Kantaka Cetiya | Stupa of Oldest Frontispieces

Kantaka Cetiya
Kantaka Cetiya, also known as Kanthaka Dagoba/Chethiya (Sinhala: මිහින්තලය කණ්ඨක චේතිය), is a Stupa located in the ancient Buddhist complex monastery of Mihintale, Anuradhapura District, Sri Lanka. The Stupa is notable as it has the best and the most ancient ornamental frontispieces (Vahalkada) found in the country (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004).

Kantaka Cetiya
This Stupa is believed to have been constructed during or soon after the reign of King Devanampiyatissa [(247-207 B.C.) Nicholas, 1963]. According to Mahawamsa, Devanampiya Tissa had refurbished sixty-eight caves (present Ataseta Len) in the neighbourhood of the Kantaka Cetiya for the use of the monks headed by Arhat Mahinda. During the reign of King Lanja Tissa (119-109 B.C.), a Chatra stone (a stone umbrella) had been added to the Stupa (Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004). King Mahadhathika Mahanaga (9-21 A.D.) held a great festival at this site which became known as the Giribhanda festival (Nicholas, 1963). In the 8th century A.D., King Udaya I (797-801 A.D.) restored Giribhanda Viharaya (Nicholas, 1963). The Mihintale Slab Inscriptions of Mahinda IV have mentioned this Stupa as Kiribandpavu Dagoba (Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004).

One of the two inscriptions mentioning the name of King Mahadhathika Mahanaga (9-21 A.D.) at Mihintale is found on a rock surface near the Kantaka Stupa (Sirisoma, 1990). This inscription records the donations made to the Kataca Ceta (Kantaka Cetiya) by two kings, King Tisa (Bhathika Tissa) and King Naka [(Mahadhathika Mahanaga) Sirisoma, 1990]. From the Stupa name given in this inscription, it has been believed that the Stupa now called Kantaka Cetiya is the same as the Kantaka Cetiya that is mentioned in the chronicle Mahawamsa.

Kantaka Cetiya Rock Inscription Kantaka Cetiya Rock Inscription

Later Brahmi
Language: Old Sinhala
Content: The Great King Bhatikatissa gave the revenues from the land and water taxes of the Kabavika tank to the Kantaka Cetiya. The great King Mahadathika Mahanaga having purchased the Balayatha-Gamakavi tank gave to the Kantaka Cetiya the revenues from the land and water taxes.

Reference: The information board at the site by the Department of Archaeology and Ministry of National Heritage and Cultural Affairs

Kantaka Cetiya Cave Inscription
Kantaka Cetiya Cave Inscription

Period: 3rd Century B.C.-1st Century A.D.
Scripts: Early Brahmi
Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: Parumaka Naga puta Asaliya lene agata anagata catudisika sagaye
Translation: The cave of Asali, son of the chief Naga is donated to the Sangha of the four quarters, present and absent

Reference: Paranavitana, S., 1970; The information board at the site by the Department of Archaeology and Ministry of National Heritage and Cultural Affairs

Kantaka Cetiya Stupa is 21 m in height and has a peripheral length of about 127.5 m (Wikramagamage, 2004). The stone works of Kantaka Cetiya are dated to about the beginning of the Christian era. Two terracotta figures belonging to the 5th century have also been found on the temple premises (Paranavitana, 1950).
Kantaka Cetiya
Frontispieces which are at the cardinal points of the Stupa are formed of horizontal bands separated by string courses (left photograph). The flank of the frontispieces is adorned with limestone stelae which contain the oldest specimens of the plastic art in the country (Paranavitana, 1950). According to Wikramagamage, these frontispieces may belong to the 1st century A.D. or to a period even earlier (Wikramagamage, 2004).

As found in the frontispieces at Abhayagiri, Jetavana, and Ruwanweliseya Stupas, some remains of ancient paintings have also been found in the frontispieces of Kantaka Cetiya (Wikramagamage, 2004).


1) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. p.59.
2) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.163.
3) Paranavitana, S., 1950. Sinhalese Art and Culture. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 98(4822), pp.588-605.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscription of Ceylon: Volume I: Early Brahmi Inscriptions. Department of Archaeology Ceylon. p.2.
5) Sirisoma, M.H.; [Wijesekera, N (Editor in chief)], 1990. Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka from 3rd century B.C. to 65 A.D. Archaeological department centenary (1890-1990): Inscriptions. Commissioner of Archaeology. pp.28, 35.
6) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.159-164.

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This page was last updated on 14 January 2023

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