. They are also called 'Vamana' figures or 'Bahirawa' figures. They are sort of mythical dwarfs in various amusing positions. In this structure on has a horse head, another bear head, another monkey head, and some are standing on the head. They also carry various musical instruments in their hands. The most significant Ghana figure here is the one with the elephant head who carry no musical instrument. Historian Professor Paranawithana believes that this is the very first form of the God Ghana, a very popular god in Hinduism. This god is now represented by a elephant head and 4 arms.

The paintings on the southern vahalkada also takes a special place in the Sri Lankan History. Except for Sigiriya Frescos, Mihinthale is one of the very few places that frescos belonging to earliest periods can be seen. One such set of paintings was found inside the relic chamber of Giribanda Stupa which is now in the Mihinthale Museum. The other is the paintings on the southern vahalkada. These are painting of lions but most of them has been faded away. Primarily red and yellow colours has been used for these paintings.


Eth Vehera

Eth Vehera - Mihanthalawa
Eth Vehera
source :

Eth Vehera is situated at the heighest point of the Mihinthale Mountain Range. Although this mountain is called the Eth Vehera Mountain, this is not the original name of the mountain or the stupa. A stone inscription refers to the stupa as Kiriband pau dagaba. Although generally interpreted as 'Stupa of the elephant' ( Eth = Elephant) it is said that Eth should be interpreted as 'inner'. This indicate that this is part of the inner temple. The origin of the stupa is unknown but a inscription refers to a grant to the vihara by King Mahadathika Mahanaga (9-21 AC) which indicate that the stupa must have been built in the pre christian era.

The stupa can be reached by climbing some 600 steps from the Naga Pokuna on the Eth Pokuna Mountain. You can have a breathtaking view of the whole mihinthale complex including Maha Seya and the Aradhana Gala while traveling on this path.


Veda sala ( Hospital Complex)

Mihinthalawa Veda Sala - A medicinal trout at the Hospital Complex
A medicinal trout at the Hospital Complex
source :

It was reported by Chinese mahayana buddhist priest "Fa- Hsien" who visited the cave in the 5th century that Mihinthalawa was home to over 2000 Buddhist monks at that time. To support that number of monks, Mihinthalawa should have been a complete monastery with all facilities for the resident monks. The complete Veda Sala or the hospital complex is one of these support facilities which can be still seen today.

The Hospital Complex
source :

The ruins of the present hospital is attributed to King Sena II (853-887 AD). But it is believed that there was a hospital at Mihinthalawa long before this building. The inner Chamber of the hospital is centred around a Buddha Shrine. Around it are the rooms for the patients. Each room entrance face the shrine and is about 10x10 feet in size. The corners have larger rooms and the medicinal trough is on the North-Eastern eastern room.

The southern side of the building is the outer court which contain the hot water and steam bath, a clinic, a medicine stores, the refectory and a grinding stone for grinding medicine.


Kaludiya Pokuna -

The gently ascending pathway leading up to the porched entrance of the Kaludiya Pokuna complex curve through boulders, granite and brick paving, under a canopy of shaded trees.

Kaludiya pokuna, or the black water pool is said have taken its name from the sombre reflections of trees and boulders in the surrounding jungle. This pond is the largest of the ponds at Mihintale. Some believe that it may probably be the ancient Porodini Pokuna mentioned in the Mihintale tablets of Mahinda IV. Around the pond are the remains of an aramaya consisting of bathing houses, meditation halls and walled caves and two dagobas.

At the southern end are terraces at different levels with wistful flights of stairways to no whereas it seems today. All boulders have been utilized in and incorporated into the layout of the complex a technique recognized as a special characteristic of ancient landscaping of sites.Of this site H.C.P. Bell says that “a more perfect sanctuary for the sons of Buddha could not be found anywhere throughout the length and breadth of Ceylon” (more..) . (Kishanie S. Fernando)

Rajagiri Kanda -

Source : Sunday Observer

Rising prominently above the surrounding plains are the unusually bald boulders of the Rajagiri Kanda or the mountain of the kings. This is accessible from the road almost directly in front of the entrance to the Kaludiya pokuna complex.

In this area are found rock caves “which have been occupied by monks of great virtue and wisdom from time to time” A number of cave inscriptions belonging to the earliest periods of Buddhist era have been found on the brows of these caves..

A short climb up a flight of rock cut steps under an avenue of profusely flowering white araliya trees leads to its summit where nestles the Rajagiri lena. The cave comprising of many compartments, appears to have once included a shrine.

Bell who examined these caves described them thus: “A better hermitage for Buddhist monks could hardly be selected than these airy caverns. They provided every facility for a quiet retreat: within 8 miles of the Anuradhapura shrines, and adjacent yet wholly distinct from the monasteries at Mihintale and Anai-kutti kanda, they command from their peaceful secluded elevation an unimpaired restful view across many miles of dark green forest and silvery tanks”. (Kishanie S. Fernando)

Indikatu seya complex

A stone parapet encloses the monastic establishment identified as the Indikatu Seya monastery. The complex includes two stupas the larger being known as the Indikatuseya. The stupa here has basal terraces that differs from the other stupas of Mihintale.

Amongst the ruins of the building and walk ways are found some charming guard stones, and granite full pots standing on pillars on either side of the entrances. (Kishanie S. Fernando)

The Relic House and the Inscription of King Mahinda IV

There are the ruins of a Vihara to the right adjoining the Alms Hall and situated on higher ground. This is called Dage in Sinhalese meaning a relic house.

The inscription of King Mahinda IV belonging to the tenth century is installed on the two sides of the entrance to this Vihara.

The relic house is a square building.

It is quite possible that this relic house had an upper storey as well. If that was so, it is quite reasonable to believe that the upper storey was a wooden structure and decayed with the passing of time. However, some of the stone columns have remained intact so far.

The ground floor may have been put to use as an image house and the upper storey for the safe keeping of the Buddha relics. The domical shaped small Stupas on the four sides of the relic house bring glamour to this place.

It is also quite evident from the inscription of King Mahinda that this relic house had enjoyed a certain prestige in the tenth century.

The inscription in two parts to be seen on the two sides of the relic house was by King Siri Sangboy Abahay, now identified as Mahinda IV who ruled the country from 956 to 972 A.D.

The first part of the inscription sets with rules and regulations of the monastery, the contents of which are similar to those in the Jetavanarama Sanskrit inscription. The second part deals with the emoluments of the servants.

It is quite clear from this part of the inscription that no service whatever was accepted without paying for it either in money or in the form of grants of land or foodstuff.

Like many of the old stupas this too collapsed and was covered by the jungle. It was cleared and the debris removed during the early part of 1951 when the Archaeological Department took charge of the excavations. The terrace on which the Stupa stood was on ground raised about 10 feet above ground level. The diameter of the stupa is 88 feet.

Excavations into the heart of the mould revealed that vandals of earlier periods had ransacked this monument. These treasure hunters had robbed the dagaba of the objects contained in it and also destroyed works of ancient art. The vandals have only left a rosette of gold foil.

The walls of the chambers or Dhatu-garbha were covered with paintings but these have been destroyed owing to the chamber being exposed to the elements after the refilling of the Stupa. The sides have fallen down and of the numerous life size, painted figures which adorned the walls of the chamber, only the portions below the knee are now visible. Remains of 28 figures were clearly recognizable.

Clearing the pit dug by the treasure hunters, a stone slab with the lower chamber at a depth of about 8 feet from the upper floor was discovered. In the centre of the chamber was a Mahameru stone. A slab with three circular holes was also found. Cylindrical pieces of stone found in the debris fit into the holes.

It is therefore, evident that the model Mahameru in this chamber rested on three props just as the mythical Mahameru is believed to rest on three peaks called Trikuta. The walls were painted. The paintings depict divine beings among clouds.

The figures have been sketched in outline only, red and black being the pigments used, but are of high artistic quality indicating that the artist possessed skill in draughtsmanship a suitable sense of form and an understanding of the principle of balanced composition.

The relic chamber was in the centre of the dome of a Stupa, on the level of the top of the basal terrace or of the uppermost of the basal terrace of the Stupa which had three of these adjuncts. In some large Stupas a relic chamber was found at ground level and another below that too.

That at the ground level symbolized the earth, the one above it the heavenly world and that below ground the subterranean world of the serpents. The Stupa therefore, symbolized the Cosmos. The middle chamber with their paintings can be seen at the Archaeological Museum at Mihintale.

The flight of steps leads from the terrace of the Assembly Hall to the Ambastala plateau. Each step is about 28 feet long. The height is 6 inches. The width is 11 inches. At Ambastala or the plain of the mango trees is the living quarters of the residing Bhikkhus at Mihintale today.

In one corner is a Stupa with stone pillars. On the right hand side is an old Bodhi tree. The rock beyond that point is called the Aradhana gala or the invitation rock.

Mahinda Mahathera is supposed to have addressed King Devanampiyatissa from the top of this rock. On the rock that is to your south is the great Stupa or the Maha Saya and the adjoining Mihindu Saya. source :

The Assembly hall

An integral part of the Buddhist monastery was the Sannipata sala or the Assembly hall where the monks met to discuss matters of common interest . The elevated seat in the middle of the hall was for the most senior monk under whose guidance the proceedings were discussed.

The hall is square and is said not to have had enclosing walls or rooms attached to it. The roof rested on stone pillars that can be seen even today. The hall has access from all four sides.

The Refectory

The remains of the Bath ge or the dana sala or the refectory of the monks of the monastery.The building is rectangular with a central courtyard open to the sky and paved with granite slabs.

The two large stone canoes of different sizes referred to as the Bath oruwa or the rice boat and the kenda oruwa or the gruel boat.

It is believed that these troughs were once inlaid with a layer of metal. The Refectory was equipped with water cisterns and covered drains.

Interestingly the Mihintale Tablets refer to the many servants working in the refectory and their duties and allowances.

They include the bath ge ledi or the warden of the refectory, Sala jetak, the head of the servants, Pisana salayin dolos janak twelve servants that did the cooking, Dar nanga bath pack salayak, the servant who procures firewood and cooks food, ni pise dar nengu salayak, the servants who bring firewood but does not cook, negu dare bath pack salayak the servant who only cooks on firewood fetched by others.



Photos before restoration from


The Ambustale dagaba, Mihintale

Granite Steps, Mihintale

Granite Steps, Mihintale

Granite Steps, Mihintale


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Updated August 23, 2007
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