What can you see at Anuradhapura? Anuradhapura was once a magnificent city where there were thousands of people living and making a living, having the best irrigation systems with giant tanks, monasteries, the best university campus, supermarket quarters for traders, and royal buildings. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So. there is lots to see. This city is existing since the 5th century BC, or the 10th century; depends on who you will talk to. Is there any Sinhalese movie that can rival the new Bollywood movie Mohenjo Daro?
King Pandukabhaya planned the layout of the city, and made the city the capital of Kingdom of Upatissa Nuwara in the 4th century BC. It also became capital of Kingdom of Rajarata, and Kingdom of Tambapanni. 113 kings, and four queens ruling Anuradhapura in succession, added to the architecture of the city. The giant stupas here are a little smaller than the pyramids in Egypt. The huge structures made the city famous in the ancient world. Foreigners came to trade here. The creation of tanks made this a hotbed for agriculture. The tanks still exist, and is beautiful to hangout there.
Battle for Anuradhapura
King Dutugamunu famously defeated King Ellalan, a South Indian king of the Chola dynasty. Ellalan, or Elara launched an attack on the Kingdom of Rajarata, and won. Dutugammu of Kingdom of Mahagama defeated his own brother who challenged his position in South Sri Lanka. He then marched towards Anuradhapura. The inevitable battle had a young Sinhala prince question a just but old veteran’s right over Anuradhapura.
The battles between Ellalan and Dutugammu is recorded in Mahavamsa, and is a Sinhala pride. The duel between war elephants Maha Pambata (big rock), and Kandula belonging to Ellalan and Dutugammu respectively is also stuff of legends.
Siege weapons devastated Ellalan’s army. Dutugammu too took losses due to molten pitch Ellalan’s army used. But it was Dutugammu who killed Ellalan, and ended one of the most celebrated rule even in Sri Lankan history. This victory made Dutugammu the overlord of Sri Lanka. Dutugammu built a monument for King Ellalan, but it is famously missing today.
What can you see today?
There are lot of things to see today. There are ancient ruins scattered everywhere. If you get off the street, and go into the bushes, you will stumble upon some ruined buildings. Howver, these are some of the most important:
The stupas or the dagobas are the bell shaped structures, towering over other buildings in the city, one of the dagobas is a little smaller than the pyramids of Egypt. The stupas were built as a center for meditation, and learning.
This was in ruins, but it was restored after a fundraiser in the 19th century. It is the oldest, the most important one in Anuradhapura. King Dutugamunu built this dagoba, it represents the head of the Buddha. The stupa sits of a platform that has statues of elephants around it. They built this after Dutugammu defeated King Ellalan, a South Indian King from the Chola dynasty in battle for Anuradhapura, so it makes this supremely glorious.
This is one massive stupa, little smaller than the pyramid of Giza. This big stupa got smaller, perhaps due to the wars. Once upon a time 3000 or so monks used this stupa.
King Valagamba built this stupa, the structure looks like the Thuparama stupa. The vatadage houses the structure.
King Dutugamunu built this dagoba due to guilt he felt for not sharing chilli curry with the Sangha (Buddhist monastic community). Miris means chilli, that’s the history behind the name.
The largest monastery complex here, the statue of Buddha in Samadhi (meditation) position is near to this stupa. King Valagambahu built the stupa. 5000 monks used this stupa once upon a time.
The right collarbone of the Buddha is part of Thuparama daagab. This is the first stupa to be built at the instructions of a dude called Mahinda Thero after Sri Lanka embraced Buddhism. Mr. Thero brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The vatadage encloses the the structure. As you approach the building you see an ancient well at the front made of granite, it has guard stones at the entrance, and a granite doorway.
Kuttam Pokuna – The Kuttam Pokuna or the twin ponds is a tank for the monks to take their daily shower. There are figurines of dancing girls in this pool, so there is an opinion that monks did not use the pool at all.
Eth Pokuna – Also called ‘Elephant pond’ hides among trees and bushes. It is a water storage for the Abhayagiri monastery.
Tissa Weva – In order to increase the water supply to the city, King Devanampiya Tissa built a huge tank. Later a system of irrigation canals was integrated to it.
Basawkkulama Tank – This is another tank built to supply water to Anuradhapura city.
It is a semi-circular stone at the entrance of an ancient Buddhist school. The ruined structure is also said to be Mahasena’s Palace. The carving on the moonstone is elaborate. There are carvings of elephants, butterflies. In Buddhism, it denotes life cycle.
The monks belonging to a sect called Pansakulika lived in the Ratna Prasada. It was five storey tall built by King Kantitthuatissa, but today it is in ruins. The monks of Abhayagiri met here twice a month to confess and rectify their mistakes by reciting Pratimoksha.
Locamahapaya is also called as the Brazen Palace built by King Dutugamunu. This building was nine storey high. Copper and bronze plates cover the roof of this building. It was once a refectory for the monks.
One of the most worshiped statue in Anuradhapura, perhaps in Sri Lanka. It is statue of the Buddha in meditation position, or the Samadhi position (Dhyana Mudra). It is near the Abhayagiri Monastery. This granite statue is eight feet tall.
Walk towards the giant Tissa Wewa tank, and you will find the Isurumuniya. You have to remove your footwear before entering this vicinity. There are carpet covering the floor to help you not burn your feet. There is a Lotus Pond in the front. The Isurumuni Lovers are carved into the rock which is the main attraction. There is stair case carved into the rock, so that the lovers could go to the top of the rocks, to enjoy the sunset.
This is the second holiest place in Sri Lanka, the most important site in Anuradhapura. This place has a piece of the tree from Bodhgaya which is famous for the enlightenment of the Buddha. If a leaf from this tree falls on you, you can consider yourself the luckiest on planet Earth. So many people, and monks stand for hours here waiting for a leaf to drop. There is always a ritual happening here.
The Archeology Museum – This museum has the main reception desk/ticket counter is. The museum has important artifacts from Anuradhapura and around Sri Lanka. This is also known as Jethawana Museum because it is near the Jethawana stupa.
Abhayagiri Museum – This museum is funded by the Chinese government. The museum has artifacts such as squatting plates used by the monks, jewelry, model of the ancient city, books.
Other Attractions to See at Anuradhapura
This is identifiable as a structure of a house, and some remains of the building are still here. This is off the main road, amidst all trees and bushes.
In this refectory monks met, discussed with each other, they also cooked food here.
Lot of people, including monks live inside the ancient city. This place attracts people from around the world. Historians, artists, and many others visit here.
* represents Atamasthana, which means one of the Eight sacred places in Anuradhapura. It is holy because the Buddha visited this place.
^ represents Solomasthaana, or the sixteen places of veneration in Sri Lanka. There are sixteen places in Sri Lankan Buddhuism that is holy because Buddha was here. Six of such sites are in Anuradhapura.