Anuradhapura, the main city of the North-Central province 128 miles away from Colombo, is the first capital of ancient Ceylon, initially found by Prince Wijaya and his crew. The city boasts a history of 1500 years of royalty, starting from 05th Century BC till 10th Century AD, during the period, where 123 kings are said to have been in rule. The inception of the city is accredited to three legends, of which the accepted is that a General of Prince Wijaya named Anuradha inaugurated the initial establishment of the city in a village scale, which grew and expanded its boundaries with time. Thus, the city was given the name Anuradhapura, to commemorate his act. Another legend depicts that ninety kings ruled the city, baptizing the city as Anu-raja-pura, meaning the city of ninety kings. The final legend applies beliefs in Astrology and auspicious times, as the foundation of the city is said to have been laid at the Anura auspicious time, leading the city to be named Anuradhapura. The first recorded king of Anuradhapura is King Pandukhabhaya who was also the first Sinhalese King. He is said to have restructured the former Anuradhagama and re–established it near Kadamba Nadee (present Malvatu Oya), completing it with amenities such as reservoirs, houses for citizens, hospitals, stupas, dwellings for priests and cemeteries etc.
The most noteworthy event in the history of Anuradhapura was the establishment of Budhhism in Ceylon, as Arihath Mahinda Thero and seven monks who accompanied him to Ceylon were met by King Devenampiyathissa during his hunting expedition in a full moon lit night in the month of June (Poson). Buddhism was acknowledged by the king himself and he took initiative to spread the religion among his people who were believers of non-existing gods, who said to have lived in the forests and caves. This great step taken in cultivating a civilization in the country was further endorsed by the arrival of Sanghamittha Thero, the sister of Arihath Mahinda Thero, who brought a sapling of the Bo tree that sheltered Lord Buddha during his enlightenment. This sapling was planted in Anuradhapura and the king was nominated as its rightful caretaker.
Mahavihara was the most important Vihara of Sri Lanka. It was founded in the 4th century BC by King Devanampiyatissa. The only remains of the magnificent buildings of the ancient monastery are the stone pillars that are scattered all over the large area.
Sri maha bodhiya
Sri Maha bodhi, the oldest historical tree of the world. is found within the precincts of the Mahavihara. It is also the most sacred place in Sri Lanka and is found on the highest terrace, surrounded by a number of other Bodhi trees. The visitors can go only up to the middle terrace, as it is looked after very well observing all the traditions handed down from generation to generation. The Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya is found on the lower terrace and adjacent to the terrace of the Sacred Bodhi Tree. These are enclosed by a parepet wall.
Ruwanweliseya renovated during the last century, was originally built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd Century BC. This was also known as the Mahaseya, and is the most celebrated stupa in Sri Lanka. The remains of the ancient buildings and architecture include the statues of King Dutugemunu, his mother Vihara Maha Devi, stone pillars’ moon stones and many more.LovamahapayaLovamahapaya also known as the Brazen Palace, too was also constructed by king Dutugemunu. The formation was the assembly hall of the Mahavihara. The only remains of this massive hall are 1600 stone pillars standing in 40 rows.
Thuparamaya was the first stupa built in Sri Lanka after Buddhism was introduced by Arahath Mahinda Thero. In the 07th Century BC it was in ruins and after it was restored, a WATADAGE was added. The concentric stone pillars standing right round the stupa are the remains of the old Watadage
Jetavanaramaya, built by Mahasena (275 – 301), is the highest Stupa in the world and the third highest building of the ancient world. The monastery of this ancient stupa is no more. The excavations and conservations of this monastery and its stupa are now being done under the Sri Lanka – Unesco Cultural Triangle Project by the Central Cultural Fund under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Abhayagiriya was founded in 89 BC by King Vatte Gamini Abhaya. Soon it became the seat of the heterodox, Mahayana doctrines, and a rival to the orthodox Mahavihara. Fa – Hsein (411-413) says that there were 5000 monks in residence at Abhayagiriya in this time. He describes the Stupa, the Buddha image and the tooth relic in procession. The monastery and its ancillary buildings are no more. Only the stupa remains in ruins. This monastery too is being excavated and conserved under the Sri Lanka UNESCO cultural Triangle Project.
Daladage is the site where the ancient Tooth Relic Temple was found. The Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka in the region of Sirimeghavanna (301 – 308). The king housed it in the DHAVIMAKAKKA VIHARA that had been built by King Devanampiyatissa(307 BC – 267 BC). Thereafter this came to be known by the name Daladage which has been identified by an inscription in situ by Mahinda (956 -972). The tall stone columns are the only remains of it.
This was the site of the ancient Palace built by King Vijayabahu (1055 -1110).It was an unpretentious building and the king resided in it for a few months. After he shifted the capital to Polonnaruwa this might have been the Royal Palace whenever he visited the ancient capital. This has been conserved and the guard stones at the entrance to the main building are excellent.
Kuttam Pokuna or the Twin Ponds are a fine example of the landscape architecture in this ancient city. This is a massive stone structure with flights of steps on all four sides, leading to the water.
Samadhi Buddha Image
This is one of the finest pieces of Sinhalese art. In the sculpture the Buddha is depicted in the state of mind explained in Pali by the term NIRODHA- SAMPATHTHI extinction of feeling and perception. It is a state in which all consciousness and mental activities are temporarily suspended. Therefore the explanations like “the Buddha in meditation” are not correct.
Thapowanaya has a group of fourteen structures to the west of the city. These are now generally referred to by the name the Western Monasteries. This was the monastery where the forest monks lived. Some of these monks observed a rigid rule according to which they wore only those robes which are made of rags from corpses. These monks led a simple and ascetic life.
This was built by King Dutugamunu in gratitude for his victory over the Tamil invaders led by Elara. The King’s spear along with the Buddha’s relic is enshrined in this stupa. The extensive ruins around the stupa indicate some of the magnificent buildings of the ancient monastery which had been at this site. The stupa is now being restored.
Dakkhina Vihara was found by Uttiya, a minister of Vattagamini Abhaya (BC 89-77), its stupa has been well conserved. This was built over the cremation site of King Dutugemunu. The Viharaya was endowed with a monastery, a refectory and other buildings necessary for a temple. Today only the remains of some of them are found.
Isurumuniya has been identified as the ancient Megha Giri Viharaya where rain making ceremonies were carried out, some of the sculptures of this temple are the most beautiful works of art in Anuradhapura. The sculptures of a man and a horse and that of the lovers have been widely discussed by scholars.
It was a monastery founded in the 03rd Century BC. The remains of the ancient monastery are scattered over an extensive area. This was considered a suitable dwelling place for the ascetic monks. The caves in this site were converted to dwellings for the priests. This is another fine example of landscaped architecture. According to the inscriptions available at the site, this site has now been identified as the lsurumuni Vihara of the Chronicles. As a result, Vessagiriya is yet to be identified.
Tholuwila is the present name of the city where the remains of an ancient monastery was found. The seated Buddha statue discovered here is now in the Colombo National Museum. This is considered as one of the greatest works of art. The site of this ancient monastery has been disturbed by works of modern civilization. The remains of the image house and many other buildings are scattered here and there.