Mihintale

Eight miles east of Anuradhapura, close to the Anuradhapura – Trincomalee Road is situated the “Missaka Pabbata” which is 1,000 feet (300 m) in height and is one of the peaks of a mountainous range. Geographically, the mountain range consists of three main hills: Ambastala Plateau of the Mango. Rajagiri, Mountain of the King, and Aanaikuddy the Mountain of the Elephant. The word ‘Aanaikuddy’ is Tamil. Thus, this mountain range should have some connection with the Tamils, probably the Tamil Buddhist Monks.

According to Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, Thera Mahinda came to Sri Lanka from India on the full moon day of the month of Poson (June) and met King Devanampiyatissa and the people, and preached the doctrine. The traditional spot where this meeting took place is revered by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka. Therefore in the month of Poson, Buddhists make their pilgrimage to Anuradhapura and Mihintale.

“Mahinda” was the son of Emperor Ashoka of India. King Ashoka embraced Buddhism after he was inspired by a very small monk named “Nigrodha.” The King who was in great misery after seeing the loss of life caused by his waging wars to expand his empire, was struck by the peaceful countenance of such a young monk. Meeting this 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 and daughter were ordained as Buddha disciples, 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 was also known as “Sinhalé”. This island was being ruled by his pen friend King Devanampiyatissa. Thus, “Mahinda” was the exclusive Indian name which in Sinhalé, became commonly known as “Mihindu” in the local vernacular “Sinhala”.

In Sinhala Mihin-Thalé literally 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 King’s first name to stop him shooting a deer in flight. Hence, “Mihin Thalé” is a specifically Sinhala term. This is how the place has been called and still is, in the local vernacular “Sinhala”. A study of the local vernacular will give ample proof for this. Therefore, the supposition that this name “Mihin Thalé” was derived from the Tamil name Mahinda Malai is erroneous and unfounded.

This is said have been called Cetiyagiri or Sagiri,even thought it was more popularly known as Mihintale – the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Steps carved in rock near stupa.

However, the story of Mahinda meeting the King Devanampiyatissa of Anuradhapura and preaching him the doctrine as said in Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa is very similar to the story of Satuvan meeting the leader of the Nagga Nagas and preaching him about the good way of life in the Tamil epic Manimehala. There are a number of description in Manimehalai that are same or similar to that of Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa.

From ancient times a large number of large steps were constructed to climb Mihintale. It is stated that King Devanampiyatissa constructed a vihara and 68 caves for the bhikkhus to reside in. At Mihintale there gradually grew a number of Buddhist viharas with all the dependent buildings characteristic of monasteries of that period.