A global centre for Theravada Buddhism, the story of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist origins is quite literally carved in to the Mihintale rock. Dubbed Sagiri or Cetiyagiri the Mihintale Mountain is a 300 meter high peak of a vast mountain range located 8 miles from Anuradhapura. Renowned as the cradle of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heritage, legend states that Mahinda Thero descended on this very mountain to spread the word of Lord Buddha and introduced this island nation to Buddhism. It was a chance encounter with then monarch King Devanampiyatissa and his subsequent conversion to the Buddhist faith that converted Sri Lanka in to a predominantly Buddhist country. The king went on to construct 68 cave dwellings and other basic facilities for monks in a vast monastery on a rock among the clouds.
Laden with innumerable ancient structure the highlights at Mihintale are varied and many. These include the ruins of an expansive monastery with exquisite carvings, guard stones and stone railings. An impressive 1840 granite steps lead up to the summit of the mountain where the Kantaka Cetiya is found on the first terrace. Built by King Suratissa in the 1st century B.C the stupa is 40 feet tall with a 425 foot circumference. The exquisitely preserved four projective Vahalkadas are especially stunning with carvings of peacocks, elephants, Bahirawas and monkey heads. South of the stupa lies proto-Brahami inscription from Vesagiriya Monastery while other stone tablet inscriptions at Mihintale include 2 massive slabs of granite dubbed the Mihintale stone inscriptions.
The Medamaluwa monastery located in the middle terrace of the mountain contains a chapter house, alms house and a Lion Pool which does not go dry even in the height of a drought. The Naga Pokuna or snake pool is another curious pond that is guarded by a five headed cobra carving that had been cut right in to the rock out of which the pond has been heaved. The cave of Arahat Mahinda is another point of interest along the path as it is the most renowned cave among the 64 cave dwellings built for the use of monks.
At the summit of the hill one finds the bubble shaped Mihintale Mahaseya Stupa which was built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga. A whopping 45 feet in height and 136 feet in width, the stupa is believed to contain relics of Lord Buddha within its central core.
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