Polonnaruwa, the Ancient Kingdom of Reservoirs (846AD - 1302AD) Sri
Lanka, A World Heritage Site
Life-line: Great Ancient Man-made Lakes
Ruins of Royal Buildings, Renovated Stupas, Ruins of Stupas, Monasteries
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.
Among the main tourist attractions at Polonnaruwa are preserved ruins of magnificent royal palaces, enormous Buddhist temples, intact monumental sculpture in colossal statues carved from sold rock boulders that once rivaled Anuradhapura in magnificence.
Today, Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its preserved ruins and restored ancient irrigation reservoirs is a “must visit” cultural destination of Sri Lanka Holidays. As much as the preserved cultural monuments would enlighten the tourists, the wild life sanctuaries in the district of Polonnaruwa affords ample opportunities for the joy and fun in the close range of wild elephants, other mammals to the lovers of wildlife.
At the city of Polonnaruwa itself is the largest ancient irrigation reservoir called Parakrama Samudra (Sinhala: the Sea of Parakrama) is always lovely, and with the plethora of birdlife, it is seldom that there is not something interesting going on upon its shimmering expanses of waters. No rest house in Sri Lanka Holidays has a lovelier waterscape than that of Polonnaruwa Rest House nestled at the end of the immense motorable bund of the magnificent reservoir under the shade of mighty trees.
Immediately to the south of Parakrama Samudra ancient man-made lake, sandwiched between River Amban Ganga and River Mahaweli Ganga in the district of Polonnaruwa is Wasgomuwa National Park; to the just north east of Polonnaruwa town is Flood Plains National Park; still further to the north east, again within the Polonnaruwa district is Somawathiya National Park; to the north west in the Polonnaruwa district is Minneriya Giritale National Park enclosing vast Minneriya irrigation reservoir and Giritale rainwater reservoir; to the further west is the transportation hub and accommodation option of Habarana, another wildlife sanctuary. Polonnaruwa takes your breath away.
Location of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is Located in between Wildlife at Minneriya
National Park, Wasgomuwa
National Park, Kaudulla
National Park and Eco Hotels at
We mustn't fail to see: The Sea of Parakrama,
Gal Vihara, Stone book and
Chosing between the two cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa
The best thing to do here is a call a toss of a coin: head you win, tail
I lose. So in any case, with us, you are the winner. Deciding which of
the two ancient capitals Polonnaruwa or
Anuradhapura - is the more
impressive is a tough call.
As if the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura (437BC-845AD), didn't quench
your thirst for other side of the world, here we are in Polonnaruwa, the
second capital (846 AD-1302 AD) of Sri Lanka, which in its prime was
protected by 6 km of strong encircling walls. Strategically it commanded
all the crossings over the longest & largest river of the island, River Mahaweli. Polonnaruwa's extensive & well-preserved ruins offer a
fascinating snapshot of ancient Sri Lanka, including some of the finest
monuments. Ruins of royal castles and Buddhist temples:
Group, The Quadrangle, the
Polonnaruwa Vatadage, (circular relic house),
Shiva Devale (Hindu temple), The Alahana Pirivena,
Kiri Vihara, Gal Vihara, Potugal Vihara. Thanks to the
compact nature of the city, we will be exploring all monuments &
monastic remains in a single busy day that start in the early morning.
Just north of present-day Polonnaruwa town, 140km (90 miles) north of
Kandy, are the ruins of ancient Polonnaruwa, which date from the late
10th century, when the marauding Chola invaders from southern India put
Anuradhapura to sword and fire; death & destruction. The invaders moved
their stronghold to Polonnaruwa, strategically located for defence
against attacks from the unconquered Sinhalese kingdom of Ruhuna. In
1070 the Dravidians were defeated & forcibly evicted from Polonnaruwa by
the Sinhalese Prince Kirti of Ruhuna who became the king of Lanka by the
name of Vijayabahu. Recognizing, however, that Anuradhapura's location
made it vulnerable to assaults from southern India, the king and his
successors made their capital at Polonnaruwa, adding enormous temples,
palaces, parks, gardens and huge tanks. By the 13th century AD, however,
new waves of attacks from southern India forced the Sinhalese kings to
abandon the north of the island, and the kingdoms of Kotte in the
southwest (near modern Colombo), and Kandy, in the highlands, became the centres of Sinhalese power.
The Sea of Parakrama (man-made sea like rain water reservoir)
Polonnaruwa Visitor Information Centre and Museum
Built with the help of the Dutch government, this centre, on the banks
of the lake, uses designer displays, detailed descriptive texts and a
five-minute video presentation to complement its collection of
archaeological finds. With a huge scale model of the site, it brings Polonnaruwa's palaces and temples to life, and it is well worth visiting
before you set out to explore the complex.
The Royal Palace
In the center of the complex are the ruins of the Royal Palace, built by
King Parakramabahu the great (1164-1196 AD). It was a massive wood and
stone structure seven storeys in height, with a floor plan of 31m by13m
(100ft by 43ft).The upper floors were of wood, and only the massive, 3m
(10ft) thick lower walls survive.
Immediately to the east of the Palace stands the Audience Hall, used by
the kings of Polonnaruwa to summon the nobles of the kingdom and to meet
the emissaries from foreign rulers. Finely sculpted stone lions seated
at the top of the steps leading into the hall were symbols of royal
power, as were the elephants which form a frieze around the lower part
of the outer wall. Next to the Audience Hall is the Kumara Pokuna (Royal
Bathing Pool) which was fed with water from the stream which runs
through the palace grounds.
Standing close to the shore of the great man-made lake, the ruins of the
palace of King Parakramabahu the great's successor, King Nissankamalla
(1187-1196 AD), are less well preserved than those of the Royal Palace,
but are attractively located. This palace group includes a royal bathing
pool just south of the palace, and the King's Council Chamber, where the
names of the king's ministers can be seen carved into the pillars which
supported the chamber roof.
Immediately north of the Royal Palace complex is the Siva Devale, a
13th-century Hindu temple dating from the period of marauding south
Indian invasions that followed the final decline of Sinhalese power in
the north of the island. The technical skills of its builders are
evident from the fine, precisely cut stonework of its walls. The brick
domed roof, however, has not survived. There are several Siva Devales
(Shiva Temples) at Polonnaruwa, reflecting the popularity of this
powerful member of Hinduism's ruling trinity of deities. Hindu trinity
or Trimurti consists of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver &
Shiva, the destroyer.
The Quadrangle stands within its own rectangle of walls, guarding the
richest collection of ancient buildings in any of Sri Lanka's ruined
capitals. In the southeast corner of the Quadrangle stands the Vatadage
(reliquary), a circular building some 18m (59ft) in diameter, with four
entrances leading to a central dagoba (shrine) which houses four seated
Clockwise around this building, from the southwest corner of the
Quadrangle, is the Thuparama, a fine example of the gedige style of
temple architecture which flourished at Polonnaruwa, and the only one to
survive with its roof still in place.
More Information: Polonnaruwa Vatadage
West of the Vatadage is the Lata Mandapaya, a miniature dagoba
encircled by stone columns topped with carved lotus buds, and surrounded
by a carved stone trellis. Beyond this is the Atadage, the ruin of a
tooth relic shrine built during the reign of Vijayabahu the 1st. Next to
it is a cluster of small Hindu shrines.
Immediately north of the Vatadage is the Hatadage, another tooth
reliquary building which was constructed in the reign of King Nissankamalla, and to the east of this stands the
Gal Pota, or Stone Book, a 9m (29ft) stone carving of a palm leaf
book used to record Buddhist texts and royal genealogies. The
inscriptions therein records the achievements of King Nissankamalla.
Finally, in the northeast corner of the Quadrangle are the ruins of
Satmahal Prasada, a six-storey, pagoda-like building which is unlike
anything else in Sri Lanka, and has left archaeologists bowled out as to
Still within the perimeter of the city walls, north of the Quadrangle
complex, are three more shrines, including a Siva Devale to the
west of the road, and on the opposite side of the road a Vishnu
Devale and yet another Siva Devale, a stone temple which is the
oldest surviving building at Polonnaruwa. South of it looms the
Parakramabahu Vihara, one of the largest stupas in Polonnaruwa.
The largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa at 55m (180ft) high, this building is
the hub of the group of buildings known as the Alahana Pirivena
('Crematory College') group which formed part of a monastic college
during the reign of king Parakramabahu the great.
Buddha Seema Pasada
A conspicuous landmark, this is the tallest of the buildings north
of the city walls and was the meeting hall of the Buddhist bhikkus
(monks) of the monastery complex.
Next to the Lankatilaka is the Kiri Vihara (Milk white temple), the best
preserved of Polonnaruwa's stupas. Aptly named, this large dagoba's
whitewashed plaster has survived seven centuries of abandonment to the
jungle between the collapse of the Polonnaruwa kingdom and its
rediscovery in the 19th century by the British colonialists. The
construction of this dagoba is credited to Subhadra, Parakrambahu's
Demala Maha Seya
Abandoned before completion, this large mound is what remains of
Parakramabahu's effort to build the largest dagoba in the Buddhist
world. The great king died before the work was completed.
30km north of Polonnaruwa & then about 3km north of the town of
Medirigiriya. It is an enchanting place set in a natural reserve.
An unavoidable comparison with Polonnaruwa Vatadage
Near the village of Medirigiriya, about 30km north of Polonnaruwa, are
the remains of the Mandalagiri Vihara or better known as Medirigirya
Vatadage. It is similar in size & design to the splendid Polonnaruwa
Vatadage, though the quality of the workmanship is not up to the high
watermark set at Polonnaruwa.
While the Polonnaruwa vatadage is located among many other structures in
a Dalada Maluwa (the hall of the Tooth Relic), the Medirigirya Vatadage
stands alone atop a low hill.
Built during Polonnaruwa era on a much earlier site
An earlier structure was built here around the 2nd century, but the
one that stands today was constructed in the 7th century by King
Aggabodhi the 4th.
The central stupa
The vatadage sits atop a high terrace with a long flight of granite
steps leading to it. At the bottom of the staircase is a massive stone
frame with a height of almost 10 feet & width of almost 5 feet. 31
granite steps take us to the central stupa circled by a stone wall of a
height of one meter. Four beautifully carved large seated Buddha statues
face the four cardinal directions.
The lost roof
Three concentric circles with innermost circle of 16 delicate stone
pillars (height 17 ft) & the middle circle with 20 stone pillars (height
16 ft) & the outermost circle with 32 stone pillars (height 9 ft)
surround the central stupa. The roof of the Vatadage built on these
three concentric circles of stone pillars is lost to rampage of
marauding Dravidian invaders from Southern India.
Other structures surrounding the Vatadage
Hospital: The ruins of a hospital consist of 33 stone pillars on
the outer structure & 20 pillars in the inner structure. Ruins indicate
of three entrances & rooms with doors.
The medicine boat: The stone medicinal bath which looks
unnervingly like a sarcophagus is a common feature as seen in all the
ancient hospitals of Lanka.
Stone inscriptions: The stone medicinal oil bath is a common
feature as seen in all the ancient hospitals of Lanka.
Others: There are also two images houses, two ponds, small stupa
& a cave.
Location: by the side of Giritale Minneriya road
Buddha statues: a replica of Aukana
Buddha Statue by the reservoir erected in 2001
on photo to enlarge