THE ANCIENT STAIRWAY
The ancient pathway to the summit of the mountain of Mihintale is an integral part of the sacred area. The pathway which is a flight of stones has given a unique distinction to the beauty of the place.
The first part of the way leads up to the middle terrace of the mountain from its foot. Some of the steps are carved out of the natural rock and the rest are paved with cut granite. Trees provide shade along the pathway and keep the devotee fresh. The blossoms of araliya trees keep the area fragrant all the time.
The flight of steps from the foot of the mountain up to the Mada-maluwa middle terrace has 1840 steps. The second stage of the stairway begins from the middle terrace where the Assembly Hall is found and continues up to the site of the Ambastala Dagaba.
The third stage begins there and ends at the terrace of the Maha Saya the great Stupa.
The retaining wall on both sides of the path way built again with rubble adds a serene beauty to the surroundings. The flight of steps at the beginning is about 3 inches, but as one keeps climbing the height varies.
Along the ancient stairway at about half the distance, the path branches off to the right into a still steeper climb. This pathway, which consists of about 80 steps, leads you to the site of the Kantaka Cetiya. The flight of steps consists of four parts. The stone steps of this subway are 10 ft. wide and it is about half the size of the stone steps laid on the main path.
The visitor and devotee alike can approach almost all the monuments at Mihintale through these stone-paved foot paths. The enchanting beauty of Mihintale is multiplied by the “overhanging trees and green shadows on the worn stone, and the shifting golden lights between.”
As one says: Twenty centuries or more, the uncovered feet of innumerable dark multitudes have ascended and descended their owners, filled with reverend awe, and seeing visions of Buddha overshadowing the island with his presence and of Mahinda, the apostle alighting on the topmost crag which towers up into the azure sky far overhead.”
Arama The monastic buildings at the Foot of the Mountain
Between the ancient hospital and the main flight of steps to the mountain of Mihintale are ruins of ancient monastic buildings girt by a prakara or a boundary wall. One such monastic building, which is a quadrangle, is about 125 square feet. In the middle of the square is a prasada or abode type building. To the south-west and south-east are two more prasadas.
The entrance to the monastery is decorated with steps, guard stones, makara balustrades and naga figures. This building is similar to arama buildings found in Anuradhapura. On the left hand side of the main road is a similar building. In the midst of the monastery is found an image house with four parivena type buildings on its sides.
In the past, a Pirivena (Pali: Parivena) meant a room for dwelling. This type of building consisted of a storey on twelve stone columns. On the eastern side of the mountain but within the boudnary is a single building. The upper portion of this building stood on two rows of stone columns, consisting of four columns in each row. This may be the toilet of the monastery.
There are ruins of another monastery on the south-west area close to the Parivena. A Prasada (Pali: Pasada) means a building consisting of a few rooms. It is usually a square building which has at least 25 ft. on each side. By erecting 12 or 16 pillars inside a Prasada one could make rooms downstairs or upstairs for residence for the Bhikkhus.
These Aramas or monasteries which are similar to the ones in Anuradhapura are important from the point of view of early Buddhist architecture. There is also a pond just below the northern boundary of this monastic building.