The monuments we see today in Anuradhapura represent a period of nearly fifteen centuries. Building and reconstruction began in the third century B.C. and continued till about the end of the thirteenth century, and began again in the fifteenth century. The major monuments belong to three great monasteries, namely 1) the Mahavihara built by Devanampiya Tissa in the third century B.C. 2) The Abhayagiri built by Vatthagamini Abhaya in the first century B.C., and 3) the Jetavana built by Mahasena in the fourth century A.D. Almost all the kings who ruled from Anuradhpura added at least one monument to each of the three monasteries depending on their loyalty and partiality to each monastery. There were times when certain kings favoured one monastery and helped the monastery of his choice. There were also instances when kings helped two monasteries to maintain the balance of power. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

The ruins at Anuradhapura consist of palaces, holy structures, pleasure domes, ponds, pools, pavilions, promenades, shrines and a great wall—many of them cloaked by jungle. Samadhi statue is the name of a famous seated Buddha. There are also guards stones and moonstones. Wooded parks and restored artificial lakes breath life into area.

Anuradhapura embraces of four major dagobas (stupas)—Ruvanveliseya, Abhayagiriya, Jetawanaramaya and Thurparama—and their accompanying monastic complexes. The monasteries once housed 10,000 monks who took rice from huge troughs that still exist today. The Royal Palace (one kilometer north of the Sacred Bodhi Tree) was built in the 12th century under Vijabahu after Anuradhapura fell to southern India. Nearby is a deep well and a large trough used to measure rice for monks.

There eight main places of worship are known as Athamasthana) They are: 1) Sri Maha Bodhiya; 2) Ruwanveliseya; 3) Thuparama; 4) Lovamahapaya; 5) Abhayagiriya; 6) Jetavanaramaya; 7) Mirisavetiya; 8) Lankaramaya.

Layout and Cosmology of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was divided into an inner and the outer city by a fortified wall. The inner city was the city proper. The inner city was called the Atul Nuvara which is the Royal Enclosure or the Palace Complex. The alternative word antahpura denotes the idea that this was also the area where the royal family lived. But this does not necessarily mean that this space was limited only to members of the royal family. There were other people as well, and even establishments in the inner city. The city was a centre of commerce. The commercial centres with no fortification were not called cities but were known as merchant settlements or vanijigama and commercial village or nigamas. The settlements located immediately outside the gates were called dvaragama. Commercial activities at the capital also took place within these settlements. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

Any city has to have some planning. It during the reign of Pandukabhaya in the fourth century B.C. that the first planning took place at Anuradhapura. The prime consideration was safety. Anuradhapura never assumed the form of a cosmic city described in the arthasastra of Kautilya. It also did not follow the Hindu concept of a city that developed after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C. According to Arthasastra a city should be square in shape in order to represent the four quarters of the universe. It should have four main gates facing the four quarters of the town. The king's place should be located to the north of centre and the eastern quarter of the city should be assigned to the member of the royal caste, the Ksatriyas/ The merchant caste or the Vaisyas should reside in the southern quarter and the artisians in the west, the priests should reside in the north and untouchables outside the city. The cemeteries too must be located outside the city.

This description of a cosmic city did not match the city of Anuradhapura in its earlier phase though it had some element such as the city being dissected by street running in north south and east-west directions and being divided into four sections. This does not mean that it represented the four quarters of the universe though a later text the Thupavamsa of the thirteenth century, erroneously says that the Anuradhapura city gates were equidistant from one another to form a square. The king's palace and the Tooth Relic Temple in fact were located to the eastern side of the city and the monasteries outside the city proper. It is true that there was a city wall with a moat, but the moat never represented the cosmic ocean the milky sea of Visnu. The Nandana Park named after the park of Sakra and compared in the Chronicle to the city of the gods does not really mean that it was a cosmic city. That was only a figurative description. Theravada Buddhist teachings repudiated such models and concepts, and further, did not encourage such a place in the Buddhist belief system. In other words, Anuradhapura was the first capital city of the Buddhist in this country and not a cosmic city of the Hindus.

Buddhist Buildings at Anuradhapura

Beyond the city walls of Anuradhapura was located the major monasteries with their gigantic stupas (dagobas). The Mahathupa, the Bodhi Tree and Thuparama of the Mahavihara stood to the south of the city, the Abhayagiri to the north, the Pubbarama to the east, the Tanovana to the north-west and the Jetavana to the south-east. In the fifth century when Faxian visited Anuradhapura he found that there were five thousand monks living at Abhayagoriya, three thousand at Mahavihara and another two thousand at Cetiyagiri or Mihintale. The number of monks living at Jetavana is not stated. It is reasonable to assume that at least ten thousand monks were living in Anuradhapura alone during the fifth century. We can see from the remaining ruins that Anuradhapura was a city of monastries. Alms for these monks were provided chiefly by the ruling king near his palace at Mahapali. Faxian goes on to say that 5-6000 monks were fed daily. The Mahavihara, Abhayagiri and Jetavana were the main monasteries in the capital city while the Cetiya Pabbata at Mihintale was the main monastery just outside the city. [Source: Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka]

The monastic area of the sacred city just outside the Citadel also provided the necessary protection to the royal palace, the centre of administration. It was extremely difficult for an outside force to attack the Citadel owing to the power of the resisted such an attempt, first as guardians of the Sinhalese and secondly as coustodians of their religion-Buddhism.

The word Pirivena is used today to mean an educational institution for monks, but during the time of Mahinda Tera a pirivena meant a cell. (kuti) a living place of a single monk. By the fourth century the word underwent a semantic change and a parivena meant an educational institution. King Buddhadasa built \the Mayurapada parivena in the Mahavihara premises to provide education for the monks of the Mahavihara. A century later, the greatest Buddhist commentator Buddhagosha arrived in Anuradhapura to translate the Sinhalese commentaries of the canonical texts into Pali, and lived in the Mahavihara. The three great monasteries in the city were undoubtedly great centers of leaning with an international reputation. They were also great centres of Buddhism. Many scholars from various countries came to these monasteries to broaden their knowledge. By the middle of the third century B.C. the fame of the capital city of Anuradhapura was known as far the Mediterranean and by the first century A.D., during the reign of Bhatikabhaya , an embassy was sent to Rome to present its credentials to Claudius Caesar.

Kiribath Vihara is a ruined monastery that was 10 meters high and had circumference of 130 meters (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 Stupa built by King Devanampiyatissa is one and the same.

In the sacred city of Anuradhapura and in the vicinity are a large number of ruins that have not been identified properly and many have been destroyed either by Tamil invaders or by vandals. Neither the tourists nor the pilgrims had paid much attention to these ruins and information regarding them is scarce.

Sacred Bodhi Tree at Anuradhapura

The Sacred Bodhi Tree at Anuradhapura is said to be grown from a branch from the original Bodhi Tree under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment in India. The bringing of the branch to Sri Lanka is historic event tied with the introduction of Buddhism to the island. The bodhi tree is now very large and is considered to be the oldest recorded tree in the world.

The right branch of the sacred Bodhi Tree is said to have been brought by Arahat nun Sangamitta, sister of Arahat Mahinda and daughter of Emperor Ashoka, in the 3rd century B.C.. The branch was planted in the Royal gardens at Anuradhapura by King Devanampiya Tissa who was ruling Anuradhapura and the island at that time.

The bodhi (bo) tree is one of Sri Lanka’s holiest pilgrimage sites. Many saffron-robbed monks and pilgrims come to pay homage to it. Many pilgrims leave offerings of flowers at its base and tie prayer flags to its branches. There are several bodhi trees at the site. The very old and sacred one sprouts from the highest platform. The crush of pilgrims is particularly high during the times of the full moon.

An elaborate gateway marks the entrance to the bo tree area. Over the years a number of kings have taken measures to protect it. Several retaining walls have been built around it. Even during occupations by southern Indian Hindu kingdoms the tree was looked after. Today it is taken care of by a special team of botanists appointed by the government. A gilded fence known as the Ran Vet was fairly recently placed around it.

According to ancient chronicles the bringing of the sacred Bodhi tree branch to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta took place a few months after the arrival of Mahinda. Amidst much rejoicing and ceremony, this tree was planted at Maha Mevuna Uyana. The Bo tree (Pipal – Ficus religiosa) branch was brought by Sanghamitta, as a gift from her father Mauryan Buddhist Indian Emperor Ashoka. It is regarded as the oldest historical tree (i.e. having the longest recorded written history) in the world. It has been protected by an uninterrupted series of Buddhist monks since it was planted. The high terrace on which the tree sits is seven meters (21 feet above the ground) and surrounded by railings. It is one of the most sacred Buddhist relics and one of the most important places in Sri Lanka. The parapat wall around the compound where the bo-tree is planted is about 213 meters (700 feet) in length. This wall was constructed during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha, to protect the tree from wild elephants. [Source: My Sri Lanka ]

Samadhi Buddha Statue

"Samadhi Budu Pilimaya" is an image of Buddha dated to the A.D. 3rd Century. Seated under a Bo tree, it depicts the Lord Buddha in the serene state of Samadhi, or deep meditation. It is said that Great Indian statesman Jawaharlal Nehru found solace and strength in a photograph of this statue which he kept with him when he was imprisoned by the British in 1940s. The kindness and compassion of Lord Buddha flows through the half closed eyes. It is regarded as one is the finest Meditation Buddha statue in the world. [Source: My Sri Lanka ]

The Samadhi Buddha is located in Mahamevnawa Park at Anuradhapura. The Buddha’s position — the Dhyana Mudra (cross- legged with upturned palms, placed one over the other on the lap) — is a meditation posture associated with his first Enlightenment. This statue is 2.2 meters (7 feet 3 inches) in height and carved from dolomite marble. It was found in 1886 at Mahamevnawa Park. It is similar to the Toluvila statue from the same period. Both are similar to Gupta period Buddha images. It is believed that the original Samadhi Buddha was gilded and had inlaid eyes made of precious gems. It is likely that it was one of the four statues around a sacred Bodhi tree shrine. This is the only one that has survived largely intact. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Toluwila Statue was found among the ruins in a temple at Toluwila in Anuradhapura. It is 1.7 meters (5 feet 9 inches) in height. The distance between the knees is also 1.7 meters. The width of the shoulders is about one meter (3 feet 5 inches). At present this statue sits near the main entrance to the Colombo Museum.

Brazen Palace

Brazen Palace (near the Sacred Bodhi Tree) had rooms decorated with gold, silver and gemstones, and great hall with an ivory throne. Named after the bronze roof it one possessed, it reportedly was nine stories high and had 900 rooms and accommodated 1,000 monks.. The remains of 1,600 supporting columns are all that remain. They are four meters (12 feet) high and organized in 40 rows of 40 each. The original palace was under King Dutugemunu (161 – 137 B.C.) but was expanded by other kings over the years,

The Brazen Palace is known officially as Lohaprasadaya. Situated between Ruvanveliseya and Sri Mahabodiya, it included a refectory and the uposathagara. (Uposatha house). The simamalake was where the sangha assembled on poya days to recite the formula of the confessional.

Lohaprasada was 400 meters in length. The roof of the main building was covered with tiles made of bronze, this was known as the Brazen Palace. The1600 stone pillars held up the building. It is believed that it took six years for the construction of the palace and the plan was brought from the heavens. The building was completely destroyed during the reign of King Saddhatissa.

Isurumuniya and Its Splendid Rock Carvings

Isurumuniya Vihara (near Tissa Wewa tank) is a rock temple dated to the 3rd century B.C.. It is known for its rock carvings, which include one of elephants splashing water and a another of man with a horse’s head. Many of the best carvings are in a small museum within the temple.

Isurumuniya was built by King Devanampiyatissa as a residence for 500 high-caste children after they were ordained as monks. King Kasyapa I (473-491 A.D.) renovated this vihara (a Buddhist temple-monastery) and named was as "Boupulvan, Kasubgiri Radmaha Vehera" after the king’s two daughters. There is connection to a cave. 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, are carved 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. In this 6th Century Gupta style carving a woman, seated on the man's lap, lifts a warning finger, probably as a manifestation of her coyness; but the man carries on regardless. The figures may represent Dutugemunu's son Saliya and the law caste (Sadol Kula) maiden Asokamala whom he loved. It's known that he gave up the throne for her.

A few yards away from this vihara is the Magul Uyana. The ancient Magul Uyana is situated close to Isurumuni Vihara and Tissa Wewa tnak. In it are various ponds. There are remains of small cells, seats made of stone steps and taps. According to legend Prince Saliya met Asokamala in this garden. The largest pond in this garden is 31-x-55 feet in length and breadth. This is not a place of worship. About a kilometer to the south of Isurumuniya in a mountainous region is Vessagiri, with 23 caves made of stone. Above the caves are inscribed the names of donors. These are the oldest inscriptions in Ceylon written in Brahmi script.

Moonstones, Guard Stones and Rathna Prasadaya

Rathna Prasadaya was built by King Kanittha Tissa who ruled Ceylon from 167-186 A.D. It is known that during the 8th and 10th centuries Mihindu II and Mihindu IV renovated that building. The bhikkhus of the Tapovana belonging to the Pansakulika sect resided here. Beautiful guard stones of the Abhayagiri Vihara were found here. The most beautiful guard stone at Anuradhapura is stands today can be seen here.

The Naga King Guard Stone is the finest of it's kind in Sri Lanka. Dated from A.D. 8th century, it depicts the god of water and protection with a vase of plenty which is a symbol of prosperity and a flower stalk, a symbol of fertility. The King figure is adorned with beautiful jewels. Above its head are seven hooded cobras. It is said that he is from heaven and this is the moment he touches the earth. [Source: My Sri Lanka ]

The Queen's Palace is situated near Ratna Prasadaya. The largest and the most beautiful moonstones can be seen here. Sandakada Pahana (Moonstones) serve as bases and are distinctive elements of ancient sculpture in Sri Lanka. These semi-circular slabs of granite or gneiss acquired increasingly complex bands of decorations over the years. They range from near abstract tongues of fire and bands of creeper vines to symbolic interpretations of the four perils of life: 1) the elephant, a symbol of birth; 2) the bull, indicative of decay; 3) the lion, representing disease; and 4) geese, a symbol of death. Some also have bands of geese, which represents the distinction between good, and evil. To some, the moon-stone is symbolic of transcending worldly temptations and achieving nibbane (nirvana). [Source: My Sri Lanka ]

At the heart of many moonstones is a lotus petal. Buddhists regard the lotus as a sacred flower, a symbol of male and female creative forces that prevail throughout Sri Lankan art, architecture, sculpture and literature. Lotuses figures in the legend attached to the birth of the Buddha, when seven lotuses sprang into bloom at his feet as he took the first seven steps of his life. Lotus bloomed in profusion at the moment he reached the state of Enlightenment.

Dagobas (Stupas) at Anuradhapura

The dagobas (stupas) at Anuradhapura are shaped like a colossal kaiser helmets and rise high above the tree line. Built to enshrine sacred Buddhist relics, they generally comprised of an earthen interior covered by bricks, which in turn are covered by a coat of lime plaster. Each year the dagobas draw thousands of pilgrims, who walk clockwise around them on the platforms that surround them. Around the main dagobas are trees, remain of pools and ponds and various ruins.

The great stupas of Anuradhapura enshrine the remains or objects associated with Buddha and the arhants. or the enlightened ones. The three great stupas of Anuradhapura also seem to be oriented towards stars and constellations which is also said to the case with and Angkor Wat in Cambodia and pyramids in Egypt and Mexico,

The three great stupas of Anuradhapura — Mirisavatiya, Ruvanweliya and Jetavanaya — are perfectly aligned with the three stars in the constellation of Orion, namely Rigel, Al Nitak and Bellatrix. The three sides of the triangle in the ground layout of the three stupas, built between 161 B.C. and A.D. 331, correlates precisely with the three sides of the triangle of three stars on the right-hand wing of the constellation. New Agers say that Ruwanweliseya could have been a giant energy storing device, which could have exchanged energies with the skies above.

Architect Shereen Amendra says the structure of the Ruwanweliseya, known as the Mahastupa, its position and the material used for the construction were instrumental in creating a giant size capacitor which exchanged electric charges with the heavens above. According to the Mahavamsa, the great chronicles of Sri Lanka, the site of stupa was chosen by Buddha himself while the structural plan for the stupa had been done by the Arhants. Precious metals like silver and gold and precious stones, known to be excellent electricity conductors, were used in the construction. In her book ‘Beyond the Seeing Eye: the Mahathupa of Lanka” Amendra argues the Mahastupa was used to transform thoughts to electric power and transmit them to the celestials while receiving messages from them. She says a device designed by enlightened arhants beyond the understanding of mere mortals may still be transmitting the thoughts and aspirations of many devotes who gather around it in prayer. Needless to say these ideas are not widely accepted in the mainstream scholar community.

Lankarama is an ancient stupa built by King Valagamba at Galhebakada. 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 is about three meters above the ground. The stupa is about 14 meters (45 feet) in diameter. The courtyard is circular in shape and 405 meters (1332 feet) in diameter.

Dakkhina Stupa was constructed by Uttiya, a Minister of King Valagamba according to an inscription. For sometime it was erroneously considered as Elara's tomb. At the stupa King Kanittha Tissa built an alms hall, King Gottabhaya built an uposathagaraya, where the bhikkhis assembled for the ceremony of confession, and King Agbo I constructed a large building. The Bhikkhus of the Sagalika sect resided here. The stupa is now believed to be the tomb of King Dutugemunu built where he was cremated. According to a Sri Lankan tourism ash and human bones remains that were collected and sent to France and according to the scientific analysis were revealed to be the ashes of King Dutugemunu (this is a highly dubious claim). .

Sela Stupa (west of Jetavanaramaya) is one of the 16 main places of worship at Anuradhapura. It was constructed by King Lajjitissa who ruled in the first century B.C. The diameter of the base of the stupa is 11.2 meters (37 feet). The stupa and its platform have been constructed in stone. A moonstone and guardstones can be seen here.

Naka Vihara is a square stupa built of bricks. It is constructed according to an unusual model and is similar to the seven storeyed Satmahal Prasadaya building in Polonnaruwa. Excavations done at Nika Vihara have revealed several clay caskets.

Main Stupas of Anuradhapura

Jetavanaramaya Dagoba (near the Sacred Bodhi Tree) is in 70 meters tall. It once was 98 meters (321 feet) high and has a diameter of 370 feet at its base. It is regarded by some as the largest stupa in South Asia and the third largest masonry structure in the world after the two largest pyramids in Egypt. Behind the dagoba are the ruins of a monastery that once housed 5,000 monks.

King Mahasen (A.D. 273-301) created this stupa, the largest in Sri Lanka. A part of a sash tied by the Buddha is believed to be enshrined here. This stupa belongs to the Sagalika sect. The compound of the stupa is eight acres. One side of the stupa is 175 meters (576 feet). The four flight of steps at the four sides are 8.6 meters (28 feet) in depth. The doorpost to the shrine which is situated at the courtyard is eight meters (27 feet) in height and partly underground. There are some stone inscriptions in the courtyard with the names of donors inscribed.

Thuparama Dagoba (north of Ruvanveliseya Dagoba) is the oldest dagoba at Anuradhapura. Constructed under Devananpiya, it is said to house the right collarbone of the Buddha. It originally had a “heap of rice” shape but was restored to its present bell shape in 1840. It is only 19 meters high, Around it are pillars that once supported a roof that covered it,

Th stupa was built not long after Mahinda is said to have introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. This dagoba has been destroyed from time to time. During the reign of King Agbo II it was completely destroyed and the King restored it. The stupa a 18 meters (59 feet) in diameter at the base. The dome is 3.5 meters (11 feet and 4 inches) in height from the ground. The compound is paved with granite and there are two rows of stone pillars round the dagoba. During he early period a vatadage was built round the dagoba.

Mirisavatiya Dagoba (near the Tissa Wewa tank) is an immense stupa built b Dutugamunu after he captured the city. Nearby is the Royal Pleasure Garden. built around large boulders and ponds with reliefs of elephants. The stupa sits on 20 hectares (50 acres) of land. Although the King Kasyapa I and Kasyapa V renovated the structure it for the most part was neglected. What stands today is the renovation done by the cultural Triangle Fund.

After defeating King Elara, King Dutugamunu built the Mirisaveti Stupa. According to one story: after placing the Buddha relics in the scepter, he went to Tissa Wewa for a bath leaving the scepter. After the bath he returned to the place where the scepter was placed. It is said that the scepter could not be moved so the stupa was built in the place where the scepter stood. According to another story King King Dutugamunu remembered that he ate a curry without offering any to monks. In order to punish himself he built the Mirisavetiya Dagoba.

Abayagiri Monastery and Stupa

Abhayagiri Dagoba (two kilometers north of the Sacred Bodhi Tree) is a huge stupa, over 75 meters high. Built in the 1st century B.C., it is so large its often confused with Jetawanaramaya Dagoba. It used to be bigger. It once was 100 meters tall. At one time it was the focal point of a monastery that had over 5,000 monks. It’s name means “Fearless Giri,” a reference to Jains executed by the Indians. The relics of the Buddha inside the stupa are said to have been enshrined in a figure of a bull made out of thick gold. Around the dagoba are some moonstones, a Buddha foot print and some bas reliefs with elephants. Nearby Mahasen Palace is said to have the best moonstone in Sri Lanka. Not far way is the Ratnaprasad, regarded as having the finest guards tones in Anuradhapura.

King Valagamba ascended the throne in A.D. 103. He waged war with the Tamils and was defeated. When he fled, a Nigantha named Giri shouted words of derisive mockery at him. Later the king collected an army attacked the Tamils by slaying the last of their leaders, and recovered the throne he had lost. It is said that he demolished Nigantaramaya (the temple of the Niganthas) and built Abhayagiri Vihara (monastery) at the same place. Shortly after this event, the monks of the Mahavihara took disciplinary action against one of the bhikkus (monks) of the Abhayagiri Vihara, for violating a rule of the vinaya. Thereafter the bhikkhus of the Abhayagiri Vihara founded a separate sect there. King Valagamba's reign is marked by an important event - the first schism in Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Most learned bhikkhus lives in Abhayagiri Vihara.

Abhayagiri Vihara had a large library. It is recorded that during the reigns of King Voharakatissa and King Gothabhaya this library was destroyed and the heretical monks driven away. King Parakramabahu renovated Abhayagiri Vihara to height of about 70 meters. In 1875, Abhayagiri Vihara which had a diameter of 94 meters (307 feet) at its base, and stood at a height of 70 meters (231 feet).

Abhayagiri Monastery was mainly the home of the Dhammaruchi sect, although it was open to many other sects including Mahayana ones. The monastery was located on 200 hectares (500 acres) of land. It was an international center of Buddhist art, philosophy and mysticism, with branches in Java, Burma and China.

Ruwanweliseya Stupa

Ruwanwelisaya Stupa (near the Sacred Bodhi Tree) is also known as Mahathupa (Great Stupa), Swarnamali Cheitya and Rathnamali Dagoba.. One of the world's tallest ancient monuments, it is 103 meters (338 feet) tall and has a circumference of 290 meters (951 feet). The original stupa had been about 55 meter (180 feet) in height and was renovated by many kings. The stupa is topped by a Burmese crystal prism that refracts light into all the colors of the rainbow. The original was built in the shape of a water bubble upon a foundations reportedly tamped by elephants As is the case with all the dagoba restorations done over the years its shape has changed a great deal.

Every monastery has a dagoba. Ruvanveliseya is the dagoba of Mahavihara. The architect ingeniously combined the Buddhist philosophy in the architectural conception. He conceived this as a bubble of milk: representing life, which will burst in no time just like the fragility of our lives. Its dome represents the vastness of the doctrine; the four facets of the box on top represents the four noble truths. The concentric rings there after indicate the noble eightfold path that leads man to illumination. The illumination: the whole truth is light and transparent like the rock crystal at the pinnacle. The 1956 restoration of the dome is much to the displeasure of purists makes it looks flatter than bubbly. [Source: My Sri Lanka ]

This dagoba was built on a firm foundation. It is recorded that inside the dagoba are enshrined valuable gems statues made out of gold, various valuable objects and also relics of the Buddha. On the four side of the Stupa are the frontispieces (Vahalkada). The Courtyard on which the stone tablets are laid is known as the Salapatala courtyard. Below the Salapatala courtyard is the compound made of Sand (Valimaluwa). On the four sides of the compound are the parapat walls with its figures of elephants and has been made to appear as though it was supported by the elephants. There are 1900 figures of elephants on the wall consisting of 475 on each side. Therefore it is known as the elephant compound. In the temple courtyard are the old models of Ruwanvalisaya made of stone, a statue of King Dutugemunu worshipping the dagoba. In the image house situated in the temple courtyard are four statues of the Buddhas who have attained Buddhahood in this aeon (kalpa) and future Buddhas (Maitri). All these creations are very old. The pinnacle of Ruwanvelisaya is eight meters (25 feet), in height. The crest gem on the pinnacle is a gift from Burma. Ruvanvalisaya is situated a few meters away from Lovamahapaya.

It is recorded in books that King Lajjitissa erected three marble latars. King Mahadathika Mahanaga constructed the circular portion of the courtyard made of stone tablets (Salapatala courtyard). Ballathanaga constructed the valimaluwa, while King Parakramabahu the Great renovated the dagoba.

History of Ruwanweliseya Stupa

Ruvanveliseya was built under King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century B.C. and was such a big project it took his brother and successor Saddhatisya to complete it. According to legend, when Dutugemunu was lying on his deathbed Saddhatisya covered it bamboo and cloth so that Dutugemunu wold die thinking it was complete. The wall near the dagoba contains a frieze of hundreds of elephants. A statue near is said to be of Dutugemunu

After defeating the Tamil King Elara, King Dutugemunu became the lord of entire Sri Lanka. Having achieved his ambition he became a benefactor of Buddhism and erected many religious buildings. Among them Ruwanvelisaya is the best known. The Thupavamsa gives a complete account about the construction of Ruwanvelisaya. The Mahavansa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka, records the minute details and items involved in its construction from the preparation of ground initiated by King Dutugamunu to the ending of constructions by his brother King Saddatissa.

A pillar recording this future occurrence was established by King Devanampiyatissa under the guidance of Arhant Mahinda on its location nearly two hundreds before the Mahathupa was built. According to the legends the site itself had been graced by four Buddhas; Kakusanda, Konagamaand Kassapa in earlier times and further by Gauthama Buddha during his third visit to Sri Lanka.

Another five hundred years later, on aVesak full moon Poya day, King Dutugamunu had the inscribed stone pillar that was erected by King DevanampiyaTissa, removed and the site levelled. The foundation was dug to a depth of seven cubits, spread with round stones, which were then crushed into smaller pieces. The stones were then stamped upon by elephants with leather shoes. Fine clay from Himalaya was spread on the stones with layers of bricks, rough plaster, quartz, a network of iron, fragrant clay, white stones, rock crystals and slabs of stones placed over it. Mercury, resin of the wood-apple, and fine clay mixed together were spread over the slabs of stones while bronze sheets of eight inches thickness were laid over the mixture. It was spread with arsenic and sesame oil mixed together and covered with silver sheets of four inches thickness.

Once the foundation is completed the arhants present had made the foundation sink into the earth making space for another foundation. According to the Mahavamsa, this process had been repeated seven times, to strengthen the Mahathupa, that it would stand the worst earthquake or natural disaster.

The relic chamber of the Mahathupa, which had never being archaeologically excavated is believed to contain a drona of relics of Lord Buddha, treasured inside a pure gold relic chambers adorned with gold, silver and gems. The walls of the relic chamber is said to be adorned with the murals depicting samsara cycle of Lord Buddha, silver and copper vases and a replica of a Bo-tree made out of silver. The relic casket is placed on a vajrasana or a seat of diamonds and is sealed inside with stone slabs by Arhants.

The Arhants then determined that ‘The relic-chamber shall not shake even by an earthquake; flowers that were offered on that day shall not wither till the end of Buddha Gotama's Dispensation; the lamps that were kindled shall not be extinguished; the clay that was mixed with perfume and sandalwood shall not dry; even a single scratch shall not appear within the relic-chamber; stains shall not appear in any of the golden goods that were offered.’. They also determined also that inimical persons should not be able to even see the relic-chamber.

When the great stupa was only partially completed its creator, King Dutugamunu, passed away leaving the responsibility of concluding the work to his brother King Saddatissa. Under his patron ship the Mahathupa was given a chathra or a parasol, which is not found today and a wall of tuskers around Mahathupa, which is found even today. According to the Mahavansa, the chathra contained a circle of diamonds, explained as a Vajrachumbaka, and a large ruby at the top.

Tanks and Ponds at Anuradhapura

Ancient Sri Lankans are celebrated for their indigenous knowledge in irrigation. Irrigation systems of ancient Sri Lanka consist of a large number of village tanks, gigantic reservoirs and an intrinsic network of water canals connecting these tanks while supplying water to farming land.

Tissa Wewa is an artificial reservoir built by Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century B.C. to increase the water supply to Anuradhapura. Only Panda Wewa (5th century B.C.) and Abhaya Wewa (5th-4th century B.C.) are older. The embankment of Tissa Wewa is 3.2 kilometers (two miles) long and 7.6 meters (25 feet) high. Among other uses, the reservoir supplied water to Tissa's Royal Gardens. [3] In later centuries, Tissa Wewa and the other lakes were enlarged and integrated into a regional network of irrigation canals. [Source: Wikipedia]

Kuttam Pokuna (near Abhayagiri Vihara) is a pair of ponds regarded as the most magnificent examples of bathing tanks at Anuradhapura. Biilt in the A.D. 3rd century, site embraces a garden that separates the two ponds. The larger pond is 40 meters (132 feet) in length and 15.5 meters (51 feet) wide, while the smaller one is 28 meters (91 feet) long and 15.5 meters wide. The depth of the smaller pond is 4.3 meters (14 feet) and the larger pond is 5.5 meters(18 feet).

The sides and the bottom of the ponds were faced with well cut granite slabs. Round the pond is a magnificent wall. Leading to the pond are a beautiful flight of steps on both sides, and decorated with "punkalas" and scroll design. There were underground ducts bringing water into these ponds and others emptying them. A wall is built to enclose the ponds, and inside it is a small compound. The water that feeds the ponds flows first into a filtering basin made of rock; It runs through a beautiful makara mouth and a lion's head into the smaller pond. An underground conduit feeds the larger pond

Yoda Ela – An Ancient Engineering Marvel

Yoda Ela, or Jaya Ganga, is an 87-kilometer-long water canal carrying excess water from Kala Wewa in Polonnaruwa to ThissaWewa in Anuradhapura, built remarkable engineering skill and precision. Its gradient of10 to 20 centimeters per kilometer still baffles experts today for its minute precision. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau ]

Built during the regime of King Dathusena in fifth century A.D., who also sponsored the construction of Kala Wawa reservoir, Yoda Ela was constructed to convey excess water from Kala Wawa in Polonnaruwa to Thissa Wawa reservoir in Anuradhapura. The ancient engineering methods in calculating the exact elevation of the Kala Wewa against ThissaWawa and in making the exact gradient of the canal to such fine precision had been lost to time and is not completely understood.

Yola Ela was not designed for the quick conveying of water from Kala Wawa to Thissa Wawa but to create a mass of water between the two reservoirs, which would in turn provide amble water for agriculture, humans and animals living along its entire length. The canal was designed as an elongated reservoir, which passes through traps and dams creating sixty six mini-catchments as water flows from Kala Wawa to Thissa Wawa.

Another unique feature of the Yoda Ela is that the canal has only one bund to manage the canal pressure with the influx of water. Two bunds would have increased the pressure causing damage while with one bund the water spreads on the upper side and releases the pressure creating no danger to the bund. Built along the contours the canal collects and dispenses water throughout its 87 kilometers flow length.

Many a features had been added to the canal since its construction. King Parakramabahu who governed the country nearly 700 years after the Yoda Wawa was first built, reconstructed the canal and added more feeders to the canal starting at the 34th reservoirs between Kala Wawa and Thissa Wawa/ He renamed Yoda Ela to Jaya Ganga, meaning “River of Victory.” The extra water helped fed the canal and nourish an area of 180 square miles feeding 11,400 acres of paddy lands and 120 small tanks. Part of this ingenious creation was destroyed during the attempts to create a second Jaya Ganga under the Mahaweli Development Project causing water supplies to some parts of the dry zone to dry up.

Anuradhapura Museum and the Avukana Buddha

The Archeological Museum at Anuradhapura has a fine collection of statutes, carvings and freezes that have been unearthed at the site. There also some models of what the main structures are thought of looked like in the time they were built. Of particular interest are the carved stone toilets and urinals made by ascetic monks displaying their contempt of monks who lived in luxury. The Nearby Anuradhapura Folk Museum contains a collection of objects related to rural life in North Central Province.

Avukana Buddha Statue (along Kurunegala-Dambulla road or Galewala-Kalawewa road, accessible by train) is in Anuradhapura but not in the sacred city of Anuradhapura. Nevertheless it attracts large numbers of pilgrims who pay homage to this statue, which is one of the largest in Sri Lanka and faces Kalawewa.

The standing Buddha statue including the pedestal is 13 meters (42 feet) in height. The right hand depicts the Abhaya Mudra (the upper arm of the right hand is raised, with the palm outwards, indicating freedom from fear). The left hand is holding a robe. One of the special features of this statue is that both hands are turned upwards. On the head is the Siraspatha (A feature over head of the Buddha statue), excluding the Siraspatha and the pedestal, the height of the statue 11.8 meters (38 feet 10 inches).

The rock cut colossus at Avukana, which is almost in the round and there being a narrow strip left to hold the image to the rock is one of the magnificent statues of Ceylon. From the ruins of the foundation and the walls, it can be seen that the statue would have been enclosed in a building. The hood over the statue is a modern construction. It is believed that King Dhatusena the architect of Kalawewa is the builder of the statue.

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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