"Anuradhapura The Birthplace of Sinhala Civilization"
Anuradhapura, according to legend, was first settled by Anuradha, a follower of Prince Vijaya the founder of the Sinhala race. Later, it was made the Capital by King Pandu kabhaya about 380 BCE.
According to the Mahavamsa, the epic of Sinhala History, King Pandu kabhaya’s city was a model of planning. Precincts were set aside for huntsmen, for scavengers and for heretics as well as for foreigners. There were hostels and hospitals, at least one Jain chapel, and cemeteries for high and low castes.
Water supply was assured by the construction of 'tanks', artificial reservoirs, of which the one called after himself, exists to this day under the altered name of Baswak Kulam.
It was in the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BCE) that the Arahat Mahinda. son of the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka, led a group of missionaries from North India to Sri Lanka. With his followers he settled in a hermitage of caves on the hill of Mihintale, (literally, Mahinda's Mountain).
The new religion swept over the land in a wave. The King himself gave for a great monastery in the very heart of the City his own Royal Park - the beautiful Mahamegha Gardens.
The Buddhist principality had but a century to flourish when it was temporarily overthrown by an invader from the Chola Kingdom of South India. The religion, however, received no set-back.
At this time far away on the southeast coast, was growing up the prince who was to become the paladin of Sinhala nationalism: Gamini, soon to be surnamed Duttha, the Undutiful (161 - 137 BCE). For all his martial prowess, King Duttha Gamini must have been a man of singular sensibility. The lives he had had to take weighed heavily upon him, for slaughter-in any cause- is repugnant to the sincere Buddhist; and the better part of his regime was devoted to expiatory service to the Sangha.
The Mirisavati Temple and the mighty Brazen Palace nine stories high, he presented to them. But he did not live to see the actual completion of the Ruvanveliseya Dagaba (picture at top right), his most magnificent gift .
Two more, at least, of the Anuradhapura Kings must be mentioned; if only because some of the greater monuments are indisputably attributable to them.
The earlier of these was Vattagamani Abhaya Valagam Bahu (103 & 89-77 BCE) in the first year of whose reign Chola invaders again appeared and drove him temporarily into hiding. For fourteen years, while five Tamil Kings occupied his throne, he wandered often sheltering in Jungle caves. It is recorded that as in his flight he passed an ancient Jain hermitage, an ascetic, Giri called and taunted him. 'The great black lion is fleeing!' Throughout his exile the gibe rankled.
Winning the Kingdom back at last, he razed the Giri's hermitage to the ground, building there the Abhayagiri Monastery. The name is a wry cant on his own name and the tactless hermit’s as well as (meaning mountain of fearlessness) a disclaimer of his cowardice!
Next came the heretic king Mahasena (274 - 301 A.D.). He alienated to the Abhayagiri vast spoil from the Maha Monastery, Devanampiya Tissa’s original foundation. But he had more substantial claim to notability than his heresy; not only did he build (for the heretics) Sri Lanka’s vastest completed Dagaba the Jetavana Ramaya, - but he was also the greatest irrigator of the Sinhala Kings, building 16 major tanks and a great canal.
Anuradhapura was to continue for six hundred years longer as the national capital. But as the protecting wilderness round it diminished with prosperity, and internecine struggles for the royal succession grew, it became more and more vulnerable to the pressures of South Indian expansion. The final blow came when the Chola King Rajaraja I invaded Sri Lanka, burnt and looted the city. Anuradhapura was finally abandoned and the Capital withdrawn to more secluded fastness.
But the monuments of its heyday survive, surrounded by such beauties as become the past: the solemn umbrage of trees, the silence of cold stone, and the serenity of the sheltering sky.
Places to visit in Anuradhapura Sri Lanka
It is hard to believe; but without a shadow of doubt—that this small tree with limbs so slender that they must be supported on iron crutches, is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world (2,200 years).
A branch of the very Bo beneath which (at Buddha Gaya in North India) the Buddha himself found Enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century B.C. by the Princess/religieuse Sanghamitta; a sister of the saint Mahinda.
It has never since been without its hereditary attendants and the care, to the very end, of the country’s kings. As lately as the reign of the last of them (Sri Vikrama Rajasingha, whom the British captured and deported); a wall was built by royal command to repair the platform on which it grows. In 1966 it was enclosed in a golden railing.
A roof of copper over this primordial skyscraper bestowed upon it, its name. This work of Duttha Gamini is known to have burned down only 15 years after its building; which leads to the surmise that it was largely a wooden structure.
The 1,600 pillars (40 x 40) that now mark the site are historically ascribed to king Parakrama Bahu the Great (1153—1186 A.D.) of Polonnaruwa. The original building was of 9 graded stories and is said to have had one thousand rooms.
The Mahathupa (Great Thupa) is today known as the Ruvanveliseya Dagaba. This is the centre piece of The Maha vihara (Great Monastery). The Maha vihara, because of it's long history of guarding the traditions of Theravada Buddhism, and because its monks kept the most sacred shrines at Anuradhapura, was the most important monastery of the city. Although not it's true height and original form, the fine white Ruvanveliseya Dagaba, guarded by a 'wall of elephants', still looks magnificent.
A dagaba or thupa (relic chamber), is a dome which is built over sacred relics, the bodily remains of the Buddha. King Duttha Gamini had already built the Mirisavati and his magnificent Brazen Palace, but he wanted something bigger and better for his greatest work.
It is said that this cost the king 6.4 million coins in wages, and that the workers received food and clothing and a considerable 'extras' for the work.
On top of this beautiful 'bubble' shaped Mahathupa was a ruby as big as a man's fist, and today the Burmese people have donated a rock crystal, which is 2 feet high (60cm) to replace it.
The Thuparama was the first Buddhist building at Anuradhapura. It was built by King Devanampiya Tissa to enshrine the Buddha’s collar bone. Originally of the “paddy heap” shape, its present “bell” shape dates to reconstruction in the 1840s. The graceful monolithic pillars surrounding it once upheld a circular roof making the shrine a Vata Dage (Circular—Relic—house) a characteristically Sinhala architectural feature.
To the east of the Mahathupa lies an enormous brick dagaba, the Jetavana. The dagaba was originally built to a height of 400 feet (120 Metres), making it the 3rd largest building in the world at that time. The two taller buildings were the biggest of the Egyptian pyramids, built two thousand years before.
Mahasena built this massive dagaba in the 3rd Century AD, in a apparent show of strength and support to the Sagaliya sect of the Buddhist order which he followed. This was against strong opposition from the powerful and established orthodox Maha vihara order.
The dagaba is recorded to having a concrete base, and foundations of brick 26 feet deep (12m).
Established by King Vattagamini in 88 BC, the Uttravihara (Northern Monastery) is now known as the Abhayagiri Monastery. This was a result of the King being jeered by a Jain hermit, while fleeing from from the South Indians, after losing his throne. He spent 14 years 'in the wilderness'.
When he returned to power, he destroyed the Jain Monastery, and around the the Jotiya shrine, he built a Buddhist monastery.
It was the largest monastery in Sri Lanka for about 600 years. It housed 5000 monks in its grounds of more than 500 acres (235 hectares), and was at the time the most powerful institution in the country after the king.
Here in the grounds of the Abhayagiri you will see some of the most beautiful architecture and sculpture in Anuradhapura. Since the chronicle of the Northern Monastery has not survived. and the Great Chronicle does not devote much space to it's rival monastery (the Great chronicle was written by an orthodox Maha vihara monk - the monks of the Abhayagiri were labeled as 'Heretics').
The Abhayagiri Dagaba itself was the work of King Gajabahu (114 - 136). and it reached a height of 370 feet (115m), and although rather smaller than the Jetavana dagaba, was the second largest stupa in the world. It is one of the eight holy shrines of the Buddhists.
Samadhi is a state of deep meditation, and the Lord Buddha is represented in this position after gaining enlightenment. This 4th Century AD statue of the Buddha in meditative pose is acknowledged worldwide as a masterpiece. The Indian Nationalist leader, Nehru, derived strength from contemplating his statue, during his imprisonment by the British.
The twin ponds are a magnificent example of landscape architecture built on a grand scale. The ponds are in fact not twins at all, pond (b) being longer by 40 feet than pond (a). The stone molding of the baths and the flights of steps leading to the water are graceful and austere, but above all natural. Apart from their beauty, the twin ponds are very functional. Water which is fed through an inlet is cleaned and purified several times over; before the cool water gushes out into the pond through a lions-head spout.
Besides this spout is a Naga stone, perhaps the best in Sri Lanka. The water eventually drains away from pond (b).
King Duttha Gamini celebrated the seventh day after his victory with a water festival at the Tissa tank. Nearby on the shore he planted his spear (the King’s spear, generally containing a Relic of the Buddha, was the royal standard in battle) and laid his clothes.
Here he built his first Dagaba, enshrining in it his spear with its Relic—in expiation, as he himself explained, of his impiety in having once eaten a relish (miris) “without a thought of the Brotherhood”. The Vahalkadas (frontispieces) are particularly striking.
Major archaeological research, conservation and excavations are being conducted in Anuradhapura by the Archaeological Department and UNESCO in a project known as the ‘Cultural Triangle’.