In the middle terrace to the south of the Assembly Hall is a low area. Here are found ruins of monastic buildings. Amidst them is found the attractive and artistic Lion Pond which is a unique sculptural piece.
Though it is called a pond, it is more a water rail than a pond. It is an open-air bath which was probably used by the Bhikkhus who were living in the caves of the neighbourhood.
It is called a pond because of the water tank above the figure of the standing lion from whose mouth the water comes out. Half of it is cut out of the natural rock and the other half is constructed of monolithic blocks to form a square pond. The rampant, life-sized lion is carved against the outer rock wall.
The water is discharged through the open mouth of the lion. The construction of the bath is described as follows by Bell: The live rock was first chiselled out by cutting back the sloping rock vertically, and at right angles, for a level width of 6 ft. 3 in. so as to form the south side of the bath.
Approximately six feet from the vertical rock at back was then marked off and within this squared space a depth of 1 ft. sunk in the rock perpendicularly, what remained was only to smooth the top of the rock on the sides to a splay and the front to a rough level, then to fit dressed monolithic slabs, cut to match, on three faces – and a cubicle bath was formed, half carved from the bed-rock, half of stone worked to shape and smoothed inside.
“Such construction” says Bell “would necessarily leave three sides of the bath rising more or less unprotected. To meet this want the architect strengthened and embellished his chef-d’ oeuvre by supporting the structural slabs required to complete the rectangular bath with a moulded and ornamental platform based on the east, north and south faces.”
The water for this open-air bath was supplied by a channel from the Naga-Pokuna situated just above the Sinha Pokuna on a higher elevation. The sculptures right round the pond depicting dancers, elephants, musicians and ganas etc. reveal the high standard that sculptural art had achieved in Sri Lanka at that time.
Naga Pokuna, the Cobra Pond
This is a natural rock basin on an elevated plateau at the foot of a steep hillock at Mihintale just below the Mahathupa and the Mihindu Saya. This Pond, known as Naga Pokuna, meaning Cobra Pond, derived its name from the five hooded Cobra cut in low relief on the rock surface.
The Pond itself measures about 36 feet by 15 feet. This may be the pond referred to as Nagasondi in the great Chronicle. It is said that King Aggabodhi 1 (575-608 A.D.) made a pond on the Cetiyapabbata by that name and provided a permanent water supply to it.
This is an indication that the pond that was in existence earlier was filled only by rain water, but that later, springs were tapped and the water stored in the pond. The Mahavamsa referring to this same pond says that Elder Mahinda when he re-visited the Cetiyapabbata mountain to spend the lent, first entered the place after having a bath at this pond.
The irrigation system that developed at Mihintale with the Naga-Pokuna as its centre is very important for it was of use to the Buddhist monks residing at Mihintale. The Sinha-Pokuna or the Lion Pond was fed by the waters of the Cobra Pond. So was the Alms Hall.
The water required for the Alms Hall was supplied by the same Naga-Pokuna. The irrigation system at Mihintale is an important aspect of the cultural life on which our attention should be focussed.
Kaludiya Pokuna, the Black Water Pool
A short path rising from the high road for some fifty yards amidst boulders, to a level area, takes you to the ruined area of the Kaludiya Pokuna.
The central attraction of this monastic complex is the black water pool. This may be the same as that referred to as Porodini in the Mihintale inscription of Mahinda IV. Around this pond are the remains of an Arama consisting of bathing houses, meditation halls, and walled caves.
The bathing house, “beneath a large boulder, overhangs at a height of 13 feet to the drip-line sufficiently to shelter an admirable dressing-room, built of granite slabs, attached to a probable bathing pokuna in front, now silted up.” In identifying this monastic complex called the Kaludiya Pokuna, Bell was of the opinion that this was of later construction than most of the Mihintale monasteries and hazards the suggestion that it was Hadayunha Vihara the heart warming Vihara which Kassapa IV built at the Cetiyapabbata.
This was bestowed on the Dhammarucika Theras when he also prepared the Caves – perhaps by improving some of those on Anai-Kutti Kanda “for the use of the Bhikkhus that dwell in grooves.
The name ‘Black Water Pool’ was given to this Pond because of the colour of the waters created by the reflection of the rock boulders and shady trees of the forest. The Pool measures 200 feet in length and is 70 feet wide. Kaludiya Pokuna was undoubtedly a place for spiritual exertions and this is established by the presence of a padhanaghara at the south west of the Kaludiya Pokuna.