Dagobas at Mihintale | Sunday Observer

Dagobas at Mihintale

17 October, 2021

The Mihintale sacred area, a unique Buddhist shrine, is one of the most revered places of worship in Sri Lanka. The main reason for this is that it was at this place that King Devanampiyatissa and his entourage met Arahant Mahinda alias Mihindu Thera-led group who brought Buddhism to this country, on a Poson full moon Poya Day.

Accordingly, religious ceremonies are held with the participation of a large number of people in the vicinity of the Mihintale sacred area during the Poson Poya Day, in respect of Mihindu Thera and his entourage that arrived in the country. Today the Mihintale Sacred area is known as a limited area but in the past it was a monastery complex spread over a large area. Even today, one can see the dagoba-like ruins belonging to the monastery complex beyond the area now known as the Mihintale Sacred Area and this article is about two such dagobas named Katu Seya and Indikatu Seya.

Mihintale temple premises

Mihintale, about 15 kilometres east of the ancient Anuradhapura city, is often referred to as the area where the Ambastala Chaitya is located, but the old Mihintale monastery complex was about 1,000 feet high, and was located on mountains now known as Mihinthala Kanda, Rajagirilena Kanda, Anaikutty Kanda and Ethvehera Kanda. King Devanampiyatissa is said to have built 68 cave chambers in this premises for the residence of the theras including Arahant Mihindu.

It is also known as Missaka Pabbata, Chethiya Pabba, Mahindaththala and Ambatthala and Mihinthala is a name derived from the term ‘Mahindaththala’ and Ambathala is based on the term ‘Ambatthala’. Throughout history, Mihintale appears to have had the undeserved patronage of kings, and King Lajjatissa built a cell wall around the Sagiri Vehera. His brother, ‘Mahadeliyamana’ performed a Giribhanda Pooja there. In addition, King Vasabha had performed a ritual named ‘Pradeepa Pooja’ there and King Kanittatissa has also built a ‘Chethiyaghara’ there, according to sources.

Mahayana influence

An examination of history reveals that Mihintale, a prominent place in Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism, was later subjected to the domination of the Dharmaruchi sects representing the Abhayagiri. The Mahavamsa states that King Dhatusena (463-447 AD) repaired the Ambathala temple and offered it to the theras of the Dharmaruchi sect of the Abhayagiri Vihara.

The inscription of King Kasyapa V located in the Abhayagiriya sacred area in Anuradhapura also confirms that Mihintale belonged to the Abhayagiriya at some time. Thus, Mihintale or Chethiyagiriya was an important place of worship belonging to the Abhayagiri and according to the Mahavamsa, it appears that the Dharmaruchikas had the power of Mihintale even when King Mahasen was persecuting the Mahavihara.

Location of Kathu Seya

One of the reasons why many pilgrims in Mihintale do not see this ‘Kathu Seya’ is because the premises are located outside the Ambasthala Chaitya premises. The Kathu Seya is easily accessible and can be seen from the Mihintale Museum on the A9 road leading to the Kaludiya Pokuna premises.

The name Kathu Seya can be identified as a name that is not usually applied to a dagoba. According to the legends, the factory equipment and tools used to build the Mihintale monastery complex are said to be treasured in this stupa, but many people are of the opinion that it is untrue.

It can also be identified that this is the ‘Kathu Seya’ mentioned in the Mihintale inscriptions in ancient times. It states that the lands sacrificed for the renovation of the Kathumaha Seya should be controlled by the officials who control the Athvehera temple and that the renovation work should be done in a timely manner.

Although some have interpreted the Kathu Seya mentioned here as the Kantaka Chaithya in Mihintale, it is confirmed that it is not the Kantaka Chaithya that is mentioned, but it is Kathu Seya. According to the Mahavamsa, this Kathu Seya was built by Queen Sena, the queen of King Dappula II, who reigned 807-812 AD.

Archaeological research

Built according to a special architectural design, this dagoba is located on a slightly elevated platform or courtyard with a granite wall and is not very large in size. The base of the dagoba with Pesawalalu is also made of granite. The upper part is made of brick and the upper part of the relic chamber is not visible at present. There is a flight of steps leading to the courtyard, with two lattice stones and two guard stones on either side.

Excavations at the stupa in the early nineteenth century have uncovered several copper plates inscribed with Dharma texts from Mahayana books such as Akasha Garbha from the 8th to 9th centuries. This shows that the worship of Dharmadhatu, which was revered by the Mahayanas, was associated with the Kathu Seya. In 1941, the dagoba was turned into a protected monument by archaeologists.

Idikatu Seya

The Idikatu Seya, which is located a little beyond the Kathu Seya sacred area, does not appear on the main road, due to the fact that it is located in a jungle area. According to the legends, this dagoba was built by placing needles used to sew the robes of the Theras of the Mihintale Monastery. This dagoba is very similar in appearance to the Kathu Seya and is similar in size.

According to historians, the ruins of a nearby monastery complex with Mahayana features can still be seen in this dagoba. Thus it appears that the dagobas of Kathu Seya and Idikatu Seya were not an isolated dagobas but those belonging to a monastery complex.

Rituals held today

At present, offerings are made in large numbers in connection with the Kathu Seya. According to another belief, offerings are made to the Bhairava deities at this place. There are a number of rituals associated with this, such as fruit offerings, Kiri ithiraweema and Panduru Geta Gaseema and there are those who are dedicated to perform these rituals. Every day a significant number of people visit this place to fulfill their wishes.