Polonnaruwa Historical City
Polonnaruwa Era – 11th – 13th Century.
Polonnaruwa was the country’s capital from the 11th– 13th Century. Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka is considered one of the best preserved historic cities in the world. Located approximately 140 km from Kandy. Polonnaruwa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its abundance of historic remains.
Polonnaruwa, which became the capital of Sri Lanka following the decline of Anuradhapura, was to witness the Sinhalese Buddhist civilization reaching still greater heights. The vast irrigation network with reservoirs that look like natural in-land seas sustained such epic scales in rice cultivation, during the reign of king Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 A.D), Sri Lanka became known as the Granary of the Orient.
Kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka from Polonnaruwa 800 years ago, when it was a thriving commercial and religious center. The glories of that age can be found in the archaeological treasures that still give a pretty good idea of how the city looked in its heyday. You’ll find the archaeological park a delight to explore, with hundreds of ancient structures – tombs and temples, statues and stupas – in a compact core. The Quadrangle alone is worth the trip.
History of Polonnaruwa Kingdom
For three centuries Polonnaruwa was a royal capital of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. Although nearly 1000 years old, it’s much younger than Anuradhapura and generally in better repair (though smaller in scale).
The South Indian Chola dynasty made its capital at Polonnaruwa after conquering Anuradhapura in the late 10th century, as Polonnaruwa was a strategically better place to guard against any rebellion from the Ruhunu Sinhalese kingdom in the southeast. It also, apparently, had fewer mosquitoes! When the Sinhalese King Vijayabahu I ( 1055 –1110) drove the Cholas off the island in 1070, he kept Polonnaruwa as his capital.
King Parakramabahu the great (1164 – 1196 AD)
King Parakramabahu the great built or restored 165 dams, 3910 canals, 163 major reservoirs and 2376 minor tanks. During his reign of 33 years Lanka became “The granary of the orient” achieving the zenith of development in irrigation and agriculture of the Sinhalese civilization. He restored three great dagobas at Anuradapura yet reserved his greatest efforts on a building spree on his capital, Polonnaruwa erecting huge buildings, planning beautiful parks. Parakrama Samudraya is his crowning achievement.
Parakramabahu I was followed by Nissanka Malla (r 1187– 96), who virtually bankrupted the kingdom through his attempts to match his predecessors’ achievements. By the early 13th century Polonnaruwa was beginning to prove as susceptible to Indian invasion as Anuradhapura was, and eventually it, too, was abandoned and the center of Sinhalese power shifted to the western side of the island.
Historical Sites To Visit
Parakrama Samudraya / The Sea of Parakrama
man made sea like rain water reservoir
One of the most striking features in Polonnaruwa is the vast Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakramabahu), an irrigation tank built, as the name indicates by King Parakramabahu the Great. This was his largest irrigation project and covers an area Dam of Parakrama Samudraya – The 8 1/2 miles (14 km) long embankment that rises to 80 feet – average 40 feet (12.2 meters) – is encircled by rugged hills. Distribution of water: 11 channels leading water in different directions to feed a network of irrigation canals & minor tanks. Irrigation of land: Over 18000 acres of paddy land supported by the reservoir. Bird life: the reservoirs attracts numerous water birds including cormorants & pelicans.
The waters of the Parakrama Samudraya circle the ancient city and its environs, and in ancient times served as a moat against invading armies. An intricate network of irrigation canals supplied water from this reservoir to surrounding paddy fields, ensuring that agricultural production could be carried out year-round. The hitherto rain-fed agricultural practices were transformed, and Polonnaruwa became the rice growing capital of ancient Lanka. Conception: To retain the monsoon rains (South Western – May to July – YALA monsoon & North Eastern – November to January – MAHA monsoon) in the Dry Zone (the northern half & the whole of the east of the country).
Royal Palace and Council Chambers
Among the most noteworthy buildings in ancient Polonnaruwa was the Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu I. The Palace must have been an imposing edifice, and the chronicles describe it as “seven stories high, furnished with a thousand chambers”. Entering the palace from the south, you come to great hall (31 Meters long and 13 meters wide), which was probably an audience hall. Although the Palace itself is in ruins, the frieze of elephants in the main Audience Hall and the many carvings and moonstones along the entry ways to the palace buildings are worth exploring.
Across the way is the council chamber of Parakramabahu – embellished with lion portals, graceful pillars and a moonstone (a delicately carved stepping stone). The building is supported by powerful bass-relief elephants around the base. Each one is different from the next.
Siva Shrine – Siva Devale No – 1
Just south of the Quadrangle, the 13th-century Hindu temple Shiva Devale No 1 displays the Indian influence that returned after Polonnaruwa’s Sinhalese florescence. It is notable for the superb quality of its stonework, which fits together with unusual precision. The domed brick roof has collapsed, but when this building was being excavated a number of excellent bronzes, now in the Archaeological Museum, were found.
Thuparama Gedige – Buddhist Temple
At the southern end of the Quadrangle, the Thuparama Gedige is the smallest Gedige (hollow Buddhist temple with thick walls) in Polonnaruwa, but is also one of the best: it’s the only one with its roof intact, supported by corbel arch-style supports. The inner chamber is delightfully cool and contains four beautifully executed standing Bodhisattva statues. The building’s exterior shows a marked Hindu influence and is thought to date from the reign of Parakramabahu I.
This circular relic house possesses an elegance and beauty that is rare even in ancient Sri Lanka. In line with the outer circle of stone pillars is a tastefully ornamented screen wall patterned with four petaled flowers.
The flights of access stairs at the cardinal points are of stone and are beautifully carved. At the head of each flight is a Buddha statue in stone. The shrine is lavished with moonstones., guard stones and sculptured writings. The shrine, like all dagobas in Sri Lanka, is oriented towards the cardinal points – north, south, east and west. Four Buddha statues face outwards, with their backs to the dagaba mound.
Nissanka Lata Mandapaya
Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is a unique and ancient structure situated in Polonnaruwa. By definition a mandapaya is a pillared structure which is open on all four sides and has a roof which protects the person inside from the sun. Nissanka Latha Mandapaya was built by King Nissanka Malla who ruled the kingdom of Polonnaruwa from 1187 to 1196. It is located near the western entrance of the Dalada Maluva which is the area that contains the most sacred and oldest monuments of the city of Polonnaruwa.
Nissanka Latha Mandapaya is built on an elevated stone platform with many stone pillars around it. At the center of the platform stands a small stupa made of stone which has been partly destroyed along with time. As per the inscriptions on a stone nearby, the Nissanka Latha Mandapaya was used by King Nissanka Malla to listen to pirith which is the chanting of Buddhist scriptures.
The Satmahal Prasada
Sath Mahal Prasada is a seven storied stepped pyramid situated on the Maradankadawala – Habarana – Thirukkondaiadimadu Highway in Polonnaruwa. It is located in an elevated area among the ancient ruins of the sacred city of Polonnaruwa.
The great chronicle Mahavamsa mentions that King Parakramabahu the Great 1153 -1186 A.D, built a seven storied mansion Sathmahal Prasada but which is not believed to be this building as there are no positive evidences to verify the relation between this building and the fact given in the chronicle. Still, the ancient name and the builder of this monument are not known. According to the features it possess this edifice is believed to be belonged to the 12th century.
Satmahal Prasada has been built in the stepped pyramidal form, rising from a square base about 9 m of each side and is considered as a special type of Stupa. A similar structure of the same design, has been found in northern Thailand which is a Stupa named Mahabala according to a 12th century inscription. The Stupa at Wat Kukut in Lumphun in northern Thailand bears closer architectural similarities to that of Satmahal Prasada.
Hatadage is an ancient shrine in the Polonnaruwa district of north central, Sri Lanka. It was built by the King Nissanka Malla 1187-1196 A.D. This had been used to place the Scared Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. According to historical sources, the shrine has built in sixty hours. The English translation of the Sinhalese word “HATA” is sixty, represent the duration of the construction period and the word “DAGE” has the meaning of relic shrine. The remaining features of the building for today, evidence that the shrine was originally a two – story building. The shrine is 120 ft in length and 60 ft in width.
Gal Potha (Stone Book)
Gal Potha (Stone Book) is a giant stone inscription located in the Dalada Maluwa premises of main archaeological site in Polonnaruwa. It is a work of king Nissanka Malla, 1187-1196 and it is the largest stone inscription discovered so far. The inscription itself tells that this large stone was transported from Minintale, some hundred kilometers away from Polonnaruwa. It describes the genealogy, heroic and altruistic deed of King Nissankamalla. The letters of the inscription were embossed with molten iron. The figure of the woman on the side face of the stone on whom two elephants are sprinkling water has been identified as Goddess Gajalakshmi Goddess of Prosperity.
This was built by Queen Rupawathi who was one of the queens of King Parakramabahu the great (1153 – 1186 A.D.). Pabalu Vehera is located in the sacred city of Polonnaruwa.
The original name of this vehera is unknown. The present name “pabalu” meaning “beads” is made from the discovery of a large number of small glass beads while excavating the area around the stupa. From the outside we can see that this rather impressive building resembles a stupa on a second stupa. The vehera usually has only 4 images. But there are nine image houses around the vehera. Some of them still preserve Buddha images. Among these are statues, standing and sitting, and several statues in between. One has the Sri Pathla (foot impression) of the Buddha. Another is a Buddha statue. It is believed that these idols were built by different people at different times. In addition there is a staircase to reach the first level of the stupa. The upper part of the stupa has been destroyed by the invaders and the center of the vehera has been destroyed by the treasure hunters in the recent past.It is our responsibility to preserve the endangered Buddhist heritage.
Ran Kot Vehera – The Golden Pinnacle Dagoba
The 54 meters high Rankot Vihara dagoba, the largest in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest on the island, has been ascribed to the reign of King Nissanka Malla. Like the other major dagobas in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the dome consists of earth fill covered by a brick mantle and plaster. The construction clearly imitates the Anuradhapura style. Surgical instruments found in a nearby ruined 12th – century hospital are surprisingly similar to those used today, see examples in the Archaeological Museum.
This stupa popularly known as Kiri Vehera. The stupa is also a part of the archaeological site called Alahana Pirivena. This stupa which is 95 ft. in height with a circumference of 280 ft. is located 800 m North to the famous Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya. Probably the present name Kiri Vehera also derived due to this preserved lime plaster. Construction of the dagoba Kiri Vihara is credited to Subhadra, King Parakrama bahu’s queen. Originally known as the Rupavati Chetiya, the present name means ‘milk white’ because when the overgrown jungle was cleared away after 700 years of neglect, the original lime plaster was found to be in perfect condition.
Lankathilaka Vihara Geya – The Image House
Polonnaruwa Lankathilaka Image House is a monolithic Buddha image house built by king Parakramabahu 1153-1186 lying on the South of Kiriwehera. The building is complete made out of bricks and the outer walls are covered with elaborate designs and carvings. The Buddha statue is also completely made out of clay bricks and it has been 41 feet in height. Specially made flat bricks have been used to build this statue and today the portion above the shoulder is destroyed.
At the entrance to the Lankathilake building is two massive pillars made from bricks. The tallest one is 58 feet in height. It is thought that these pillars would have been at least twice as tall this before destruction . According to chronicles this building has had five stories.
Gal Vihare – Rock Temple
This is a group of beautiful Buddha images that probably marks the high point of Sinhalese rock carving. They are part of Parakramabahu I ’s northern monastery. The Gal Vihara consists of four separate images, all cut from one long slab of granite. At one time, each was enshrined within a separate enclosure. Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya ( Uththararamaya) is one of the main attraction in Polonnaruwa. The name Uththararama means the temple by the north side. This was done by king Parakamabahu (year 1153 -1186) in Polonnaruwa Kingdom time.
There has two seating Buddha statues, one Standing statue and one statues in a Parinirvana Manchakaya. All the statues were done from a single huge granite rock.
Main Samadhi Buddha statue The large samadhi Buddha statue is around 16 feet in height and its the left most one towards the west. There are some decorations in the back wall. There are archaeological facts that, there was a brick house build around this, but you can’t see that in here.
Seated Buddha statues in Vidyadara Guhawa. This statue is located in a cave ( man made) call Vidyadara Guhawa. There are some decorations done on the background wall. According to the archaeological facts, this had some frescoes also, still you can see some faded images.
Standing Buddha Statue.This standing Buddha statue different to other standing Buddha statues found in other parts of Sri Lanka. The arms are folded in this statue and eyes are also closed. There were some belief that this is a statue of Ananda Thero. The sorrow pose is due to the Buddha’s Parinirwana (Final Extinction). But since this was done on a Lotus Stage, this is really a statue of Load Buddha. According to archaeologists, this statue was not by king Parakramabagu and completed in later history.
Parinirvana (Final Extinction) Status. This granite statue done according the Load Buddha’s Parinirvana pose. Parinirvana is not the death, butits a entering to Nibbana. This statue is 14 meters long. If you are been to there please notice the the shape of the pillow. The artist has caved the pillow in such a way that, the middle path of the it slightly depressed (pushed down) because of the weight of head of Load Buddha. Other noticeable thing is Load Buddha’s one foot is slightly withdrawn from the other. This was purposely done to differentiate the parinirwana state from the normal sleeping pose.
Demala Maha Seya – The Tamil Dagoba
Located on the Pollonanruwa ancient city complex, this gigantic uncompleted Stupa known as Damila Maha Seya (Demala Maha Seya) has been built by king Parakramabahu (1153-1186) using the labor of Tamil (Damila) prisoners brought from India when he attacked the Soli Kingdom in South India.
For some reason he has been unable to complete this and at a later stage a smaller Stupa has been built upon the uncompleted semi-spherical structure. Some believe that since this was built at two levels it was called “Demahal” (two storied) Seya which later became “Damila” Seya.
If he had been able to complete this Stupa, this would be 186 meters (570 feet) tall and would have been the largest Buddhist monument built by man. The circumference of this stupa is massive 650 meters (approx). It is also said that the king Parakramabahu wanted this monument to be seen from India , thus the planed the size accordingly. This area was once cleared, but recently it has been abandoned again by the authorities.
Lotus Pond / Nelum Pokuna
Polonnaruwa is famous for several ornamental places. One such place is the Nelum Pokuna of Polonnaruwa of North central province which was concerned as a part of the Jetavana Monastery complex. Tourists who are eager to explore ancient Sri Lankan history and exclusivity of our architecture and style are preferred most to see the Pond. This Lotus pond located Close to the Parakramabahu’s palace is believed to be constructed by King Nissankamalla.
The fine cut granite is the most curious feature of the entire pond. At king’s time, the entire area was surrounded by lush gardens and flowers. Hence you can easily imagine how it could be fascinating in past. Obviously the lotus flower of granite in full bloom 24 feet 9 in. diameter, with five concentric laminae of eight petals. The skillful architect has been capable enough to make it smooth and attractive by adding and carving it with Sinhala patterns and styles. Balustrades, Punkalas and also beautifully carved and proudly standing lion statues are additional consists of the Pond.
Tivanka Image House
Thivanka Pilimage had been built by King Parakramabahu (1153-1186) as part of the Jethavanarama Complex. Since the large image of Buddha has been curved in 3 places, this has been given the name “Thivanka” which literally means three curves. As most other structures of this era, this is too built with bricks including the statue.
The Buddha statue at the Thivanka Pilimage is about 8 meters in height but today the part of the statue above the head has been destroyed. The statue as at today is 6.6 metres tall. The building is 133 feet long and 67.6” feet wide. The walls are 7-12 feet thick making the internal size of the building much smaller.
This is the oldest library complex found in Sri Lanaka. Pothgul means for a place to store books. This viharaya was build by king Parakamabahu the Great (1153-1185 AD). This was renovated by Queen Chandrawathi. a consort of King Parakarmabahu.
Pothgul Viharaya is a Gedige type structure, build in the middle of the square shape stage. The interesting point in this building is the circular structure in the middle, seems the main library, made out of brick. The circular shape roof even made out of bricks it seems. There are remaining of four small stupas at the four corners of the floor. Out of it there are remaining of the several buildings which were used as awasa ( residential cells where Bikkus live). Pothgul Viharaya design is closer to the most of the old vihara found in Cambodia.
Royal Places of King Parakramabahu I
The Royal Palace of King Parakumbahu I (1153-1186 ) was constructed as seven story building, but now remains only parts of 3 floors. This also known as Veijeyanthi Prasada (or Vijayoth Paya- name refer for Palace of god Sakra). According to the Mahawansa, the construction of this place took around seven years and seven months. Historical records says that this has 1000 rooms, but today you can see only ruins of 55. The building is made up with thick brick walls. Still you can see the remaining two arrays of holes, done on the wall to hold the structure of the wooden floor. The Parakamabahu Palace was destroyed by south Indianan invader call “Maga”(1215 -1236), and burned.Still you can see some parts of burned bricks and walls inside.
Velaikkara Slab Inscription
Polonnaruwa Dalada Viharaya ( Tooth Relic Temple) was create by king Vijayabahu (I) who ruled Sri Lanka from 1055 to 1110 AD. On the left hand side of Dalada Viharaya, you can see a granite slab with inscription done in Tamil language. This inscriptions says that Polonnaruwa Dalada Viharaya was done by “Nagaragiri Deva”, a commander of the army on the order of king Vijayabahu. Then ordered Velaikkara regiment to protect the Tooth Relic. That regiment functioned as kings personal guards. On kings instructions, Bhikkus were brought from Burma ( Ramanna ) and unity was established among the three nikaya. He also conducted Dalada Perahera annually.
Atadageya Tooth Relic Temple Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa Atadageya was the temple, which used to house the sacred Tooth relic of Load Buddha in Polonnaruwa kingdom time. This temple used to be a two story building with 75 feet length and 45 feet width. Polonnaruwa Atadageya was constructed by king Vijayabahu 1 in 11th century after defeating enemy army and making the country united. Tooth relic was housed in the top floor. Building walls are made out of bricks and middle slab may have done with wood. Ground floor was used as an image house. Now you can see only s a standing Buddha statue and the several sitting statues located in this ancient structure.
Its believed that the name Atadageya came from there were 8 Jatahka stores were painted here or completed this structure in just eight days. In native Sinhala language “ata” mean eight. In site the temple, on left site there are reamings of a stair case. May be it used to reach the first floor, where tooth relic was located. At the front of the this temple, you can see a Sandakada pahana and granite door frame. There are six nicely caved pillars can be sseen inside, and those designs call “Kalpa latha” design. Vamana rupa, Bodhisatha rupa and some other are caved there.
There are two such vatadage in Polonnanaruwa. One is in Polonnaruwa Dalada maluwa Vatadageya and the other one is in Medirigiriya. Medirigiriya was functioning as a Buddhist monastery even from 3rd century B.C. The originator of this complex is not recorded in history but additions were done by king Kanitta Tissa, who ruled Sri Lanka during 164-186 A.C. According to the Mahavansa, some more improvements to this site was done by king Agbo II ( 608-618 A.C.) and king Sena II ( 853-887 A.C.)
Medirigiriya vatadageya is one of the mostly preserved Vatadage in Sri Lanka. This Vatadageya has three rounds of pillars, which were used to support the roof. there are 32 pillars in outer ring, 20 pillars n middle ring and 16 pillars in inner ring. Stupa is located in the middle top level. Construction of this was done on top of a flat circular shape rocky stage. This structure is over 20 centuries old and built in Anuradhapura kingdom time. This structure is located in the middle of the Medirigiriya monastery complex.
Somawathiya Stuba – Polonnaruwa
Somawathi stupa (Dagoba) has written historical evidence that it was constructed in 2nd century BC. This dageba was named for the princes Somawathi, the sister of king Kawanthissa. She got married to prince Abhaya, a nephew of of king Shiva of Kelaniya. He was the ruler of the Somapura Kingdom, which was located by the Mahaveli river.
Somawathi Stupa (Dagoba) is located in the middle of the jungle, in Polonnaruwa district. From Polonnaruwa, you have to travel to Sungavila and then take a lengthy road which leads to the temple through the Jungle. Early days this was a dusty gravel road, but recent road construction enabled devotees to reach this grate stupa without much hassle. Its recommended to go Somawathiya in dry season, because there is a probability that the area get flooded during the raining time.
They constructed a new temple in their kingdom and searching for a “dathu” to deposit in the stupa. They received the right side tooth relic of load Buddha from reverent arahath Mahinda thero. According to the historical facts, this dageba was constructed with depositing them. With the end of Polonnaruwa kingdom, the Somawathiya Viharaya became a uninhabited area and forgotten for more than 800 years. In 1947, the first premier of Sri lanka, Mr D.S. Senanayake make this area habitat for the civilian. This was under his new agricultural program. Some of the newly settle people found some radiance emitted from this place and informed the authorities. Thats the rediscovery of the Somawathi Stupa.
The Statue Of King Parakramabahu
In addition to a cultural and entertaining journey around Sri Lanka, you can take a trip to the Statue of King Parakramabahu in Polonnaruwa which is proved to be a masterpiece of Sri Lankan architects. You can easily reach the statue from the Parakrama Dam. King Parakramabhu is one of the greatest Kings who ruled ancient Sri Lanka. Close to the Potugul Vehera, you will identify the status of 3.4 m or 11ft 2 in, that dates back to the 12th century.
With the end of the Anuradhapura era, the kingdom was transferred to Polonnaruwa. Subsequently, another reign was begun under King Vijayabahu. King Parakramabahu was the person who made the entire city with infrastructure and all other facilities. The statue elaborates grandeur and a grave expression of the King who keeps a long object is held in his hands. It seems to be like an Ola leaves the book (Pus kola pota).
The King with a long beard, large stomach but strong shoulders and the hair are unique features of the statue. Being located in the area of the Pot Gul Vehera which is also regarded as a former Library of ancient Sri Lanka, the statute supports the version much. The round shaped shoulders show that the king is almost strong. The right leg is relaxed and the left is supported by it. The King is wearing a cloth of a simple manner. The great archeologist and historian Senarath Paranavitarana says that its ‘the very embodiment of strength majesty and dignity’. By the way, there are few doubts about identifying the statue.
One is that the statue shows a man belonging to the Lambakanna clan by means of a hair (a symbol of Lambakanna clan) is depicted above the left shoulder of the statue. A small destroyed Dagoba can be seen near the statue. Perhaps it was the burial ground of the King. Another version is that the statue belongs to Agastya or Pulasti. Because of the Indian architectural patterns which had been used by the originator.
Mostly it is concerned as the Sculpture of King Parakramabahu. Though he builds Parakrama Samudra (Parakrama dam), made a great service to the irrigation system. Even today the reservoirs which the King constructed are providing safe water and sanitation services to the community. Being uncovered to the environment the rock sculpture is in danger, therefore it needs to be recovered.