Located 205 km north of Colombo, Anuradhapura is an ancient city which as Mahavamsa, the great chronicle affirms, was founded in 380 BC by Prince Pandukabhaya. It remained the capital of Sri Lanka for about 1400 years and is the oldest city of Sri Lanka. Being a kingdom for centuries, Anuradhapura is bestowed with a plethora of historical monuments such as colossal dagobas, monasteries, temple complexes, palaces and many more amazing structures and hundreds of huge reservoirs.
A World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO, Anuradhapura is one of the most sacred cities in Sri Lanka as it is home to the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree which is a cutting from India’s Sri Maha Bodhi Tree under which the Prince Siddharta attained enlightenment (Buddhahood). This cutting of the most revered Bodhi Tree was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC by the Buddhist nun Sanghamitta, daughter of the great Buddhist emperor of India Ashoka. Also she founded the order of Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka.
Introduction of Buddhism also took place in Anuradhapura during the reign of King Devanapiyatissa (247-207 BC). Arhat Mahinda, son of Ashoka, the great Buddhist emperor of India, was the missionary sent by Ashoka to introduce Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Further, it was in Anuradhapura where Sinhalese civilization began. Hence, Anuradhapura is the cradle of the Sinhalese Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka.
However, after ten flourishing centuries of its inception, Anuradhapura fell to hands of Indian invaders such as Cholas and Pandyans from time to time. Although regained from time to time, invasions led to the relocation of the kingdom to Polonnaruwa and then Anuradhapura turned ruined.Climate
Hot and humid throughout the year and the average temperature remains between 20°C and 30°C. April is the warmest with an average temperature of 29°C, which could get up to 34°C. January is the coldest when the average temperature is 25°C and it drops down to a minimum of 21°C.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred Bodhi tree lying in Anuradhapura. This is one of the most sacred places of Buddhist worship in Sri Lanka. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi of Anuradhapura is the world's oldest human-planted living tree. It is said to be the southern branch from the Sri Maha Bodhi at Bodh Gaya in India under which Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was brought to Sri Lanka from Bodh Gaya in India by the Ven Sanghamitta Therini, a sister of Arhant Mahinda, with the patronage of Emperor Dharmashoka. It was King Devanapiyatissa planted it in his royal park known as Maha Meghavana Udyanaya in Anuradhapura. The area around Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi consists of Lovamahapaya (the Brazen Palace) and the magnificent Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, which were once probably part of Maha Vihara the Great Temple. A continuous succession of guardians has taken care of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi for over 2000 years, even during the periods of Indian occupation
The Ruwanweliseya is a huge 55-metre tall bubble shaped dagoba built in the 2nd century BCE by King Dutugemunu who couldn't live to see its completion. This is the greatest masterpiece of King Dutugemunu. Originally the dagoba stood taller than the current height. This is because it was heavily damaged by Indian invaders and after restoration its height was fell to 55 metres and the diameter to 379 ft.
The dagoba was originally surrounded by two large paved courts or platforms, the inner one raised above the outer. Round the outer side of the boundary-wall there was originally a complete circle of elephants, made out of brickwork, and coated with Chunam each elephant being furnished, says the Mahavamsa or the Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka, compiled in about the 6th century AD with tusks of real ivory. Most of these figures have fallen away beyond recognition; but in some few, the shape of the animal is still plainly discernable."
Lovamahapaya (Brazen Palace)
Lying between the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, Lovamahapaya or the brazen palace is an ancient building which had a bronze roof. Originally built by King Dutugemunu more than 2000 years ago, Lovamahapaya was a nine storied 150 ft tall building that could accommodate 1000 monks, but over the time it was rebuilt many times. What can be seen today are 1600 stone columns.
Standing close to the magnificent Ruwanweliseya Dagoba is the Folk Museum which was established in 1971 with the purpose of collecting, conserving and exhibiting the cultural and religious objects used by the folk community in Nuwara-Kalaviya area. The museum with a good collection of artefacts portrays the lifestyle of the rural peasantry of Nuwara-Kalaviya area.
Established in 1947 and housed in Kachcheri building that lies between Lovamahapaya (brazen palace) and Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, the National Archaeological Museum of Anuradhapura showcases a large collection of antiquities such as Buddha statues, inscriptions, and coins found from Anuradhapura and other historic sites across the island.
A huge dagoba standing close to Tissa Wewa (a lake), Mirisavetiya Dagoba was built by king Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC. Enshrined in the dagoba is an ornate sceptre that contains a relic of Buddha.
Built by King Mahasena (273-301 AD), Jetavanarama Stupa is the largest stupa/dagoba in Sri Lanka. Enshrined in the dagoba is believed to be a part of a sash or belt worn by the Buddha. Today, the dagoba stands 70m high but it originally may have stood 100m high. It is the largest brick building ever built, and the 3rd largest structure in the ancient world, after the two largest of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Approximately 93,300,000 baked bricks were used to build the stupa (Ratnayaka 1993).
This stupa belongs to the Sagalika sect. The compound covers approximately 8 acres (5.6 hectares) and once housed over 3000 Buddhist monks. One side of the Stupa is 576 ft (176 m) long, and the flights of stairs at each of the four sides of it are 28 ft (8.5 m) wide. The doorpost to the shrine, which is situated in the courtyard, is 27 ft (8.2 m) high. The stupa has a 6-metre deep foundation, and sits on bedrock. Stone inscriptions in the courtyard give the names of people who donated to the building effort.
The museum holds an interesting collection of artefacts recovered from excavations carried out since 1981 at the 300-acre site of the ancient monastery that housed over 3000 monks. The objects on display consist of nicely carved Buddha statues, guardstones and many carvings, jewellery and pottery.
The Buddhist Railing made of stone lies south of the Jetavanarama Dagoba. The building within the railings which has disappeared a long ago is said to be an image house.
Located north of the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba and built by King Devanapiyatissa, Tuparamaya is the oldest stupa in Sri Lanka built after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Enshrined in the dagoba is the sacred collar bone relic of the Buddha. This relic, a gift from India, stands testimony to the cordial relations enjoyed by the then ruler of Sri Lanka. The columns around the stupa were part of the walkway that supported a roof which covered the sacred edifice. Aesthetically, the interior of such a structure must have been the stunning expression of wood engineering and of the most skilful craftsmanship. The edifice's conical design, unique in the architectural history of the world, continues to be discussed and debated by scholars and scientists.
The discovery of medical texts and surgical instruments dating back to the Anuradhapura period confirm the quality of life during that era. The tradition of using stone troughs as medicinal baths to cure the sick was in vogue during the Anuradhapura and subsequent Polonnaruwa periods and before Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka. The patient, whether paralytic or in a coma after a snake bite, was immersed in a bath enriched with the appropriate medicinal potions that would gradually be absorbed into the body. Interestingly, the shape of the vessel was moulded to economize on the expensive fluid. The name Thuparamaya is a residential complex for Bhikkhus.
Located north of the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree and Ruwanweliseya, Abhayagiri is a huge dagoba with a large monastic complex built by King Walagamba during the 2nd century BC. The dagoba originally stood 117 metres high, but today it stands only 75 metres high. The monastery is said to have accommodated about 5000 monks. Ruins of this large monastery are visible today. The dagoba has now been restored.
Lying just south of the Abhayagiri Dagoba is the Abhayagiri Museum which holds a striking collection of artefacts like squatting plates, jewellery, pottery and religious sculptures discovered from this ancient site. Chinese Buddhist monk Faxian who visited Anuradhapura in the 5th century stayed at this monastery.
Located at Galhebakada in Anuradhapura, Lankarama is a stupa built by King Walagamba in the 1st century BC. The ruins at the site bear evidence to the fact that there had been a vatadage, a house encircling the stupa. The courtyard surrounding the stupa is 3 metres above the ground. Nearby is the Et Pokuna (elephant pond) which had been watered by the Periyakulama tank through subterranean canals. The pond stands 159 metres in length, 52.7 metres in width and 9.5 metres in depth. Et Pokuna is believed to have been used by the Buddhist monks who resided at the Abhayagiri Monastery.
Samadhi Buddha Image
The Samadhi Buddha Image lying at the Mahamevna Park is one of the greatest Buddha images in Sri Lanka. The 4th century 7' 3" tall image poses the Dhyana Mudra - seated in meditation posture.
Ratna Prasada (Jewel Palace)
Ratna Prasada lying at the Abhayagiri monastic complex is an Uposatha house used by the Abhayagiri monastery to conduct Uposatha ceremonies. The jewel palace is believed to have been built during the eight century AD by King Kanitta Tissa. The guardstone at this palace is one of the finest guardstones in Sri Lanka. A cobra head and a man with a pot of water in his left hand and a tree in his right hand are carved on the guardstone.
Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds)
Located within the Abhayagiri monastic complex, Kuttam Pokuna that means twin ponds is a fine set of swimming-pool-like bathing ponds, the northern of which
stands 40m in length and the southern 28m. This was built to be used by the monks residing at the Abhayagiri monastery for bathing purposes
One of the hydrological marvels of ancient Sri Lanka, Kuttam Pokuna is watered through a fine system of filtration. Water channelled through underground conduits is first conveyed to stone chambers in which mud and other dirty particles deposit, and then clear water flowed to the larger ponds through the mouth of a dragon and then to the smaller pond.
Royal Pleasure Gardens (Goldfish Park)
The Royal Pleasure Gardens located nearby the Tisa Wewa and the Isurumuniya Vihara, spreads over an area of 14 hectares. According to the inscriptions at Vessagiriya, this was the park of goldfish. The park has several finely carved ponds that may have held goldfish and water lilies. The rocks scattered all over the park have been used to improve its appearance. You can see ruins of a building constructed on stone slabs to link two boulders.
It is believed that it was at this park where the Prince Saliya, the son of King Dutugemunu, had met his future bride Asokamala. The prince married her and this resulted in the prince being deprived of the throne.
Located close to the Tisa Wewa (a lake), Isurumuniya is a Buddhist rock temple built by King Devanapiyatissa to house 500 newly ordained monks. The temple was later renovated by King Kasyapa (473-491 AD). Isurumuniya is known for its fine carvings known as Lovers, Elephant Pond, and the Royal Family.
Carved on a granite plaque, the sculpture of 'Lovers' which is of the Indian Gupta dynasty style of the 4th and 5th centuries, depicts a woman seated on the man's lap, lifting a warning finger probably as a manifestation n of her coyness; but the man cries on regardless.
'The Royal Family' is also carved on a granite plaque and there are five human figures. The one who is in the centre with a tall crown on his head is believed to be King Dutugemunu.
The Elephant Pond consists of elephant figures carved on the rock around the pond which is watered by Tisa Wewa. The elephants seem to be bathing playfully.
Vessagiriya is a cave monastery complex lying about a kilometre south of Isurumuni Vihara. The remains of the monastery that once housed over 500 monks include 25 caves, an image house, a dagoba, and a refectory.
Kala Wewa is a large reservoir of 18.1 km2 (at full capacity) built southwest of Kekirawa, a town south of the Anuradhapura City by King Datusena in the 5th century. The king then built another tank called Balalu Wewa adjacent to the Kala Wewa and connected the two together making Sri Lanka’s biggest ancient tank. An 87km-long canal called Jaya Ganga alias Yoda Ela was then built to feed the Tisa Wewa that lies close to the Anuradhapura City. Jaya Ganga is one which shows marvels of Sri Lankan irrigation engineering existed more than 1500 years ago. This is an ascending canal, the gradient of which measures to 6 inches per every mile. In addition to the Tisa Wewa, Jaya Ganga feeds the Nachchaduwa reservoir and the Abhaya Wewa too. The magnificent Kala Wewa feeds a large number of reservoirs and tanks lying around.
Avukana Buddha Image
Lying west of the famous serene Kala Wewa, Kekirawa and erected during the reign of King Datusena in the fifth century AD, this is a colossal standing image of Buddha hewn out of a boulder. The magnificent Avukana image which represents the Asisa Mudra, a variation of the Abhaya Mudra (blessing pose) stands 42 feet high and rests on a lotus carved separately. The robe worn tightly has elaborately been carved and the left hand of the image touches the robe at the left shoulder while right hand poses the mudra. The ruins around the image bear evidence to the fact that the image had been within an image house built of bricks and stones.
There are two ancient bridges constructed with stone columns and beams over Malwatu Oya and Yoda Ela (Giant Canal) at a location close to the famous Twin Ponds. Both bridges remain ruined today and only a part can be seen.