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 sanctified 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 dcor. Other interesting ruins are, the King’s Council Chamber the floral stone pillars of Nissanka Lata Mandapaya, the Royal Citadel, Kumara Pokuna (baths), the Thuparama with its original vaulted roof, the exquisite circular vatadage relic house, lavished with moonstones, guardstones, and sculptured railings, Kiri Vehera, the best preserved of sri Lanka Un-restored dagobas.
Sites to see in Polonnaruwa
- Parakrama Samudraya
- Rankot Vihara
- Lankatilaka Gedige
- Kiri (‘White’) Vihara
- Gal Vihara
- Demala Maha Seya
- Siva Devalaya
- Nissanka Latha Mandapaya
- The Sath Mahal Prasada
- Pabalu Viharaya
- Lotus Bath
- Thivanka Image House
- Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu
- Pothgul Viharaya
- Polonnaruwa Vatadage (circular house of relic) Dalada Maluwa
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. Build 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 length of 13.7 k.m.
The largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa at 55m (180ft) high, this building is the hub of the group of buildings known as the Alahana Pirivena (‘Crematory College’) group which formed part of a monastic college during the reign of Parakramabahu
A huge temple built during the reign of Parakramabahu, the 17m (56ft) high walls still stand, but the roof is gone, as is the head of the colossal Buddha image that stands within. The walls are carved with friezes of Polonnaruwa in its golden age.
Kiri (‘White’) Vihara
Aptly named, this large dagoba’s whitewashed plaster has survived seven centuries of abandonment to the jungle between the collapse of the Polonnaruwa kingdom and its rediscovery in the 19th century. It is the best preserved of the island’s unrestored dagoba
Also known as the Cave of the Spirits of Knowledge, this is one of the most important Buddhist shrines. It takes the form of three colossal Buddha images carved out of a granite cliff. Most prominent is the standing image, 7m (23ft) tall, which was at one time thought to represent Ananda, the Buddha’s first disciple, but is now regarded as being a Buddha image like the others. Next to it is an enormous 14m (46ft) reclining Buddha. Two smaller, less skillfully carved Buddha images occupy niches in the rock
Demala Maha Seya
Abandoned before completion, this large mound is what remains of Parakramabahu’s grandiose bid to build the largest dagoba in the Buddhist world. He died before the work was completed.
Immediately north of the Royal Palace complex is the Siva Devale, a 13th-century Hindu temple dating from the period of south Indian conquest that followed the final decline of Sinhalese power in the north of the island. The technical skills of its masons are evident from the fine, precisely cut stonework of its walls. The brick domed roof, however, has not survived. There are several Siva Devales (Shiva Temples) at Polonnaruwa, reflecting the popularity of this powerful member of Hinduism’s ruling trinity of deities
King Devanam Piya Tissa built the Thuparama dagaba to enshrine this relic. This was thus the oldest stupa built in Sri Lanka. Originally it was in the shape of a heap of paddy but as restorations were done in later years, it took the form as seen today. It has a diameter of 59 feet 6 inches (18.14 m) at the base. As the name suggests, Thuparama comprised a ‘stupa’ and an ‘arama,’ a residential complex. Ruins of such a complex can be seen within an area of over 3 acres (12,000 m2) around the ‘stupa.’
Nissanka Latha Mandapaya
Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is a unique structure in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. Built by King Nissanka Malla (1187 1196) and named after him, it is located near the western entrance of the Dalada Maluva, the area that contains the oldest and most sacred monuments in the city. A nearby stone inscription identifies this as the building used by Nissanka Malla to listen to pirith (chanting of Buddhist scriptures).
The structure is an elevated stone platform with a number of stone columns and surrounded by a low stone wall. These stone columns are the unique feature about the Nissanka Latha Manadapaya, since they are carved in a manner that is found nowhere else in the country. The eight granite columns are arranged in two rows, with four in each row. Presumably used to support a roof, each of them is approximately 8 feet 4 inches (2.54 m) in height. In each of these columns, the crown is carved in the shape of a blossoming lotus bud. The rest of the column is elaborately carved to resemble the stem of the flower. Unlike stone columns commonly seen in the architecture of this period, these are not straight, but are curved in three places. According to archaeologist Senarath Paranavithana, the stone columns at the Nissanka Latha Mandapaya are the best examples of this feature of ancient Sri Lankan architecture.
At the center of the platform, flanked by the stone columns, is a small stupa. This is also made from stone, but the top part of it has been destroyed. Its base is decorated with a carved design. The platform is surrounded by a stone railing, and the structure is entered through a single stone doorway. In contrast to the elaborately carved stone pillars, these have an undecorated and plain finish.
The Sath Mahal Prasada
The Satmahal Prasada, a square pyramidal tower of seven diminishing stages, rising from a base measuring 20 ft 2 in. each way at ground level, situated at the North-eastern corner of the quadrangle or the Dalada-maluwa, was a stupa of a special type. As originally built, the Satmahal-Prasada was octagonal; in its altered square shape each side of a stage is ornamented by the figure of a deity within an arched niche. By what name it was known in ancient days and by whom it was built are not known. The fact that a monument of the same design as the Satmahal-prasada exists at a palace named San Maha Phon Northern-Siam indicates that it had some relations to the South Asian architectural patterns.
The Pabalu Vihara is a large dagoba made of bricks, and is said to be the third largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa. It is also known as the Parakramabahu Vihara and has the typical features of a dagoba belonging to the era of King Parakramabahu I.
This dagoba is also believed to have been constructed by the queen of Parakramabahu known as Rupavati.
It is surrounded by image houses ( pilima ge), which was an innovation of the Polonnaruwa era. The flower altars built for devotees to offer flowers still remain, and Buddhists continue to use these when worshipping the sacred images of the Buddha in these image houses. A larges. Number of Buddha images, dating from the late Polonnaruwa era, can be seen around the Pabalu Vihara.
Lying towards the north of Polonnaruwa Gal Vihare complex, this Lotus Bath dates back to late 12th century. The bath is believed to be a part of the Jetavana Monastery complex, which comprised some five hundred buildings during its heydays.
Thivanka Image House
This also is a very large ‘Gedige’ like Thuparamaya and Lanka Thilaka. This image house is called ‘Thivanka ( bent in three places) because of the ‘Thri Bhanga’ Statue inside this Imge House. This statue is bent at knees, hip and the shoulders. This Image House is also attributed to King Parakramabahu the Great . On the walls inside we can see the patches of extinct murals over a large area of murals . These have followed the classical traditions beginning from Ajantha of India down to Anuradhapura , Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa of Sri Lanka.
It is generally believed that these have been painted by local artists using local technology and local traditions.
Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu
I was built in the 11th Century and the massive brick walls of the main hall stand amidst the ruins of about 40 inter-connecting rooms. The palace originally rose to seven levels.
It is situated to the south of the embankment of the Parakrama-Samudra. This monastery seems to have had a library belonging to the 2 period, hence the name of Potgul-Viharaya. This monastic library is tentatively identified as the delightful circular house;built by king Parakramabahu I (1153-1186AD). The water line running round this building is also an important creation.
Polonnaruwa Vatadage (circular house of relic) Dalada Maluwa
The Temple of the Tooth of Lanka during the glorious era of Polonnaruwa
The centerpiece of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the Dalada Maluwa (the hall of the Tooth Relic), was a sacred precinct containing 12 magnificent buildings. Although there are numerous vatadage across Sri Lanka, the Vatadage at Polonnaruwa is the most famous. As with many other vatadage, it had a stupa in the centre with four Buddha images facing the cardinal directions.
The Vatadage, one of the oldest & most beautiful monuments in Polonnaruwa, is to our left as we enter the Dalada Maluwa. In spite of its modest proportions, the circular building with concentric terraces is a superbly planned & executed 12th century masterpiece. It was certainly intended to house the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha, which is now deposited at The Sacred Temple of Tooth in Kandy. Built by King Parakrambahu the great (1164-1196AD), it was later embellished by King Nissankamalla (1198-1206).
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