Suitcase and World: Ancient city. Anuradhapura.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ancient city. Anuradhapura.

Ruwanweliseya Dagoba
The area around Anuradhapura was first settled by Anuradha, a follower of Prince Vijaya the founder of the Sinhala race, in about the 10th century BC.

In the beginning
The ancient capital city of Anuradhapura was founded in 380 BC by Prince Pandukabhaya who annointed himself king.  According to Sinhalese history, during King Pandukabhaya's reign, the city was a model of planning. Precincts were set aside for huntsmen, for scavengers and for heretics as well as for foreigners.

There were hostels and hospitals, at least one Jain chapel, and cemeteries for high and low castes.

The city also had some of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world. Most of the great reservoir tanks still survive today, and some many be the oldest surviving reservoirs in the world.

But it wasn't until the 3rd century BC that Anuradhapura became a great city.  That was when a Sanghamitta, Buddhist nun and daughter of Ashoka, brought a cutting from the Bodhi Tree (*tree of enlightenment*), the sacred fig tree under which Buddha attained spiritual enlightenment and supreme wisdom.  The cutting has survived to present day and the Bodhi tree spreads out over the centre of the site from a sanctuary near Lovamahapaya which is also known as the Brazen Palace.

Kuttam Pokuna

The new religion swept over the land in a wave. The King himself gave for a great monastery in the very heart of the city his own Royal Park - the beautiful Mahamegha Gardens.

Mirisawetiya Dagoba

With the exception of the period of the invasion of the Tamil princes, at the beginning of the 2nd century BC, Anuradhapura remained the political and religious capital of Ceylon for 1000 years.


Its apogee was reached during the reign of King Dutthagamani who, in 161 BC, expelled the Tamil invaders, re-established Buddhism in the place of Brahminism and built many of the extraordinary landmarks that still exist today including Mirisawetiya Dagoba, Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, and Lovamahapaya.

Legacy of the Kings 
Many of the landmarks that were built during Anuradhapura's thirteen centuries of existence still exist today though most have been restored.

Thuparamaya DagobaKing Devanampiyatissa built Thuparamaya to enshrine the collarbone of the Buddha. It is considered to be the first dagoba built in Sri Lanka following the introduction of Buddhism. The name Thuparamaya comes from *stupa* and *aramaya* which is a residential complex for monks.

Abhayagiri Dagoba
King Valagamba's (103 & 89-77 B.C.) contribution was the Abhayagiri Dagoba.  The story goes that during the king's first year of reign, Chola invaders again appeared and drove him temporarily into hiding. For fourteen years, while Tamil kings occupied his throne, he wandered the countryside  often sheltering in jungle caves. One day, as he passed an ancient Jain hermitage an an ascetic named Giri taunted him; "The great black lion is fleeing!"  During all the years of his exile, the King never forgot the taunt.  When he was finally able to win his kingdom back, he went and built the Dogaba on the ground where Giri had stood when taunting him.

Jethawanaramaya Dagoba
The heretic King Mahasena (274 - 301 A.D) built Anuradhapura's largest dagoba, Jethawanaramaya. Its height is said to be 400 feet (120m) and at the time it was constructed, it was the largest brick building in the world.  More importantly though, it housed the piece sash worn by Buddha.

Lankarama Dagoba was also built by King Valagamba.   Seems that very little is known about this structure other than the dimensions of the dagoba and the courtyard that it sits in.

Isurumuniya is a Buddhist temple built by King Devanampiyatissa to house 500 newly-ordained children of high caste.

Dakkhina Stupa was constructed by Uttiya, a Minister of King Valagamba. The most popularly known fact is that this stupa was constructed on the tomb of King Dutthagamani.

Strewn about the grounds are also statues.  

Samadhi Statue is one of the best pieces of sculpture on the site. The statue is 8 feet (2.4 m) in height and made of granite.   The statue depicts Buddha sitting in Dhyana mudra pose which is the posture of meditation in which Buddha sits in the cross-legged position with upturned palms, placed one over the other on the lap.

At the end
After an invasion in 993 AD, Anuradhapura was permanently abandoned; its inhabitants having fled to the nearby city of Polonnaruwa.

For centuries, the Anuradhapura lay hidden in the jungle until it was rediscovered by the British in the 19th century.  Anuradhapura is now both Buddhist pilgrimage site and a popular tourist attraction.