The mantra ‘make peace, not war’ may have been minted on Sri Lanka’s sacred Mihintale mountain peak by the ancient king who introduced Buddhism to this tropical sceptered isle a millennium ago.
It was a chance meeting between King Devanampiya Tissa and the young Indian Buddhist monk Mahinda that set in motion the seismic change that created the rich cultural landscape we see today.
The history of Mahintale is tied to the range of mountains adjoining the sacred site of Anuradhapura: three main hills known as Ambastala, Plateau of the Mango; Rajagiri, Mountain of the King; and Aanaikuddy, Mountain of the Elephant.
It is now one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka, with ruins of ancient structures and buildings that rival any to be found throughout the island’s fabled Cultural Triangle.
Chief among the are the Aradhana Gala, where, according to legend, the monk Mahinda landed after travelling through the air; the Relic House, or main shrine with its two tone slabs containing the longest ancient inscriptions of Sri Lanka; the Hospital, with its medical bath, in which patients were immersed in medicinal oil; and the Refectory courtyard, where monks took their meals.
Last but not least are the 1,840 granite steps that lead from the ruins to the summit. Half-way up is the Kantaka Cetiya, a beautiful circular stupa with frontispiece, known as the Vaahalkada, decorated with sculptures of dwarfs, animals, humans, divine figures and floral motifs.
Mysteries and legends abound at Mihintale, but all agree that it is the cradle of a religion that transformed ancient Sri Lanka from a nation of secular strife to one of tolerance and enlightenment.
According to the venerable Professor Walpola Sri Rahula Maha Thera (1907–1997): ‘Buddhism offered to the people of Ceylon a new order of life which was far superior to that which they had known and followed so far.’