Anuradhpura was the first capital of Sri Lanka. It was the epitome of politics, religion and culture which bore great Kings, magnificent palaces, manmade tanks, pleasure gardens, ponds, Buddhist monuments and monasteries. From the 5th century onwards it reigned as the capital city of Sri Lanka for 1300 years.The Buddhist faith was first established here which greatly influenced the nation. It is believed Fa Hien the Buddhist pilgrim came to Anuradhapura in search of Buddhist texts, as Buddhism was declining in India.
This city was subject to many south Indian invasions over the years and was finally abandoned in 993 AD. The jungle tide rose and cocooned the city in a peaceful embrace hiding it from prying eyes for thousands of years. The forgotten remnants of the lost city were rediscovered during British rule in the 19th century. Restoration began and city was slowly brought back to life over the years. Today one will witness the greatness of Anuradhapura in its ruins, intricate sculptures, pleasure gardens, reservoirs and world renowned Buddhist monuments.
SRI MAHA BODI (Sacred Bo Tree)
A branch of the holy Bo tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment was brought to Sri Lanka by a Buddhist Nun name SanghamitthaTheri. Thirty two saplings from this tree have been planted around the island. Documented in history as the oldest living tree, the Sri Maha Bodhi is venerated by Buddhists throughout the year.
The elevated Bo Tree is surrounded by an eighteen carat gold fence. The compound is surrounded by a thick wall, built by King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha to protect from wild elephants. The original branch of the Bo tree is believed to be on the northeast side of the terrace, supported by painted crutches.
Ruwanweliseya (The Great Stupa)
Built by King Dutugemunu it enshrines gem studded statues, various valuable objects and relics of the Buddha. Originally built in a bubble shape, it has lost its form over years of renovation. Now standing only 55m in height this Great Stupa celebrates the devotional architecture of our time.
This is the first stupa built in Sri Lanka by King Devanapiyatissa.It was built after Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by MahindaThera who also introduced the worship of stupas. Thuparamaya enshrines Lord Buddha’s right collar bone. It was originally built in the shape of a heap of paddy.
This stupa was built by King Vattagamini-Abhaya in the 1st century BC. The premises was used by Jain monks at the time. Hence believed to be named after the King (Abhaya) and the Jain monk named “ Giri”. Abhayagiriya has great historic importance as it used to be a monastery for thousands of monks and contained monasteries several stories high. It is believed that the relics of the Buddha are enshrined in a figure of a bull made of thick gold. Standing a height of 207 feet and 307 feet in diameter, it is one of the largest of the five major stupas. Abhayagiriyaand Jetavanaramayawere wonders of their time as they were taller than the third Pyramid of Giza.
The largest stupa in Sri Lanka was built by King Mahasena (273-301 AD). The part of the waist band/sash tied by Lord Buddha is believed to be enshrined at Jetavanaramaya. This stupa contains 62 millions bricks and weighs 657,000 tons. The paved terrace can accommodate up to 30,000 devotees on special occasions. This stupa is believed to be the largest stupa in the world. In 1860 James Emerson Tennent wrote in his book about Ceylon, that it had enough bricks to build a 3m high and 25cm thick wall from London to Edinburgh.
The Mirisavetiya Stupa was built by King Dutugemunu after defeating King Elara. During the consecration of the stupa, the King consumed rice and curry spiced with chilies without offering the Sangha( Buddhist Priests). As punishment for his failure he dedicated the stupa to the Sangha. Hence the name “Mirisavetiya” in Sinhala meaning “Pepper-Pod” was derived.
King Lajji-Tissa( 119-109 BC) built this stone stupa, east of Thuparamaya. This reveals that originally it may have been built bell-shaped or cone shaped.
This stupa was built by King Vattagaminiabhaya. There is no information about the original ancient stupa, but it has been renovated over time
LOVAMAHAPAYA (The Brazen Palace)
Originally roofed with bronze tiles, this grand palace was hence named The Brazen Palace. Built by King Dutugemunu, it was nine stories high with hundred windows on each floor and thousands of rooms. After years of depletion and poor protection now stand the remnants of this once magnificent structure with only forty rows of forty pillars. Despite the namethis was a residence for monks.
RATHNA PRASADAYA (Gem Palace)
This was built by King KanittaTissa and renovated by several other kings over time. It was a sanctuary for monks. Here one will find probably the finest guard stone of the era, depicting a seven headed cobra king (nagaraja) . The mesmerizing intricate details of the sculpture boast of the skills and creativity of the Anuradhapura era.The Queens Palace situated close by one will see the largest and most beautiful moonstones.
The finest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka, sits serene and peaceful in Mahamevuna Park. Sitting in meditation posture, this 8 foot tall granite sculpture displays a state of deep meditation.
KUTTAM POKUNA (Twin Ponds)
Situated close to the AbhayagiriyaViharaya, these two bathing tanks have served as bathing premises for thousands of monks who resided in Abhayagiriya. Even though they are called twin ponds one is longer than the other. The larger one is 132 ft and the smaller one being 91 ft long. However both have a breadth of 51 ft. There are beautiful steps on both sides leading to the pond, which are decorated with scroll designs and “punkalas”. There is a filtering device at the far end of the pond.
Isurumuniya was built during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, as a residence for 500 ordained children. The temple entrance protrudes shyly from the rock wall of the summit, and the stupa sits silently on top.At the entrance to the temple there is a large pond. Above it is carvings of elephants, and on top level of the stairs a carving of a man and a horse.
But the most famous sculpture is the Isurumuniya Lovers, which depicts 6th century Indian Gupta style . This had been brought to the premises from elsewhere as it’s a separate slab of stone. Some believe it to be Saliya( son of King Dutugemunu) and Asokamala ( a low caste girl) for whom he gave up the throne.
RAN MASU UYANA (Gold Fish Park)
In this royal pleasure garden Prince Saliya and Asokamala met and fell in love. This 12 hectare garden is the most well preserved park in Anuradhapura. Apart from the attractive ponds and rock carvings, there is a very unusual attraction at this park that still puzzle locals. It is an unusual rock inscription called “ Sakwala Chakra”. The meaning of this inscription is unexplained.. A recent study has created a belief the inscription could be a ‘stargate’ which creates a link between earth and out of space. There have been similar inscriptions found in Egypt and Peru. However there are several beliefs as some believe it to be astronomical, a type of board game, how tantric monks viewed the world, an early world map, floor plan for Sigiriya or rock garden in Anuradhapura. Whatever it may be this mysterious inscription has no firm understanding.