While Mihintale is popularly known as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, whether you are a Buddhist or not, it is still very worthwhile to visit this beautiful civilization. You can explore a range of beautiful shrines, stupas and caves spread across hills and observe how the place is always busy with white-robed pilgrims.
Why is Mihintale referred to as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka?
The literal meaning of Mihintale is “Mahinda’s Hill” – marking the spot where Indian missionary Mahinda met King Devanampiyatissa and converted Him in 247 BC. Buddhism was then firmly embraced by the people of Sri Lanka, making Sinhala Buddhists the prominent state religion in the country.
Where is Mihintale?
The Mihintale Buddhist Civilization is preserved on a mountain, located 15kms east of Anuradhapura – the oldest city in Sri Lanka. In the north-central province, within the diameters of the cultural triangle, Mihintale is about 220kms from Colombo and will take about 4.5 hours to get there by car. Rail and bus options are also available where you could get a direct ride to Anuradhapura and from there, you’d have to change vehicles to get to Mihintale.
What is the best time to climb Mihintale?
The best time to climb Mihintale is in the early morning or late evening – as the sun will not bother you during these hours. Going up takes about 20-30 minutes and you need to allocate some time to explore the ruins on your way to the top. Also, Mihintale offers a gorgeous sunset so you could time your climb accordingly. As for seasons, the geographical location of Mihintale is in the dry zone and does not experience much rainfall hence it is safe to say that anytime of the year is a good time to visit Mihintale.
What can you see and experience at Mihintale?
The Hospital – Vejja Sala
At the base of Mihintale you will find the ruins of a hospital built during the 3rd century AD. In addition to remnants such as walls and pillars, there are also some monolithic stone baths that were probably used to treat the patients. With a commendable structure, these baths were cut out from a single rock and had a gripping sculptural quality so as to immerse the human body while also ensuring precious herbal oils are not wasted.
Stupas – Ambasthala Dagoba (Mango Tree Stupa)
Climbing through three flights of narrow and steep stairs, you will reach a spiritual ascent that marks the place where King Devanampiyatissa was surprised by Mahinda midway through a hunt. The Ambasthala Stupa is said to be built on the exact spot where Mahinda stood. And a small distance away, there is a statue of the King. From the rock above, a large seated statue of Buddha looks down on the Ambasthala Dagoba.
Mahinda’s Bed – Mihindu Guha
From the Mango Tree Stupa, there are steep steps that take you to the Rock of Convocation – which is where Mahinda’s first sermon was preached. There is a small woodland pathway that you have to walk through to get to the huge boulder covering Mahinda’s Bed. You will then see a smooth slab or stone – which was the bed, and a rock above it which was the roof.
Ponds – Kaludiya Pokuna (Pond of Black Water)
Just five minutes into the main entrance and you will see a peaceful artificial lake known as the Pond of Black Water. This lake is where the monastery of the 10th and 11th centuries got their water from. Around the lake there are a few fragments of the monastery ruins such as a faint structure of a roof built onto a natural rock overhang, making it look like a half cave, half house. History tells us that these monks were enjoying premium interiors such as indoor toilets and bath houses.
Also known as the Alms-Hall, The Refectory is where daily alms were provided for the monks of Mihintale. Located within the ancient monastery of Mihintale, the architecture of this old building is similar to that of the Maha Viharaya. Water for the kitchen was sourced through a spout fixed at the roof. Spotted on the eastern side of the building was a large stone trough to boil rice and feed the monks. In addition to that, there is also a porridge boat, kitchen and stores.
After one flight of stairs, you will see the Kantaka Cetiya built in the 2nd century BC – one of the earliest religious monuments on the island. Four richly decorated shrines, also known as vahalkadas, face the cardinal point and are highlights of the building. The eastern front of this monument is best preserved – visitors can see horizontal rows of carvings and fine murals of elephants and dwarfs on either side of the wall, finished with a tall, carved pillar and a worn-out lion figure positioned upwards.
Thigs to consider when visiting Mihintale
As these are religious sites, conservational dress code is a must from all guests. Hence you should carry a scarf to cover your shoulders and knees, or dress accordingly on the day you schedule to visit Mihintale. Guests are also expected to be respectful and quiet at religious attractions like these. Apart from that, Mihintale is a climbing activity so be sure to carry your water bottle to keep yourself hydrated as it could take a few hours to cover all the things to see at Mihintale.
Anuradhapura is just a few minutes from Mihintale and most tourists choose to stay there as plenty of convenient accommodation options are available. From budgeted hotels to well-known luxury hotels such as Aryana Boutique Hotel, Heritage Hotel, and Uga Ulagalla Resort. You can make your pick depending on your budget and preferences
According to archeologists, the Mihintale ruins of the 40-foot stupa and the caves around it date back to the 1st century BC. The fact that these ruins are so well preserved makes the experience of Mihintale an unforgettable one. So be sure to include Mihintale when touring the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka and continue to be amazed with the rich history and heritage of the country.