A Sacred Hillock called Mihintale
After visiting the historical monuments at Anuradhapura the erstwhile capital of Sinhala ,we were heading towards South to Kandy. Motivated by a casual talk with our chauffer Lionnel a short drive from here brought us to a less known Buddhist pilgrimage site called Mihintale. We could see locals laden in white attire – A symbol of purity.
Mountain peak Mihintale is believed to be the site of meeting between the Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism in Srilanka.It is now a Pilgrimage site, and the site of several religious monuments and abandoned structures.
We learnt that Prince Mahinda came to Srilanka from India on the full moon day of the month of the Poson and met KIng Devanampiyatissa and the people , preached the doctrine of Buddhism.The traditional spot where this meeting took place is revered by the Buddhists. Therefore in the month of Poson , Buddhists make their pilgrimage to this hillock.
Mahinda was the son of Emperor Ashoka of India. King Ashoka embraced Buddhism after battle of Kalinga and inspired by a young monk named Nigrodha. The king who was in great misery after seeing the loss of life , influenced by Kalinga war to expand his empire, After Meeting the young monk made a turning point in his life and he thereafter, renounced wars. He was determined to spread the message of peace, to neutralize the effects from the damages caused by him through his warfare. As a result both his son Mahinda and daughter Sangamitta were ordained as Buddha diciples, and became enlightened as Arahats. In his quest to spread the message of peace instead of war, he sent his son Mahinda, to the Island of Lanka , which is known as Sinhala which was then being ruled by his beloved friend King Devanampiyatissa.
Thus, Mahinda was the exclusive Indian name which in Sinhale in the local vernacular Sinhal. In Sinhala Mihin –Thale means the plateau of Mihindu. This plateau is the flat terrain on top of a hill from where Arahat Mihindu was supposed to have called King Devanampiyatissa, by the Kings first name to stop him shooting a deer in flight. Hence, Mihin Thale is a specifically Sinhala term. This is how the place has been called and still today. In Sinhala this is said to have been called Cetiyagiri or Sagiri , even though it was more popularly known as Mihinthale – the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
It is said that from ancient times a large number of large steps were carved to climb Mihinthale. It is stated that King Devanampiyatissa constructed a vihara and 68 caves for the bhikkus – Diciples to reside in including him. Over a period of time there gradually grew a number of Buddhist viharas with all dependent resembling monastries of that period
A flight of steps carved on the hillock led us to a circular stupa known as Kantaka Cetiya which was white in colour having a base circumference of about 425 ft. It has three stepped rims with four frontis pieces in all four cardinal directions. The frontispiece is called vaahalkada. All the vaahalkadas are decorated with sculptures of dwarfs, animals, human, divine figures and floral motifs.
We were attracted by most important of the sculptures on the Kantaka Cetiya Vaahalkada is the elephant headed God with two arms. The shaivites – The followers of Lord Shiva call it Vinayaka or Lord Ganesha – God remover of Obstacles. The Ganesh sculptures in he most the vahalkadas of the kantaka Cetiya have created confusion among the archeologists and historians. No one could explain the connection, between Hindu god Lord Ganapati and Buddhism. The four Vahaalkadas facing the four cardinal points have different animals on the top of the square pillars – the elephant on the east., the lion on the north, the horse on the west and the bull on the south. Most of the Indian and Sri Lankan archeologists believe that they symbolise four directions. But they differ in associating a particular animal with a particular direction.
The stupa is said to have been built by the Mahayana Buddhists only, as Theravada Buddhism rejects literature, puranaas, symbolization, symbolization of Lord Buddha and Buddhism, music ,dance , sculpture, painting and other forms of art.
Walking down slowly we reached a structure called Ambasthala Dagaba on the plain close to the mountain, said to have been built by king Mahalantissa. The Dagaba itself is said to enshrine the relics of great Apostle Mahinda. It is here King Devanampiyatissa first met Arahant Mahinda. The traditional spot where this meeting took place is marked by the Ambsthala Dagaba.
From here a steep descent downhill led us to a place with huge rocks. Here on huge monolithic rock is a place called Mihindu guhawa or the cave of Arahant Mahinda, where Mahinda is said have resided.Out of the numerous caves nearby the most and incidentally the most sacred to the Buddhists is this cave with its flattened slab on which Thera Mahinda was accustomed to rest. Nearby is Kaludiya Pokuna one of the natural perinneal ponds on the hillock.The name is derieved from the fact that the water in the pond appears to be black in colour. It is believed that on new moon day Kalu Buddha Rakkita thera sat under the Thimbiriya tree, close to Kaludiya Pokuna, preached on sermon based on Kalakarama Sutta. The word Kalu means black and diya means water and the word pokuna means pond.
Behind the cave is the Aradhana gala which facing the Maha Seya is on a summit of a hill. A steep flight of steps carved on the rock face, with metal bars for support guided us to summit. Even on a windy day Pilgrims make a bee line to visit the rock summit. In the ancient books such as the Mahavamsa is written that Mahinda came to Sri Lanka by travelling through the air. He came and landed at the top of the Aradhana Gala.
The view of old monuments, stupas, green pastures, water tanks, from top of the hillock made us feel that every step to the Sacred Mihintale steeped in history was worthwhile.!