Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Ceylon. It was named as the capital after the destruction of the Anuradhapura kingdom in 993. In the twelfth century, the megalomaniac sovereign, King Parakramabahu The Great (King Parakramabahu I) created this immense new capital. Polonnaruwa is world reputed as one of history’s most astonishing urban creations because of its unusual dimensions and the very special relationship of its buildings with their natural settings. Not only Buddhist pilgrimages but also it contains the Brahmanic monuments built in the 11th century by the Chola invaders from South India.
After the destruction of Anuradhapura legendary by Raja Raja, Polonnaruwa became a temporary royal residence and then became the capital. The conquering Cholas constructed monuments to their religion, Brahmanism, and especially temples to Shiva where fine bronze statues today in the Colombo National Museum were found.
The reconquers of Sri Lanka by King Vijayabahu I did not put end to the city’s role as capital. It became covered after 1070, with Buddhist sanctuaries. Among them, Atadagaya, the Temple of Tooth Relic which held the tooth of Buddha is the most renowned. It is a two-story building where the walls are made out of bricks. According to the relics, archaeologists concluded that the slab may have been done with wood. In this building with 75 feet in length and 45 feet in width; the tooth relic was held on the top floor. The ground floor was decorated with ancient paintings and statues of Lord Buddha. It is believed that the name “Atadagaya” stands for the 8 jathaka stories that are painted on the walls or because it took almost 8 days to complete this structure. At the entrance, there is an incredibly beautiful door frame which is known as ‘sandakada pahana’. There also have nicely carved pillars with the design called “kalpa latha” along with some other carvings like Vaamana Ruupa and Bodhisathva Ruupa. The apogee of Polonnaruwa occurred in the 12th century when two sovereigns were endowed with monuments.
King Parakramabahu I who ruled this beautiful and prosperous island from 1153 to 1186 created within the boundary walls a garden city, where places and sanctuaries prolonged the enchantment of the countryside. This requires the construction of a series of sophisticated irrigation systems. To everyone’s amazement, these systems are still used today. This spotlights the development of architecture and technology in that era. In addition, other notable monuments were built during his reign. Some of these remarkable monuments are, the Lankathilaka, an enormous brick structure that has preserved a colossal image of Buddha; the Gal Viharaya, with its gigantic rock sculptures which is among the masterpiece of Sinhalese arts and Thivanka Pilimage, where wall paintings of the 13th century illustrate the narratives of the previous lives of Buddha which is known as Jathaka.
The successor to King Parakramabahu I, King Nissankamalla came to the throne as the ruler until 1196. He built monuments that were less refined than those of his predecessor but nonetheless splendid, the Rankoth Viharaya, an enormous stupa which can be also called a relic chamber that is 175m in diameter and 55m high is one of the most impressive creating. Most importantly, the dimensions of this stupa are reminiscent of the dagabas at Anuradhapura.
Besides the creations that depict the incredible talent of human genius and testimony to the cultural tradition where heritage is associated with events of universal significance wildlife sanctuaries are also situated around this historical site. One place is Minneriya National Park where the visitors can witness the silent giants of Asia, elephants. Herds of elephants roaming around with the youngsters is a pleasure to watch. The dry season is recommended for visitors as hundreds of elephants gather to the Minneriya tank for water. Apart from them, this area is concentrated with different types of animals and plant varieties. Angamadilla National Park is another place that is situated about half an hour away from Polonnaruwa. It is also full of various types of flora and fauna.
On the other hand, there are many tanks constructed in this area as a part of the city’s irrigation system. This also depicts ancient technology and creativity. Some of them are Girithale Tank, one of the deepest tanks in Sri Lanka; Parakrama Samudraya, which consists of five lakes namely, Thopa, Dumbutulu, Erabodu, Boo, Katu; Minneriya Veva and etc. Manampitiya bridge which is reputed as the second-longest bridge in Sri Lanka is another place that one should visit in the tour of Polonnaruwa. It is about 302m long and comprises two decks, an early twentieth-century steel bridge and a newly-built bridge.
After taking all these valuable and remarkable monuments and eye-catching biogeography to account, due to its archaeological prominence and technological superiority, UNESCO declared Polonnaruwa as a world heritage. It was named as world heritage under the name of ‘’Ancient City of Polonnaruwa” in 1982.
Polonnaruwa bears witness to several civilizations, notably that of conquering Cholas, disciples of Brahmanism, and of the Sinhalese sovereigns of the 12th and 13th centuries. The city is a Buddhist shrine surrounded by eye-catching wildlife areas. The tooth of Buddha, a remarkable relic placed in the Atadagaya, which is the temple of tooth relic by king Vijayabahu I was considered as the talisman of the Sinhalese monarchy. Its removal after this golden age of the city by king Buvanekabahu II to Kurunagala at the end of the 13th century only confirmed the decline of Polonnaruwa.
By Rtr. Sudasi Siriwardane