Anuradhapura (five hour drive, 205 kilometers northeast of Colombo) is Sri Lanka's oldest and most important Sinhalese capital. Selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1982, it is situated to west and east of the modern town of Anuradhapura and embraces ruins that are spread out over a large area rather than being clustered in groups as is the case with Polonnaruwa, another ancient Sinhalese city. The focal point of Anuradhapura is the sacred Bodhi tree. The Tissa Wewa, Bas-awakkulama and Nuwara Wewa and tanks flank the main area of ruins. A bicycle is the ideal way to get around. Remember to remove you shoes and hat when you approach the sacred sites. Admission is $25. Today much land around the ruins has been cleared for agricultural and irrigated by the Mahaweli project.

Anuradhapura is situated in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka on the banks of the Malwatu Oya. Founded in the 4th century B.C. it was the capital of the Anuradhapura Kingdom till the beginning of the A.D. 11th century . During this period it was a wealthy city and remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia and created a unique culture and a great civilization . Today, Anuradhapura is both a tourist and pilgrimage site, attracting Buddhists from all over world. The ancient city and surrounding monasteries occupy an area of over 40 square kilometers (16 square miles and is a major archaeological site. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

According to UNESCO: The Sacred City of Anuradhapura “was established around a cutting from the 'tree of enlightenment', the Buddha's fig tree, brought there in the 3rd century B.C. by Sanghamitta, the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. Anuradhapura, a Ceylonese political and religious capital that flourished for 1,300 years, was abandoned after an invasion in 993. Hidden away in dense jungle for many years, the splendid site, with its palaces, monasteries and monuments, is now accessible once again. [Source: UNESCO]

In ancient times, Anuradhapura was known from Tibet to the Yellow Sea. Several centuries before Jesus Christ, around the time the Greek empire was at its peak. Anurdhapura was already an advanced civilization. The city was well laid out and well linked. Irrigated by sophisticated systems of man-made lakes and canals, this city was a world trade center and was named the A.D. fist century Greek merchant guide "Periplus purples of the Erythraen Sea", was on Ptolemy's A.D. second century map, and described by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Faxian in A.D. 5th century.

The ruins at Anuradhapura consist mainly of ancient stupas and the remains of monastic complexes. This city's name means the City of Anuradha. Anuradha was the first general of the king Vijaya: the legendary ancestor of the Sinhalese race. The city measured 52 square kilometers' and was divided into several quarters. Foreign traders lived in one quarter. Their houses were of two or three stories. Artisans lived along some avenues.

History of Anuradhapura

In an area first settled around the 9th century B.C., Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 3rd century B.C. to the A.D. 11th century (by contrast Polonnaruwa was only capital for a couple hundred years). Anuradhapura is regarded as the birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism, which spread to Burma, Thailand and Laos. At it peak Anuradhapura covered an area greater than modern-day Chicago.

According to the Mahawamsa, the great Chronicle of the Sinhalese, the city of Anuradhapura was named after a minister called Anuradha who founded this area as a village settlement by the Malwatu Oya where water was readily available in the second half of the 6th century B.C. He was one of the ministers who had accompanied king Vijaya from India who, according to tradition, landed in Sri Lanka and founded the Sinhala race. Some years later, a prince of the same name became overlord in that village and built a reservoir and a residence. The Chronicle says that the place was called Anuradhagama because it had served as dwelling to two Anuradhas and also because it was founded under the constellation Anuradha. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

Anuradhapura gained prominence as the capital of the Northern Kingdom and as a religious centre with a governing king only from the beginning of the 3rd century, after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The city itself had acquired its growth over the centuries. The Royal Palace was at the centre of the city. Though many historians described the early Anuradhapura city as being well planned, it is clear that this was not the case. A planned city of that time should have had regular rectangular protective walls around the city. But the archaeological evidence at Anuradhapura does not provide evidence to support this. In the 4th century B.C. there was a separate quarter set apart near the western gate of the city for men of Maditerranean or Persian (Yona) origin. The Chronicle does not say whether this group lived inside or outside the city walls.

It is evident from the Chronicle that the necessity to separate the inner city from the outer was felt only in the first century B.C. The mahavamsa says that King Kutakannatissa (41-19 B.C.) built the first city wall to a height of seven cubits with a moat in front of it. He also constructed a royal place. Thus Anuradhapura became a fortified city only from then. This fortification was further strengthened and enlarged by raising the walls to a height of 18 cubits in the time of King Vasabha (65-106 A.D.). He added fortified gatehouses at the entrances, the ruins of which can be seen even today. In doing so the Mahavamsa say that he consulted soothsayers as well as architects.

The 5th century Chinese traveler Faxian visited Anuradhapura. One traveler wrote: "Approaching, I could make out colossal shrines—dagobas from miles away. Impenetrable bell-shaped edifices housing relics of the Buddha, they loomed as high as fifty stories above the plain. Soon I saw ancient lakelike reservoirs...One evening I joined a throng of worshipers to meditate before the sacred bo tree. Buddhist believe that it has grown from a branch of the bo tree beneath which, in northern India, the Buddha attained enlightenment. This being so, the tree I contemplated , set here in the third century B.C., is the oldest tree in existence whose origin has been documented."

Extensive irrigation was made possible by the Tissa Wewa, Bas-awakkulama and Nuwara Wewa tanks, which are still used today. Several other kingdoms existed at the same time as Anuradhapura but Anuradhapura was by far the strongest. People in Anuradhapura practiced a variety of agricultures including shifting cultivation, irrigated farming and intensive cultivation of dry land gardens.

Anuradhapura was repeatedly invaded by Hindu kingdoms from southern India. It also engaged in a few mostly ill-fated adventures of its own in India and elsewhere. Anuradhapura served as the capita; of Sri Lanka until the south Indian Chola Empire captured the city in A.D. 993 and the Anuradhapura ruler Vijayabahu I decided to move the capital out of harms way further south to Polonnaruwa. The modern town of Anuradhapura was the site of a large massacre in the 1985.

Anuradhapura Kings

Anuradhapura first became a capital in 380 B.C. under Pandukabhaya but didn’t really become a power until the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (ruled 247-207 B.C.). He is credited with building a number of great monuments and helping to spread Buddhism throughout the island. This period of prosperity came to an end with an invasion from southern India.

King Dutegmuno (161-137 B.C.) is regarded Sri Lanka’s greatest ruler. He recaptured Anuradhapura, drove out the southern Indians, and launched a massive building campaign (many of the most impressive buildings at Anuradhapura site today date to his reign). His father had specifically forbade him from invading Anuradhapura. When took the city he sent his father a piece of woman’s jewelry to express his feelings about his father’s bravery. Dutugamunu was not only a brave warrior but also a great builder.

Among the other important Anuradhapura rulers were Mahaseba (A.D. 276-303, who built the mammoth Jetavanarama Dagoba and 16 tanks; and King Kirthi Sri Meghawann, who brought Buddha's tooth to Sri Lanka during his reign in the A.D. 4th century, providing a religious justification for the power of the Sinhalese royalty.

Early History of Anuradhapura

Excavations in Anuradhapura showed that Anuradhapura was a city hundred acres in extent by 700-600 B.C.. People cultivated the land, there was use of iron and there was advanced pottery. People were breeding horses and had domestic cattle. This was long before history identified Anuradhapura as a capital city.

We have a vast amount of historical and archaeological evidence for Sinhala-Buddhist Anuradhapura but little about the period prior to that, i,e the protohistoric period . Excavations carried out at the Citadel of Anuradhapura reveals has revealed details of the existence of a protohistoric habitation. The protohistoric Iron Age is considered to be from ca. 900-600 B.C. This period is marked by the appearance of iron technology, Black and Red ware (BRW) pottery, domesticated horses and cattle and paddy cultivation. By ca. 700-600 B.C. the protohistoric settlement at Anuradhapura had extended over an area of at least 50 hectares and has been designated as a town. Anuradhapura’s location — equidistant from the major ports of the northwest and northeast, surrounded by irrigable and fertile earth and defensible against invaders with its deep burrier of forests — suggest a deliberate selection of the site by a centralised authority. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

The period ca. 600-500 B.C. was a period of transition from the protohistoric to the lower early historic period. The evidence from Anuradhapura indicated that writing in the Brahmi script was extant during this phase. Archaeologists believe that the occurrence of the Brahmi script and two ceramic traits are linked in some manner to a cultural impulse which reached Sri Lanka during this period, and it is tempting to see a connection between these development and with the legend of "Vijaya and his followers", an event ascribed to the 6th century B.C. by the chronicles.

The lower early historic period, which is ca. 500-250 B.C., can be studied on the basis of the chronicles. In this regard the reference to King Pandukabhaya and the formal planning of the city, complete with gates and a quarter for the Yonas who are thought to have been Iranian of west Asian traders. The contact with the Gengetic valley is shown in the occurrence of Northern Black Polished were (NBP) in small quantities. By ca. 250-100 A.D. the early historic citadel of Anuradhapura was fully developed, covering an extent of ca. 100 ha. or more. Thus the ancient city of Anuradhapura would have represented one of the largest cities of its time in South Asia. This period is well documented with ample evidence of close cultural interrelations with the Ashoka Empire.

Anuradhapura Under King Pandukabhaya

Anuradhapura first became a capital in 380 B.C. under Pandukabhaya but didn’t really become a power until the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (ruled 247-207 B.C.). He is credited with building a number of great monuments and helping to spread Buddhism throughout the island. This period of prosperity came to an end with an invasion from southern India.

It is said that King Pandukabhaya made Anuradhapura his capital in the 4th century B.C., and that he also laid out the town and its suburbs according to a well organised plan. He constructed a reservoir named Abhayavapi. He established shrines for yakkhas such as Kalawela and Cittaraja. He housed the Yaksini-Cetiya in the form of a mare within the royal precincts and offerings were made to all these demi-gods every year. He chose the sites for the cemetry and for the place of execution, the Chapel of the Western Queen, the Pacchimarajini, the Vessavana Banyan Tree, the Palm of the Vyadhadeva, the Yona Quarter and the House of the Great Sacrifice. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

Slaves or Candalas were assigned their duties and a village was set apart for them. The build dwellings for Niganthas, for wandering ascetics and for Ajivakas and Brahmanas. He established, the village boundaries. The tradition that King Pandukabhaya made Anuradhapura the capital city of Sri Lanka as early as the fourth century B.C. had been very important. The administrative and sanitary arrangements be made for the city and the shrines he provided indicate that over the years the city developed according to an original master plan.

Pandukabhaya’s son Mutasiva succeeded him to the throne. During his reign of sixty years, he maintained Anuradhapura as his capital and further laid out the Mahameghavana Garden which was to play an important role in the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was in the period of his successor, his son Devanampia Tissa, that Buddhism was first introduced this island 236 years after the passing away of the Buddha. A contemporary of Devanampiya Tissa Was emporer Ashoka in India. Historically this period is considered to extend from 250 to 210 B.C. This is the point at which a kingship began and a civilization developed based on one of the greatest religions of South Asia, Buddhism.

Mahinda, the Bodhi Tree and King Devanampiya Tissa

The introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka is ascribed to Ashoka's son, Mahinda Thera, who came to this island about the middle of the third century B.C. According to the Chronicle, the first meeting between venerable Mahinda and the ruling king,Devanampiya Tissa, took place about eight miles east of Anuradhapura, at Mihintale on the full moon day of Poson in May-June, The next day Mahinda and his companians entered Anuradhapura. The king received them and took them to the Royal Place. In the evening they took residence at the Royal Pavilion of the Mahameghavana-park which was "neither too far nor too near the city". This park was later offered to the Sangha community of monks. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

According to the chronicle , after accepting the Mahameghavana park Mahinda planned the future centre of Buddhism at a site in the city of Anuradhapura which later became known as the premises of the Mahavihara. The ritual city thus became the sacred city and was originally designed and laid out by Mahinda Thera He went round the city with the king ., locating in the Mahameghavana - Park the sites proper for the future activities of the Buddha Sasana Its territory comprised the Jotivana Park previously known as Nandanavana and Mahamegha - parks , the area to the south and south -west of the Citadel. In his progress through the park , Mahinda Thera halted at the pulila tree on the south side of the royal pavilion, where the Ransimalaka or the site proper for the acts of the Sangha afterwards stood , a bathing tank , then the Jantaghara , the Panhambamalaka, the place where gifts would afterwards be distributed to the Sangha , the Catussala, afterwards the refectory of the Mahavihara, and the site of the later Mahathupa .The most important sacred places of worship such as the Bodhi Tree, Mahathupa , Lohapasada , Thuparama, and Mirisavatiya are located within the confines of the Mahavihara . Thuparama stood in the Jotivana .

As stated in the Chronicle king Devanampiya Tissa inquired from Mahinda whether the religion of the Buddha has been established. The Thera replied in the negative and explained that for this to be achieved ,it was necessary to establish the Sima or the consecrated boundaries for the Uposatha and other acts of the Sangha. Devanampiya Tissa expressed his desire that the city should be included in the Sima so that he himself , and his subjects could live within the order of the Buddha. Having agreed to this , the king himself ploughed a furrow marking the boundaries of the consecrated area. The work then commenced. Edifices were built in the Mahamegha Gardens. The whole purpose of this act was to show that the king wanted to govern the country from a place comparable to Sima , a place where the monks perform their religious acts.

Thus the city from which the king ruled became a place of justice and the king himself having conquered spiritually represented a faithful follower of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha . The Mahavihara was the seat of the orthodox Theravada Buddhists founded by king Devanampiya Tissa in the year 249 B.C. Afterwards in the year 89 B.C was founded the Abhayagiri Vihara which became the centre of heterodox Mahayana Buddhists. In the reign of king Mahasena (275-310 A.D.) we see the rise of another monastery the Jetavana located between the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri monasteries. Despite the rapid expansion of religious edifices in Anuradhapura, the importance of Mihintale , the fountain of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, remained unchanged. We see from the accounts given in the Chronicle that King Devanampriya Tissa himself developed Mihintale, the fountain of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, remained unchanged. We see from the accounts given in the Chronicle that King Devanampiya Tissa himself developed Mihintale as the ritual centre outside the city. Mahinda Maha Thera opted to live there until his death with the result that the ruling king as well as his successors were compelled to focus their attention on the religious activities at Mihintale giving them priority. Thus the Missaka Mountain, by which name it was called during the visit of Mahinda to Sri Lanka, soon became known as Cetiya pabbata, the Mountain of Stupas. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

Anuradhapura, A Small Place When Buddhism Arrived

All the same there seems to have been a few buildings in Anuradhapura even in the time of Devanampiya-Tiss could not, for instance, find a suitable house as residence for Mahinda. He hurriedly builds a house of mud and dries it with torch-fire. On account of the method adopted for drying it the wall became dark and the house was called Kalapasada-privana, Dark Residence. How the house built is not quite clear. But it is evident that there were no burnt brinks available for the purpose, at least locally or within easy reach. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

Devanampiya-Tissa would never have offered such a residence as this to the grest royal missionary, son of Emperor Ashoka and a visitor from India,if he had been in a position to provide more suitable accommodation.

It may be argued that Devanampiya-Tissa out of great respect did not wish to offer the holy man a house which had been occupied by others. But this does not seem likely, because Devanampiya-Tissa invited Mahinda, on the second day of his arrival to spend the night in a house in Mahameghavana and the latter consented. The house had undoubtedly been used by other people-at lease by the king and his queen and other members of royal family.

It would seem that there was no large hall in the city for a public gathering. When the townspeople desired to see and hear Mahinda, the king seeing that there was no room within the premises of the place, ordered the hall of the State Elephant to be cleansed and arranged for the purpose. It was here that the citizens assembled to listen to the royal visitor. As Mahindas audience grew bigger and bigger the venue had to be shifted from the Elephant hall to the bigger Nandana Garden outside the southern gate of the city, where open-air meetings were held in the royal park, thickly shaded, cool and covered with verdure.

These instances would show that there was a general lack of buildings in Anuradhapura at that time. It was only after the introduction of Buddhism that massive buildings like the Lohapasada began to rise in Sri Lanka. Although various religious buildings are said to have been built by Pandukabhaya there is no evidence of the existence of a single building spacious enough to accommodate large assemblies, this further indicates that either no public meetings were held, or if at all they were held in the open air. Perhaps it may be that it was only after the introduction of Buddhism that the people of Sri Lanka began to hold organised public gatherings for specific purposes such as listening to a religious discourse.

Sanitation, Parks and Tanks in 3rd Century B.C. Anuradhapura

Sanitary conditions in Anuradhapura seem to have been of a high order. During Pandukabhayas time there were scavengers of the candala caste, 500 in number for cleaning the city ,2000 for cleaning the sewers; 150 for taking dead bodies away to the cemeteries and 150 as watchers. Pandu-kabhaya is reported to have created a new post called Nagara-guttika (guardian of city) for his uncle Abhaya, his predecessor, who was helpful both to Pandukabhaya and his mother. The duty of this officer was the administration of the government for the night time (ratti-rajjam). From that time onward there were Nagara-guttikas in the capital. This perhaps was the prototype of mayor in later time. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

There were two parks near the capital.The Nandanavana (or jothivana as it called later ) almost adjoined the city, just outside the southern gate. It was here that Mahinda delivered most of his sermons immediately after his arrival. The Mahamaghavana, which was laid out by Pandukabhayas son, Mutasiva was provided with fruit trees and flower trees.

This was neither too near nor too far from the city, and was situated outside the eastern gate of the city. There was in this park a pavilion (Raja-gaha Royal house) built for the use of the king. It was in this house or pavilion that Mahinda spent several days soon after his arrival.Within thin the park were beautiful tanks and pound. Mention is made of a little tank called Kakudhkavapi within the enclosure and also a beautiful pound called Murutta to the north of the royal pavilion.

Pandukabhaya built a tank to supply water to the city, although there was already a tank built by Anuradha, his grand uncle. Outside the city there was a ganeral cemetery called Mahasusana laid out by Pandukabhaya, and there was also a place of execution.

The Candalas who were employed in the city ,had their village known as Candalagama to the north-west of the general cemetery. This village seems to have had a population at least of about 2000 people during Pandukabhayas time, judging from the numbers given in the Mahavamsa To the north-east of this village there was a cemetery exclusively for candalas known as Nicasusana(Lover cemetery). Mention is made of a stable for horses assamandala, near the city during the time of Devanampiya-Tissa.There were also four suburbs, Dvaragam laid out by Pandukabhaya.

Religious Activity at Anuradhapura

Religious developments took place outside the city walls and especially after the introduction of Buddhism, this space became the location for the monastic complexes. Earlier, the inner city had been used as a ritual ground as well, but in the fourth century B.C., during the reign of Pandukabhaya, the shrine of yaksini Valavamukhi was located within the ground of the king's palace. The shrine of Cittaraja was by the Abhayavapi reservoir to the west of the city and the shrine dedicated to the Yaksa Kalavela to the east.In the westerngate were located the shrines dedicated to Pacchimarajini, Vessavana, and Vyadhideva. Hindu shrines were found in several places outside the city. Jain shrines were located to the north and northwest of the city. The shrine of the city god or Puradevatawas located to the south of the city at a site suitable for battles against enemies. This was in the premises of the future Mahavihara. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

The Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Anuradhapura in the ninth year of the reign of Kirtisri Meghavanna (303-331 A.D.). It was deposited in a building names Dhammacakka located on the palace grounds. Annually it was carried in a procession to the Abhayagiri monastery after which an exposition was held. We can still see the Sacred Bodhi Tree Mahameghavana Park.

Anuradhapura was thus an imposing city with imposing religious monuments. Traditional rituals were performed in the city which attracted thousands of pilgrims to it from all parts of the country almost daily. Faxian says that there were special halls at the head of the four main streets where preachers addressed the devotees on days set apart for religious activities in the lunar calendar of the Buddhists. An annual ceremony in honour of Mahinda Mahathera was also held in Anuradhapura, linking the sacred city with Mihintale. An image of the mahathera was housed in a shrine near the palace from which it was annually to Mihintale.

In the fifth century during the reign of Upatissa I (365-406 A.D.) there developed the ritual of holding regular festivals in honour of a Buddha image which had been housed in the premises of the royal palace. In the sixth century, King Silakala (518-531AC) introduced another ritual introduced in the palace grounds. A shrine was built to keep a Sacred Buddhist Text brought from North India. It was taken from there annually in a procession to Jetavana Monastery and kept for some days. Thus the inner city where the Royal Palace was situated became a ritual ground. During the times of famine or drought the king usually arranged for the recitation of paritta by the monks. The Royal Palace thus maintained close contact with the three main monasteries in Anuradhapura and with Mihintale through these religious rituals and ceremonies.

The coronation or abhiseka of a king, which was originally a secular function of the state, now assumed the status of a religious ceremony. The vessels which contained the regalia used for the coronation ceremony were made of clay taken from seven specific spots, each one a sacred place to the Buddhists. Clay was taken from under the northern flight of steps either from the Mahabodhi or from Lohapasada, or from Pagompamalaka, or from Mahacetiya, or from under the northern door of the Catussala, or from under the steps of the entrance to the hall named Samujjava where the monks used to drape their robes. Finally, in the ninth century, the coronation was held in the vihara premises itself. King Sena II (853-887 A.D.) held his coronation at the Mahacetiya and decreed that the coronation should be performed every year. This step meant the enthroned king took on the responsibility towards the upliftment of the Buddha Sasana and showed his respect and obligation to the Maha Sangha.

Anuradhapura Grows Into a Major City

The importance of the city both as a ritual centre and as an administrative centre began to grow with the passage of time. Annually a large population was attracted to the city for permanent settlement or for temporary stay during festive seasons. The living facilities in the city had to be improved. Therefore during the reing of king Vasabha (65-106 A.D.) several ponds which were fed by a network of subterranean channels were built to supply water to the city. In addition to the esisting Tissa reservoir and the Abhayavapi, during the reign of King Gajabahu (114-136 A.D.). The Nuwaravava or the city tank was commissioned. Moggallana II (531-551 A.D.) dammed the Malwatu Oya and built the Naccaduwa Reservoir seven miles south of Anuradhapura, thus developing the areas adjoining the capital. This large reservoir covered 4,408 acres. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

Faxian, the Chinese pilgrim who visited Anuradhapura in the fifth century and who was impressed by the city, noted that there were four principal streets in the city at the time. He writes that the streets and lanes were well maintained and that they were smooth and level. The main street, called the Ceremonial Street or Mangala Vithiya, started at the southern gate near Thuparama. It veered eastwards and then northwards. Faxian further says that there were two major groups living within the city. One group consisted of merchants whose houses were richly adorned. We see from the account given in the Chronicles and other historical sources that some of these merchants were foreigners. The Mahavamsa speaks of South Indian traders in pre-Christian times who were also politically powerful and who in fact dominated the region. The western gates, at observed earlier, were the quarters of the Mediterraneans or Persians. The second group according Faxian consisted of city dwellers who were wealthy householders. These people were quite possibly rich, having resources from agricultural products. Towards the later period of the Anuradhapura kingdom, the temple became the nucleus of agricultural production and economic control. The lands owned by temples were donations by pious kings from time to time and they were cultivated by the tenant farmers. Thus, there was a king of labour and economic control under the temple administration. Surplus income and profits on farm lands and irrigational channels were donated to the temples by wealthy people. The Buddhist monasteries like the Hindu temples in South India played an important role in the management of the economic and agricultural life of the people of Sri Lanka.

Parks were also provided in the city. The Ranmasu Uyana below the bund of Tissavapi (Tisavava) was one such, but it was strictly reserved for the members of the royal family. Health care and education were two other aspects to which the authorities paid attention. There were several hospitals in the city. In the forth century King Upatissa II provided quarters and homes for the crippled and the blind. King Buddhadasa (337-365 A.C) , himself a Physician great repute, appointed a physician to be in charge of every ten villages. For the maintenance of these physicians, one tenth of the income from the fields was set apart. He also set up refugees for the sick in every village. Physicians were also appointed to look after the animals. Kassapa V (914-923 A.D ) founded a hospital close to the southern gate of Anuradhapura. General Sena in the tenth century is believed to have built a hospital close to the ceremonial street (Managala Veediya) . The history of medical care began early, for in the fourth century B.C. King Pandukhabaya , in the course of sanitizing the town constructed a hospital. A large workforce was entrusted with the task of keeping the city clean.

As the city was enlarging and the population growing day by day, an efficient organization was needed to supervise and ensure the comforts of the people. So in the fourth century B.C. a warden of the city called Nagaraguttika was appointed by the king himself. Among his duties were the maintenance of the security within the city, and the apprehension and punishment of thieves and burglars. He was also entrusted with the task of checking the people who entered the city during the night, and to ensure that they were residents of the inner city. The financial administrator of the city was called a Nagara Ganaka, the accountant. This leads us to believe that the residents of the citadel were influential and socially powerful. This area considered of about 200 acres. There is no trace of an outer wall of the city. By the tenth century the city extended to nearly twenty square miles.

Decline and Destruction of Anuradhapura

During the later period of Anuradhapura, Mahayana teachings influenced many of the kings and we see the result of this in various documents and historic monuments both at Anuradhapura and Mihintale. During the reign of Sena I in about 840 A.D. Sri Lanka suffered a terrible setback when Pandyan kings of South India launched a successful invasion defeating the Sinhalese and totally destroying the city of Anuradhapura. The Mahavamsa says that "The splendid city was left in a state as if it has been plundered by demons. "Then again the growing power of the Cola dynasty of South India was a threat to the stability of Sri Lanka. As a result of his the ruling kings at Anuradhapura shifted the capital from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa at the end of the tenth century. The final blow to Anuradhapura was struck in 993 A.D. when the Colas conquered Sri Lanka and looted the city. The Chronicle says that the Colas took all the treasures of Lanka for themselves. The capital was then shifted to Polonnaruwa. The grandeur of the ancient Anuradhapura that we see today is the result of the untiring efforts of patriotic religious people of Sri Lanka who contributed their share to preserve even a little of what their ancestores had left. Anuradhapura survives today as the national monument of Sri Lanka. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

The city of Anuradhapura was sacked on at least four occasions before it was finally abandoned as the capital in the late tenth century. The south Indian Coals and Pandiyans were responsible for these invasions, conquests and depredations. Occasionally internal conflicts added to added to these disasters. Extensive restorations to the city are reported to have been made in the reigns of Aggabodhi IV (667-683 A.D.), Sena II (853-887 A.D.), Kassapa V (914-923 AC, and Mahinda IV (956-972 A.D.). The last king to ascend the throne of Anuradhapura was Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.), but he ruled from Polonnaruwa. Even after Anuradhapura ceased to be the capital, the Kalinga invadeer, Magha (1214-1239 A.D.) and the Javanese invader Chandrabhanu in the year 1240 A.D. plundered and again destroyed the city. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

After the capital was shifted from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in the late tenth century, the old city was neglected. Gradually the population began to move out. From then onwards nature took over where man ceased to labour. The jungle began to grow and the elephant began to roam. The monuments started to crumble. The lakes went dry and the vast plain of paddy lands turned into muddy lands. Malaria and other epidemics took the lives of the innocent people.

Vijayabahu I and Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) spared no pains to restore and rebuild the city which had been plundered and pillaged. When Parakramabahu ascended the throne, the last capital had been utterly destroyed by the Cola army, the temples were overgrown with great trees, and bears and leopards dwelt there. He restored the great stupa. In the twelfth century, when Vijayabahu IV (1271-1273 A.D.) was on the throne, he found 'a mighty forest grown up round the sacred places in Anuradhapura's and carried out some restorations. Even thoughanuradhapura had already ceased to be the capital, almost all the succeeding kings from different seats of power strove to restore the lost glory of that ancient capital.

After five hundred years Parakramabahu VI (1411-1466 A.D.) of Kotte repaired some monuments including the mahathupa which was painted with gold. His daughter was anointed and married to a Sundara Pandya in 1448 at Anuradhapura. It is said that Parakramabahu resided at the old capital for some time to oversee the restoration activities. This shows that the later kings still admired the glory that Anuradhapura possessed in its hey day. After another three centuries, an attempts was made by Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781 A.D.) of Kandy to restore the vanishing beauty and prestige of Anuradhapura. But it was a fruitless effort.

At the census of 1871 the population of the district numbered only sixteen to the square mile. However, under British rule, Anuradhapura became the administrative capital of the North-Central Province of Sri Lanka in 1873. But unfortunately the new administrative buildings were put up amidst the historic monuments with no respect or regard for the culture and civilization of the nation. Untold damage was caused to the remains of a past and years late, after gaining independence in 1948, the government attempted to save what remained. A new town was founded and the administrative buildings were shifted to new premises. The old town was declared a sacred city. Mistakes were made by the British rulers, but at the same time it was they who ultimately established a Government Department for Archaeology in the year 1890 under the guidance of H.C.P. Bell, although the work of archaeological excavation and conservation was begun in 1884 under S.M. Burrows.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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