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Attractions Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. It comprises, besides the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas, the monumental ruins of the fabulous garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century.

Polonnaruwa bears witness to several civilizations, notably that of the conquering Cholas, disciples of Brahminism, and that of the Sinhalese sovereigns during the 12th and 13th centuries. This immense capital created by the megalomaniac sovereign, Parakramabahu I, in the 12th century, is one of history's most astonishing urban creations, both because of its unusual dimensions and because of the very special relationship of its buildings with the natural setting. It is also a shrine of Buddhism and of Sinhalese history. The tooth of the Lord Buddha, a remarkable relic placed in the Atadage under Vijabayahu, was considered as the talisman of the Sinhalese monarchy: its removal by Bhuvanaikabahu II confirmed the decline of Polonnaruwa.

After the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993 by Rajaraja, Polonnaruwa, a temporary royal residence during the 8th century, became the capital. The conquering Cholas constructed monuments to their religion (Brahmnism), and especially temples to Shiva where fine bronze statues, today in the Museum of Colombo, were found. The reconquest of Ceylon by Vijayabahu I did not put an end to the city's role as capital: it became covered, after 1070, with Buddhist sanctuaries, of which the Atadage (Temple of the Tooth Relic) is the most renowned.

The apogee of Polonnaruwa occurred in the 12th century AD. Two sovereigns then proceeded to endow it with monuments. Parakramabahu I (1153-86) created within a triple-walled enceinte a fabulous garden-city, where palaces and sanctuaries prolonged the enchantment of the countryside. The following monuments date from this reign: the Lankatilaka, an enormous brick structure which has preserved a colossal image of Buddha; the Gal Vihara, with its gigantic rock sculptures which may be placed among the chefs-d'œuvre of Sinhalese art; the Tivanka Pilimage, where wall paintings of the 13th century illustrate the jataka (narratives of the previous lives of Buddha), etc. Nissamkamalla hastily constructed monuments that, although less refined than those of Parakramabahu I, were nonetheless splendid: the Rankot Vihara, an enormous stupa 175 m in diameter and 55 m high, is one of the most impressive; its plan and its dimensions are reminiscent of the dagabas at Anuradhapura.

After this golden age, Polonnaruwa underwent a century of difficulties, before its final decline. The city which was invaded by the Tamils and the Maghas, then reconquered in a precarious manner, was only periodically the capital before the end of the 13th century when it was captured in an assault by Bhuvanaikabuha II, who set up his government at Kurunegala.

Parakrama Samudraya

Parakrama Samudra (Sinhala: Sea of Parakrama) built by King Parakramabahu the great, largest ancient man-made rainwater reservoir in Sri Lanka dominates the western flank of the Polonnaruwa district. The great reservoir spreading an area of 2500 hectars and having a capacity of 134 million cubic meters is the lifeline to the agricultural district of Polonnaruwa and surroundings. The city of Polonnaruwa, 122 hectars in extent, spreading out to a distance of 5km from north to south and 3km from east to west, is also the beneficiary of cooling breezes of Parakrama Samudra.

Statue of King Parakramabahu

On the Southern side of the Parakrama Samudra and South of picturesque lakeside Rest house is another well known Polonnaruwa monument: a striking rock craved statue of a man of noble disposition holding a stack of manuscripts written on ola. The statue has generated speculations and arguments concerning the identification. The archeologists haven't arrived at a concrete conclusion.The sculpture that rises to a height of 3.5m is believed to be that of King Parakramabahu the great.It could also very well be a representation of the sage Pulasti, after whom the city was named Pulastinagara. Pulastinagara (Sinhala: City of Pulasti) is the pali version of the Sinhala name Polonnaruwa.

Palace of King Parakramabahu

Enclosed by ramparts four leagues long and seven leagues wide the Royal Citadel has many interesting monuments. Palace of King Parakramabahu must have been an imposing edifice once, richly decorated and seven storeys high: the remaining walls of the palace are of extra-ordinary thickness and the drainage system is intriguing. A little further on is the handsome royal bath, the Kumara Pokuna. Across the way is the beautiful Royal Audience Hall - embellished with lion portals, graceful pillars and a moonstone. (a delicately carved stepping stone).
The structural techniques of this period were the same as those of the Anuradhapura period, but there was a greater use of lime mortar, which enabled the building of brick structures of dimensions never before attempted.

Potgul Vehera

At the southern end of the city,i.e. 100m south of the statue of King Parakramabahu, outside the Royal Garden of Nandana Uyana is the Potgul Vehera, or the Library Monastery’.
A central square terrace houses the principal monument, a circular shrine or library where the sacred books were deposited. It is surrounded four small dagobas.
The superior acoustics of Potgul Vehera leads to the conculsion the library had doubled up as an auditorium on occasions to read the books, read the tenets of Buddhism and chant the blessings called "Pirith" The buildings called Potgul Vihara or library utilized for the same purposes as the shrine at Polonnaruwa, can be seen in some of the Buddhist monuments too.

Siva Devale
Siva Devale 1

A Hindu Temple of chaste and restrained line dedicated to God Siva of 12th century vintage.
Siva Devale 2

Past the north gate of the citadel is the 11th century Hindu temple built entirely of stone. Within in the sanctum is a stone carved lingam or phallus a symbol of Hindu god Diva. In front of the temple is Nandi bull, God Siva’s vehicle.


Vatadage, 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 petalled flowers. The flights of access stairs at the cardinal points are beautifully carved. At the head of each flight is a Buddha statue in stone. Vatadage is lavished with moonstones, guard stones.

Nissanka Lata Mandapaya

Nissankalata Mandapaya, built by King Nissankamalla, is an innovative work of art depicting the splendor of classical architecture The pavilion was believed for chanting Buddha’s teaching and the inscription at the pavilion reveals that the king used listen to the chanting of pirith, the Buddhist blessings.
Nissankalata Mandapayapavilion surrounded by Buddhist railings, houses a bubble shaped small dagaba, without its upper part, carved out of stone in the center. It is possible, the stone carved stupa used to hold the relic casket during pirit chanting.

The Satmahal Prasada

Satmahal Prasada or seven storeyed edifice is constructed in a stepped pyramidal form that contains seven square stories. According to the archeologists, the layout of the edifice resembles Vat Kukut at Lamphun, Thailand built in the eight century. The identity and the purpose of Satmahal Prasada haven’t yet been proven. According the historical chronicles of Sri Lanka, King Parakranbahu the Great had built a stupa in the area and some scholars have assumed the building was in fact a stupa. A similar building discovered in Anuradhapura is known by the name of Nakha Vehera.

Hatadage and Atadage

Hatadage and Atadage are Sacred Tooth relic temples in Polonnaruwa built by king Wijayabahu and king Nissankamalla. The 11th century Atadage and 12th century Hetadage both housed the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha. Both are handsome structures embellished with fine carvings.

Having liberated Sri Lanka from the Dravidian invaders, King Vijayabahu setup his capital at Polonnaruwa and built Atadage so that the sacred tooth relic of Buddha and Bowl relic could be deposited. The ground floor was the image house. Atadage, an enlarged version of Hatadag, was built by King Nissankamalla to house the Sacred Tooth Relic and Bowl Relic. The impressive building with the ground floor serving as an image house is accessed by a masterfully carved doorway. Inscriptions by King Nissankamalla inscribed on the walls are now discolored.

Gal Potha (Stone Book)

Gal Pota is a massive 26 ft slab of stone lies by the side of the Hetadage in which King Nissankamalla had his own deeds recorded in stone.

The inscriptions also contain particulars of King Nissankamalla’s genealogy and his wars with Dravidian invaders from South India. The inscription itself says that the slab of stone was brought to the location from Mihintale. The inscription has been of great assistance to the scholars since it also reveals evolution of the Sinhala script.On the side of Gal Pota are two stone carved Elephants sprinkling water on goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Prosperity.

Pabulu Vehera

Pabalu Vehera is believed to be built in late Anuradhapura period and enlarged during the Polonnaruwa period. The stupa is surrounded by four image houses located in the cardinal points. The limestone statues of Buddha are sculpted in different postures. In the image house on the south is a Samadhi Buddha statue, a fine work of art.
In front of Pabalu Vehera to the north is the main street of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Now reduced to a mere footpath with encroaching weeds and bushes, it is a fine walk to enjoy the landscape populated with birdlife

Rankot Vehera

Rankot Vehera built by King Nissankamalla, is the largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa. Rankot Vehera had followed the traditions of early stupas built in Anuradhapura. The enormous dagoba that measures 550 ft. in girth belongs to Alahana Parivena monastery complex.

Around the enormous dagoba are image houses and flower alters set in the wide sand terrace surrounding the stupa. At the four central points are Vahalkadasa or front entrances enclosures built of brick, with four flights of steps providing admission to devotees.

The inscription on the stone-seat in front of the dagoba says that King Nissankamalla used to supervise the construction of Rankot Vehera. Another inscription on the platform to the south narrates that King Nissankamalla used to worship the dagoba from the pavilion.

Kiri Vehera

Kiri Vehera is just ahead of Lankatileka. The milk-white shrine was named Kiri Vehera (Sinhala: Milk clolored stupa) for its exterior of gleaming white, built by Queen Subhadra, a consort of King Parakranmbahu. Noted for its perfect proportions, Kiri Vehera is the best preserved of Sri Lanka’s dagobas. A three-chambered relic bloc that was found while excavating a large mound to east of Kiri Vehera, reveals the structure and composition of relic chambers during Polonnaruwa period. In addition to that, the excavations have unearthed many mounds which were originally minor stupas containing the corporeal remains of the royal family and the prelates of the monastery.
On the lower terrace to the west of Kiri Vehera are ruins of a chapter-house or a assembly hall for the Buddhist monks.

Gal Vihare

Gal Vihara Rock Temple, unparallel among such ancient monastic edifices, takes the form of a group of colossal Buddha statues carved out of a granite boulder. Most prominent is the standing image, 7m (23ft) tall.Next to it is an enormous 14m (46ft) reclining Buddha. The head rest on the right palm, while the left hand is stretched along the left side of the body. The dent on the pillow caused by the weight of the head and the slightly drawn in left leg add life to the superb rock carved work of poise and balance.

Next to the reclining Buddha statues is standing figure of Buddha. Accordingly to archeologist Dr. Senerath Paranavitana, the pose and the facial expression of Buddha shows his supreme compassion towards the suffering. The seated Buddha statue on the southern end with a backrest decorated in an arch is carved in front elevation of a seat. The Buddha statue within the excavated chambers is the center of attraction of a set up with attendant deities painted on the walls. However, today only the traces of the paintings are visible.

Lotus Bath or Nelum Pokuna

500m north of Demala Maha Saya is the Nelum Pokuna (Sinhala: lotus pond), built by King Parakramabahu the great in a design of stylized 8 petaled lotus flowers. The Lotus pond is believed to had been used for ritual bath for the pilgrims visiting Tivanka-patanaghara image house.

Tivanka Image House

Tivanka image house, located 400m north of Lotus Pond, is so named following the thrice bend yet towering Buddha Statue therein. The head and neck of the Buddha statue have now come off. Tivanka means three bends in Sinhalese. Buddha statue is bent at three places: at the knees, at the waist and at the shoulders. The inner walls as well as the outer walls of the image house are exquisitely decorated.

The paintings on the outer walls are purely decorative with figures of lions, gansas and dwarfs. The murals on the inner walls are masterpieces. Yet those 12th century frescoes depicting scenes from tales of previous lives of Buddha have now faded. According to the scholars these paintings depict a blend of popular and classical styles.

Archaeological Museums

Modern museum located by the side to the Parakrama Samudra present, original art efacts found in Polonnaruwa and also replicas and artistic impressions of the ancient monuments.