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Monuments and Sites of interest at Anuradhapura

FABULOUS ANCIENT CITY OF
ANURADHAPURA

205 km from Colombo is Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's first capital founded about the 4th century BC. According to the Mahavansa, the Sinhala Buddhist chronicle, the city was a model of planning. Precincts were set aside for huntsmen and scavengers and even heretics and foreigners. There were hostels and hospitals, separate cemeteries for high and low castes. A water supply was assured by the construction of reservoirs.

View of Giant Stupas or Dagobas at Anuradhapura Anuradhapura was to continue for six hundred years as the national capital. But internecine struggles for the royal succession grew, and it became more and more vulnerable to the pressures of South Indian political expansion. The city was finally abandoned and the capital withdrawn to more secluded areas.

But the monuments of Anuradhapura's heyday survive, surrounded by the solemn umbrage of trees, scions of an ancient parkland. 


Brief Description

This sacred city was established around a cutting from the "tree of enlightenment", Buddha's fig tree, brought there in the 3rd century B.C. by Sanghamitta, the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. Anuradhapura, a Ceylonese political and religious capital that flourished for 1,300 years, was abandoned after an invasion in 993. Hidden away in thick jungle for a long time, the splendid site, with its palaces, monasteries and monuments, is once again accessible.


World Heritage Site

Anuradhapura has been classed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The following is an extract from a research project by the Bradford University in England.

 Bradford University's Department of Archaeological Sciences has found itself linked with a number of ongoing and new collaborative research projects in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. One of these projects, working in Sri Lanka, has been working at the ancient city of Anuradhapura, which is one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. In the summer of 1994 four members of Bradford University, Dr Robin Coningham, Mr Rob Janaway, Steven Cheshire and Gary Dooney, spent six weeks working at the site with members of the Government Department of Archaeology and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka..

Home to the royal court

Anuradhapura or 'the city of Anura', is the earliest capital of Sri Lanka and was home to the royal court from 437 BC to 1017 AD. However it is not only a city, but one of the great centres of Buddhism in South Asia visited by thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year. The site consists of a central ten metre high mound covered in jungle, marking the old urban core, surrounded by over thirty square kilometres of Buddhist monasteries and huge reservoirs. Amongst the most spectacular of the Buddhist monuments are four great stupas, solid domes of earth and brick built over a Buddhist relic, which reach heights of over eighty metres and dominate the landscape of paddy fields and coconut trees.

New evidence

Work at this World Heritage site has been based on the research orientated question of how and when the first recognisable urban form emerged in Sri Lanka. According to most scholars, Anuradhapura was expected to have been founded in c.250 BC as a direct result of contact with north Indian cities, which themselves had emerged some two hundred years earlier in the Ganges. The results of the research project's collaborative work have, however, overturned this belief and show evidence of the presence of an urban form at the site as early as c.400 BC. This suggests that the mechanism which were responsible for the emergence of cities in north India were presumably a subcontinental wide phenomena. Indeed antecedents for the first city at Anuradhapura can now be identified in its archaeological sequence which stretches as far back as the Iron Age.

Another task of the above-mentioned research project was to help the Government Department of Archaeology of Sri Lanka to define the full extent of the ancient city so that it could be adequately protected and managed. This was because there is a major threat to the site from an encroachment of the site by modern settlements and farming land. The group due to restraints of time and resourced limited their research to an archaeological geophysical survey. Through a combination of old land maps and surviving topography  areas were identified in the surrounding paddyfields where shallow linear depressions suggested the presence of a silted moat. Areas of jungle were cleared at the edges of the mound and set up grids which stretched down into the paddyfields and used a resistivity meter to survey areas on the east, south and north of the mound. This survey identified substantial anomalies which were then tested with a hand auger. The auger confirmed that a silted rock-cut moat some 5 metres deep and 40 metres wide surrounding the city had been successfully identified. This work has enabled this UNESCO World Heritage site to be protected and curated.

Royal medium

Another important area of Bradford University's research programme at Anuradhapura has been in connection with the early development of writing in South Asia. For over a hundred and fifty years scholars have believed that the first script was developed c. 250 BC in the north of the subcontinent as a result of interaction with the Persian empire. The emergent script was first used a royal medium and then became widely available for other uses such as helping merchants keep accounts. Following this initial development in the north it was assumed that the use of this script slowly spread south until it reached Sri Lanka one hundred years later. However, the group's  work at Anuradhapura has overturned this theory by yielding evidence that the earliest script, known as Brahmi, was present in Sri Lanka from as early as c.450 BC. Moreover, there was evidence of a developmental sequence which saw the script alter in form from large irregular and rather crude characters to small, well formed ones. This early date of this sequence suggests the very development and adoption of the script itself. All the early inscriptions were found inscribed on ceramic vessel and consist of personal names in the dative cases - signifying ownership. It is suggested by the researchers  that the names do not necessarily refer to the owner of the ceramic vessel but of the contents. Ceramic vessels are often used today in Sri Lanka as containers and goods are often transported in them. It is also suggested that the initial adoption of a script was connected with a demand for means of ownership to facilitate long distance trade and exchange and was only later adopted as a royal medium.

The Bradford University's collaborative work at Anuradhapura in the summer of 1994 has helped to preserve one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites as well as to strengthen Bradford's academic links with South Asia.

 



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Monuments and Sites of interest at Anuradhapura....

Ruvanweli Seya Dagoba

Ruvanweli Seya Dagoba

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The Elephant Wall of the Great Ruvanweli Seya Dagoba

The Elephant wall of the great Ruvanweli Seya Dagoba. The elephants carry the dagoba just like in Buddhist cosmology elephants


Some useful tips and hints to the tourist to Anuradhapura.....

The ruins of Anuradhapura, the great capital city from which the Sri Lankan kings reigned for over 1000 years, are spread out, so if you don't have a car, you have the usual options of taking an expensive taxi, hiring a bicycle or your using your two feet.
It is recommended that you  around in the Museum first. It'll give you a good insight into the history of the place, and will show you how all those great monuments were constructed. The museum caretaker is a very friendly and helpful guy.
The first place to go to after the Museum, should be the Sri Maha Bodhi, the Bo tree grown from a sapling of the original tree under which the current Buddha gained enlightenment in India. The tree has been guarded 24 hours a day for the last 2000 years ! Also visit the adjacent temple.
After the Bo tree, you can pretty much wander around at will. Be sure to see the following :

The Ruvanweli Seya Dagoba
Considered the greatest dagoba of Anuradhapura. With its 55 meters (180 feet) in height and snowy white colour, it can be quite a hurt to the eyes in the direct sunlight. Explore the terrace around it. You will also be impressed by the magnificent Elephant Wall which carries the terrace and the dagoba.
The Thuparama Dagoba
The oldest dagoba of the country. It is especially noteworthy for the splendid example of the remains of a vatadage (a mostly wooden construction covering a dagoba).
Jetavanarama Dagoba
The brick Jetavanarama is a mighty sight. It is massive, and there are enough bricks in it to build a three meter high wall, running all the way from Edinburgh to London ! Near the dagoba the best executed Guard Stone of the country can be seen.
Abhayagiri Dagoba
One of the oldest dagobas in the country, strongly resembling the Jetavanarama.
The Kuttam Pokuna
Translated : the 'Twin Ponds'. The most beautiful ancient pools of Anuradhapura, and possibly of the country.
The Samadhi Buddha
Don't miss the Samadhi Buddha ! It's one of the best executed Buddha statues in the country, dating back to the 4th Century. Interesting detail is that when looked at from the left, the Buddha appears to be smiling, but not from the right.
The Ratna Prasada
There's not much left of this old monastery, but if you want to see some more excellent guard stones, check out this place.
Mahasen's Palace
Here's to be found the best Moonstone of the entire country. A moonstone is the semicircular stone that is placed on the ground at the entrance to a temple.
Isurumuniya
This rock temple (and adjacent museum) is very beautiful and interesting for the great bas-reliefs that have been found here. Most of them can be found in the museum, the most important of them the 'Isurumuniya Lovers', but some are still in place on the living rock, especially noticeable is the depiction of a joyous, bathing elephant. From the top of the rock, there's a great view of Isurumuniya and its surroundings.

The ruins of Anuradhapura are amidst some
beautiful nature, which will make the visit very enjoyable.


Dvarapala or Guard Stone near Thuparama Dagoba Moonstone near Thuparama Thuparama Dagaba
Dvarapala, vihara near Thuparama dagaba Moonstone, vihara near Thuparama dagaba Thuparama dagaba

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