Historical Monuments at Mihintalava
The sacred Mihintalava provided shelter to hundreds of Arahants
headed by Mahinda Mahathera. Sanctified by the feet of these Arahants
Mihintalava, the sacred mountain is situated about eight miles east of
The ancient capital of Anuradhapura rose on the banks of the old
Kadamba Oya which is today called the Malwatu Oya.
Mihintalava during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa in the third
century B.C. was a thick jungle inhabited by wild animals and a hunting
ground for the rulers. The area as it was known then was called Missaka,
an appropriate name for a beautiful forest mountain.
The site was reached from the city by a road leading from the Kadamba
river. King Devanampiyatissa with his retinue climbed this
Missakapabbata or forest mountain for deer hunting along this route on
foot. The village close to this forest was then called Doramadalagama.
Mihintalava - the area as it is known today owing to its association
with Mahinda Mahathera, consists of four mountains, namely:
1. Mihintalava Kanda 2. Atvehera Kanda 3. Anaikutti Kanda and 4.
Each mountain is about one thousand feet high and the four mountains
together cover an area of about four hundred and fifty acres. The whole
area was then called Missakapabbata or Missaka mountain. The stretch of
mountains expanding to the east ends in a deep slope.
It is also considered one of the sixteen sacred places of worship
(the solosmasthana) in the island and therefore subject to the
veneration of the pious. In those days, everybody travelled to
Missakapabbata from Anuradhapura on foot. Even the king who went hunting
walked up that distance.
The Chronicle tells us how the Mahathera after returning from
Anuradhapura to Missakapabbata took a bath on the first day itself. As
the Mahavamsa points out the Missakapabbata became known as
Cetiyapabbata because the relics brought from India were temporarily
deposited on the mountain.
At the beginning this sacred mountain was only a residential area for
the Bhikkhus headed by Arahant Mahinda Mahathera. But soon the area was
covered with monastic buildings, Stupas, Uposathagharas, Bodhigharas
converting it into a sacred place.
Beginning with Kantaka Cetiya and sixty eight cave dwellings in the
vicinity Cetiyapabbata very soon became one of the important Centres of
Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It became second only to the Mahavihara
The Buddhist civilization of the Sinhala people undoubtedly began at
Mihintalava. It is no easy task to describe all the historical monuments
that came up on the victorious grounds of Mihintalava over the centuries
owing to the goodwill and patronage of the Sinhalese kings and with the
blessings of the Maha Sangha the great community of Bhikkhus and by the
merit of the people.
The difficulty in describing these monuments are two fold. One reason
is that most of the original monuments are no more in existence and
secondly the non-availability of source material to describe most of
Visitors to Mihintalava first encounter the Mihintalava new town
associated with the village of Mihintalava or Mihintalagama.
The reservoir close by is the Mihintalava Vava. From the main
junction one road leads to Jaffna from Kandy and the other from
Anuradhapura to Trincomalee. Near this is situated the bazaar of
On the Galkulama-Kandy road after a few yards one comes to a narrow
road on the left that leads to the foot of the flight of steps leading
to the summit of the Sacred Mihintalawa mountain. Pious Buddhist
devotees take this difficult route in climbing the sacred mountain. They
consider that in this way one can acquire more merit.