Anuradhapura: The Ancient Capital

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September 18th 2013
Published: September 20th 2013
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Guardstone at Sri Maha BodhiGuardstone at Sri Maha BodhiGuardstone at Sri Maha Bodhi

Guardstones are at the entrance to temples. The head of the figure on this guardstone is surrounded by 7 cobra heads, which, according to our guide, stand for the 7 shakras.
Anuradhapura: The Ancient Capital of Sri Lanka

We had a trained archaeologist as a guide taking us around some of the ruins of Sri Lanka's Anaradhapura, part of Sri Lanka's famed "Cultural Triangle", but between the speed of his accented English, the length of the names he was saying, and our lack of any framework of knowledge about the history, I was pretty puzzled when I set out to write this blog! Thanks to the internet for clarifying names and details. Please forgive me if I got something wrong.

Anuradhapura was named the first political capital of Sri Lanka in 380 BC by King Pandukabhaya. It remained such through to the 11th century AD, roughly 13 centuries.

Around 250 BC the Emperor Asoka of India sent his son Arhath Mahinda Thero to bring Buddhism to Sri Lanka, where, over time, he converted Devanampiya Tissa, the grandson of Pandukabhaya.

Mahinda's sister, Princess Sangamitta, brought as a gift to Sri Lanka a cutting (or sapling, sources differ on this) of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, and that tree has been tended continually from that day to this. It is still alive and growing at the
Cobra Headed GuardstoneCobra Headed GuardstoneCobra Headed Guardstone

Can you see the cobra heads now? Why cobras for shakras, I have no idea, but when being whizzed along by a guide there isn't always the chance to get the finer details!
Sri Maha Bodhi Temple, and is the oldest such descendent tree in the world.

So Anarhadapura is still very sacred to Buddhists; it still holds great spiritual significance.

In those early times, literally thousands of monks lived here, in at least two rival monasteries. It was a centre of learning and spirituality, in what were like the universities of the day.

In our one afternoon whirlwind tour, we only saw a small portion of this immense archaeological site, and when the heavy thunderstorm struck it was the end of photo time, so the later things are missing from the blog, like the beautiful Hindu Temple we also visited, but still, it was a fascinating tour. Dare I say enlightening? Well, perhaps in a less rarified sense of the word.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 23


Entrance to Sri Maha BodhiEntrance to Sri Maha Bodhi
Entrance to Sri Maha Bodhi

This is the site of the oldest living bodhi tree grown from a cutting of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.
Bodhi branchBodhi branch
Bodhi branch

Although this greenery looks like the Bodhi tree itself, it is only a branch off the original tree which was brought as a cutting from India.
The Actual Bodhi TreeThe Actual Bodhi Tree
The Actual Bodhi Tree

What appears to be a branch arching to the left is actually the original tree, now held up by golden supporting posts.
Bodhi Tree SupportsBodhi Tree Supports
Bodhi Tree Supports

Perhaps you can now see the slim elderly parent Bodhi tree, lovingly held up by carefully angled golden supports.
Bodhi Tree OfferingsBodhi Tree Offerings
Bodhi Tree Offerings

Pilgrims offer flowers, often lotus blossoms or blue water lilies, which are the national flower of Sri Lanka.

On the left is a young man accompanying us from SOS Childrens Village Anaradhapura and on the right is our driver and guide. Martha holds a lotus flower and a blue lily.
Flower offeringsFlower offerings
Flower offerings

The lotus flower and the blue lily are favourite offerings at Sri Maha Bodhi.
Lotus FountainLotus Fountain
Lotus Fountain

Lovely lotus shaped fountain outside the temple entrance.
Princess brings tree to Sri LankaPrincess brings tree to Sri Lanka
Princess brings tree to Sri Lanka

Princess Sangamitta, sister of Mahinda who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, is shown bringing the cutting of the original sacred Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka.
9 Storeys High!9 Storeys High!
9 Storeys High!

The standing stone posts indicate the size of the building the monks had, thought to have been 9 storeys high. The building you can see behind the posts is a reconstruction of the form of that building, but not the size of it.
9 Stories High-a Closer Look9 Stories High-a Closer Look
9 Stories High-a Closer Look

The monks at this site had a massive building in which they lived.
Approaching the Biggest Dagoba Approaching the Biggest Dagoba
Approaching the Biggest Dagoba

Perhaps this can give you a sense of the scale of this dagoba.
Biggest DagobaBiggest Dagoba
Biggest Dagoba

We were told this is the biggest Dagoba (or Stupa) in Sri Lanka. The shape of the dagoba is said to be like the bodhi leaf, rounded with a tendril at the top.
Elephants surround the base of the Biggest Dagoba Elephants surround the base of the Biggest Dagoba
Elephants surround the base of the Biggest Dagoba

We were quoted lots of figures about the size of this dagoba and the number of elephants, but I can't retrieve any of them from my travel-addled brain. Pretty impressive, though.
Tallest Dagoba Tallest Dagoba
Tallest Dagoba

This dagoba is thought by some to have once had a roof protecting it, hence the remaining surrounding columns.
Oldest DagobaOldest Dagoba
Oldest Dagoba

If I've got it right, this is believed to be the oldest dagoba (or stupa).
Dagoba with Broken Top Dagoba with Broken Top
Dagoba with Broken Top

Or maybe this was the oldest one. Sorry! These giant structures are said to be solid inside. No one can enter them, unlike church, and they can contain important relics and valuable items like gems.
Elephant Baths Elephant Baths
Elephant Baths

This is named after elephants because of its size. Elephants didn't bathe here, only certain monks could.

20th September 2013

Thanks for sharing - enjoying your travels while I enjoy mine!! M xx
14th October 2013

Request Tips for Visiting Anuradhapura
Nice to read your blog about Anuradhapura. I will be in Colombo this week and intend to go straight to Anuradhapura from the airport. Is it possible to get there before dark if I am arriving Colombo around 10am? Also, how much time do I need to cover the Cultural Triangle? I have one full day for Anuradhapura and half day to visit another site within the Cultural Triangle since I have to return to Colombo in the evening to catch up with a morning flight. Will appreciate to hear from you. Best regards.

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