WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka



(@Ministry of Buddha Sasana)

The city of Anuradhapura is situated one hundred and twenty eight miles (205 km) north of Colombo in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka on the banks of the Malwatu Oya. Founded in the 4th century BC it was the capital of the Anuradhapura Kingdom till the beginning of the 11th century AC. During this period it reminded one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. It was also a wealthy city which created a unique culture and a great civilization . Today this ancient city of Sri Lanka, which is sacred to the Buddhist world, which its surrounding monasteries covers an area of over sixteen square miles ( 40 sq km) and is one of the world's major archaeological sites.

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 BC. 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.

It is said that King Pandukabhaya made it his capital in the 4th century BC, 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. The 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 BC 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. His son Mutasiva ,succeeded 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 BC. This is the point at which a kingship began and a civilization developed based on one of the greatest religions of South Asia, Buddhism.

We have a vast amount of historical and archaeological evidence for Sinhala -Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka. On the other hand very little evidence was available about the period prior to that, i,e the protohistoric period . But recent excavations carried out at the Citadel of Anuradhapura reveals much valuable information about the very early inhabitants of this city, one of the most ancient and most prosperous cities of South Asia .

The archeological excavation site in the citadel of Anuradhapura has revealed details of the existence of a protohistoric habitation. The protohistoric Iron Age is considered to be from ca. 900-600 BC. This period is marked by the appearance of iron technology, pottery which is Black and Rd ware (BRW), the horse, domestic cattle and paddy cultivation. It is now evident that by ca. 700-600 BC. the protohistoric settlement at Anuradhapura had extended over an area of at least 50 he, designated a town. Its 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 locus by a centralised authority.

We now see that the period ca. 600-500 BC. 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 BC by the chronicles.

The lower early historic period, which is ca. 500-250 BC., 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 AC 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 Asoka Empire.

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 introdution 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 BC. 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 BC. The mahavamsa says that King Kutakannatissa (41-19 BC) 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 AC). 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.

Our attention is now drawn to the space divisioning of the 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. Fa-Hsien, 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. Fa-Hsien 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 Fa-Hsien 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.

Any city has to have some planning at the beginning and it was during the regin of Pandukabhaya in the fourth century BC. that the first planning took place. 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 BC. 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.

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 BC, 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. The introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka is ascribed to Asoka'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. 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 Theravadins 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 Mahayanists. In the reign of king Mahasena (275-310 AC) 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.

Beyond the city walls of Anuradhapura was located the major monasteries with their gigantic stupas.

Beyond the city walls of Anuradhapura was located the major monasteries with their gigantic stupas. 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 Fa-Hsien 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. Fa-Hsien 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.

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 Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Anuradhapura in the ninth year of the reign of Kirtisri Meghavanna (303-331 AC). 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. Fa-Hsien 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 AC) 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 AC) 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.

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 AC) 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 AC). The Nuwaravava or the city tank was commissioned. Moggallana II (531-551 AC) 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.

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.

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 BC the fame of the capital city of Anuradhapura was known as far the Mediterranean and by the first century AD, during the reign of Bhatikabhaya , an embassy was sent to Rome to present its credentials to Claudius Caesar.

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 BC 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. 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 AC), Sena II (853-887 AC), Kassapa V (914-923 AC, and Mahinda IV (956-972 AC). The last king to ascend the throne of Anuradhapura was Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 AC), but he ruled from Polonnaruwa. Even after Anuradhapura ceased to be the capital, the Kalinga invadeer, Magha (1214-1239 AC) and the Javanese invader Chandrabhanu in the year 1240 AC plundered and again destroyed the city. Vijayabahu I and Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 AC) 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 AC) 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 AC) 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 AC) of Kandy to restore the vanishing beauty and prestige of Anuradhapura. But it was a fruitless effort.

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. 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.

The monuments we see today in Anuradhapura represent a period of nearly fifteen centuries. Building and reconstruction began in the third century BC 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 BC, and 3. the Jetavana built by Mahasena in the fourth century Ac. 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.

Among the many kings who succeeded to the throne of Anuradhapura, the name of King Duttagamani in the second century (161-137 BC) ranks first. He was not only a brave warrior but also a great builder.

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 AC 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 AD 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.


There are 8 main places of worship known as Athamasthana. They are:

1. Sri Maha Bodhiya
2. Ruwanveliseya
3. Thuparama
4. Lovamahapaya
5. Abhayagiriya
6. Jetavanaramaya
7. Mirisavetiya
8. Lankaramaya

In addition to these 8 main places of worship, there are some other places of artistic, historical and archaeological value which should be visited.

1. Sri Mahabodhiya

During the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, Sanghamitta Theri brought with her a branch of the Bodhi tree under which prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment. This is the oldest living tree in documented history. This incident took place a few months after the arrival of Mahinda Thera. Amidst much rejoicing and ceremony, this tree was planted at Maha Mevuna Uyana. It was planted on a high terrace about 21 feet above the ground and surrounded by railings and today it is one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Ceylon. These are other bo-trees in close proximity to this sacred bo-tree. The parapat wall round the compound where the bo-tree is planted is about 700 ft. in length. This wall was constructed during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha, to protect it from the wild elephants.

2. Ruvanvelisaya

After defeating the Tmil 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. This is also known as the Mahathupa. Swarnamali Chaitya and Rathnamali Dagaba. The Thupavamsa gives a complete account about the construction of Ruwanvelisaya.

This dagaba was built on a firm foundation. It is recorded that inside the dagaba are enshrined valuable gems statues made out of gold, various valuable objects and also relics of the Buddha which measures about a Don. 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 dagaba. In the image house situated in the temple courtyard are 4 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 24 ft, in height. The crest gem on the pinnacle is a gift from Burma. Ruvanvalisaya is situated a few yards away from Lovamahapaya.

It is recorded in books that King Lajjitissa erected 3 altars in marble. 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 dagaba.

3. Thuparamaya

Thera Mahinda himself introduced Theravada Buddhism and also chetiya worship to Ceylon. At his request King Devanampiyatissa built Thuparamaya in which was enshrined the collarbone of the Buddha and is considered as the first dagaba built in Ceylon, after the introduction of Buddhism. This chetiya was built in the shape of a heap of paddy. This dagaba was destroyed from time to time. During the reign of King Agbo II it was completely destroyed and the King restored it. What we have today is the construction of the dagaba, done in 1862 AD. As it is today, after several renovations, in the course of the centuries, the monument has a diameter of 59 ft, at the base. The dome is 11 feet and 4 inches in height from the ground, 164 = in diameter. The compound is paved with granite and there are 2 rows of stone pillars round the dagaba. During he early period vatadage was built round the dagaba.

4. Lovamahapaya

Is situated between Ruvanveliseya and Sri Mahabodiya. It is also known as the Brazen Palce or Lohaprasadaya. In ancient times the building included the refectory and the uposathagara. (Uposatha house). There was also a simamalake where the sangha assembled on poya days to recite the formula of the confessional. The famous Lohaprasada built by King Dutugemunu described as an edifice of nine storeys, was a building of this class. One side of the building was 400 ft in length. As the roof was covered with tiles made of bronze, this was known as the Brazen Palace. There are 40 rows, each row consisting of 40 stone pillars and a total of 1600 stone pillars were used for the building. It is believed that it took 6 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.

5. Abhayagiri Dagaba

King Valagamba ascended the throne in 103 AD. 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 the Abhayagiri Vihara in the same premises. Shortly after this event, the monks of the Mahavihara took disciplinary action against one of the bhikkus 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 Ceylon. Most learned bhikkhus lives in Abhayagiri Vihara. It consisted of 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, then the height is said to have been 140 cubits. In the year 1875, Abhayagiri Vihara which had a diameter of 307 feet at its base, stood to a height of 231 feet. The relics of the Buddha is said to have been enshrined in a figure of a bull made out of thick gold.

6. Jetavanarama

King Mahasen (273-301 AD) has the honour of being the creater of the largest stupa is Ceylon. A part of a sash (belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be enshrined here). Its height is said to be 400 feet. This is considered as the largest stupa in the whole world. This stupa belongs to the Sagalika sect. The compound of the stupa is 8 acres. One side of the stupa is 576 feet in depth. The 4 flight of steps at the four sides is 28 feet in depth. The doorpost to the shrine which is situated at the courtyard is 27 feet in height. It is a feet underground. There are some stone inscriptions in the courtyard with the names of donors inscribed.

7. Mirisaveti Stupa

King Dutugamunu after defeating King Elara, built the Mirisaveti Stupa. After placing the Buddha relics in the scepter, he had gone to Tisawewa for a bath leaving the scepter. After the bath he returned to the place where the scepter was placed, and it is said that it could not be moved. The stupa was built in the place where the scepter 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 Mirisavetiya Dagaba. The extent of this land is about 50 acres. Although the king Kasyapa I and Kasyapa V renovated this, from time to time it was dilapidated. What stands today is the renovation done by the cultural Triangle Fund.

8. Lankarama

This was built by King Valagamba, in an ancient place 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 seems to be 10 feet above the ground. The diameter of the stupa is 45 feet. The courtyard is circular in shape and the diameter is 1332 feet.

Another famous Sub Places


Is situated near Tisawewa and was built by King Devanampiyatissa. 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. A few yards away from this vihara is the Magul Uyana.

Magul Uyana

The ancient Magul Uyana is situated close to Isurumuni Vihara and Tissawewa. In it are various ponds. There are remains of small cells, seats made of stone steps, and taps of aesthetic sense. According to legend it is believed that Prince Saliya met Asokamala in this garden. The largest pond in this garden is 31x55 in length and breadth. This is not a place of worship.


About half a mile to the south of Isurumuniya is situated Vessagiri on a mountains region. Scattered are 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.

Rathna Prasadaya

Was built by Kng Kanittha Tissa who ruled Ceylon from 167-186 AD. 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 Viharaya were found here.

Queen's Palace

Is situated near Ratna Prasadaya. The largest and the most beautiful moonstones can be seen here.

Dakkhina Stupa

According to an inscription this stupa was constructed by Uttiya, a Minister of King Valagamba. For sometime 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 bhikkhis 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.

Sela Cetiya

Is one of the 16 main places of worship and is situated to the west of Jetavanaramaya. This was constructed by King Lajjitissa who ruled in the first century B.C. The diameter of the base of the stupa is 37 = feet. This stupa has been given this name as the platform and stupa has been constructed in stone. A moonstone and guardstones can be seen here.

Naka Vihara

This stupa built in bricks, is square in shape. This is constructed according to an unusual model and would have been similar to the 7 storeyed building (Satmahal Prasadaya) in Polonnaruwa. Excavations done in this place reveal that there were several clay caskets.

Kiribath Vehera

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 contraversy whether the Pattamaka Chetiya built by King Devanampiyatissa is one and the same.

Kuttam Pokuna

The most magnificent specimen of bathing tanks is the pair known as Kuttam Pokuna at Anuradhapura. This is situated in close proximity to Abhayagiri Vihara. The garden which separates these 2 ponds is 18 = ft. The larger of this pair is 132 ft in length and 51 ft in breadth, while the smaller is 91 feet long, the breadth is the same. The depth of the smaller pond is 14 feet and the larger pond is 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.

Samadhi Statue

Is built at Anuradhapura in the Mahamevuna Park. It is said that this is one of the best pieces of sculpture. The statue is 8 feet in height and made of granite and the Dhyana mudra is symbolished - The posture of meditation in which Buddha sits in the cross - legged position with upturned palms, placed one over the other on the lap.

Toluwila Statue

Which has a close resemblance to the Samadhi statue at Anuradhapura, was found among the ruins in a temple at Toluwila in Anuradhapura. It is 5'9' in height. The gap between the knees is 5'9". The width between the shoulders is 3'5". At present this statue is placed near the main entrance to the Colombo Museum.

Other ruins

In the sacred city of Anuradhapura and in the vicinity are a large number of ruins. These 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 this is meager. Although Avukana is not situated in the sacred city of Anuradhapura, the pilgrims never fail to pay homage to this statue.

Avukana Buddha Statue

Avukana is situated in Anuradhapura district and could be reached by travelling along Kurunegala-Dambulla road or through Galewala-Kalawewa road. This is approachable by train too.

This is one of the largest statues in Ceylon and situated facing Kalawewa. This standing Buddha statue including the pedestal is 42 feet in height. The right hand depicts the Abhaya Mudra (The posture of hand in icons in which the raised upper arm of the right hand is held, palm outwards indicating freedom from fear). The left hand shows that it is holding the 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 is 38'10'.

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.

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