Gateway to Isurumuniya, Anuradhapura

Gateway to Isurumuniya, Anuradhapura

Gateway to Isurumuniya, Anuradhapura

Here we see a group of visiting British servicemen at the entrance to the Isurumuniya Rock Temple at the sacred city of Anuradhapura.

Many thanks to Ken Creed for sending us these pictures, which were taken by his wife's uncle Terry Ruff during his time with No.357 Squadron, a special operations unit that operated over Burma, Malaya and Sumatra.

Isurumuniya in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, the oldest capital of Sri Lanka, is like a lifeline that proudly carries the history of the country. Anuradhapura is one of the most visited destinations in the world. Of all the thousands of shrines, Isurumuniya, which is associated with immaculate love, is worth experiencing.

A beautiful pond was first built out of dripstone and for the convenience of the Arahants, including the great Arahant Mahinda. It is said that at that time the rock in this plain was called Kasungiri Vihara because it shone with golden color. King Devanampiyatissa planted a Bodhi tree from the Sri Maha Bodhi in the temple grounds and developed the Isurumuni Vihara more beautiful manner for the residence of five hundred caste children. The cave temple at Isurumuni Vihara, where the Tooth Relic was first housed, is built on a high platform and the seat, dragon pandal, Buddha statue, and roof are all made of a single stone.

The staircase of the cave temple which can be seen in its original condition today consists of two parts. Going up to the first floor past the stone moonstones, watchtowers, and boulders, you can see two unique carvings of a horse’s head, a man, and a bathing elephant. There is a folklore that a hole is made in the stone above the carvings and if you take a coin and make a wish and throw it in this hole so that the coin does not fall into the pool and stays in the hole, the wish will come true. Although there are many theories about these carvings, I am convinced that the human and horse heads are carvings of a god above the rain and that bathing elephants symbolize the joy of receiving rain. This temple was known as Megha Viharaya as it was famous as a place of worship for rain and it is also known as Issarasamanaramaya as it is a place where prayers are fulfilled. Historical evidence shows that the name Issarasamanaramaya was later changed to Isurumuni Viharaya.

Ranmasu Uyana

A park in the pre-Christian era of Sri Lanka, Ranmasu Uyana is a sculpted rock-carved for bathing purposes during the days’ monarchy. Anuradhapura is the heritage capital of Sri Lanka hosts structures with intricate stone carvings and excellent craftsmanship. The Ranmasu Uyana was one among them.

But it is something that way way ahead of its time. The science astronomy that went behind its construction still continues to puzzle experts. It is located in the old town near the Isurumuniya Vihara and Tissawewa, while the name translates to &ldquoGold Fish Park&rdquo. This garden of 40 acres is widely appreciated for its state of the art Hydraulics system which the first of its kind. It uses the right pressure to get water from the Tissa tank and pump it into the swimming pools of the garden. The garden features beautiful plants, trees, vines and flowering shrubs. Ranmasu Uyana rightly panders to Sinhalese literature. It symbolises beauty, elegance.

According to the old books, Bathing pools and gardens were iconic to the Sri Lankan lifestyle. Another important feature of Ranmasu Uyana is the infamous stargate &ndash one of the first few stargates in the world after Peru and Egypt. A stargate in the olden days was seen as a connection or gateway between the humans and extraterrestrials. What better than Sri Lanka to contribute to history, physics and astronomy too! The Magul Uyana is a multipurpose convention that houses everything one needs to visit in Anuradhapura under one complex - pools, Buddhist temples, stupas, gardens and the ruins of war.


In 543 BC, prince Vijaya (543–505 BC) arrived in Sri Lanka, having been banished from his homeland in India. He eventually brought the island under his control and established himself as king. After this, his retinue established villages and colonies throughout the country. One of these was established by Anuradha, a minister of King Vijaya, on the banks of a stream called Kolon and was named Anuradhagama. [6]

In 377 BC, King Pandukabhaya (437–367 BC) made it his capital and developed it into a prosperous city. [7] [8] Anuradhapura (Anurapura) was named after the minister who first established the village and after a grandfather of Pandukabhaya who lived there. The name was also derived from the city's establishment on the auspicious asterism called Anura. [9] Anuradhapura was the capital of all the monarchs who ruled the country in the Anuradhapura Kingdom, with the exception of Kashyapa I (473–491), who chose Sigiriya to be his capital. [10] The city is also marked on Ptolemy's world map. [11]

King Pandukabhaya, the founder and first ruler of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, fixed village boundaries in the country and established an administration system by appointing village headmen. He constructed hermitages, houses for the poor, cemeteries, and irrigation tanks. [12] He brought a large portion of the country under the control of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. However, it was not until the reign of Dutthagamani (161–137 BC) that the whole country was unified under the Anuradhapura Kingdom. [13] He defeated 32 rulers in different parts of the country before he killed Elara, the South Indian ruler who was occupying Anuradhapura, and ascended to the throne. [14] The chronicle Mahavamsa describes his reign with much praise, and devotes 11 chapters out of 37 for his reign. [15] He is described as both a warrior king and a devout Buddhist. [16] After unifying the country, he helped establish Buddhism on a firm and secure base, and built several monasteries and shrines including the Ruwanweli Seya [17] and Lovamahapaya. [18]

Another notable king of the Anuradhapura Kingdom is Valagamba (103, 89–77 BC), also known as Vatthagamani Abhaya, who was overthrown by five invaders from South India. He regained his throne after defeating these invaders one by one and unified the country again under his rule. [19] Saddha Tissa (137–119 BC), Mahaculi Mahatissa (77–63 BC), Vasabha (67–111), Gajabahu I (114–136), Dhatusena (455–473), Aggabodhi I (571–604) and Aggabodhi II (604–614) were among the rulers who held sway over the entire country after Dutthagamani and Valagamba. Rulers from Kutakanna Tissa (44–22 BC) to Amandagamani (29–19 BC) also managed to keep the whole country under the rule of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. [20] Other rulers could not maintain their rule over the whole island, and independent regions often existed in Ruhuna and Malayarata (hill country) for limited periods. During the final years of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, rebellions sprang up and the authority of the kings gradually declined. [21] By the time of Mahinda V (982–1017), the last king of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, the rule of the king had become so weak that he could not even properly organize the collection of taxes. [22]

During the times of Vasabha, Mahasena (274–301) and Dhatusena, the construction of large irrigation tanks and canals was given priority. Vasabha constructed 11 tanks and 12 canals, [23] Mahasen constructed 16 tanks and a large canal, [24] and Dhatusena built 18 tanks. [25] Most of the other kings have also built irrigation tanks throughout Rajarata, the area around Anuradhapura. By the end of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, a large and intricate irrigation network was available throughout Rajarata to support the agriculture of the country. [26]

Arrival of Buddhism Edit

One of the most notable events during the Anuradhapura Kingdom was the introduction of Buddhism to the country. A strong alliance existed between Devanampiya Tissa (250–210 BC) and Ashoka of India, [27] who sent Arahat Mahinda, four monks, and a novice being sent to Sri Lanka. [28] They encountered Devanampiya Tissa at Mihintale. After this meeting, Devanampiya Tissa embraced Buddhism and the order of monks was established in the country. [29] Devanampiya Tissa, guided by Arahat Mahinda, took steps to firmly establish Buddhism in the country. [30]

Soon afterwards, the bhikkhuni Sanghamitta arrived from India in order to establish the Bhikkhuni sasana (order of nuns) in the country. [31] She brought along with her a sapling from the Sri Maha Bodhi, the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, which was then planted in Anuradhapura. [32] Devanampiya Tissa bestowed on his kingdom the newly planted Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. [33] Thus this is the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

Arrival of the Sacred Tooth Relic Edit

During the reign of Kithsirimevan (301–328), Sudatta, the sub king of Kalinga, and Hemamala brought the Tooth Relic of the Buddha to Sri Lanka because of unrest in their country. [34] Kithsirimevan carried it in procession and placed the relic in a mansion named Datadhatughara. [35] He ordered this procession to be held annually, and this is still done as a tradition in the country. The Tooth Relic of the Buddha soon became one of the most sacred objects in the country, and a symbol of kingship. The person who was in possession of the Tooth Relic would be the rightful ruler of the country. [36] Therefore, it was often enshrined within the royal palace itself. [37]

Invasions Edit

Several invasions have been made against the Anuradhapura Kingdom, all of which were launched from South India. The first invasion recorded in the history of the country is during the reign of Suratissa (247–237 BC), where he was overthrown by two horse dealers from South India named Sena and Guththika. After ruling the country for 22 years, they were defeated by Asela (215–205 BC), who was in turn overthrown by another invasion led by a Chola prince named Elara (205–161 BC). [38] Elara ruled for 44 years before being defeated by Dutthagamani (Duttugamunu) [39] However, the Mahavamsa records that these foreign kings ruled the country fairly and lawfully. [38]

The country was invaded again in 103 BC by five Dravidian chiefs, Pulahatta, Bahiya, Panya Mara, Pilaya Mara and Dathika, who ruled until 89 BC when they were defeated by Valagamba. Another invasion occurred in 433, and the country fell under the control of six rulers from South India. These were Pandu, Parinda, Khudda Parinda, Tiritara, Dathiya and Pithiya, who were defeated by Dhathusena who regained power in 459. [40] More invasions and raids from South India occurred during the reigns of Sena I (833–853) [41] and Udaya III (935–938). [42] The final invasion during the Anuradhapura Kingdom, which ended the kingdom and left the country under the rule of the Cholas, took place during the reign of Mahinda V. [43]

However, none of these invaders could extend their rule to Ruhuna, the southern part of the country, and Sri Lankan rulers and their heirs always organized their armies from this area and managed to regain their throne. Throughout the history of Sri Lanka, Ruhuna served as a base for resistance movements. [20]

Fall of Anuradhapura Edit

Mahinda V (981-1017), distracted by a revolt of his own Dravidian mercenary troops, fled to the south-eastern province of Rohana. [43] The Mahavamsa describes the rule of Mahinda V as weak, and the country was suffering from poverty by this time. It further mentions that his army rose against him due to lack of wages. [22] Taking advantage of this internal strife Chola Emperor Rajaraja I invaded Anuradhapura sometime in 993 AD and conquered the northern part of the country and incorporated it into his kingdom as a province named "Mummudi-sola-mandalam" after himself. [44] Rajendra Chola I son of Rajaraja I, launched a large invasion in 1017. The Culavamsa says that the capital at Anuradhapura was "utterly destroyed in every way by the Chola army. [45] The capital was at Polonnaruwa which was renamed "Jananathamangalam". [44]

A partial consolidation of Chola power in Rajarata had succeeded the initial season of plunder. With the intention to transform Chola encampments into more permanent military enclaves, Saivite temples were constructed in Polonnaruva and in the emporium of Mahatittha. Taxation was also instituted, especially on merchants and artisans by the Cholas. [46] In 1014 Rajaraja I died and was succeeded by his son the Rajendra Chola I, perhaps the most aggressive king of his line. Chola raids were launched southward from Rajarata into Rohana. By his fifth year, Rajendra claimed to have completely conquered the island. The whole of Anuradhapura including the south-eastern province of Rohana were incorporated into the Chola Empire. [47] As per the Sinhalese chronicle Mahavamsa, the conquest of Anuradhapura was completed in the 36th year of the reign of the Sinhalese monarch Mahinda V, i.e. about 1017–18. [47] But the south of the island, which lacked large an prosperous settlements to tempt long-term Chola occupation, was never really consolidated by the Chola. Thus, under Rajendra, Chola predatory expansion in Ceylon began to reach a point of diminishing returns. [46] According to the Culavamsa and Karandai plates, Rajendra Chola led a large army into Anuradhapura and captured Mahinda's crown, queen, daughter, vast amount of wealth and the king himself whom he took as a prisoner to India, where he eventually died in exile in 1029. [48] [47]

The Chola conquest had one permanent result in that the capital of Anuradhapura was destroyed by the Cholas. Polonnaruwa, a military outpost of the Sinhalese kingdom, [49] was renamed Jananathamangalam, after a title assumed by Rajaraja I, and become the new center of administration for the Cholas. This was because earlier Tamil invaders had only aimed at overlordship of Rajarata in the north, but the Cholas were bent on control of the whole island. There is practically no trace of chola rule in Anuradhapura. When Sinhalese sovereignty was restored under Vijayabahu I, he crowned himself at Anuradhapura but continued to have his capital at Polonnaruwa for it being more central and made the task of controlling the turbulent provence of Rohana much easier. [44]

Monarch Edit

The kingdom was under the rule of a king. The consecration ceremonies and rituals associated with kingship began during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa, [50] under the influence of Ashoka of India. [51] The whole country was brought under the rule of a single monarch by Dutthagamani for the first time. Before this, it had several principalities independent of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. [50] The succession of the throne was patrilineal, or if that cannot be the case, inherited by the eldest brother of the previous king. [52] The king of Anuradhapura was seen as the supreme ruler throughout the island, even at times when he did not have absolute control over it. [53]

Four dynasties have ruled the kingdom from its founding to its ending. The rulers from Vijaya to Subharaja (60–67) are generally considered as the Vijayan dynasty. [N 3] [54] Pandukabhaya was the first ruler of the Anuradhapura Kingdom belonging to this dynasty. The Vijayan dynasty existed until Vasabha of the Lambakanna clan seized power in 66 AD. His ascension to the throne saw the start of the first Lambakanna dynasty, which ruled the country for more than three centuries. [55] A new dynasty began with Dhatusena in 455. Named the Moriya dynasty, the origins of this line are uncertain although some historians trace them to Shakya princes who accompanied the sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka. [56] The last dynasty of the Anuradhapura period, the second Lambakanna dynasty, started with Manavanna (684–718) seizing the throne in 684 and continued till the last ruler of Anuradhapura, Mahinda V. [57]

Officials Edit

Royal officials were divided into three categories officials attached to the palace, officials of central administration and officials of provincial administration. One of the most important positions was the purohita, the advisor of the king. [52] The king also had a board of ministers called amati paheja. [58] In central administration, senapati (Commander-in-Chief of the Army) was a position second only to the king, and held by a member of nobility. [59] This position, and also the positions of yuvaraja (sub king), administrative positions in the country's provinces and major ports and provinces, were often held by relatives of the king. [60]

The kingdom was often divided into sections or provinces and governed separately. Rajarata, the area around the capital, was under the direct administration of the king, while the Ruhuna (southern part of the country) and the Malaya Rata (hill country) were governed by officials called apa and mapa. These administrative units were further divided into smaller units called rata. Officials called ratiya or ratika were in charge of these. [N 4] The smallest administrative unit was the gama (village), under a village chief known as gamika or gamladda. [61]

Buddhist priesthood Edit

A close link existed between the ruler and the Sangha (Buddhist priesthood) since the introduction of Buddhism to the country. This relationship was further strengthened during Dutthagamani's reign. The monks often advised and even guided the king on decisions. This association was initially with the Mahavihara sect, but by the middle of the 1st century BC, the Abhayagiri sect had also begun to have a close link to the ruling of the country. By the end of the 3rd century AD, the Jetavana sect had also become close to the ruler. [62] Estrangements between the ruler and the priesthood often weakened the government, as happened during the reign of Lanjatissa. [63] Even Valagamba's resistance movement was initially hampered because of a rift with the Mahavihara, and he succeeded only after a reconciliation was affected. [64] Some rulers patronized only one sect, but this often led to unrest in the country and most rulers equally supported all sects. [65] Despite this, religious establishments were often plundered during times of internal strife by the rulers themselves, such as during the reigns of Dathopatissa I (639–650) and Kashyapa II (650–659). [60]

Law Edit

Customs, traditions and moral principles based on Buddhism were used as the bases of law. Specific laws were eventually developed and adopted. Samantapasadika, a 5th-century commentary, gives details of complex regulations on the theft of fish. The chief judicial officer was known as viniccayamacca and there were several judicial officers under him, known as vinicchayaka. Apart from them, village headmen and provincial governors were also given the power to issue judgments. The king was the final judge in legal disputes, and all cases against members of the royal family and high dignitaries of the state were judged by him. However, the king had to exercise this power with care and after consulting with his advisers. [66] Udaya I recorded judgments that were regarded as important precedents in the royal library in order to maintain uniformity in judicial decisions. [67]

Initially, the administration of justice at village level was the responsibility of village assemblies, which usually consisted of the elders of the village. [68] However, towards the end of the Anuradhapura Kingdom a group of ten villages, known as dasagam, was responsible for upholding justice in that area. The laws and legal measures to be followed by them were proclaimed by the king. Several rock inscriptions that record these proclamations have been found in archaeological excavations. Punishments differed from ruler to ruler. Some kings, such as Sanghabodhi (247–249) and Voharika Tissa (209–231) were lenient in this aspect, while rulers like Ilanaga (33–43) and Jettha Tissa I (263–273) were harsher. However, crimes such as treason, murder, and slaughter of cattle were generally punishable by death. [69]

Military Edit

During the early stages, the Anuradhapura Kingdom did not have a strong regular army except for a small body of soldiers. These were assigned to guarding the capital and the royal palace. The King had the right to demand an able-bodied son for military service from every family in his kingdom. In times of war, a larger army was formed using this method. An army consisted of four main divisions an elephant corps, cavalry, chariots and infantry. [70] This combination was called Chaturangani Sena (fourfold army). However, the majority of the army was infantry composed of swordsmen, spearmen and archers. [71] [72]

When such an army was prepared, it was commanded by several generals. The Commander-in-Chief of the army was usually a member of nobility. The King and his generals led the army from the front during battles, mounted on elephants. [70] The major cities of the kingdom were defended with defensive walls and moats. Sieges, often lasting several months, were common during warfare. Single combat between the opposing kings or commanders, mounted on elephants, often decided the outcome of the battle. [73]

South Indian mercenaries were often employed in the armies of the Anuradhapura Kingdom during its latter stages. [70] Manavanna and Moggallana I (491–508) obtained the assistance of the Pallavas during succession disputes to secure the throne. [40] However, the Anuradhapura kingdom appears to have had strong armies during some periods, such as when Sena II sent his armies to South India against the Pandyan king. [74] Gajabahu I also launched an invasion against South India [N 5] to rescue 12,000 captives, and brought back 12,000 prisoners as well as the freed captives. [75] Surprisingly however, a navy was not considered important during the Anuradhapura Kingdom, and one was rarely maintained. This would have been the first line of defence for the island nation and would also have been helpful in dealing with invasions from South India. [73]

The economy of the Anuradhapura Kingdom was based mainly on agriculture. [70] The main agricultural product was rice, the cultivation of which was supported by an intricate irrigation network. Rice cultivation began around the Malvatu Oya, Deduru Oya and Mahaweli Ganga and spread throughout the country. [76] Shifting cultivation was also done during the rainy seasons. [77] Rice was produced in two main seasons named Yala and Maha. Due to the extensive production of rice, the country was mostly self-sufficient. [78] Cotton was grown extensively to meet the requirements of cloth. Sugarcane and Sesame were also grown and there are frequent references in classical literature to these agricultural products. Finger millet was grown as a substitute for rice, particularly in the dry zone of the country. [79] Surpluses of these products, mainly rice, were exported. [80] [81]

The primary goods exported during the Anuradhapura period are gemstones, spices, pearls and elephants, while ceramic ware, silks, perfumes and wines were imported from other countries. [82] The city of Anuradhapura itself became an important commercial center as the residence of many foreign merchants from around the world. From very early times was a settlement of Greeks known as Yavanas. Professor Merlin Peris, former Professor of Classics at the University of Peradeniya, writes that “The Greeks whom King Pandukabhaya settled in the West Gate of Anuradhapura were not second or third generation of Greeks who arrived in NW India but were men who, just two decades ago at the most, left Greek homelands as Alexander’s camp followers and come to Sri Lanka with or in the wake of Alexander’s troops. When their fellow Greeks showed reluctance to push further south, these Greeks apparently had done so.” [83]

By the fifth century one of Persians in addition to Tamil and Arab merchants. [84] These foreign merchants, mainly Arabs, often acted as middlemen in these imports and exports. [70] By the ninth century these Muslim traders had established themselves around the ports of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, they would soon form the still extant Muslim community of the island. [85] Luxury cloth was also imported from Eastern India and China. [79] A stone inscription in Anuradhapura implies that the market or bazaar was an important functionality in the city. [86] Trade was limited in villages since they were mostly self-sufficient, but essential commodities such as salt and metal had to be obtained from outside. [87] The country's position in the Indian Ocean and its natural bays made it a centre of international trade transit. [88] Ports such as Mahatittha (Mannar) and Gokanna (Trincomalee) were used as trading ports during the Anuradhapura Kingdom. [89]

Currency was often used for settling judicial fines, taxes and payments for goods [N 6] or services. [90] However, remuneration for services to the king, officials and temples were often made in the form of land revenue. The oldest coins found at Anuradhapura date up to 200 BC. [91] These earliest coins were punch marked rectangular pieces of silver known as kahavanu. These eventually became circular in shape, which were in turn followed by die struck coins. [92] Uncoined metals, particularly gold and silver, were used for trading as well. [93] Patterns of elephants, horses, swastika and Dharmacakra were commonly imprinted on the coins of this period. [94]

The primary tax of this period was named bojakapati (grain tax) and charged for land used for cultivation. [95] A water tax, named dakapati was also charged for the water used from reservoirs. [96] Customs duties were also imposed in ports. [97] Those unable to pay these taxes in cash were expected to take part in services such as repairing reservoirs. The administration of taxes was the duty of Badagarika, the king's treasurer. [98]

Culture in the Anuradhapura Kingdom was largely based on Buddhism with the slaughter of animals for food considered low and unclean. As a result, animal husbandry, except for the rearing of buffalo and cattle, was uncommon. Elephants and horses were prestige symbols, and could only be afforded by the nobility. The skills needed to train and care for these animals were highly regarded . [99] Cattle and buffalo were used for ploughing and preparing paddy fields. [100] Dairy products formed an important part of people's diets while Pali and Sinhala literature often refer to five products obtained from the cow: milk, curd, buttermilk, ghee and butter. [101] Bullocks and bullock carts were also used for transport. [102]

Metalwork was an important and well-developed craft, and metal tools such as axes, mammoties and hoes were widely used. Weapons and tools of iron and steel were produced in large scale for the military. [103] A good indication of the development of metalwork of this period is the Lovamahapaya, which had been roofed entirely with copper. [104]

Villages were usually concentrated around irrigation reservoirs to enable easy access to water for agriculture. Houses stood immediately below the reservoir embankment, between the water and the paddy fields below. This facilitated easy control of the water supply to the fields and also supported maintenance of domestic gardens for fruit and vegetable production. [105] A village typically consisted of a cluster of dwellings, paddy fields, a reservoir, a grazing ground, shift crop reserves and a village forest. In areas of high rainfall, a perennial watercourse often took the place of the reservoir. [68] Inland fishing was widespread during the Anuradhapura Kingdom period because of the numerous reservoirs. [106] Although not entirely absent, sea fishing was not common during this period mainly because of the rudimentary nature of transporting sea fish to cities which were located far inland. [107]

Women appear to have enjoyed considerable freedom and independence during this period. [108] Dutthagamani frequently sought his mother's advice during his military campaign. [109] Rock inscriptions show that women donated caves and temples for the use of the sangha. However, there are no records of women holding any administrative posts. It is not clear if women were given equal footing with men, but they did have complete freedom in religious matters. [110]

Religion Edit

The religion of the ruling elite was Brahmanism until the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa. It spread rapidly throughout the country under his patronage becoming the official religion of the kingdom. Despite this status the tolerance of Buddhist society ensured the survival of Hinduism with only a minor loss of influence. [3] [111] After this, the rulers were expected to be the protectors of Buddhism in the country and it became a legitimizing factor of royal authority. [112] Three fraternities of Buddhism had come into existence by the end of the Anuradhapura Kingdom Mahavihara, Abhayagiri and Jetavana. Mahavihara was established immediately after the introduction of Buddhism to the country. Representing the Theravada teachings, it remained strictly conventional throughout the Anuradhapura Kingdom. The Abhayagiri fraternity, established after Abhayagiriya was built, represented several schools of Buddhist thought. It did not restrict itself to Theravada and accepted Mahayana and Tantric ideas as well. Little evidence exists on the Jetavana fraternity which was established after the Jetavanaramaya was built, later than the other two. However, it too was receptive to new and more liberal views regarding Buddhism. [113]

Rulers sponsored Theravada and often took steps to stop the spreading of Mahayana beliefs. Rulers such as Aggabodhi I, Kashyapa V (914–923) and Mahinda IV (956–972) promulgated disciplinary rules for the proper conduct of the Sangha. [60] Voharika Tissa and Gothabhaya (249–262) expelled several monks from the order for supporting such views. [114] A change in this occurred when Mahasena embraced Mahayana teachings and acted against Theravada institutions. However, he too accommodated Theravada teachings after the population rebelled against him. [115] As the kingdom and the authority or kings declined, Mahayana and Tantric doctrines again began to spread, however, Theravada remained the main and most widespread doctrine. [116]

Followers of Hinduism were also present to some extent during the Anuradhapura Kingdom. There were a number of them in Rajarata during Elara's reign. Mahasen destroyed several Hindu temples during his reign in the 2nd century. Particularly Indian merchant communities living near ports such as Mahatittha and Gokanna were followers of Hinduism and Hindu temples were constructed in these areas. By the end of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, large Hindu temples such as the Konesvaram temple had been constructed. [117] Historical sources [N 7] indicate that there were also Jains in Anuradhapura during the reign of Valagamba. [118]

Literature Edit

From the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD, inscriptions are recorded in the Brāhmī script. This gradually developed into the modern sinhala script, but this was not complete by the end of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. The first reference in historical sources to any written work is about 80 BC, but both Sinhala and Pali literature existed even two centuries before this, if not earlier. [119] The oldest Sinhala literature is found at Sigiriya. [120] Poems written from the 6th century to the end of the Anuradhaura kingdom are found among the graffiti on the mirror wall at Sigiriya. Most of these verses are describing or even addressed to the female figures depicted in the frescoes of Sigiriya. [121] The majority of these poems have been written between the 8th and 10th centuries. [122]

Only three Sinhala books survive from the Anuradhapura period. One of them, Siyabaslakara, was written in the 9th or 10th century on the art of poetry and is based on the Sanskrit Kavyadarsha. Dampiya Atuva Gatapadaya is another, and is a glossary for the Pali Dhammapadatthakatha, providing Sinhala words and synonyms for Pali words. The third book is Mula Sikha Ha Sikhavalanda, a set of disciplinary rules for Buddhist monks. Both these have been written during the last two centuries of the Anuradhapura period. [123]

During the reign of Valagamba, the Pali Tripitaka was written in palm leaves. [124] Several commentaries on Buddhism, known as Atthakatha have also been written during the reign of Mahanama (406–428). Pali chronicles such as Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa have been written during the Anuradhapura Kingdom, and are still useful as resources for studying the history of the country. [125] [126]

Art Edit

The Sigiriya Frescoes found at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka were painted during the reign of King Kashyapa I (ruled 477 — 495 AD). Depicting female figures carrying flowers, they are the oldest surviving paintings of the Anuradhapura period. [127] Various theories exist as to who are shown in these paintings. Some suggest that they are apsaras (celestial nymphs), [128] others suggest that they are the ladies of the king's court or even a representation of lightning and rain clouds. [129] Although they bear some similarity to the paintings of Ajanta in India, there are significant differences in style and composition suggesting that these are examples of a distinctive Sri Lankan school of art. [130]

Paintings from a cave at Hindagala date back to the late Anuradhapura period, and may even belong to the same period as the Sigiriya paintings. The paintings of Sigiriya and Hindagala are the only surviving specimens of art of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. However, remnants of paintings indicate that walls and ceilings of some buildings and the inside walls of stupas and vahalkadas were also painted. [127] Saddhatissa had employed painters to decorate the Ruwanweli Seya when his brother Dutthagamani wanted to see it on his death bed. [131]

Statue making, most noticeably statues of the Buddha, was an art perfected by the Sri Lankan sculptors during the Anuradhapura Kingdom. The earliest Buddha statues belonging to the Anuradhapura period date back to the 1st century AD. [132] Standard postures such as Abhaya Mudra, Dhyana Mudra, Vitarka Mudra and Kataka Mudra were used when making these statues. The Samadhi statue in Anuradhapura, considered one of the finest examples of ancient Sri Lankan art, [133] shows the Buddha in a seated position in deep meditation, and is sculpted from dolomitic marble and is datable to the 4th century. The Toluvila statue is similar to this, and dates to the later stages of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. Notable standing Buddha statues dating from the Anuradhapura period include the ones at Avukana, Maligavila and Buduruvagala. The Buduruvagala statue is the tallest in the country, standing at 50 feet (15 m). All these statues are carved out of rock. [134]

The carvings at Isurumuniya are some of the best examples of the stone carving art of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. Skill in arts was a respected and valued trait during this period and artists were well rewarded by the rulers. The Mahavamsa records that Jettha Tissa II (328–337) was himself skilled in stone and ivory carving. [135]

Architecture Edit

The construction of stupas was noticeable not only during the Anuradhapura Kingdom but throughout the history of Sri Lanka. Stupas were built enshrining an object of worship. The stupa of Thuparamaya, built by Devanampiya Tissa, is one of the earliest built and was constructed immediately after the arrival of Buddhism. The construction of large stupas was begun by King Dutthagamani with the construction of the Ruwanweli Seya, standing 300 feet (91 m) high with a circumference of 298 feet (91 m). [136]

The Anuradhapura dagabas which date from the early centuries of the Anuradhapura period, are of such colossal proportions that they constitute the largest structures of their type anywhere in the Buddhist World, even rivaling the Pyramids of Egypt in size. [137]

The Abhayagiri stupa in the Abhayagiriya monastic complex is another large stupa of the Anuradhapura period the original height of which was 350 feet (110 m). The Jetavana stupa, constructed by Mahasen, is the largest in the country. [138] Stupas had deep and well constructed foundations, and the builders were clearly aware of the attributes of the materials used for construction. Suitable methods for each type of material have been used to lay foundations on a firm basis. [139]

All buildings have been adorned with elaborate carvings and sculptures and were supported by large stone columns. These stone columns can be seen in several buildings such as the Lovamahapaya (brazen palace). [140] Drainage systems of these buildings are also well planned, and terra cotta pipes were used to carry water to drainage pits. Large ponds were attached to some monasteries, such as the Kuttam Pokuna (twin pond). Hospital complexes have also been found close to monasteries. Buildings were constructed using timber, bricks and stones. Stones were used for foundations and columns, while brick were used for walls. Lime mortar was used for plastering walls. [141]

Irrigation and water management Edit

Rainfall in the dry zone of Sri Lanka is limited to 50-75 inches. Under these conditions, rain fed cultivation was difficult, forcing early settlers to develop means to store water in order to maintain a constant supply of water for their cultivations. Small irrigation tanks were constructed at village level, to support the cultivations of that village. [142] The earliest medium-scale irrigation tank is the Basawakkulama reservoir built by King Pandukabhaya. Nuwara wewa and Tissa Wewa reservoirs were constructed a century later. These reservoirs were enlarged in subsequent years by various rulers. [143]

Construction of large scale reservoirs began in the 1st century AD under the direction of Vasabha. The Alahara canal, constructed by damming the Amban river to divert water to the west for 30 miles (48 km), was constructed during this period. Among the reservoirs constructed during the reign of Vasabha, Mahavilacchiya and Nocchipotana reservoirs both have circumferences of about 2 miles (3.2 km). During the reign of Mahasen, the Alahara canal was widened and lengthened to supply water to the newly constructed Minneriya tank, which covered 4,670 acres (18.9 km 2 ) and had a 1.25 miles (2.01 km) long and 44 feet (13 m) high embankment. He was named Minneri Deiyo (god of Minneriya) for this construction and is still referred to as such by the people in that area. [144] The Kavudulu reservoir, Pabbatanta canal and Hurulu reservoir were among the large irrigation constructions carried out during this period. These constructions contributed immensely to the improvement of agriculture in the northern and eastern parts of the dry zone. Reservoirs were also constructed using tributaries of the Daduru Oya during this period, thereby supplying water to the south western part of the dry zone. This conservation and distribution of water resources ensured that the water supply was sufficient throughout the dry zone. [145] James Emerson Tennent [N 8] described the ancient irrigation network as:

. there seems every reason to believe that from their own subsequent experience and the prodigious extent to which they occupied themselves in the formulation of works of this kind, they attained a facility unsurpassed by the people of any other country. [146]

The water resources of the dry zone were further exploited during the times of Upatissa I and Dhatusena. The construction of the Kala wewa, covering an area of 6,380 acres (25.8 km 2 ) with an embankment 3.75 miles (6.04 km) long and 40 feet (12 m) high, was done during Dhatusena's reign. A 54 miles (87 km) canal named the Jayaganga carries water from the Kala wewa to the Tissa Wewa and feeds a network of smaller canals. The construction of this network is also attributed to Dhatusena. The Jayaganga supplied water to 180 square kilometres of paddy fields. [145] By the end of the 5th century, two major irrigation networks, one supported by the Mahaweli river and the other by Malvatu Oya and Kala Oya, were covering the Rajarata area. The Mahavamsa records that many other rulers constructed a number of irrigation tanks, some of which have not yet been identified. By the 8th century, large tanks such as Padaviya, Naccaduva, Kantale and Giritale had come into existence, further expanding the irrigation network. However, from the 8th century to the end of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, there wasn't much activity in construction of irrigation works. [26]

Technology Edit

Advanced technology was required for the planning and construction of large reservoirs and canals. When constructing reservoirs, the gaps between low ridges in the dry zone plains were used for damming water courses. Two different techniques were used in construction one method involved making an embankment using natural rock formations across a valley and the other involved diverting water courses through constructed canals to reservoirs. All the reservoirs and canals in an area were interconnected by an intricate network, so that excess water from one will flow into the other. [147] The locations of these constructions indicate that the ancient engineers were aware of geological formations in the sites as well, and made effective use of them. [148] Underground conduits have also been constructed to supply water to and from artificial ponds, such as in the Kuttam Pokuna and the ponds at Sigiriya. [149] [150]

The 54 miles (87 km) long Jayaganga has a gradient of six inches to the mile, which indicates that the builders had expert knowledge and accurate measuring devices to achieve the minimum gradient in the water flow. The construction of Bisokotuva, a cistern sluice used to control the outward flow of water in reservoirs, indicates a major advancement in irrigation technology. Since the 3rd century, these sluices, made of brick and stone, were placed at various levels in the embankments of reservoirs. [151] [152]

Isurumuniya Cave – Ancient ULTRASONIC GATEWAY Found in Sri Lanka?

Hey guys, I am at the Isurumuniya temple in Sri Lanka, and it is a fascinating site with many beautiful statues, but there is an ancient structure which defies all explanation. This is a cave or a den like structure which is considered sacred by locals and if you visit this place, there are 2 reasons you will feel really weird about this. One, is the thousands of bats which are tightly packed inside and you don’t understand why you see such a large number of bats here. But there is another question which will run through your subconscious mind. Why do you see these bats in such a bright place? We never see bats in broad daylight. Actually bats don’t like light, their eyes are not adapted to this condition, in fact bats go so far to avoid flying on Full Moon nights because even that much light is too bright for them. So why do bats tolerate this well-lit area and hang around this place?
Locals believe that this den emits a magical sound which is not audible to human beings, but bats are mesmerized by this divine sound, which is why they stay here forever. This story seems like a fairy tale, but there is some strange coincidence between this folklore and modern scientific findings. Human beings can hear sounds only up to a frequency of 20 Khz and anything over 20Khz is called ultrasonic frequency and we are not capable of hearing such frequency. However, bats can hear ultrasonic frequencies up to 200 Khz.
Is it possible that this cave is emitting an ultrasonic frequency which attracts bats? How can a natural cave emit such a frequency? Now, At first sight, we think this is a natural cave, but if you observe carefully we can see that it is not a natural structure at all. On the top, there is an arch neatly laid with stone slabs. You can see cubes cut out on the walls. There are several curvy lines carved all over the walls. And if we look carefully on the other side, and we can see small stone slabs placed on top of each other. According to legend, there is an ancient device concealed behind the stone wall which emits a magical sound capable of mesmerizing these bats. Is such a device possible? Scientists have recently discovered that it is in fact possible to make bats come to your location by emitting specific ultrasonic frequencies.
Bats do get attracted to these frequencies and will approach the source. What we see in the movie “Batman” is based on fact – so today, we do have such ultrasonic devices. We know that this is not a natural cave. So, did ancient builders create some kind of ultrasonic device which is still hidden behind the wall, and if so, what does it look like?
Is it possible that this cave is emitting an ultrasonic frequency which attracts bats? How can a natural cave emit such a frequency? Now, At first sight, we think this is a natural cave, but if you observe carefully we can see that it is not a natural structure at all. On the top, there is an arch neatly laid with stone slabs. You can see cubes cut out on the walls. There are several curvy lines carved all over the walls. And if we look carefully on the other side, and we can see small stone slabs placed on top of each other. According to legend, there is an ancient device concealed behind the stone wall which emits a magical sound capable of mesmerizing these bats. Is such a device possible? Scientists have recently discovered that it is in fact possible to make bats come to your location by emitting specific ultrasonic frequencies.
Bats do get attracted to these frequencies and will approach the source. What we see in the movie “Batman” is based on fact – so today, we do have such ultrasonic devices. We know that this is not a natural cave. So, did ancient builders create some kind of ultrasonic device which is still hidden behind the wall, and if so, what does it look like?
Perhaps the device would looks like this strange carving, which is located less than half a mile away. This figure looks like a circuit diagram with complex symbols carved all over it. There is also a wave which looks remarkably similar to a sound wave. Is it possible that an actual device like this lays buried in the walls of the bat cave? This carving is known as ‘The Stargate of Sri Lanka’ and is considered as a device that can transport us to different planets.
What is even stranger is that, there is yet another similar cave nearby, popularly known as the Yoni. This Yoni is also considered a worm hole which can be activated using sound. Some people even claim that this a sonic boom tunnel.

Hello Again Sri Lanka

The Stargate at Ranmasu Uyana

The Stargate at Ranmasu Uyana &ndash Remnants of a Lost Civilization?

Sandwiched between the Thissa Wewa reservoir and the Isurumuniya Rock Temple, RanmasuUyana of Anuradhapura, a forty acre pleasure garden of the ancient Sri Lankan royals is a unique creation.

The Ranmasu Uyana was mainly known for its rock sculpted bathing ponds with a sophisticated hydraulics mechanism. A subtle use of pressure difference enables the pumping of water from the nearby Tissa Wewa to the swimming pools of the garden. The pools themselves display a clever use of technology and craftsmanship, in constructing a flawless luxury swimming facility nearly three thousand years ago.

However the true wonder of RanmasuUyana is found among the rock boulders and caves away from the pools. Carved on a stone wall is a strange map like chart known to many as the &lsquostargate&rsquo. A stargate is believed to be a gateway between the earth and the outer space, through which humans allegedly roamed the universe communicating and engaging with other intelligent beings in the universe. This chart is believed to be the secret code to accessing the stargate. Facing the stargate marking are four seats, which implies that it was a chart, which could be used or manipulated by four individuals.

The discovery of the stargate marking had created waves amidst archaeologists and pre-historic investigators, some drawing parallels between the stargate charts found in Abu Ghurab in Egypt and &lsquothe gate way to the gods&rsquo in Peru. The bizarre coincidence of all the three marks been found in the vicinity of a water way, with sophisticated engineering methods, had given rise to various theories.

Stargate at Ranmasu Uyana in Sri Lanka

Stargate at Abu Ghurab in Egypt

The most favourite is the claim that these stargates were used by extraterrestrials that were gold mining in Earth. Their theory is built up on the fact that in 2400 BC the stargate in Abu Ghurab Egypt was surrounded by water while&rdquo La Puerta de HayuMarka.&rdquo Or &ldquoThe Gateway to The Gods&rdquo in Peru too is built closer Lake Titicaca, with underground water tunnels and chambers beneath the pyramids.

The advocates of the &lsquoprocessing gold from the waters of Earth&rsquo theory believes that these water channels, chambers, reservoirs and filters found near each stargate to have been a part of a sophisticated mechanism developed by extraterrestrials thousands of years ago.

If the theory is held to be true, RanmasuUyana had once been a &lsquogold processing center of extraterrestrials&rsquo, which arrived on earth through stargates.

Yet archaeologists are eager to discard these theories as pure imagination. According to the earliest archaeologists and historians the charts could have been a descriptive chart of the universe according to Buddhism or a simple map of the earth. At later stages the historians have interpreted them as descriptions of animal evolution or as the way Tantric Buddhist monks perceived the world. It is believed that they used them for meditation purposes as well.

Present day archaeologist abhor the thought of comparing Egyptian civilisation with the Sri Lankan civilisation, insisting that ours is a unique island civilisation pure of Egyptian or Babylonian influence.

Whatever their initial use may have been, the interpretations provided for these markings varies from a secret key to space travelling to the floor plan of Sigiriya, a rock garden found closer to Anuradhapura. Yet the only fact about these charts is that despite various claims and arguments, we are nowhere near to understanding them or knowing their sources.

To explore more marvels of Sri Lanka, please visit :

Isurumuniya Temple – Anuradhapura Kingdom I

Isurumuniya Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Anuradhapura (the first Kingdom of Sri Lanka). Isurumuniya temple is world famous for its incredible stone carvings, such as ‘Isurumuniya Lovers’, the ‘Man and the Horse Head’ and the ‘Elephant Pond’.

History of Isurumuniya Temple

According to history, Isurumuniya Temple has been built by King Devanam Piyatissa (the same king mentioned in this article) in between 250 – 210 BC. It is said that, this temple is built for the 500 monks who entered to Buddhism, following Arahath Mahinda Thero. The tank nearby, ‘Tissa Wewa’ is also built by King Devanam Piyatissa. After that, several kings have made additions to this temple and King Maha Kashyapa has renovated and developed this place very much.

With the passage of time, due to shifting the kingdoms, Anuradhapura area became abandoned. A lot of temples (including Isurumuniya Temple) and palaces got covered with forest. It is said that this place was re-discovered in the middle part of the 19th century. Today it has become a major attraction among both local and foreign travellers.

The Elephant Pond

The first thing you will come across once you enter into Isurumuniya Temple is the Elephant Pond. It is made of stones. The most amazing thing about the pond is the carvings of elephants on the rock.

It looks like that this elephant is playing with the water in the pond. There are more elephants carved in the very rock.

You can see a set elephants in the right hand side corner.

Stone Stairs and the Guard Stones

The shrine room is situated connected to a cave in the rock. To enter into the shrine room, you have to climb the stone stairs. On the sides of stairs there are ‘Guard Stones’ (made of stones, obviously).

You will find this kind of Guard Stones in almost all the ancient temples in Anuradhapura.

The Man and the Horse Head

This is undoubtedly a masterpiece. See how detailed this is carved. This is carved on the same large rock, as the elephant carving, to a side of the shrine room. You can observe it closely at the top of stone stairs.

The shrine room must have been damaged over the time. So it has refurbished. There is a museum of archeological ruins in the temple premises. You will find a lot more other amazing carvings inside that.

Isurumuni Lovers

This is a world famous carving of Isurumuniya Temple. It is also a highly detailed carving with facial expressions. This can be called as the center of attraction here.

There are several opinions about the man and the woman here. Mostly accepted idea is, these are ‘Saliya and Ashokamala’. To answer your question, Saliya is the grandson of King Devanam Piyatissa (above mentioned) and Ashokamala is Saliya’s wife. They are a symbol of love in the history. Saliya had even given up the crown for Ashokamala. Some say these two are a couple of Dwarfs.

Carving of Isurumuni Lovers considered to be originally placed in the nearby ‘Ranmasu Uyana’ (former royal park). Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit Ranmasu Uyana due to time limitation.

King’s Family Carving

This is another incredible stone carving you will find here. This is considered to be the moment when King Dutugemunu (son of Devanam Piyatissa) went to see his son Saliya, and his wife Ashokamala, to take them back to the palace, after Saliya left the palace. King Dutugemunu is a great king is Sri Lankan history. I will be talking about him in future articles.

I have shown only few of the archeological ruins here. There are a lot more at the museum. Now I will take you to the top of the rock, where the Stupa is situated.

There is a small stupa on the rock and it is re-constructed. The original stupa might not have been left when the place is re-discovered.

This is the highest point of the rock. Something special seems to be placed here. It is damaged, but it seems like a carved footprint of Lord Buddha.

This is how Elephant Pond is visible from the top.

Jethawanarama Stupa is also visible from here.

When coming back around the rock, you will see a ‘Bodhiya’ (Bo tree) covered with a stone platform.

Closeup of a Stone Punkalasa (Pukalasa is a round shaped container that symbolizes the prosperity.)

Click below to see the complete set of (larger) images of Isurumuniya Temple.

Seeing these stone carvings, it is hard to imagine how much skillful those people are. Almost all the things of the original construction here, is made of stones. As a Sri Lankan I felt really proud while seeing these things. Be noted that none of these carvings are done in the recent past, all of them belongs to Anuradhapura Kingdom era.

If you are hoping to visit the place ever, there are few instructions you need to follow. You are not allowed to enter into the temple with short garments (for both gents and ladies). You have to wear something long or take a cloth with you to wrap around you when you enter. Further, caps and hats are not allowed inside the temple. And obviously foot wares are not allowed inside, you know that. Actually, these things common in almost all the Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. I think there is nothing unfair with those rules, since these are very sacred places.

How to Reach…?

Check the map below for the exact location of Isurumuniya Temple.

If you visit the place, make sure to visit ‘Ranmasu Uyana’ also. And don’t forget to go to the ‘Tissa Wewa’.

Tissa Wewa (The Stupa behind is Ruwanweli Maha Seya.)

So that’s about Isurumuniya Temple. Hope to bring a lot of ancient Buddhist temples in Anuradhapura to you in upcoming articles. If you have any doubt or if you need more information, feel free to leave a comment below. See you in the next article.

Anuradhapura: Sri Lanka’s India Connection

For around 1,500 years, Anuradhapura was the capital of what is Sri Lanka today. This ancient city in the country’s North Central Province, not to be confused with the new city of the same name, is also where the recorded history of the country begins, going back to the 5th century BCE.

The period during which this city was in its prime – the ‘Age of Anuradhapura’ (437 BCE – 1017 CE) – was beyond doubt the Golden Age of Sri Lanka. The early centuries saw an agro-pastoral civilisation form and grow, and the kingdom was, according to the Mahavamsa, a 5th century CE Buddhist text from Sri Lanka, established by King Pandukabhaya (in the 5th century BCE). But it was during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (307 to 267 BCE), a contemporary of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, that the city really came into its own.

Devanampiya Tissa was the ruler during whose reign Mahendra, the son of Ashoka, brought Buddhism with him to Sri Lanka in 260-250 BCE, after the Third Buddhist Council, according to Sri Lankan Buddhist text, the Dipavamsa (compiled 3rd century CE). Mahendra was followed soon after by his sister Sanghamitra, who brought with her from India copies of the Tripitakas (The Three Baskets of Wisdom, the most venerable texts of the Buddhist faith ascribed to the Buddha himself) and a sapling from the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya in Magadha (modern-day Bihar). Both Mahendra and Sanghamitra are all deeply venerated by Buddhists to this day.

Interestingly, the Mahavamsa (5th century CE) says that Devanampiya Tissa and Dhammasoka (Ashoka) were friends well before this event. The Mahavamsa goes on to say that Tissa sent Ashoka gifts and that Ashoka sent back gifts with the news that he had converted to Buddhism and also sent a plea asking Tissa to do the same, which he did. In fact, it is during his reign that Buddhism became the state religion and soon spread all over the island. Proof of this is the great Maha Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura – regarded as the oldest planted tree in the world. It is one of the most sacred Buddhist relics in Sri Lanka today.

The Rise of Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was a great centre of trade and was well known for its agricultural surplus, thanks to a double crop of rice due to two monsoons. It was also very famous for its export of pearls and gem stones. Ceramics, wine, silks and perfumes were imported. Trade with the Chera, Pandya and Chola kingdoms in South India existed from the 3rd-4th century BCE as did trade with Magadha via Kalinga (Odisha) and Vanga (Bengal).

According to records, there was a permanent Greek settlement at Anuradhapura from the early centuries BCE. These Greeks were supposedly soldiers of Alexander. While this is not certain, we cannot deny that Onescritus of Astypalaea, a commander in Alexander’s fleet, knew about Sri Lanka and called it by its Greek name ‘Taprobane’.

We know of Graeco-Roman traders coming to Sri Lanka thanks to the work of Strabo (1st-century BCE-1st century CE) and Ptolemy (2nd century CE), who both called it Taprobane. This was a Greek corruption of ‘Tambapanni/Tamrapani’, the ancient Indian name of the island of Sri Lanka, known to us right from inscriptions of Ashoka.

By the 5th century CE, there was a permanent Persian settlement and by the 9th century CE, an Arab settlement. Pliny (the famous Roman historian), in his Natural History tells us of an embassy sent from Anuradhapura to the court of Emperor Claudius in the 1st century CE. The ceramics of the Parthians, Sassanians and Islamic dynasties are all found at Anuradhapura as are some Roman wares. There are also large numbers of Roman and Indo-Roman, possibly Pandyan, coins seen in the 5th century CE during the Second Pandyan Interregnum.

Numerous dynasties ruled from Anuradhapura from the 4th century BCE to the 11th century CE, making this 1,500-year period the longest ever for a single site to be used as a capital city in Sri Lanka and anywhere in South Asia. Many different dynasties ruled from here and the longest rule was by the Lambakanna Dynasty, which ruled from the 1st to the 5th century CE, and again from the 7th to the 11th century CE.

Although the city was the foremost urban centre and Urbs Prima in Sri Lanka, it was not ruled continuously by Sinhala dynasties. There was a Tamil/Chola interregnum in the late 3rd century BCE, when two Tamil chieftains defeated the Sinhala ruler Suratissa and established themselves as the rulers of Sri Lanka. Their names were Sena and Guttika and they ruled for 22 years, from 237 to 215 BCE. They were defeated by Asela, the successor of Suratissa, in 215 BCE.

Asela’s reign came to an end in 205 BCE, when a famous Early Chola prince called Ellara defeated him in battle and became the king of Sri Lanka. Apart from these Chola rulers, there were also two Pandyan interregnums of five and six kings, respectively, at the turn of the 2nd-1st century BCE, and again in the second quarter of the 5th century CE. Sadly, we know little about these kings.

The only time that Anuradhapura was not the capital of Sri Lanka was when Kashyapa I (a rival claimant to the Sinhala throne and a very erratic ruler) shifted his capital to Sigiriya at the end of the 5th century CE. After a gap of less than 20 years, the capital returned to Anuradhapura after the death of Kashyapa. Thus, there was an almost 1,500-year period when Sri Lanka was ruled from Anuradhapura. All this came to an end in 1017 CE, when the Cholas defeated the Sinhala kings and conquered most of Sri Lanka.

The Decline of Anuradhapura

In 993 CE, after consolidating his empire (which by now encompassed what the whole of modern day Kerala and Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka), Raja Raja Chola sent his armies to conquer Sri Lanka. They were soon victorious and Raja Raja Chola included Northern Sri Lanka as part of his empire. He called the province ‘Mummudi-sola-Mandalam’ after himself. ‘Mummudi’ was one of the regnal epithets of Raja Raja Chola and it meant ‘One With Three Crowns’, i.e. the crowns of the Cheras, Pandyas and Sinhalas. He was succeeded by his son Rajendra I (in 1014 CE), who was perhaps the most aggressive of all the Chola emperors and the greatest expansionist. He launched an even more fierce assault into the heartland of Sri Lanka and Anuradhapura fell in 1017 CE.

The Sinhalese chronicle, the Mahavamsa, agrees with the dates. But a small portion in the south of the island, Ruhuna (South-Eastern Sri Lanka today), held out and was never fully consolidated by the Cholas. The Cholas shifted the capital city to Pollonaruva (which the Cholas called ‘Jananthamangalam’) and Anuradhapura was destroyed.

Pollonaruva is 104 km south-east of Anuradhapura and 225 km north-east of Colombo. It was in a more defensible position than Anuradhapura. Two Shaivaite temples built in the Chola style, still stand at Pollonaruva, a testament to the 53-year reign of the Cholas here.

Finally, Vijayabahu I, Sinhala royal scion in hiding, taking advantage of the Chola civil war in Southern India (1069-70), came out of Ruhuna and attacked and defeated the Cholas in 1070 CE and re-established the Sinhala rule of the island. Though Vijayabahu crowned himself at Anuradhapura, his capital was Pollonaruva and sadly Anuradhapura slowly disappeared from all but history and memory. Interestingly, there is an inscribed stele of Vijayabahu in the Tamil script at Pollonaruva.

Anuradhapura Today

The modern heritage precinct of Anuradhapura consists of wide roads with wide open expanses, many of which are covered in trees and gardens, Scattered among them at regular intervals over a large area are Buddhist monuments from the whole history of Anuradhapura.

At the height of its glory, Anuradhapura was at par with the ancient cities of Nineveh and Babylon (in West Asia) and was spread across 663 sq km. Visiting Anuradhapura today is like leafing through pages of the history of the longest-serving capital of the Sinhala Empire, and one of history’s greatest cities.

The most important and imposing of the monuments here are the great dagobas (stupas) of Ruwanwelisaya and Jetavahana, the monasteries of Abhayagiri and Lankarama, the giant ponds of Kuttam Pokuna and Abhayagiri, the Isurumuniya Rock Temple, the Palace of Vijaya, the Statue of the Reclining Buddha and the Maha Bodhi Tree. Great Buddhist thinkers like Buddhaghosha taught and preached here. These surviving monuments were all built between the 4th century BCE and 4th century CE, but they were often enlarged and added to by later rulers.

Buddhaghosha was a translator and commentator of Buddhist literature and, according to legend, was born near Bodh Gaya in Magadha in the 5th century CE. He went to Sri Lanka to study a lost commentary on the Tripitakas.

The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is associated with King Dutugamini (161-137 BCE), who wrested back the throne from the Tamil ruler Ellara (or Ellalan). Ellara was a wise and just king, and according to Sri Lankan chronicles, he was respected even by his most feared rival Dutugamini. After Ellara’s death in battle, Dutugamini raised the Dakshina Stupa of Anuradhapura at the site of Ellara’s cremation.

Dutugamini expanded the city of Anuradhapura and, as the crown in the jewel of his constructions, built the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa over the relics of the Buddha. It is 103 metres tall and has a circumference of 290 metres. This is a fabulous monument which has been restored in the last century to its former glory. It is very well maintained and lit up at night. It is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Sri Lanka. Vast and imposing, it towers over the visitor in its majesty.

The Jetawanarama Stupa, which has not been restored to its former glory and has been maintained as it was after clearance and conservation, is next on the list of sites. It is by far the most imposing of all structures at Anuradhapura. The stupa/dagoba is a part of the Jetavahana monastery complex and, at the original height of 122 metres, this was the world’s tallest stupa and third-highest structure when it was built in the 3rd century CE by King Mahasena (273 – 301 CE) and finished by his son Maghavanna. The only man-made structures taller than this stupa were the two largest pyramids at Giza in Egypt.

It was named in memory of the second monastery donated to the Buddha by Ananthapindika outside the city of Shravasti in Uttar Pradesh. Around 93.3 million baked bricks were used to build this stupa. It is supposed to house a part of the sash/belt of the Buddha. Interestingly, a series of gold plates bearing upon them the Prajnaparamita Sutta (one of the most important Mahayana texts which talks about the personification of the Bodhisattva and deals with the personification of the perfection of wisdom) were found while repairing the stupa. The text is in Sanskrit but is written in the Sinhala script, pointing out that Mahayana Buddhism had deep roots in Sri Lanka and wasn’t just something imported by travelling foreign monks as hitherto postulated.

There were a number of beautiful manmade water bodies at Anuradhapura, including three large lakes. Chief among these are the twin tanks of Kuttam Pokuna and the pond at the Abhayagiri Monastery and Stupa Complex. Abhayagiri was a major Theravada monastery complex and contained elaborate bathing ponds, balustrades, moonstones (chandrashila), viharas and the Abhayagiri dagoba.

The Theravada school is the oldest of the Buddhist schools of philosophy and follows the original teachings of the Buddha as seen in the Pali Canons of the Buddhist faith. It is older than the other two schools of Mahayana and Vajrayana. It is even today the dominant school in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

The Abhayagiri Vihara, which stood alongside the dagoba, once housed the great Tooth Relic of the Buddha, which is now enshrined at Kandy. Abhayagiri was visited by the Chinese monk Fa Hein (5th century CE), who wrote about the tooth relic. It was one of the greatest monastic complexes in Sri Lanka and enjoyed great royal patronage.

Fa Hien was a very well-known Chinese traveller who came to India in search of Buddhist texts and visited the court of Chandra Gupta II in the late 4th/early 5th century CE. On his way back home, he returned by sea via Sri Lanka. He says that Anuradhapura was a great centre for Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings in its later days.

Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese monk, writing in the 7th century CE, specifically calls the Abhayagiri monastery at Anuradhapura a centre for Mahayana teachings wherein interestingly Hinayana (Theravada) theology was also taught. Hiuen Tsang did not himself visit Sri Lanka but talked to many Buddhist monks at Bodh Gaya. The Abhayagiri monastery survived as a bastion of the Mahayana school till the resurrection of Theravadism by Parakramabahu (1153-1186 CE) in the12th century CE.

Anuradhapura is also home to a very interesting rock-cut sanctuary complex called Isurumuniya. This monastery comprises a rock-cut vihara and above it is a small stupa. There are a number of pools, one with carved elephants, and the complex is said to have been built by Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BCE.

There are a number of beautiful sculptural images from Isurumuniya, which include an image of the royal family and one of the fabled ‘Isurumuniya Lovers’. It is carved in a style with heavy Gupta influence and is an image of two lovers which may represent Saliya, the son of Devanampiya Tissa, and his low-caste lover, Ashokamala, for whom he forsook the throne.

When the site was first visited, some time after it was rediscovered, around 1821, John Davy, British Army doctor, chemist and writer, described it as “…this city of Anurodgburro, so long the capital of Ceylon, is now a small mean village …” Today, the remains of Anuradhapura are mainly its dagobas that tower over the landscape, its many viharas, and traces of the ponds and other structures.

Most of the secular structures were lost in the rubble and archaeologists have had to slowly reconstruct the lives of the people of Anuradhapura by excavating the foundations of the site. Anuradhapura excavations have yielded a huge amount of data and were conducted over many decades. The most interesting finds here are sherds inscribed in Brahmi securely dateable to the 4th century BCE, making these some of the earliest-dated Brahmi records to date!

Anuradhapura has played a very important role in the history of India and Indian Buddhism as many of the lost Buddhist texts of India which hold very important data about early Southern India and the history of the early dynasties of northern, central and eastern India, were all safely preserved by the various monasteries and schools of Buddhism. India thus owes the city an important debt for helping preserve these priceless historical documents and also for yielding some of the earliest-ever examples of the Brahmi script.

Today, Anuradhapura is a very important centre of pilgrimage for Sri Lankan Buddhists and for Buddhists all over the world. It is also one of the great heritage tourism attractions of Sri Lanka and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Isurumuniya Temple

Isurumuniya Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple which is situated in the historic city of Anuradhapura.

Distance from Anuradhapura – 4.5 km (8 minutes)

Introduction to Isurumuniya Temple

Isurumuniya Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple which is situated in the historic city of Anuradhapura. It was built by King Devanampiyatissa during his reign from 307 BC to 267 BC. The temple is situated adjacent to the Tissa Wewa which was also built during his reign. Isurumuniya is popular for rock carvings of special interest, namely the famed Isurumuniya Lovers, Man with a Horse, Elephant Pond and The Royal Family. Isurumuniya is believed to be the birth place of King Ravana and the place where the mythical Pulasthi Rishi used to live.

Rock Carvings at Isurumuniya Temple

The 6th century Gupta style carving of “Isurumuniya Lovers” or “Isurumuniya Pem Yuwala”, are believed to be of King Dutugemunu’s son Saliya and his maiden of low caste, Ashokamala. The prince is believed to have given up the throne for her.

The 8th century Gupta style carving of the Royal Family consists of five humans carved on a granite plate. The figure at the center is believed to be of King Dutugemunu.

The 7th century Pallawa style Elephant Pond carving consists of four elephants carved on granite. The carving depicts the elephants bathing.

The Man with a Horse sculpture depicts a dignified, well-clad man along with the head of a horse beside him. Several critics have come forward with various theories with regard to the sculpture. Renowned Archaeologist Professor Senarath Paranavitana has put forward the theory of the man being ‘Parjanya’, God of Rain and the horse ‘Agni’ (fire).

Getting to Isurumuniya Temple

From Anuradhapura travel along the Puttalam – Anuradhapura – Trincomalee Highway, Sri Saranankara Sangarakkitha Mawatha and Bandaranaike Mawatha to reach the Isurumuniya Temple in Anuradhapura.

Pollonaruwa vs. Anuradhapura

If you don’t have enough time or short of budget (I mean 25$ is quite a bit of money) I recommend to visit only one of the ancient cities. And when it comes to the decision which one, I clearly recommend to visit Pollonaruwa, because:

  • The remains of the ancient city of Pollonaruwa are way better preserved
  • The area is smaller and the monuments are arranged closer to each other, which makes visiting the city easier

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