Sunday, October 12, 2008

An Ancient Hospital

During my recent trip to Sri Lanka Cittalaya, Tony, Malang, Viraj and I went to have a look at the ruins of the ancient hospital at the foot of the mountain at Mahintale. It is just off a side road and set amidst a grove of lovely mango trees. It is probably the remains of the hospital which the Culavamsa says Sena II established at Mihintale in the 9th century. The entrance is on the southern side where a gatehouse leads to an outer courtyard. On the right are the remains of what looks like a hot water bath or perhaps a steam bath. Beyond this a flight of stairs leads to the accommodation area. There are 27 rooms for patients and four larger rooms for other purposes, all built around a courtyard with a small temple in its middle. In the large room on the north east corner is a stone medical bath. The exact purpose of such baths is not certain but they were probably used for immersing patients in medicinal oils. The picture shows Viraj playing ‘sick’ in this bath. There are other medical baths like this - two in Anuradhapura, one at Polonnaruwa and another at Medirigiriya. Mahintale’s hospital was probably situated some distance from the main monastery for quarantine purposes. It was probably not meant for the general population but for the monks and staff of the large monasteries nearby. During excavations of this hospital a clay jar with a blue glaze similar to those known from Iran was found.
If you would like to know more about stone medical baths read R. A. L. H, Gunawardana’s ‘Immersion as Therapy-Archaeological and Literary Evidence as an Aspect of Medical Practice in Pre-colonial Sri Lanka’, Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities, Vol.IV, 1978.


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