Anuradhapura is a city in the north central region of Sri Lanka and at one time was the capital for ancient Sinhalese civilizations and where the kings and rulers of those civilizations lived. Anuradhapura was first settled nearly 3,000 years ago and during its heyday was the biggest and most extensive royal city on the island until the capital moved south to Kandy.
Today Anuradhapura is littered with ancient ruins and monuments and is a popular destination for visitors. Archaeologists are still working to undercover and catalogue hundreds of thousands of artifacts that can give us clues about how people lived so long ago.
Anuradhapura’s location in the flatlands and its vast and wide network of roads made it an ideal city to have a royal capital. Several kinds ruled from there and build impressive monuments in short amounts of time. However, Anuradhapura’s location and road system also made it an easy target for invaders from South India.
The ancient city is pretty spread out so the best way to explore is to use a bicycle for the day, and that’s exactly what I did!
Widespread flooding was the first thing that I noticed while exploring Anuradhapura. The surrounding landscape is very flat and there are lots of rice paddies. After several days of heavy rain the water had no where to go! I saw a lot of evidence of people being displaced from their homes and was told that if it rained hard for only two more days most of the people in the city would have to leave their homes.
The two pictures below show a government complex of archaeological offices that were badly flooded.
Sri Maha Bodi (commonly just known as the bodi tree) is located within the walls of the city and is one of the reasons Anuradhapura became, and still is, such an important spiritual place for Buddhists. The tree has grown from a cutting from the original tree in India under which Buddha first gained enlightenment. The cutting was brought to Sri Lanka by an Indian princess who introduced Buddhism to the island. This tree had been guarded for more than 2,000 years and is thus considered the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world! There are actually several bodhi trees at this site but it’s easy to tell which is the original once since it’s surrounded by walls, covered in prayer flags, supported by golden columns, and its branches area massive! As you walk to the tree you first past by rows of small booths selling flowers and incense for prayers and offerings. Cars aren’t allowed near the temple for fear of terrorists attacks and before you enter you have to pass through a metal detector and of course remove your hat and shoes!
Near the Bodhi tree is an ancient stupa known as the Southern Monastery. It was built around the 1st century B.C. and its said that the remains of several kings were cremated here.
Today Jetavanaramaya is the largest stupa in the world (by volume) and when it was built about 2000 years ago it was the third tallest structure in the world, right behind the pyramids of Egypt. It took nearly 100 million bricks to build and it stands about 400 feet high and may have been even higher in the past. Its estimated that at one time the entire surrounding compound served as a home for more than 10,000 Buddhist monks!
Ancient ruins like these are dotted all throughout the ancient city.
Ruwanwelisaya is still an important spiritual dagoba today. Unfortunately the king who built it died before it was finished but while he was on his deathbed a frame of cloth and bamboo was constructed so he could see what the “finished” product would look like.
These two pools of water are known as the Twin Ponds and even though they don’t look very clean today they were used for bathing by the monks who used to live here.
This ancient stupo is undergoing restoration and you can see that it is covered by sprawling jungle growth.
Moonstones like the one below are found at the entrance to most Buddhist temples and monasteries in Sri Lanka. They are carved out of hard stones and represent the path from the secular to the spiritual world. Most of them have about seven carved rings of flowers, vines, animals, and birds. Each ring has a specific meaning about the path to enlightenment. The one in Anuradhapura is one of the largest in Sri Lanka and is considered to exhibit some of the countries finest moonstone carving.