Climbing the 1840 granite steps bordered with frangipani flowers in order to get to the top of Mihintale (known as Sela Cetiya during antiquity), one has the feeling of travelling across Sinhalese mythology. Mihintale is one of the sixteen places in Sri Lanka believed to have been visited by the Lord Buddha, between 560 and 480 B.C. About two hundred years later, a Buddhist monk named Mahinda, son of the emperor Ashoka in India, came to Mihintale on a Full Moon day. Mahinda met the Sinhalese king, Devanampiyatissa, who was hunting deer on the hillside, which were in those days covered by forests. This meeting marks the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The monk succeeded in persuading the King that all living beings had the same rights to live on this planet and no king had ownership over these beings.
Mahinda advised the King to make Mihintale and its surroundings into a wildlife sanctuary, probably the first in the world of this nature. Following this meeting and conversion of the King, Buddhism quickly became the central element of Sinhalese culture.
From then onwards, Mihintale became an important religious centre which progressively developed into a monastery of which the vestiges are found at the bottom of the stairs. We can also see, on the bottom of the hillside, the ruins of a hospital with a bath carved into the stone in which patients were immersed in medicinal oil. As a result of foreign invasions and diverse conflicts, Mihintale declined around the 10th century, to the point that by the 12th century, the hillside was again covered with forest and the dagobas were in ruins.
Situated 13 kilometres to the east of Anuradhapura, Mihintale is today a place of worship for Sri Lankan Buddhists and is home to many prestigious religious monuments. The environment of Mihintale has something fascinating about it, particularly at the end of the day, if you are lucky to await the sunset. The site can be fairly lively with the activities of the pilgrims, but it is less touristic compared to other places in the Cultural Triangle.