June 2017


The Great Meeting in Mihintale
June 2017




Serene Mihintale as seen from the Aradhana Gala

Mihintale is the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. On Full Moon Poson Poya, an entire Island pays homage to this humble, sanctified plateau that transformed and moulded the history and identity of the country.


Words: Keshini de Silva
Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


The serene landscape of ancient Raja Rata was spread across before us. The pristine Maha Seya glinted in the sun, the Aradhana Gala at its side. We looked upon the sacrosanct grounds where the great meeting that established Buddhism in Sri Lanka took place.


Prior to the arrival of Arahant Mahinda Thero to Sri Lanka, the Island was a land that worshipped various gods. In tribute to the great Arahant who conveyed the teachings of the Supreme Enlightened Buddha to the Island, ‘Mihintale' was thus named, when translated it means "The plateau of Mihindu".


This ground had been the Royal Park where the King and his Ministers, a group of 40,000, would take part in a hunting festival. On this special day it is said that King Devanampiyatissa on the trail of a deer was stopped by Arahant Mahinda's voice calling, "Tissa, Tissa". Here the Arahant expounded the doctrine of the Great Teacher, the Buddha, to the King. It is significant that Emperor Ashoka of India, who spread Buddhism to nine countries, sent his son to Sri Lanka. The site in which this momentous meeting took place is today marked by a golden fence and the Ambasthala Stupa. This is also said to be where Banduka Upasaka, who was a member of Arahant Mahinda's entourage, was ordained. According to the Mihintale Raja Maha Viharaya, the area fenced in also contains the Chandrakanthi Pashana, a rock that is believed to cool the body and relive pressure. It's assumed that the Pashana had been brought to sculpture a seat for Arahant Mahinda.

We looked upon the sacred grounds of Mihintale from the cliff where the Eth Vehera stood; it is the topmost point of Mihintale.


The Aradhana Gala, which pilgrims climb with great reverence, is where Arahant Mahinda delivered the "Deva Aradanawa" (Invitation to the gods).


The hallowed grounds are of great historical importance as well. The Maha Seya, which enshrines the Buddha's ‘Urna Roma', a hair relic, is the holy beacon that guides the pilgrim to the top of the mount. The Mihindu Seya nearby was built to encase the remains of Arahant Mahinda after his passing away.


We looked upon the sacred grounds of Mihintale from the cliff where the Eth Vehera stood; it is the topmost point of Mihintale. Built after the construction of the Maha Seya, this peak was essential to the measurement of the temple grounds. During the Abhayagiriya Monastery period, it is said that if the bronze plate is drummed from Eth Vehera, the extent of land that heard the strumming was owned by the temple. The road to Eth Vehera is indeed a path less travelled. One leaves the pilgrims route that leads to the grand stairway to an experience through shaded unruly greens on a path that takes you through a land dotted with ancient remnants that whisper a grand history.

Mihintale is also of archeological importance and is evidence of Sri Lanka’s advanced hydraulic civilization. These are some of its must-see sites.


Poson Full Moon Poya


On Full Moon Poya day in the month of June, the attention of the country is diverted towards Mihintale, the cradle of Buddhism in the Island. In commemoration of the great meeting between Arahant Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa, a follower of the Sakyamuni Buddha, the National Poson Festival is held here.


The grand staircase, fringed by temple trees that fills the air with the soothing fragrance of araliya is thronged by the devout followers of Buddhism. They come chanting gathaa and bearing aromatic flowers in remembrance of the Buddha's teachings on impermanence.


The Poson Full Moon Poya falls on June 8, this year. The National Poson Festival lasts throughout a week, commencing from the day before the full moon poya. On that night the colourful, vibrant perahera takes place with participation from the entire village. The poya day is reserved for Dhamma Deshana and devotees observe sil. Dansal are organised as part of the many charity acts Buddhists will partake in during the festival. On the night of Poson Poya, Mihintale will twinkle with light for the Aloka Pooja, the Maha Seya a glowing beauty amidst all, casting illumination onto the dark backdrop of the night sky. To the devotee the spectacle is almost an example of how the Four Noble Truths lead to the attainment of Nirvana by breaking away from Samsara.


By the end of the week-long festival, over two million devotees would have climbed to Mihintale to remember the origins of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and to reflect on the Great Teacher's Philosophy.

 

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    The Grand Staircase flanked by araliya trees

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    The Aradhana Gala

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    The climb is steep

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    Ambasthala Stupa

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    Mihindu Guhawa
    is the cave where the Arahant Mahinda resided.

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    Naga Pokuna
    with the impressive insignia of the Naga Tribe was the water source for the Thero. From here water was supplied to the Sinha Pokuna, which serviced the older monks of the monastery.

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    Kaludiya Pokuna,
    a beautiful pond and structures, which bear witness to Sri Lanka’s remarkable hydraulic technology. It can be seen from Eth Vehera.

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    Kantaka Cetiya,
    which showcases the Island’s artistic heritage, has the oldest Vahalkada (four structures at the cardinal directions of the stupa) in Sri Lanka.

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    Rajagiri Lena,
    is believed to be where the Kings rested when they paid homage to Mihintale.

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    Devotees from across Sri Lanka gather here for the National Poson Festival
    © Lakehouse Library

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    Mihintale glows mesmerisingly on Poson Poya
    © Lakehouse Library

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