A history buff heading to Sri Lanka? Then Anuradhapura is the place for you!
Anuradhapura is an ancient historical city located in the north central province of Sri Lanka. A UNESCO world heritage site, Anuradhapura is such a city that where ever you stand you’re bound to be standing near or even on top of an ancient ruin. It’s a city filled with well-preserved ruins bearing witness to the great ancient Sri Lankan civilization that once was.
If you ever step in to Anuradhapura you are bound to be amazed at how much there is to see. From gigantic stupas, monasteries to ruins of palaces – the standing witness of an old civilization.
Ruwanwali Maha Saya (stupa)
A gigantic stupa built by king Dutugamunu, Ruwanwali Maha Stupa is located in close proximity to Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Today the stupa stands at a height of 103 met and 290 met in circumference. Around the Stupa you will see stone statues of king Dutugamunu, Queen Viharamaha Devi (Mother of king Dutugamunu) and King Bhathika Tissa. It is said that Lord Buddha himself predicted the making of this magnificent stupa in the location that it is. Also it is common belief that the most number of Lord Buddha’s relics are enshrined here.
Jethawanaramaya Stupa is the largest stupa in Sri Lanka (even the world) standing at a height of 122 meters. It was built by king Mahasen and it is believed that a part of the sash worn by lord Buddha is enshrined in this stupa.
Isurumuniya is a Buddhist temple built by King Devanappiya Tissa. The temple is mostly famous for the fine carvings that can be found at the premises. The most famous being the one of the “Lovers” and the “Man and the Horse head”.
Kuttam Pokuna (twin baths)
A set of pond located in Anuradhapura, which was built in 6th -8th century by king Aggabodhi. It is belived to be used by the monks of the Abhayagiriya monastery. One pond is larger than the other and the two ponds are connected by a underground pipeline. Water first enters in to the larger tank through the mouth of a Makara, after going through a complex filter system and then proceeds in to the smaller tank.
Mihintale is the location where the meeting between Arahanth Mahinda Thero (The Monk who introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka) and king Devanampiyatissa happened. It is said that lord Buddha has visited this place back in the day when it was called “Missaka pabbatha”. Arahanth Mahinda cave is a cave located nearby and is the cave used by Arahanth Mahinda Thero during the rainy season. Also close by you will get to see the Kalu diya Pokuna, a black water pond.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
It is a sacred fig tree, the right wing branch of the original fig tree from Budhgaya under which lord Buddha attained enlightenment. It was planted in Anuradhapura in 249 BC, making it the oldest living cultivated plant in the world.
The first ever stupa built in Sri Lanka, Thuparamaya was built by King Devanampiya Tissa According to the request of Arahanth Mahinda Thero. Enshrined in this Stupa is the collarbone of Lord Buddha.
Built by king Walagamba this stupa has the relics of lord Buddha enshrined in a figure of a bull made with pure gold.
Samadhi statue is a statue of Lord Buddha in the position of “Dhyana Mudra”, thought to be made in the 3rd or 4th century. It is said that when you look at the statue from three sides (middle, left and right) you can see 3 different facial features (Neutral, sad and happy).
Another stupa built by kind Dutugamunu. The septa of the king containing the sacred relics of Lord Buddha is enshrined in the stupa. Carvings of the septa can be found on a pillar on one side of the stupa.
Moon stone and Guard-stone
Locally known as “Sandakada Pahana” the moon stone is a carved semicircular slab of stone placed at an entry way or at the bottom of a stair case. The carvings on it symbolizes the Buddhist cycle of “samsara”.
A well preserved “Naga Raja” guard stone can be seen at the entry way of the Rathnaprasadaya. Guard stones of Sri Lanka bear the symbols for prosperity and protection.
Built by king Walagamba this stupa has pillar stones around it suggesting that once there might have been a Watadage (house encircling the stupa) around the stupa.
The Royal Palace of King Vijayabahu
The remains of a massive 9 story structure that was built by king Dutugamunu. According to literature it was once 150 ft in height, had 1600 stone pillars as support and the roof was thought to be of copper- bronze plates. Today you will see the stone pillars and a small modern structure resembling the old building.
A forest aramic complex home to 23 caves having drip ledges to keep the rain water away. It was thought to have housed 500 monks. There are a few paintings in one cave but they are very much faded.
There are a few museums around Anuradhapura that’s worth a visit. Archaeological museum, Folk museum and Abhayagiriya museum are the main once.
Gal Palama (stone bridge)
The remains of a stone bridge believed to have been built in the 5-9th century.
Reservoirs of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura is home to one of the most complex irrigation systems of the old world. Many artificial reservoirs or “Wawa” are scattered around the city, the main water source even today. Ancient reservoirs such as Basawakkulama, Nuwara Wawa and Thissa Wawa were built by kings to collect water and serve as the main water source for the inhabitants of that area.
Anuradhapura today is a well-developed city offering all the luxury you need from restaurants to hotels. The new city is a bustling hub with modern shops and hotels.
Getting to and around
Anuradhapura is well connected to most of the major cities of Sri Lanka both by rail way and roads. As for getting around you can ether hire a car, tuk tuk or you can hire a cycle and paddle around the old city.
Tips – I have read on many blogs that many travelers were bored after visiting too many Stupas, If you think that will be the case for you just visit the main Stupas Ruwanwali Maha Saya and Jethawanaramaya and visit the other non- stupa ruins (you will get to see most of the other stupas on the road side, along the way).
Hope you enjoyed reading this rather long post and hope it will be of some use to anyone planning to go to Sri Lanka (or simply interested in reading about Sri Lanka). Feel free to comment down below and let us know what your thoughts are on Anuradhapura and what-not!