Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

The archaeological site of Anuradhapura, the best known of Sri Lanka's ancient cities, contains huge bell-shaped dagobas (Buddhist commemorative shrines, or stupas) built of small sun-dried bricks, as well as temples, palaces, monasteries, sculptures, bathing tanks, and drinking-water reservoirs. It also contains an ancient pipal tree believed to be a branch of the Bo tree at Bodh Gaya, Bihar, under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.

Founded in the 5th century BCE, Anuradhapura was the Sinhalese capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century BCE until the 11th century CE, when invasions from South India forced the shifting of the capital. The South Indians gained actual control of the kingdom several times—in the 2nd century BCE, in the 5th century CE, and most notably in the late 10th century, after which Anuradhapura was finally abandoned as the Sinhalese capital in favour of the city of Polonnaruva (and was eventually overrun by jungle). In addition to the South Indian invasions, the kingdom was often beset with internal strife among warring Sinhalese clans, each wishing to establish its own dynastic line. In these struggles the insurgent clan frequently sought alliance with a South Indian kingdom or hired South Indian mercenaries.

During the more than 1,000 years of its existence, the kingdom of Anuradhapura developed a high degree of culture, especially manifest in its art and architecture. Because of its geographic situation in the northern dry zone of Ceylon, it developed a remarkably complex system of irrigation, considered by many scholars to be its major achievement. The ancient city was rediscovered by the British in the 19th century. It later became a Buddhist pilgrimage centre and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982. [—Text adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008]


Path to Sri Maha Bodhi,
the sacred Bodhi tree

Buddha statues in a temple
on site (more)

The famous Bodhi Tree,
a child of the original (1, 2)

A gateway to Sri Maha Bodhi tree,
visible on the top platform

Monks at Sri Maha Bodhi site

Another bodhi tree on site

Pilgrims (more)

Another entrance

Brazen Palace, once with 1600
columns beneath a bronze roof

Original was built over 2000
years ago by King Dutugemunu

Afternoon nap

Mahavihara Oriental Library

Thuparama Dagoba


Oldest in Sri Lanka (1, 2)

Dates from 3rd cent. BCE

On a "Just Married" photoshoot
(1, 2)

Jetavanarama Dagoba, dates
from 3rd cent. CE (1, 2, 3)

Reclining Buddha at a temple
in front of dagoba (more)

Statues of Royals facing the
Buddha inside the temple

Once the 3rd tallest structure,
after the pyramids (more)

A nearby monastery was
home to 3000 monks

Bathing tank in the monastery

A urinal in the monastery

Buddhist Railing, a stone fence
that looks like a log wall (info)

Chapter House, used by resident
monks for ecclesiastical purposes

A centrally located Aseembly Hall
with no boundary walls (info)

More ruins of Jetavanarama
monastery (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Bodhi Tree Shrine of
Jetavanarama (1, 2)

Abhayagiri Dagoba, dates from
1st-2nd cent. BCE (more)

Once the heart of a monastery
with over 5000 monks

The monks here studied both
Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism

In a modern temple on site

An exquisite guard stone (1, 2)

Moon stone at a monastery

Ruins of a monastery in Abhayagiri

Ruins of a monastery in Abhayagiri
(1, 2)

Ruins of monastery in Abhayagiri


Ruins of monastery in Abhayagiri

Ruins of monastery in Abhayagiri

Ruins of monastery in Abhayagiri

A Prasada Stupa (info)

More ruins of monasteries (1, 2, 3)

Water tank in Abhayagiri (1, 2)

Exquisite moon stone (1, 2)

A present day resident
of the ruins

Bodhi Tree Shrine, dating to 1st
cent. BCE (more, info)

Burrows Pavilion (Stone Canopy)

Langur monkeys (more)

Urinal (info)

Ancient toilet (info)

Ancient toilet (info)

Urinal Pots (info)

Guard stones of Anuradhapura
at the Abhayagiri museum

Refectory where thousands of
monks were fed (more)

The stone canoe could be filled
with enough rice to feed 5000

Fa-hien, the Chinese monk, saw
such kitchens and store-rooms

Kuttam Pokuna, aka Twin Ponds,
dating between 7-9th cent. CE

Used by bathing by the monks
in Abhayagiri monasteries

Notable for its hydraulic

Tanks are connected via
underground pipes (1, 2)

Isurumuniya Rock Temple
dating from 3rd cent. BCE

Sleeping Buddha (more)

Elephant carved on rock

Sculpture on rock

Isurumuni Lovers, 4-5th cent. CE

King's Family, 6-8th cent. CE

Another view of the Isurumuniya
Vihara (more, dagoba on top)

Lotus pond in front of the vihara

Ranmasu Uyana, aka
Royal Pleasure Garden (more)

A moss-covered pond by
the garden (more)

Bathing tank in the pleasure
garden (more)

Tissa Wewa, a large reservoir
built by the ancients

Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba (1, 2)

Outer wall has a frieze with 365
elephants guarding the dagoba

Started by King Dutugemunu in
2nd cent. BCE, finished later

Vessagiriya, a cave monastic
complex (1, 2)

Mahapali Alms Hall to feed
monks, dates to 3rd cent. BCE

A water well at the refectory

Palace of King Vijayabahu,
11th cent. CE

Once a two-storey structure
made of clay bricks (info)

One of many
"Western Monasteries"

Monks here dressed in clothing
removed from corpses

The monastery had many water
filled aread for cooling

A bathing tank in the monastery

An ornate toilet stone at a
western monastery

Handicapped Langur

Former Dalada Maligawa, or
temple of the tooth relic

The platform where the tooth
relic was once kept

Mirisavatiya Dagoba, dates
from 2nd cent. BCE (1, 2)

Buddha Statue by the Dagoba

Buddha Statue by the Dagoba

Built by King Dutugemunu (1, 2)


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