Ancient monastic hospital system in Sri Lanka

The art of healing was very important in Buddhism, since the Buddha himself emphasized that health is among the most precious goods a person can possess. Hospitals were established in the Sri Lankan capital Anuradhapura from the 4th century BC onwards, and several Sri Lankan kings had medical knowledge. A large number of hospitals for different diseases were subsequently set up in the country, which were used both by the people and by Buddhist monks. Excavations have revealed three hospitals situated in Buddhist monasteries in Anuradhapura, Madirigivi and Polonnaruva. The objects found there give valuable insight into medical practice in Sri Lanka at the time. Written sources from the 5th century AD and later centuries testify that Ayurvedic medicine, acupuncture and surgery were known in ancient Sri Lanka. Buddhist monks in ancient monasteries used to practice medicine and do so until the present day, and some ancient techniques are still used. The Silk Roads played an important role in spreading medical knowledge.

Related Information

  • Author(s):
    Leelananda Prematilleke
    4th century BCE to 20th century CE
    Language of article:

    International Seminar for UNESCO Integral Study of the Silk Roads: Roads of Dialogue “Ancient Trades and Cultural contacts in Southeast Asia”. 21-22 January 1991. Bangkok, Thailand.

    Sri Lanka

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