Sri Lanka has a grand heritage with its first capital in Anuradhapura. From as early as the 5th century and consequently for over 1300 years, this ancient capital was home to great Kings that made the land flourish with agriculture, economy, politics and more. The ruins the kingdom has left behind great tales of its thriving metropolis that has since attracted travellers far and wide.
Anuradhapura is also a World Heritage Site with many cultural, historical, and religious attractions that includes monuments that are testament to the rich history of this ancient kingdom. Anuradhapura was also one of the first places in the land that Buddhism was established and is now a Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bo Tree)
The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, which translates to the Sacred Bo Tree, is situated in the heart of Anuradhapura at the Mahamewuna Gardens, is the oldest living tree on the island, and said to be the oldest man-planted living tree in the world. It has been said that it was the right branch of the Sri Maha Bodhi in Buddha Gaya, under which the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Sangamittha, who was an ordained Buddhist nun and the daughter of King Asoka, brought this sacred branch to Sri Lanka. The original Sri Maha Bodhi in Buddha Gaya is no longer standing today, and therefore Buddhist pilgrims have revered the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi all year round. An 18ct gold fence surrounds the Bo tree, whereas the Sri Maha Bodhi temple compound is also protected by thick wall originally meant to safeguard the holy ground from wild elephants.
The Isurumuniya Temple is a Buddhist temple situated close to the Tissawewa that was that built during King Devanampiyatissa for 500 ordained children. The Isurumuniya Temple has some unique features including the entrance flanked by rock boulders, the pond at the entrance, the rock wall, and the stupa on the summit. However, it’ the carvings that are famed for its insight into the skill of the artisans during ancient times, which includes the Isurumuniya Lovers. The carving is said to depict King Dutugemunu’s son Saliya and Asokamala, his lover, for whom he left the throne behind. There is a Brahmi inscription which writes “Siddha mahayaha kuni – maha (la) ka Asala yaha (di) ni” that translates to “Hail! The cell of Mahaya is given to Venerable Asalaya”. It is said that the inscription was placed at the original location of the Isurumuniya Lovers before it was moved to its current location. The scripture was also later moved. Other carvings of note include Royal Family Carving (located inside the Isurumuniya Viharaya) and the Elephant Pond carving (located at the Isurumuniya rock).
Kuttam Pokuna (also known as The Twin Ponds)
The Kuttam Pokuna, which means to say Twin Ponds, is one of the two bathing pools that were used by the monks of Abhayagiri Viharaya. However, despite its name, one of the ponds is longer than the other and both have beautifully decorated steps on either sides of the pond that feature scroll and “punkalas” which are granite pots with lotus flowers.
Lovamahapaya (also known as The Brazen Palace)
One of King Dutugemunu’s amazing architectural commissions during his reign, the Brazen Palace got it’s the name from its bronze roof tiles and was nine stories high. The palace which was built as a residence for Buddhist monks had hundreds of windows and thousands of rooms, however, over time and without proper care or protection, what is left now are forty rows of forty pillars.
Ran Masu Uyana (also known as the Gold Fish Park)
The Ran Masu Uyana, which translates to Gold Fish Park, is said to be where the Royal Prince Saliya and Asokamala (the rumoured Isurumuniya Lovers) met and fell in love. This vast and garden that spans 12 hectares is the most well-preserved gardens in all of Anuradhapura and features the puzzling Sakwala Chakra said to link both heaven and earth. It is commonly referred to as the Stargate of Ran Masu Uyana, and historians and archaeologists are yet to find a meaning behind it.
Rathna Prasadaya (also known as the Gem Palace)
The Rathna Prasadaya, also known as the Gem Palace, was a sanctuary created for Buddhist monks. In its prime, it was said to be a skyscraper built by King Kanittatissa. Some of the most beautiful guard stones of the Abhayagiriya Viharaya can be found at this location, which highlight the skill and creativity of the artisans of the time. The nearby Queen’s Palace is home to moonstones of equal quality and skill.
The Samadhi Statue is one finest and most peaceful sculptures of Lord Buddha, in a seated meditative position. It can be found in the Mahamewuna Gardens within close to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi Tree. The 8ft tall, seated granite Lord Buddha is a grand display of the sculptors skill and finesse.
With the Sri Jaya Maha Bodhi being planted in the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, and many monasteries made for the Buddhist monks, you can see a large number of religious sites dotted across the city. These are best noted by the Stupas (which are dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine). There are number of Stupas found in Anuradhapura of which the most notable would include Ruwanweliseya (The Great Stupa), Thuparamaya, Abhayagiri Stupa, Jethavaramaya, Mirisevetiya Stupa, Sela Cetiya (Stupa), and Lankaramaya.