This remarkable city of Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s most sacred town and has some of the most extensive ruins in the world. This city served as a great monastic centre. It remained residence and royal capital for over 100 successive Sinhalese Kings for around 1500 years from the 4th century BC to the 8th century AD, after which it was abandoned and the capital moved to Polonnaruwa.
Anuradhapura has eight main places of veneration, known as “atamasthana”. They are;
Sri Maha Bodhi
The Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest historical tree in the world, is a cutting from the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya in India under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. For sure this is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest religious icons and symbolizes the greatness of the Buddha. In around 250 BC this sacred tree was brought to Sri Lanka by the daughter of the great Emperor Asoka of India and sister of ArahatMahinda, the monk who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
The following places are venerated monuments known as dagobas or stupas. Mostly shaped like a tea cup turned upside down, the significance of theses dagobas lies in the fact that one or more sacred relics of the Buddha are enshrined within the walls.
Known as the “great stupa” Ruwanweliseya is undoubtedly just that. A perfect dome standing over 300 feet tall with a diameter of 370 feet, the massive Ruwanweliseya is possibly the most sacred dagoba in the entire island, as it is believed to house the largest number of relics of the Buddha. Construction of this great dagoba was thought to have started during the reign of King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC.
As with most historical monuments in Sri Lanka, Ruwanweliseya has a deep connection with Buddhism. The dome shape of the dagoba is thought to be the perfect milk bubble shape, representing the Buddhist philosophy on life… the bubble of life which will burst in no time like the fragility of our lives.
Built in the shape of a heap of paddy, this dagoba is considered to be the first in Sri Lanka, following the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by ArahatMahinda. The collar bone of Lord Buddha is believed to have been enshrined here. The Thuparamaya as it stands today is after several renovations, having once been completely ruined
Lovamahapaya (Brazen Palace)
Situated between the Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanweliseya, is the Lovamahapaya. Also known as the Brazen Palace, this ancient 9 storey building was built in 150 BC as the monk’s residence for the monks of the Mahviharaya Buddhist University. At any given time, the Lovamahapaya was supposed to have housed 3000 monks! The bronze tiles that were used to cover the roof, gave this building the name, the Brazen Palace. It was thought to have taken 6 years to build this magnificent building. What we see today represents the Brazen Palace in ruin.
The Jetavanaramaya is a dagoba located in the ruins of the Jetavana Monastery in Anuradhapura. At a height of over 120m, JetavanaDagoba is the largest dagoba in Sri Lanka and among the tallest monuments in the world. A part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed
The AbhayagiriDagoba built around 88 BC with an original height of over a hundred metres is one of the tallest monuments of its nature in the world. This dagoba was more than just part of a complex of monastic buildings. Abhayagiri gained popularity as a fraternity for Buddhist monks, attracting scholars from all over the world across all nuances of Buddhism and as such its influence can be traced to other parts of the world. The 3rd century AD saw the golden age of Abhayagiri, and when the Buddha’s Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka the 4th century, Abhayagiri was selected to house the relic for public veneration.
Apart from being a religious monument, the AbhayagiriDagoba also serves as a symbol of national resurgence, as the king who built this great monument did it to fulfill a vow that he made when he was compelled to flee his kingdom. 14 years following his exile, the king returned, overthrew the Dravidians and regained the kingdom. This era marked the end of Brahmin and Jain influence in the country.
Isurumuniya was built in the 3rd century BC as part of a monastic complex. This temple is best known for its rock carvings, the most popular being “the lovers”. The style of the sculpture resembles the Gupta Art of India.
The Samadhi Statue in Anuradhapura is believed to be a masterpiece of sculptural art and dates back to around the 4th century BC. The statue is 8 feet high and made of granite. The statue shows the Buddha in a deep state of meditation.
Aukana Buddha Statue
This magnificent granite Buddha statue which stands at 13 feet is among the tallest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. The Aukana Buddha statue dates back to the 5th century AD.
A few miles east of Anuradhapura liesMihintale, a 300m peak in a mountainous range with a splendid view of the countryside. The story of Mihintale goes way back to a full moon day in the month of June around 250 BC, when ArahatMahinda was believed to have come from India to preach the doctrine of Buddhism. As the story goes, ArahatMahinda met King Devanampiyatissa and converted the king and his court to Buddhism. Following this, the Mihintale Rock became a monastery and sanctuary.
To this day Mihintale is revered by all Buddhists alike. And especially on Esala Full Moon Day, which falls in the month of June, pilgrims make it a point to climb Mihintale and pay their respects.