Anuradhapura is situated on the north central of Sri Lanka which is 201 km from Colombo. It was the capital of Sri Lanka from 4th century BC to the beginning of 11th century AD.
Anuradhapura, Ptolemy’s Anouragrarnmon, is believed to have been founded about 440 BC by King Pandukabhya, ancestor of King Tissa. It is named after the star Anuradha, which in Indian astrology is a divinity of light corresponding to the Iranian god Mithra. The modern town, which has developed only since the beginning of this century, lies to the south-east of the ruins, near Lake Nuwara, which was formed in the 2nd century AD.
All over the site are tanks (artificial ponds) and canals attributed to the earliest Sinhalese kings. The Basavak Kulam and Bulan Kulam are thought to date from the foundation of the city; the Tissa Wewa was formed by King Tissa; and the Nuwara Wewa and Puliyan Kulam are dated to the early centuries AD. At its apogee the city is said to have been surrounded by walls with a total extent of not less than 80 km; and more than 1000 men were employed for the maintenance of the streets alone. The ruins of the city, which was several times abandoned, were miraculously preserved by the vegetation until, only half a century ago, British architects carried out the first excavations. Part of the area still remains to be excavated.
Tour of the Ruins
The ruins lie in an extensive park, with numerous streams, water channels and tanks. As they pick their way about the site, visitors never lose their awareness of the nearby forest.
The following itinerary, which takes in the main features of the site, starts from the (1) Tissa Wewa resthouse, a colonial style building, with its marquee of portico and large balcony gives an arboretum. In the immediate vicinity of the rest-house, to the north, near the Basavak Kulam and a tank, is the (2) Mirisavati Dagaba, considered as one of the most prominent landmarks of the sacred city. It is the first stupa built by Datta Gamundi (100 BC) but now much reduced in size following its restoration by Kassyapa V one of the last kings of Anuradhapura.
On south along the shores of the lake, is an area known as the (3) Royal Pleasure Gardens or the Park of Goldfish. The gardens serve as an eloquent testimony of ancient Sri Lankans landscape architectural skills. (4) The Isurumuniya Gala a rock-cut temple dating from the time of Tissa. It is one of the most interesting temples on the site. To the right of the entrance is a small tank, behind which is a rock face with carved figures of grotesque dwarfs and elephants, one of them with its trunk raised in a rather jaunty attitude. The most interesting carving is a figure of a seated horseman, with the head of his mount appearing behind his right arm. To the left of the entrance is a slab with a pair of lovers (no doubt a god and goddess). On either side of the staircase are the usual figures of Nagas (snake spirits). Inside the temple are a seated figure of the Buddha and some pieces of carving. The temple is probably the oldest in Sri Lanka, although the experts are uncertain of its exact date; it was apparently altered at some time between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD.
Farther south is the (5) Vessagiriya (Mountain of Wisdom), a huge rock monastery in a series of caves among large erratic boulders, which in the days of Anuradhapura’s greatness accommodated more than 500 monks.
From here to the north, passing on the right is the (6) Dakhina Dagaba this is placed in which Buddha meditate after having left his footprint on Sripada, and then come to the (7) Sacred Bodh Gaya, the shrine of the sacred Bo-Tree. A slip from the pipal tree under which Siddartha Gautama received Enlightenment, was solemnly brought to Ceylon by Sanghamitra (or Sanghamitta), daughter of King Ashoka and a Buddhist nun; and the tree, or its descendant, still survives, an object of veneration for the past 2,300 years. It is surrounded by an imposing wall (built in the 18th century to protect the tree from elephants) and by some rather unsightly buildings. Even when the rest of the city was buried in the jungle this shrine, known as Sri Maha Bodh Gaya, was still frequented by the faithful.
(8) The Peacock Palace is a monastery with pillars topped by carved capitals and a moonstone. Near it is the (9) Museum, containing much material of archaeological and historical interest; various publications relating to the lost cities of Ceylon can be bought here. To the east of the Museum is the (10) Brazen Palace or Loha Prasada, a forest of pillars, some of them now rather off the vertical, which is all that remains of the building of seven-storey mentioned in the Mahavamsa. The upper storeys were of wood, the roof of copper sheet. The palace is believed to date from the reign of King Datta Gamundi (100 BC).
(11) The Ruvanveliseya was also built by Datta Gamundi to celebrate his victory over the Tamils. It has been restored several times, and in its present form reflects the ideas of the architects who rebuilt it about 1930. Its tall pointed cone, 102 m high, ends in a block of rock crystal. The base has a rather monotonous carved decoration consisting of a procession of elephants in which only the forequarters of those are seen. Four vahalkadas are seen on the four cardinal points of the dagaba which have maintained some very old sculptures.
To the north is the (12) Thuparama, Anuradhapura’s oldest dagaba (thupa means stupa), built by King Tissa to house the shoulder-blade of the Buddha presented by Ashoka. The last restoration dated back in 19th century. The base, without carving, has a triple ring of monolithic pillars 2,000 years old. It is a vatadage, a circular temple designed for a ritual in which worshippers walked ceremonially round the shrine. The pillars may have supported a roof of light construction, but it is thought that they were probably intended to bear garlands and lanterns, particularly for the ceremonies celebrating the Enlightenment.
To the east is the (13) Jethavanaramaya, one of the most imposing monuments on the site, more than 80 m high and 340 m in circumference at the base. It was built by Maha Sena about 340 AD for a Mahayana community, and bears the name of the principal monastery founded by the Buddha himself, at Jethavana in northern India. (Aramaya means monastery). Nearby is the legendary site of the (14) tomb of Ellara, the Tamil king who was defeated and killed in 101 BC.
There is also (15) a group of unidentified ruins within the area. Then to the north of these various buildings is the (16) Mahapali or Alms Hall, built by Tissa, with a number of carved pillars and a stone trough which held the rice given to the bikkhus (mendicant monks). Nearby is a very wide ancient well which granite steps lead down to the water. To the north-east are the ruins of the first (17) Temple of the Tooth, the Dalada Maligawa, dated to the 4th century AD, with beautiful carved capitals.
From here to the west, passing the ruins of a building called the (18) Gedige. Here, a unique carnelian seal was discovered in 1979. North of this is an ancient monastery, the (19) Nakha Vihara, a square- shaped stupa built of bricks. A few hundred metres north of this is an eight foot high imposing statue of the Buddha seated in the posture of ecstasy (samadhi), (20) the Samadhi Buddha. 500 m west of this figure is the (21) Lankarama or Garden of Lanka, a dagaba built by King Vattagamini Abhaya about 50 BC to mark the spot where he found refuge from five Tamil chiefs who had invaded the capital. This squat structure of modest size is a vatadage, surrounded by a triple ring of pillars with carved capitals.
At the north end of the site, towering over the present monastery, is a high mound on which stands the (22) Abhayagiri, the largest among the five viharas in the Anuradhapura Kingdom. This monastery was founded in second century BC by King Vattagamin Abhaya.
To the east of the Abhayagiri are the (23) ruins of what may have been a palace. Beyond this, in a large stretch of grass under some granite crags, is the (24) Kuttam Pokuna or Twin Bath, edged with dressed stone decorated with carvings. The ponds are separated by garden and surrounded by a magnificent wall. To the west of the Abhayagiri is a group of ruins known as the (25) Ratna Prasada, the Queen’s Palace or Elephant Stables. This building, with its huge pillars, its guardian spirits at the doorway and its moonstone, may well have been a royal palace.
Aside from this there are other ruins which cover the kingdom a few to mention are: the western monasteries, with carved panels in the lavatories; the Pubbaramaya (ruins of a monastery);the Tissa Pabata, a temple, situated near a bath, the Katta Kaduwa Pokuna; and the ruins of a monastery at Toluvila, near the station. A statue of the Buddha, now in the Colombo Museum, was found here.