Ancient Glory, Sri Lanka was not only a rich and beautiful island but it was also the seat of one of the small but important historical civilizations of Asia, taking its place amongst the most advanced and developed nations of the pre-modern world...
Documents history of Sri Lanka dates back to 3rd c. B.C.The gentle way of Buddhism introduce in 247 c. B.C. wich, transformed theIndo-Aryan Sinhalese has produced magnificent feats of architecture and construction. In the masive dagobas, the ornate pleasure gardensand palaces and the exquisite sculpture which abounds, particularly at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Sri Lanka's ancient cities are also the centres of the irrigation works of the past. Massive reservoirs built to collect rain water, river diversions, giant aqueducts and miles long irrigation channels are proof of a civilization highly developed in the science of irrigation, hydraulics and water management. Most of these ancient irrigation works such as the Tissa Wewa, Basawakkulama and Nuwara Wewa at Anuradhapura; the massive Parakrama Samudhra or Sea of Parakrama, Giritale and Minneriya in the Polonnaruwa region, the Kalawewa and Balaluwewa still provide water to irrigate the rice fields of the dry zone in Sri Lanka.
Ancient City Anuradhapura:
Sri Lanka's first capital, founded in the 5 c.B.C. according to the ancient / Sinhala chronicle Mahavamsa, was a model of planning with precincts set aside for huntsmen, scavengers, heretics as well as for foreigners. There were separate cemetaries for high and low castes, hostels and hospitals. Anuradhapura was an example par excellence of a Hydraulic Civilization. The construction of reservoirs, canals and irrigation channels during this period exhibited and amazing knowledge of trigonometry and the design of reservoirs a thorough grasp of hydraulic principles. The ornamental scale of the large reservoirs is compelling evidence of a thriving economy and a state structure which had resources from a agricultural surplus and profits from trade to invest in these projects as well as on religious and public buildings designed on a lavish scale. The unique feature of Buddhist Sri Lanka is the Stupa(Dagoba), which enshrined relics of the Buddha and where objects of veneration. It is generally a solid, hemispherical dome, which expresses the serenity and simplicity the quintessence of Buddhism. The 'Rajarata' - the King's country is dotted with these stupas and the picturesque lakes which has an irrisistible charm for the visitor. There are many important stupas at Anurahapura.
Abayagiri and Jethawana Stupas: (meaning mountain of valour) built by the warrior King Valagam Bahu in the 1c B.C. and Jethavana Stupa built by King Mahasen in the 3c A.D. where taller than the third pyramid of Giza and where the wonders of the world at the time, with the Jethavana probably being the largest stupa in the whole Buddhist world.
The Ruwanveliseya Dagoba: built by King Dutugemunu in 2c B.C. is by far the most beautiful its white dome shinning like a pearl in the dry, arid landscape. The Thuparama Dagoba is the most ancient of Sri Lanka's dagobas and was built by King Devanampiyatissa to enshrine the Buddha's collar bone. It's present bell shape dates to reconstruction in the 1840's.
The Samadhi Buddha: This 4c A.D. statue of the Buddha in meditation pose is acknowledged world wide as a masterpieceof sculpture. The Brazen Palace a roof of copper bestowed the name given to this building which burned down only 15 years after its construction in the 3c B.C. The 1,600 pillars in 40 rows that now mark the site are ascribed to king Parakramabahu(12c). The original building of nine graded storeys is said to have been 100 cubits square at ground level and 100 cubits high.
Kuttam Pokuna: These twin ponds are among the handsomest works of the Anuradhapura period. The Mirisavetiya Dagoba, was built on the spot where King Dutugemunu buried his spear containing a relic of the Buddha, after celebrating his victory in battle on the shores of the Tissa Wawe.
Sri Maha Bodhi: The sacred Bodhi tree (ficus Religiosa) the world's oldest authenticated tree is the most venerated of shrines in Anuradhapura. Grown from a branch of the very Bodhi Treein Buddhagaya, India, beneath which the Buddhafound Enlightment, bought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd c.B.C. byTheri Sangamitta, sister of Arahat Mahinda. Throughout the centuries the Sri maha Bodhi has been venerated by Buddhists in Sri Lanka and all over the world. Today it is looked upon as a national treasure by botanists, specially appointed by the government. The gold gilded 'Ran Veta' is a recent offering made through public contributions. Many scholars regard the 'Moonstones', a semi cicular slab of stone richly decorated in low relief and placed at the foot of a stairway leading to the major shrine as the finest product of the Sinhalese artiste.
Ancient City Mihintale:
The 'Cradle of Buddhism', 11km east of Anuradhapura. Its history dates back to 247c.B.C when King Devanampiyatissa met Arhath mahinda the great Buddhist missionary who preached the Buddhist doctrine to the King. Mihintale, the mountain of Mahinda was identified as a great monastic city. The rock is dotted with shrines and rock dwellings. Today it is venerated daily, especially on Poson full moon poya day commemorating this historic event. A majestic flight of 1840 granite steps, 5 metres wide lead you to the summit with its splendid views of the surrounding country side. An atmophere of serenity and peace. The King having embraced Buddhism declared the forest where he met the Sage, a sanctuary, the first historically documented sactuary in the world.
Aukana Buddha: Situated 51 km to the southeast of Anuradhapura, is the most magnificent undamaged Buddha image on the Island. 13m high it stands beneath a canopy now, built for protection. However the staue as it stood amidst the jungle surroundings had been a stunning sight. Incidentally the Wilpattu National Park could be visited either on your way to Anuradhapura or from Anuradhapura as a half day of full day tour.
Ancient City Polonnaruwa:
The Island's medieval capital (11c. & 12c.) rose to fame after the decline of Anuradhapura. The city in its day was fortified with three concentric walls, beautified with parks and gardens and sactified by many shrines. Polonnaruwa shows the interesting blend of the influence of the South Indian Hindu culture on the Sinhala Buddhist art and architecture in the scattered shrines and monuments still venerated daily by devotees. The Siva Devales are interesting transposition of the Hindu style of decor. Other interesting ruins are, the King'd Counsil Chamber the floral stone pillars of Nissanka Lata Mandapaya, the Royal Citadel, Kumara Pokuna (baths), the thuparama with its original vaulted roof, the exquiste circular Vatadage relic house, lavished with moonstones, guardstones and sculptured railings, Kiri Vehera, the best preserved of Sri Lanka's un-restored dagobas.
Gal Vihare: These sculptures are the glory of Polonnaruwa and the peak of its artistic archievement. The colossal statues of the Buddha are cut in a row from a horizontal escarpment of streaked granite. The consummate skill with which the expressions of peace, serenity and strength have been carved out of solid rock is simply breathtaking. Undoubtedly this is the place visitors linger most while sightseeing to absorb the wonder and peace and serenity in the atmosphere. Demala maha Seya a shrine of novaldesign, Thivanka image House, has some of the best examples of Buddhist frescoes of the 11th century and the Lankatilleke Viharaya, shows a unique style of brickwork architecture. The Alahana Pirivena, a medieval centre of learning for monks, where restoration work is being done by the Central Cultural Fund.
Parakrama Samudraya: One of the largest man made inland lakes in the world. Called the Sea of Parakrama owing to the waves that play on its surface due to its immense size. Built by Parakramabahu the Great in the 12th c. A.D. it is a unique irrigation complex which waters the city as well as the surrounding plains and in use even today.The embankment rises to an average height of 12m and stretches over its entire lenght of 13,7 km.
Ancient City Sigiriya :
This rock fortress was built by King Kasyapa in the 5th century A.D. and was a royal citadel for more than 18 years. It is a complex of buildings, part royal palace, part fortified town, and water gardens on par with the best in the ancient world, constitute a magnificent and unique architectural feat of the ancient Sinhalese. In a sheltered pocket approached by a spiral stairway are the famous Sigiriya frescoes, the earliest surviving pictorial art of Sri Lanka and of the same period as the Ajantha frescoes of India. The summit of the rock with an area of nearly one hc was the site of the palace. It is regarded as the 8th wonder of the ancient world.
Ancient City Dambulla:
Like Sigiriya, dambulla is a vast isolated rock mass and it was here King Valagam Bahu took refuge in the 1c.B.C. He later turned the caves into a rock temple. Sits rock ceiling is one large sweep of colourful paintings which depict Buddhist mythology and tales of the Buddha's previous births. Some of them are over 2000 years old. Within the cave temple is the collection of the largest number of Buddha statues in one place. There is also a recumbent Buddha carved out of the living rock, some 14m long. 19km sounth of Dambull, it is the earliest all stone building 8c. found in Sri Lanka. Believed to be a Mahayanist shrine owing to rare tantric carvings of sensuous nature. However it is an amalgamation of Hindu and Buddhist architecture.
Ancient City Kurunegala:
An interesting transit stop on the route to Sri Lanka's Ancient Cities and the East Coast. Surrounded by looming rocky outcrops including the huge Ethagala (Elephant Rock) and the Kurunagale lake adding scenic beauty, it is a historic town of much character. It came in to promnence during the 13th and 14th centuries when it was the capital of Sinhala Kings. The town itself does not boast of many ruins but de-tours or excursions could be made to Yapahuwa midway between Anuradhapura and Kurunegala, served as the capital of King Bhuvenekabahu1 (1272 - 1284). The Mayan like steep stairway of the ruins of the Temple of the Tooth is the most striking feature of this site. The Padeniya Buddhist Temple (25 km) is a charming medieval temple of unique character. Arankale a 6th c. forest hermitage (24 km) and Panduwasnuwara capitalof Parakramabahu 1 (12th c.) as a regional rular, who later became the rular of Polonnaruwa. The remains of the big palace complex is the main attraction. Ridigama a caveTemple nearly 2000 years oldis 18 km from Kurunegala. An intricate ivory paneled door frame, a gilt sedent Buddha and a large reclining Buddha are its main features.