The sacred hill of Mihintale is where Mahinda, son of the Indian king Asoka, converted King Devanampiyatissa to Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. It is said that King Tissa was chasing a stag during a hunting trip in the hills of Mihintale when he was approached by Mahinda, who wished to test the intelligence of the king with riddle. King Tissa passed the test and was converted there and then along with his retinue of 40,000 courtiers. An important religious site, Mihintale attracts a large number of Buddhist pilgrims, particularly on Poson Poya Day in June. Exploring the site involves long climbs, so it is a good idea to visit it early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Hospital Ruins
The ruins of a 9th century hospital built during the reign of King Sena II can be seen near the car park along a side road. Upon entering the ruins, visitors will come across a stone trough with its interior carved in the shape of a human form. The trough is thought to have been used as a medical bath where patients were immersed in healing oils. There are also the remains of treatment rooms leading off from the central courtyard.

A short walk east of the hospital is the museum, where archaeological finds from the site are displayed.

Shaded by frangipani trees, the stairway leading to the summit comprises 1,840 rock-cut steps interspersed with terraces that allow visitors to catch their breath. While the first flight of stairs is broad and shallow, the ones higher up are narrower and steeper. However, visitors who have difficulty climbing stairs can drive up Old road and park near the Refectory Terrace to avoid the first set of steps.

Kantake Chetiya
At the first small landing, steps lead off on the right to the remains of the Kantaka Chetiya dagoba, the oldest at Mihintale. Originally higher than 30 m. The dagobastands at a height of only 12 m. it has four vahalkadas (frontispieces) in the four cardinal directions and each of these is adorned with carvings of geese, dwarves and elephants. Some of the vahalkadasare flanked by stone columns that are ornamented with sculpted flowers and birds, and topped with figurines of animals. South of the dagoba is an enormous boulder bearing an ancient inscription in early proto-Brahmi script. There are caves and meditation ledges to explore nearby.

Refectory Terrace
Situated on the left side of the second landing, the refectory has big stone troughs that would have been filled with food such as rice or porridge for the monks. On the terrace right above is the image house, the entrance to which is flanked by two large stone slabs inscribed in Sinhala. Erected during reign of King Mahinda ɪ𝞶, these tablets detail the rules and responsibilities for monks and other staff in the monastery. A short distance to the south lie the ruins of the stone pillars of the Conversation Hall where the monastrey’s community would meet.

To the right of the terrace is the small Singha Pokuna (lion pool), which is named after the weathered sculpture of a lion whose mouth served as the waterspout. The frieze above the lion sculpture is decorated with five carvings of dancers and elephants. The other remains around here are said to be those of bathhouses for the monks.

Aradhana Gala
A set of steep stairs leads up to the upper terrace, where visitors have to buy a ticket and remove their shoes and hats. At the centre of the terrace is the Ambasthala Dagoba, which is believed to mark the spot where Mahinda met King Devanambiya Tissa. Next to it is a stone carving of the Buddha’s footprint surrounded by railings and with coins offered by pilgrims scattered all over it. The ancient headless statue nearby is said to be King Tissa. On the opposite side of the terrace are steps leading up to the big white seated Buddha statue. East of the Ambasthala Dagoba, a flight of rock-cut steps leads to Aradhana Gala (meditation rock) from where there are great views of the surrounding countryside and the grand Mahaseya Dagoba.

A path from southwest corner of the terrace, leads down to Mahinda’s Cave, a space beneath a huge boulder with a large flat stone believed to have been his bed.

Mahaseya Dagoba
From the southwest corner of the terrace, steps lead up to the summit where stands the 14m high Mahaseya Dagoba. The dagobais clearly visible from a distance and is where Mahinda’s relics are said to be interested. There are wonderful views stretching southwest to the dagobas of Anuradhapura from here. A Buddhist temple on the south side and a small Hindu devale on the west side adjoin the dagoba.

Naga Pokuna
After seeing the Mahaseya Dagoba, visitors retrace their steps to pick up their shoes and head down the stairs from the Ambasthala Dagoba. A path leads off to the left to Naga Pokuna (snake pool). This peaceful spot was named after the five-headed cobra carved on the rock face of the pool. The water stored here was supplied to the monastery below.

Et Vihara
A flight of around 600 steps leads to the ruins of the Et Vihara dagoba, located at the highest point in Mihintale. more