Anuradhapura Kingdom lasted one thousand and five hundred years from 380 BC. This city is home to many of the earliest grandest monuments of Sri Lanka and popular destination of Sinhalese Buddhist’s pilgrimages because of its many ancient Buddhist monuments.
Anuradhapura has been made royal capital by the King Pandukabhaya in 380 BC. It remained residence and royal capital for 119 successive Singhalese kings till the year 1000 AD. when it was abandoned and the capital moved to Polonnaruwa. You will see some of the most famous as well as the tallest dagoba of Sri Lanka, remains from palaces, temples, monasteries, ceremonial baths and the temple of the holy Bo-Tree. This tree was grown from a Sapling of the very tree under which more than 2,500 years ago the Buddha found enlightenment. It is an important historical and archaeological site and continues to attract both Sri Lankan and foreign visitors as well as pilgrims.
Today Anuradhapura is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the center of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries. The city lies 205 km north of the Colombo in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
It is believed that from the 4th century BC. it was the capital of the Sinhalese until the beginning of the 11th century AD. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia.
There are much to see at Anuradhapura, including the sacred Bodhi tree, Eight major places, monasteries and monuments.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya is the sacred tree in Anuradhapura. It is said to be the southern branch from the historical Bodhi tree Sri Maha Bodhi at Bodh Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. The tree is over 2,200 years old and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. Today it is one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and respected by Buddhists all over the world.
Lovamahapaya is a building situated between Ruwanveliseya and Sri Mahabodiya in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. It is also known as the Brazen Palace or Lohaprasadaya because the roof was covered with bronze tiles.
In ancient times, the building included the refectory and the uposathagara (Uposatha house). There was also a simamalake where the Sangha (monk) assembled on Poya days to recite the sutra of the confessional. The famous Lohaprasada built by King Dutugemunu, described as an edifice of nine stories, was a building of this class. One side of the building was 400 ft (120 m) in length. There are 40 rows, each row consisting of 40 stone pillars, for a total of 1,600 pillars. It is believed that it took six years for the construction of the building and the plan was brought from the heavens. The building was completely destroyed during the reign of King Saddhatissa. The small building in the center is late construction and is the Venue of Uposatha (chapter house) of the Maha Vihara even now.
The Ruwanwelisaya is a stupa in Sri Lanka, considered a marvel for its architectural qualities and sacred to many Buddhists all over the world. It was built by King Dutugemunu 140 BC. who became lord of all Sri Lanka after a war in which the Chola King Elara, was defeated. It is also known as Mahathupa, Swarnamali Chaitya, Suvarnamali Mahaceti (in Pali) and Rathnamali Dagaba.
This is one of the Solosmasthana (the 16 places of veneration) and the Atamasthana (the 8 places of veneration in the ancient sacred city of Anuradhapura). The stupa is one of the world’s tallest monuments, standing at 338 ft (103 m) and with a circumference of 950 ft (290 m).
Thuparamaya is a dagoba in Anuradhapura. It is a Buddhist sacred place of veneration. Mahinda Thera, an envoy sent by King Ashoka himself introduced Theravada Buddhism and also chetiya worship to Sri Lanka. At his request King Devanampiyatissa built Thuparamaya in which was enshrined the collarbone of the Buddha. It is considered to be the first dagaba built in Sri Lanka following the introduction of Buddhism. This is considered the earliest monument, the construction of which was chronicled Sri Lanka. The name Thuparamaya comes from “stupa” and “aramaya” which is a residential complex for monks.
Thuparamaya dagoba has been built in the shape of a bell. This dagoba was destroyed from time to time. During the reign of King Agbo II it was completely destroyed and the King restored it. What is seen presently is the construction of the dagoba, done in 1862 AD. As of today, after several renovations, in the course of the centuries, the monument has a diameter of 59 ft (18 m), at the base. The dome is 11 feet 4 inches (3.45 m) in height from the ground, 164½ ft (50.1 m) in diameter. The compound is paved with granite and there are 2 rows of stone pillars round the dagaba. During the early period vatadage was built round the dagoba.
Abhayagiriya was a major monastery site of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism that was situated in Anuradhapura. It is one of the most extensive ruins in the world and one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage cities in the nation. Historically it was a great monastic centre as well as a royal capital, with magnificent monasteries rising to many stories, roofed with gilt bronze or tiles of burnt clay glazed in brilliant colors. To the north of the city, encircled by great walls and containing elaborate bathing ponds, carved balustrades and moonstones, stood “Abhayagiri”, one of seventeen such religious units in Anuradhapura and the largest of its five major viharas. One of the focal points of the complex is an ancient stupa, the Abhayagiri Dagaba. Surrounding the humped dagaba, Abhayagiri Vihara was a seat of the Northern Monastery, or Uttara Vihara.
The term “Abhayagiri Vihara” means not only a complex of monastic buildings, but also a fraternity of Buddhist monks, or Sangha, which maintains its own historical records, traditions and way of life. Founded in the 2nd century BC. it had grown into an international institution by the 1st century AD. attracting scholars from all over the world and encompassing all shades of Buddhist philosophy. Its influence can be traced to other parts of the world, through branches established elsewhere. Thus, the Abhayagiri Vihara developed as a great institution vis‑a‑vis the Mahavihara and the Jetavana Buddhist monastic sects in the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Anuradhapura.
The Jetavanaramaya is a stupa, located in the ruins of Jetavana Monastery in the sacred world heritage city of Anuradhapura. King Mahasena (273-301 AD) initiated the construction of the stupa following the destruction of Mahavihara. His son Maghavanna I completed the construction of the stupa. A part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be the relic that is enshrined here.
The structure is significant in the island’s history for it represents the tensions within the Theravada and Mahayana sects of Buddhist monks, it is also significant in world history as one of the tallest structures in the ancient world. The height of the stupa is 400 feet (122 m) and was the tallest ancient stupa in the world, the structure is no longer the tallest however it is the largest with a volume of 233,000 m2 (2,508,000 sq ft). At the time of its completion the structure was the third tallest structure in the world behind the Great Pyramids of Giza. Approximately 93.3 million baked bricks were used in its construction, the engineering ingenuity behind the construction of the structure is a significant development in the history of the island. The sectarian differences between the Buddhist monks also are represented by the stupa as it was built on the premises of the destroyed Mahavihara, which led to a rebellion by a minister of King Mahasena.
This stupa belongs to the Sagalika sect. The compound covers approximately 5.6 hectares and is estimated to have housed 10,000 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 (9 m) wide. The doorpost to the shrine, which is situated in the courtyard, is 27 ft (8 m) high. The stupa has a 28 ft (9 m) deep foundation, and sits on bedrock. Stone inscriptions in the courtyard give the names of people who donated to the building effort.
The Mirisaweti Stupa is situated in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. King Dutugamunu built the Mirisaweti Stupa after defeating King Elara. After placing the Buddha relics in the sceptre, he had gone to Tisawewa for a bath leaving the sceptre. After the bath he returned to the place where the sceptre was placed, and it is said that it could not be moved. The stupa was built in the place where the sceptre stood. It is also said that he remembered that he partook a chilly curry without offering it to the sangha. In order to punish himself he built the Mirisawetiya Dagaba. The extent of this land is about 50 acres (20 ha). Although the King Kashyapa I and Kashyapa V renovated this, from time to time it was dilapidated. What stands today is the renovation done by the cultural Triangle Fund.
Lankarama is a stupa built by King Valagamba, in an ancient place at Galhebakada in the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura. Nothing is known about the ancient form of the stupa, and later this was renovated. The ruins show that there are rows of stone pillars and it is no doubt that there has been a house built encircling the stupa (vatadage) to cover it. The round courtyard of the stupa seems to be 10 feet (3 m) above the ground. The diameter of the stupa is 45 feet (14 m). The courtyard is circular in shape and the diameter is 1,332 feet (406 m).
In addition to these 8 main places of worship, there are some other places of artistic, historical and archaeological value which should be visited
One of the best specimen of bathing tanks or pools in ancient Sri Lanka is the pair of pools known as Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds/Pools). The said pair of pools were built by the Sinhalese in the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura. These are considered one of the significant achievements in the field of hydrological engineering and outstanding architectural and artistic creations of the ancient Sinhalese.
A garden was landscaped which separates the two ponds which long is 18½ ft. The larger pool of the two is 132 ft by 51 ft, while the smaller pool is 91 ft by 51 ft. The depths of the two pools is 14 ft and 18 ft for the smaller pool and the larger pool respectively.
The faces of the pools were cut granite slabs which includes the bottom and the sides of the pool. A wall was also built around the pool which encloses the compound. Flights of steps are seen on both ends of the pool decorated with punkalas, or pots of abundance and scroll design. Embankments were constructed to enable monks to bathe using pots or other utensils. Water to the pools were transferred through underground ducts and filtered before flowing to the pool and in a similar fashion the water was emptied.
Professor Paranavitharana was actively involved in the restoration of the ponds, in which small figures of fish, a conch, a crab and a dancing woman were found in the bottom.
Isurumuniya is a Buddhist temple situated near to the Tisawewa (Tisa tank). The temple was built by King Devanampiya Tissa who ruled in the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Anuradhapura. After 500 children of high-caste were ordained, Isurumuniya was built for them to reside. King Kasyapa I (473-491 AD) renovated this viharaya and named it as “Boupulvan, Kasubgiri Radmaha Vehera”. This name is derived from names of his 2 daughters and his name. There is a viharaya connected to a cave and above is a cliff. A small stupa is built on it. It can be seen that the constructional work of this stupa belong to the present period. Lower down on both sides of a cleft, in a rock that appears to rise out of a pool, have been carved the figures of elephants. On the rock is carved the figure of a horse. The carving of Isurumuniya lovers on the slab has been brought from another place and placed it there. There are four carvings of special interest in this Viharaya. They are the Isurumuniya Lovers, Elephant Pond, the horse head and the man and the Royal Family. A few yards away from this vihara is the Ranmasu Uyana.
The Samadhi Statue is a statue situated at Mahamevnawa Park in Anuradhapura. The Buddha is depicted in the position of the Dhyana Mudra, the posture of meditation associated with his first Enlightenment, also called Nirvana. Whether the Buddha’s Enlightenment was the experience technically called Samadhi, or some other phenomenon, may depend upon the philosophical allegiance of the believer. In the Dhyana Mudra the Buddha sits cross – legged with his upturned palms placed one over the other on his lap. This position is universally known throughout the Buddhist world, and this statue is therefore one of the most typical pieces of Buddhist sculpture. It is not to be confused with the very similar “Earth-Touching Mudra,” which depicts the simple action the Buddha took to fend off the illusions projected by Mara, who was desperate to prevent the Buddha from realizing that his, Mara’s, projections, and with them the entire world, are an illusion. This statue is 8 feet in height and carved from granite.
Sela Chethiya is one of the 16 main places of worship or Solosmasthana and is situated to the west of Jetavanaramaya in the ancient sacred city of Anuradhapura. This was constructed by King Lajjitissa who ruled in the 1st century BC. The diameter of the base of the stupa is 37 ½ feet. This stupa has been given this name as the platform and stupa has been constructed in stone. A moon-stone and guard-stones can be seen here.
Sandakada pahana, also known as Moon-stone, is a unique feature of the Sinhalese architecture of ancient Sri Lanka. It is an elaborately carved semi-circular stone slab, usually placed at the bottom of staircases and entrances. First seen in the latter stage of the Anuradhapura period, the sandakada pahana evolved through the Polonnaruwa, Gampola and Kandy period. According to historians, the sandakada pahana symbolises the cycle of Sansara in Buddhism.
The guard-stone or “muragala” were one of an association of three aspects of sculpture that adorned the entrance to buildings in ancient times, the other two being the moonstone (Sandakada Pahana) and balustrade (Korawak Gala). The guard-stones, which provided a support to the heavy stone balustrade, were plain in the beginning. Later they came to be sculptured with symbols significant of prosperity and protection.
Avukana Buddha statue
The Avukana statue is a standing statue of the Buddha near Kekirawa, about 50 km south of Anuradhapura. The statue, which has a height of more than 40 feet (12 m), has been carved out of a large granite rock face during the 5th century. It depicts a variation of the Abhaya mudra, and the closely worn robe is elaborately carved. Constructed during the reign of King Dhatusena, it may have been made as a result of a competition between a master and a pupil. Avukana statue is one of the best examples of a standing statue constructed in ancient Sri Lanka. It is now a popular tourist attraction in the country.
According to an inscription this stupa was constructed by Uttiya, a Minister of King Valagamba. For sometimes by an error it was considered as Elara’s tomb. King Kanittha Tissa had build an alms hall, King Gottabhaya built an uposathagaraya, where the Bhikkhus assembled for the ceremony of confession, while King Agbo I constructed a large building. The Bhikkhus of the Sagalika sect resided here. The most popularly known fact is that this stupa was constructed on the tomb of King Dutugemunu. Human bones that were collected were sent to France and according to the scientific analysis it was revealed that these ashes belong to King Dutugemunu.
Royal Pleasure Garden
Royal Pleasure garden is another cluster of sites that shouldn’t be ever missed by the tourists persuaded in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka figuring a great engineering system in Town and City Planning. Since from the past Anuradhapura was advanced in designing and planning the city.
Thereby Parks, Gardens, ponds and artificial water falls were seen in the city. One such Garden is the Mahamega Park designed by the King Mutasiwa, brother of king Kashyapa in the 3rd centuary. But the originator of this garden is still unknown to the entire world. At the same time King Mutasiwa was the creater of the Nandana Park and Jothivana Park.
But with a dawn of a new era of King Devanam piyatissa, our country was cherished with Buddhism. Therefore King Devanam piya tissa donated all of these parks to Bhikkus. You can meet this park which covers an area of 40 acres on the way down to the bund of Tissa wewa in Anuradhapura. Royal pleasure garden known as park of the Gold fishes which is also known as Ranmasu Uyana in Sinhalaese.
This is the venue that the Prince Saliya,the son of King Dutugemunu met his love Ashokamala from a lower strata of the society used to met and had to abandon the throne. As indicated in the Vessagiriya epigraph, the water to the park was supplied from the Tissa Wewa and lasted by providing water supplements for the paddy fields near the Isurumuniya Vihara without spoiling Water.
Ruins at the premises include scattered rocks, three bathing ponds and remains of a small building. Professors say that the Royal Garden so called of Ranmasu Uyana was addressed in this name because there were lots of gold fishes in small ponds next to the bathing ponds. There is a large room built in the stone measured about 7×6 feet.
You can see wonderful sculpture of playing and bathing elephants in a Lotus Pond. Further the park consists, another pond of 2 parts which are tremendously designed to fit around the huge boulders in the park. The inner part of the chamber similarly to a changing room built with plates of rock. Professor Paranavitharana believed that these joined 2 ponds made a shower bath for the Royal family. On such indicators help to proves that the mechanical knowledge used in the Royal pleasure Garden was so advance.
Kiribath Vehera is situated in the ancient sacred city of Anuradhapura. The remains of this vihara shows that it is 30 feet in height and the circumference is 425 feet. The date of construction and the King who built it, is unknown. In close proximity to this are the ruins of an image house. There is controversy whether the Pattamaka Chetiya built by King Devanam piyatissa is one and the same.
Vessagiri, or Vesagiriya, is a series of stone rocks and caves that are part of the ruins of Anuradhapura. They are located about half a mile south of Isurumuniya, in a mountainous region. Above the caves are inscribed the names of donors written in Brahmi script.
Naka Vihara is a stupa, or Buddhist religious monument, built with bricks and square in shape. The site was constructed according to an unusual model and would have been similar to the seven story building (Satmahal Prasadaya) in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. Excavations done at this location revealed several clay caskets.
Rathna Prasadaya was a skyscraper built by King Kanittha Tissa who ruled Ceylon from 167 to 186 AD. Mihindu II and Mihindu IV renovated the building during the 8th and 10th centuries. The Bhikkhus of the Tapovana belonging to the Pansakulika sect resided here. Beautiful guard stones of the Abhayagiri Viharaya were found here.The most beautiful and perfect guardstone of the Anuradhapura era which stands today can be seen here.
The Ritigala is situated 43 km away from Anuradhapura and it is the highest mountain in Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Even Ritigala is situated dry zone of Sri Lanka its rainfall has recorded highest value (about 125 cm). Ritigala mountain range has wet micro climate most of echo friendly tourists visit Ritigala .
At 766 m above sea level, and 600m above the surrounding plains. The modern name Ritigala is derived from the ancient name Ariṭṭha Pabbata (Dreadful Mountain), mentioned in the Mahavansa.
You can see monastic ruins of stones, terrace ways, circular terraces, stone bridges and remains of a giant stone banked pond built across a water stream at Ritigala.
It is about 42 km from Anuradhapura and can be reached passing Maradankadawala and turning off at Ganewelpola along Anuradhapura-Habarana highway.