The city of Anuradhapura and Polonnuwara are places to go and witness best preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilization. Anuradhapura is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is a world heritage city. It was the capital beginning 4th century BC until 11th century and remained the seat of political and urban life. Its not possible to talk about Anuradhapura in just few sentences; its a legacy.
Our guide was explaining the city plans and trust me! I was mesmerized. Reservoirs and man made lakes to cater to irrigation and drinking water. Self sufficient city with agriculture, universities, hospitals, trade centers, cemetery, temples and living quarters. The city plan was a circle, three divisions - in the center of the divisions were monasteries and temples, surrounded by universities where 3000+ people from all over the world came for learning, hospitals and livings quarters, outside was cultivation lands and outer periphery of man made tanks to serve water to the city.
I chide myself for not bringing the graphical map my guide drew to explain the city. The ruins now consist of Dagobas, pokunas and palaces.
Dagobas are stupas - mound like structures containing Buddhist relics, mainly remains of Buddha used by Buddhists as place of worship. Stupas have a great history about its origin and how it has evolved. Google it :)
Sri Maha Bodhi - was a sacred Fig tree in Bodh Gaya under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. A sapling from the tree was brought to Lanka by Sangamitra 2400 years ago. The original tree is no more; if it were; would be 2900 years old. So this tree is Lanka is the oldest and sacred to Buddhists. They come from all over to pray. The tree is checked for his health regularly and the original branch is supported by pillar as seen at the right corner of this picture.
Devotees chanting in the tree premises. They dress in white while visiting Buddhist temple.
Loha Prasada - Brazen palace; named due to the copper roofing over the sky scraper. Nine stories with 1000 rooms; is known to have burned down only 15 years after it was built of wood. Now the 1600 sq feet site is marked by the presence of 1600 pillars which were foundation pillars.
Ruwanwelisaya or Mahathupa - the center piece of Maha vihara. The citiy had 3 viharas. It guards the traditions of Theravada Buddhism. It stands at 300 ft with a circumference of 950ft and is one of the world's tallest monuments.
A medical chamber in what used to be a hospital.
Devotees walking around the dagoba chanting prayers.
The Samadhi Buddha - in a state of deep meditation. The statue is from 4th century AD and its said that Nehru derived great strength from contemplating this statue during his imprisonment by the British
Abhayagiri vihara - uttara vihara lies in the north; now under renovation. It is one of the most extensive ruins and most sacred to Buddhists. This complex appears to be the center for Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings and hence was seen as more heretical by conservative Mahavihara monks.
Nuwara Wewa - one of the man made lakes.
Thuparama - first Buddhist building in Sri Lanka; enshrining Buddha's collar bone. The monolothic pillars encircling the dagoba was once upheld by a circular roof called Vatta Dage(circular relic house) a characteristically Sinhala architectural feature.
To the east of Mahathupa lies the Jetavana Dagoba. Built at 400 feet was the third largest structure in the world at that time after the two great pyramids of Giza.
Asanka - guide explaining the planned city of Anuradhapura and the monasteries placements.
Ruins adjacent to the dagoba - university campus
Kuttam pokuna - Twin ponds. They are functional even now; then built for monks for bathing. Water which is fed through an inlet is purified several times. cool and clean water gushes to the pond through a lion's spout.
Isurumuniya cave temple.
Mihintale - a mountain peak where Arahant Mahinda (Mahendra); son of Asoka met King Devanampiyatissa which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
A statue of Buddha atop the hill.
The Maha Stupa
Maha stupa as seen from distance.
Two young monks at the Sri Maha Bodhi