The Tale of Ancient Kingdom – Anuradhapura

If you want to be surrounded by the rich ancient history of Sri Lanka, it is a must for you to stay a few days of your holidays at Anuradhapura. It is the capital city of North Central Province and one of the ancient capitals of the island. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.

Anuradhapura is known to be the centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries in the past. Due to its continuous association with Buddhism, the city is today surrounded by Dagobas, temples, palaces and monasteries covering an area of over 40 square kilometers. From fourth century BC until the beginning of the 11th century AD, it was the capital city of many kings. It is known that, King Pandukabhaya made Anuradhapura as his capital in the 4th century BC and he laid out the town and its suburbs including Abhayavapi (lake). His grandson Devanampiya Tissa, was the king and the contemporary to Emperor Ashoka of India, whose period Buddhism was first introduced to this island. Emperor Ashoka’s son Mahinda Thera came to Sri Lanka from India on the full moon day of the month of Poson (June) and met King Devanampiyatissa in Mihintale Rock. The king embraced Buddhism and all his people followed the same.

Anuradhapura became so popular that it started to grow both as a ritual centre and as the administrative centre and a large population came and settled permanently in the city. To support the traditional paddy cultivation and ever growing population, the kings of Anuradhapura built huge tanks known as “Wewa or Kulama” and also became architects of ancient irrigational systems which can be witnessed even today. The Tissa Wewa, Basawak Kulama, Abhayavapi, Nuwara Weva and Nachchaduwa Wewa are fine examples of huge tanks constructed by the kings. Parks were also provided in the city. The Ranmasu Uyana below the bund of Tissa Weva was one such, but it was strictly reserved for the members of the royal family.

The kings also build big Dagobas or Stupas to show their fullest support for Buddhism and as an act of great merit. These giant constructions can be seen even today in Anuradhapura. The Abhayagiri Dagoba was built in 1st century BC and originally over 100m high. It was one of the greatest structures in the ancient world, scaling equally to the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Today, after several reconstructions, Abhayagiri Dagoba soars 75m above the forest floor, a visually breathtaking masterpiece. Other famous Dagobas in Anuradhapura include Ruwanwelisaya, Thuparamaya, Jetavanarama, Lankarama and Mirisaveti Dagoba

Another important historical living piece in Anuradhapura is the Bo tree which sapling Ficus religiosa or sacred fig was brought along by Sangamitta (daughter of Emperor Ashoka) when she visited the island with her brother Mahinda Thera. It is said to be the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world, tended by an uninterrupted succession of guardians for over 2000 years. Today thousands of devotees come to make offerings, particularly on poya (full moon) days and weekends. Sunset is a magical time to visit.

Another architecture masterpiece is Eth Pokuna or Elephant pond.  Surrounded by forest, this huge body of water is thought to have acted as an ancient water storage tank for the Abhayagiri monastery rather than as a pool for elephant bath. Such is the scale of the tank which is 159m long, 53m wide and 10m deep, it is enough to fix six Olympic-sized swimming pools!

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