Kaludiya Pokuna: A secluded pool in Mihintale | Sunday Observer

Kaludiya Pokuna: A secluded pool in Mihintale

28 May, 2023

We had an opportunity on a two-day historical excursion when the country was returning to normalcy following Covid-19 and the resultant economic downturn. We wanted history to come alive for us to feel the excitement of life in a bygone era.

Our journey took us to Mihintale. Mountains are fascinating, but this particular mountain was special not only because it towers 1,000 feet upwards into the skyline, but because of its fame as the place where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka by Maha Thera Mahinda. This mountain was known in early times as Missaka Mountain and the 400 acres of forest area was called Missaka Pabbata which included four mountains: the Athvehera Mountain, the Anaikutti Kanda, the Rajagirilena Mountain and Mihintale.

Mihintale is 12 kilometres East of Anuradhapura, a city built on the bank of the Malwatu Oya, originally named Kadama Oya. A special feature of the mountain area is rocky boulders scattered all over and natural cave formations. The huge shady trees, the crystal clear ponds give this area a feeling of tranquility and it was ideally suited for meditation. The Dagaba which dots the mountain area lent its name, Cetiyapabbata.

In Kahatagasdigiliya, just a few kilometrea from Mihintale, I met one of my friends and he gladly agreed to come with us to Mihintale and take us around. I have been to Mihintale many times, but this trip was most enjoyable as we peered into every nook and corner.

Magnificent sites

We went to an area which is about half a kilometre away from Mihintale, one of my favourite spots. It is a beautiful area known as the Kaludiya Pokuna complex. Rajagirilena hill and the Kaludiya Pokuna are two magnificent sites usually missed by many visitors who throng to Mihintale during the Poson season. Numerous are the ruins scattered around the Kaludiya Pokuna.

On the opposite side of the Rajagirilena hill lies a secluded pool: the Kaludiya Pokuna, the centre of a cave-dwelling monastic community, shaded by humongous trees and surrounded by many ruins. A meandering flight of steps between two huge rock boulders and trees from the Rajagirilena hill took us to this enchanting pool, which is the largest such water body in the complex.

The massive pool on the Western slopes of the Mihintale range, is said to have derived its name from the fact that the water in the pond appears to be black. Although it appears open today, the Kaludiya Pokuna was shut off from the outside world with walls in the past.

It was accessible only through two doorways, which is believed to be a private bathing place of the meditating bhikkhus of Mihintale. Today, the pool facilitates the water requirement of the bhikkhus of the Kaludiya Pokuna hermitage and the villagers who live in the vicinity of the pool.

It is at the base of the Rajagiri Mountain and on the Western side of Mihintale. The Kaludiya Pokuna is encircled by a mountain range and the water is dark and sombre quite unlike the water in other places. Hence it is called Kaludiya Pokuna (darkened water or black water pool). The mountains beyond are lush green. Among the lush vegetation are the rock boulders and caves used by bhikkhus of old.

Natural rock shelters

Visiting Chinese bhikkhu Fa Hsien refers to one of the bhikkhus who lived there for 40 years. Natural rock shelters have the front section walled up and a door lintel has been inserted in some of them. The backdrop of mountains and the black clouded waters make this an unusually beautiful place.

Around the pond is the building complex which is attributed to the 10th century. Here one finds a brick Dagaba and an Uposathaghara where bhikkhus come for ritual purposes. There is also a meditation walk for bhikkhus known as a Cankamana path, and also cells for bhikkhus, a library and a bath house with an unusual toilet seat, a special feature found in Dammarchika monasteries. This is an unusually beautiful and serene place to visit.

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 probably bathing Pokuna in front, now silted up.

An inscription found engraved by the side of the flight of rock-cut steps to the North of the foot-path from Kaludiya Pokuna to the main hill reads, “The steps of the lapidary Mulagutta”. This inscription at Mihintale belongs to the pre-Christian era.

During our stay at the Kaludiya Pokuna, we saw a group of workers from Department of Archaeology digging out the ground and unearthed a flower altar buried under earth near Kaludiya Pokuna. The excavations in the Pakudiya Pokuna have been carried out from time to time by the Department of Archaeology the since 2000.

This is a description of selected monuments found at Kaludiya Pokuna. But there may be many more such monuments buried under earth, yet to be discovered. The story of Kaludiya Pokuna can never be told completely. It is the story of Buddhist architecture that will be told, perhaps, for many more centuries to come, with new evidence coming to light.

Our next stop was Rajagirilena hill which is a lower hill of the Mihintale range. Here, the magnificent rock boulder, which has been converted into caves, forms a vast complex that would have sheltered hundreds of monastic bhikkhus in the past.

Calmness and tranquility

The remains of monastic complexes indicate them to be the residential area for bhikkhus headed by Arahat Mahinda. These are natural caves covered in greenery, and entering them, one gets the feeling of calmness and tranquility, savoured by the bhikkhus who lead an ascetic life.

The pathway with Araliya trees on either side leads to the Rajagirilena cave at the summit of the hill. This cave, according to archeologists, was the shrine room of the ancient monastic complex. The bhikkhus meditating in the caves in the area, probably, performed rituals at this picturesque cave shrine. A huge and long Katarama or drip-ledge has been cut into the rock surface at Rajagirilena to prevent rain-water flowing inside.

Even today, some remains of the shrine room at Rajagirilena are still visible, despite the centuries of neglect. In the cave, there are two fragmented statues of the Buddha, with the torso intact but the head missing. These, of course, are the results of vandalism and treasure hunting rather than natural decay.

The walls of the shrine room are also in a dilapidated condition. The drip-ledge of the cave had been meticulously carved to prevent rain water from seeping through, while a small tank at the entrance of the cave collected the rain water.

The ruins scattered around the Rajagirilena and Kaludiya Pokuna are conserved by the Department of Archaeology. When you visit Mihintale, make sure you leave a few hours free to explore this vast monastic complex. The discoveries one can make are fascinating and rewarding. This cradle of Sri Lanka’s civilisation still offers the people a glorious window into the past.