Sri Lanka 4th day - Polonnaruwa - Wed 11 Jan 2017

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January 11th 2017
Published: March 1st 2017
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We left Lake Lodge at about 9.30 am and set off to the old medieval capital of Ceylon. Polonnaruwa was declared the capital city of Ceylon by King Vijayabahu I. Polonnaruwa became the second capital city of the country in 993 after the destruction of Anuradhapura.

Whilst driving along Basil told us about some of the history of Sri Lanka. For example that an old name for Sri Lanka was Serendip. The name comes from the Tamil word Ceralamdivu, which in Sanskrit is Simhaladvipa and in Persian Sarandīp. Parts of Sri Lanka were under the rule of Tamil kings for extended periods of time in history. Kings of Kerala, India (Cheranadu), were called Ceran Kings and divu, tivu or dheep, which means island. The island belonging to the Chera King was called Cherandeep, hence Sarandib by Arab traders. The country was ruled by kings until 1815 when the country became a crown colony and the royal family fled to Mauritius. The British couldn’t pronounce the name and shortened it to Ceylon. In 1948 Ceylon became independent.

We also learnt about Parākramabāhu I (Pali Mahā Parākaramabāhu 1123 - 1186) who was king of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa from 1153 - 1186. During his reign from the capital city of Polonnaruwa, he unified the three lesser kingdoms of the island, becoming one of the last monarchs in Sri Lankan history to do so. He oversaw the expansion and beautification of his capital, constructed extensive irrigation systems, reorganized the country's army, reformed Buddhist practices, encouraged the arts and undertook military campaigns in South India and Burma. The adage "not even a little water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean without being made useful to man" is one of his most famous utterances.

In the area are over 1000 enormous tanks - which to us looked like good-sized lakes and in fact are generally called lakes. From these are irrigation canals which irrigate the crops and the land. There is only one monsoon a year and every drop of rain is precious and used well.


Basil took us first to the museum in Polonnaruwa to learn about the area. We drove past the “Rest house” in which Queen Elizabeth II spent a night in 1954. In the 1970s there were no hotels here and so honeymooners went to “Rest houses”. Now that situation has changed and the “Rest house” where the Queen stayed is a modern hotel.

Today, the site at Polonnaruwa is an archaeological site with very interesting remains. In the museum we learnt that the politics of the area was based on irrigation. Rajaraja Chola annexed part of Sri Lanka but was repelled by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated Chola invaders in 1070. The Chola invaders from India brought with them Hinduism and Tamil architecture and literature.

Then we drove to the bicycle stand and Don and Caroline hired bicycles to tour the site. Inside the archaeological site the first ruin we saw was the Royal Palace Group. This group of buildings dates from the period of King Parakramabahu I (1153 - 1186). The King's Royal Palace was a seven storey building with 1,000 rooms. It was burnt down in the 11th Century. It was built of clay, coconut fibre and limestone. This meant that the building was strong but lighter than if built out of concrete. It is a massive structure, measuring 31 m by 13 m, once including 50 rooms supported by 30 columns. Today only some of the walls are left, with holes to hold floor beams for two higher levels. If the building had four more levels above these stone walls, the archaeologists speculate that they must have been made of wood. They also think that since the palace was burnt down in the 11th century, the whole site had been left to decay and became a jungle. But in 1876 it was rediscovered by the archaeologist H C P Bell. Some of it was cleared but in the 1960s our driver/guide Basil remembers visiting the site and it was still a jungle.


Then onto the Audience Hall. The walls of the Hall were decorated with elephants, each elephant being in a different position. The stairs going up to the Audience Hall had beautiful lions on the top of each side.

We went to visit the ancient toilets and bathrooms. It was interesting to see that there was a sewage system which dates back to the time that it was built.

Then into the Sacred Quadrangle. This is the area where the temples are located. There is a Hindu temple and two dagabas (Buddhist Temples) which are in good condition and have large statues of Buddha. The rule on entering the temples is to remove your shoes. There were armed guards with their whistles for chasing after the tourists who were entering these dagabas with their shoes on. One of the dagabas was the original "Temple of the Tooth". This dagaba was built in 60 hours by 3,000 people. It was built to hold the religious relic - the tooth of Buddha rescued from his funeral pyre. It is circular and has four statues of Buddha. The temple had a stupa chethiya which was a depository for valuable things and was then sealed. Over the years the depository was looted.


The park has a large number of different trees. There are three kinds of palm trees in the park - coconut, palmyra and kitul and a number of birds. A mynah bird posed for us.


On the site was also a monastery and a crematorium (Buddhists and Hindus are cremated). Basil told us about the monks. Many children enter the monastery at a very young age as they get a good education leading to a degree. Anybody may join the order at any age and in addition a person who wishes may leave the order.


We then walked to the site of the Gal Vihara - the code of disciplinary conduct - where King Parakramabahu I assembled the senior Buddhist priests to reconcile variant beliefs and command them to expel corrupt monks. He recorded rules for proper conduct as set by Buddha and inscribed them at this location. Later in caves at Gal Vihara four statues of Buddha were carved into the rock, and we could see that now this area was undergoing some preservation activity. Near the Gal Vihara we passed another pond and saw the turtles, pond herons and cormorants.


Then to the drinks stall. Don and I had mango juice (freshly squeezed) and Caroline had a coconut drink. The top of the coconut was lopped off and the coconut juice was drunk from the kernel. Then with a piece of the kernel shaped into a spoon the inside of the coconut was scooped out. Usually I don’t like coconut but this was absolutely delicious.


Then it was back on the van and we set off back to the hotel for a game of Boggle, another delicious dinner custom prepared for us, and finally to bed!

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