The glittering history of Mihintale

by Rupa Banduwardena, Lanka Daily News, May 31, 2007

MIHINTALE, Sri Lanka -- The year 247 BC marks the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Arhant Mahinda led the Buddhist mission to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa.

It is said that Buddhism spread rapidly influencing the lives of the people creating a civilization unheard before leaving behind a number of legacies. Arhant Mahinda resided in the caves the mountain east of Anuradhapura, the capital of the first generation of kings and it came to be known as Mihintale, resting among the misty hills is undoubtedly the most important and remarkable historic place in the island.

It occupies a unique place in the religious history of the island. The glittering history of Mihintale begins there.

The King Devanampiyatissa the ruling king engaged in hunting was chasing a deer when Arhant Mahinda addressed him by the name and in the course of the conversation with the astonished king, he tested the king’s capacity to understand the truth of Buddhism and preached to him the ‘Chullahaththipadopama Sutta.’

The King accepted Buddhism followed by the people at large, for the benefit of the mankind. The king donated the Mahameghawanna gardens to Arhant Mahinda where Mahavihara, the centre of Buddhism (Theravada doctrine) was later constructed.

What we call Mihintale today was known as Missakapabbata or Chetiyapabhata. It was here that the king was converted to Buddhism. This well-renowned place was marked by Ambatale dagaba which is said to have been constructed by king Mahanaga.

A flight of 1840 steps lead to the summit of the hill. Mihintale had gradually developed into a vihara of great significance. There had been many caves occupied by the monks, the most sacred being the Mihindu Guhawa, named after Arhant Mahinda where he is said to have lived.

Mihintale was also identified as ‘chetiyagiri’ consisting of three peaks with dagabas in each peak, the most famous being the Kantaka Chetiya. The king Devanampiyatissa is said to have built a monastery for the monks to mark his conversion. There had been a hospital at the foot of the mountain with a stone canoe where patients had been treated with medicinal oil.

A number of ponds (pokuna) the most renowned being the Nagapokuna and Kaludiyapokuna provided water as well as scenic beauty to the place. There is documentary evidence of all these places in Mahavamsa well supported by archaeological ruins.

Besides the spiritual message the archaeological remains are a glowing tribute to the cultural development prevalent at the time. Various kings had renovated and maintained the sacred place at different times. The fact that the kings revered respected and gave all encouragement and support to the religion contributed in no small measure to the spread of Buddhism.

The greatest philosophy embodied in Buddhism conveyed through the message of Ven. Thera Mahinda thus guided the kings and the people. It was at Mihintale that the greatest single and the most glorious event in Sri Lanka’s history took place.

The karuna and maitriya that the Buddhism emphasises has much to do with life today than any other period. Let us protect this supreme doctrine to usher peace. Today Mihintale where this true doctrine organised in Sri Lanka has become the most visited sacred place during the month of Poson. Sri Lankans - Do visit this sacred place of bliss.