Polonnaruwa is formed by Anuradhapura in the north, Sigiriya to the southeast and Kandy to the south and the Polonnaruwa is a part of the Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle. Polonnaruwa shows the interesting blend of the influence of the South Indian Hindu cultre on the Sinhala Buddhist art and architecture in the scattered shrines and monuments. Read more information and plan your trip to Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.
Potgul Vehera Statue of Polonnaruwa
Most attractive places in Polonnaruwa
This massive reservoir was constructed by King Parakramabahu by joining three existing tanks, at the north is the oldest tank known as Topa tank, the middle section is Eramudu tank and to the south is the Dumbutula tank.
Believed to have been a very large building, five stories high, the Royal Palace is a majestic brick work ruin. The king named it Vejayanta Pasada after the palace of god Sakra. When you enter the palace you come to a great hall which was supported by massively thick walls and was probably the audience hall. The complex consisted of separate queen chambers, official quarters, parks and baths. The palace complex was entirely surrounded by a wide rampart provided with watch-towers, turrets, ponds and walks.
Most believe it is King Parakramabahu while other theories say it could be a sage but this large figure carved on a boulder is right outside the boundaries of the Potgul Vehera. This is one of the finest statues on the island and measures at 11ft. 6in in height. The statue appears to hold an object like an Ola leaf manuscript. If this figure is identical with a king, the manuscript in his hands represents the yoke of kingship.
The Sacred Quadrangle – located to the north of the Parakramabahu Palace Complex there is a raised stone banked site on which numerous significant sacred monuments that displays the most grandeur architecture of the Polonnaruwa era. These are the Thuparama image house, Vatadage Stupa shrine, Atadage and Hatadage (shrines of the Tooth and Bowl Relics), Nissanka Latha Mandapa, Galpotha (Stone Book) and the Sathmahal Prasada Stupa (Seven story edifices).
Vatadage – as you enter the terrace on to your left is a circular building, the Vatadage. At the upper level in the middle of this shrine, it once held the tooth of Lord Buddha and was built during King Parakramabahu’s time. It is surrounded by four Buddha statues that are seated around it. At the entrance the foot of the second stairwell has the most perfect moonstone that depicts the Polonnaruwa era.
Hatadage – The Tooth Relic Temple of Nissankamalla, the Hatadage is known to be the house that was built in sixty days. On the wall of the porch, the outer wall and the first chamber one can find inscriptions by Nissankamalla himself. A staircase can still be seen however there are no remains of the upper floor.
Atadage – The first Tooth Relic Temple of Polonnaruwa was the Atadage. Built by Vijayabahu in the 11th Century the name Atadage means the House of eight relics. What remains today are 54 stone pillars which once supported the upper floor where the relic was placed.
There are inscriptions carved on many of the pillars. There is also an inscription in Tamil which was meant for the Tamil Guards of South India asking them to protect the relic just like the Swiss guards who protect the pope. A Buddha statue, almost 3m high, stands near the end of the temple.
Nissanka Latha Mandapa – one of the more interesting structures within the quadrangle is the Latha Mandapaya that represents flamboyant designs in ancient Sri Lankan architecture. Unlike the straight pillars one would come across in other ancient sites here you would find wobbling columns. Built by King Nissankamalla in the 12th Century the LathaMandapaya which means “Flower Scroll Hall” had a timber roof that housed a small Sthupaya.
The swaying columns are representations of the lotus stems with the flower at the capital. LataMandapa represents a “Baroque” or “Rococo” period in Sinhalese art in which the austere style yields to heavy ornamentation.
Sathmahal Prasada – this building is one of a kind. It adopts a design that belongs to a very ancient form of architecture which one could see in Egypt, Cambodia or Siam. Its pyramid shaped and seven stories in height. It is thought to have been built for the Cambodian soldiers who were working under the king as place of worship. The building has four entrances on each side and there is a staircase to reach the upper levels. It is still a mystery as to who built it. Since the building is solid it believed that there was a sort of a dagaba.
Gal Potha – Bearing an inscription of King Nissankamalla this stone slab known as Gal Potha or Book of stone was carried from Mihinthale, Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa. Measuring to about 8m in length and 1.2m in width this stone describes the work of King Nissankamalla and the ties he had with the rest of the world. On the side of the stone book there are two elephants showering the goddess Lakshmi with water carved on to the rock.
Alahana Pirivena is an educational monastic complex was founded by King Parakramabahu. He landscaped the natural hill into gentle terraces and leveled the top to form two platforms. The hill was then crowned with a dagaba, the Kiri Vehera, Lankathilaka image house and Baddhasima Prasada Chapter house. Excavations conducted by the Central Cultural Fund have revealed many other monuments including a monk’s hospital of the 12th Century, together with medical and surgical instruments.
The Lankathilaka Image house of the Alahana Pirivena was established by King Parakrambahu. This is a massive brick building that was originally believed to be five stories high which has two gigantic columns that mark its entrance. This monument has been compared to the monuments you see in ancient Greece. Furthermore the standing Buddha statue inside of it was originally 40ft high.
The Kirivehara Sthupaya remains the only monument that displays the different features of a sthupaya such as the triple berm, dome, square tee, deity’s enclosure and the umbrella cone known as the Kothkaralla. The first Archaeological commissioner H.C.P. Bell cleared a tunnel that had been dug by treasure hunters that led into the dome and examined two relic chambers that had already been ransacked.
Badasima Prasada is the largest chapter house that was built in ancient Sri Lanka by King Parakramabhahu which was initially 12 stories high. This grand monument was built for monks and their activities. The monks who congregated for rehearsing the code of discipline were provided with all requirements of accommodation within the premises.
Ancient Hospital that belonged to the 12th Century was discovered during excavations. This is an oblong building with a courtyard in the center and rooms all around. It reveals many aspects of the ancient methods of treating patients. For example, the medicine trough that was found in the Southern corner room is in the shape of a human body and can still be seen at the hospital premises. Several medical and surgical instruments have also been discovered from the site and are displayed at the Central Cultural Fund Museum in Polonnaruwa.
On the outside of this building one can find remarkable sculptures of lions, animated dwarfs and cherubic figures. Inside there are murals that depict tales of early medieval times such as the gods of Tusita heaven, where Buddha in his final birth as Bodhisattva was born. The function of the image house was to focus on the worshipper’s mind on the images of Buddha.
Due to the Chola invasion there is a high influence of the Hindu culture within Polonnaruwa. At least fourteen Hindu shrines have been found. Some of the most popular findings near these shrines are the bronze artefacts which are considered to be some of the best Hindu sculptures.
Built by King Nissankamalla the Rankot Vehera or the Swarnamali Sthupaya is similar to the Ruwanwelisaya of Anurahapura. By the entrance of the Sthupaya there is a stone seat with inscriptions by Nissankamalla which explains that the king sat there and witnessed the construction of the dagaba. There is a stone pave way that leads to the compound and gateways that open at the cardinal points. The dome was constructed with a central cube which supported the superstructure, a distinctive method of Sthupa construction.
Also known as the Cobra shrine because of a cobra’s hood that was probably placed on top of the brick dome which was found toppled over behind the building. This shrine was dedicated to the god Vishnu as there are many bronze images depicting it that have been found. These images are now placed at the museum of the Central Cultural Fund.
Nissanka Latha Mandapa