Monuments in Polonnaruwa

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is a living testimony of the splendid bygone era of the island Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa is accredited with the token “World heritage site” by UNESCO due to its immense share in Sri Lanka’s history. There are many articles in this blog, revolving around this historically important city. But, in order to give more clear insight for our readers about the important places in the city, I have undertaken following article featuring several important historical constructions of Polonnaruwa.

Gopalapabbatha

As one proceeds north from the Rankoth Vehera access is gained to a group of rocks on the higher ground. Among them is a cave with a drip ledge cut beneath its brow. There are also a number of boulders which would have provided sanctuary for forest-dwelling monks in the early centuries of the present era. on one of these rocks surface, there is an inscription cut in Brahmi letters datable to about the 5th-century A.C giving the name of the site as the Vihara. This spot may be taken as one of the earliest occupied sites in Polonnaruwa. From the find of two Buddha images in one of these caves it is evident that the cave was used as an image house.

Alahana pirivena complex

The convocation hall named Baddhasima-pasada the Lankathilaka image house and the dagoba known as the Kirivehera are the three main buildings in the monastery known as the Alahana pirivena, which was founded by Parakramabahu 1. Access is gained to the premises of the Baddhasimapasada after traversing a series of terraces north of the Gopalapabbatha. The monument itself is reached from the western and eastern directions. As one come up from the west side there are pillared buildings to be seen on the terraces. On the second terrace up from the east from the gravel road, there is a cave which shelters seated Buddha images cut from the living rock, remaining of models of the Galvihara group to be seen further to the north.

There are four entrances to the large brick building of the Baddhasipapasada which has arches as the window on all four walls. A point worthy of note is that among the thick coats of plaster on the brickwork there is a red coloured plaster too. In the centre of the hall, there is a square platform with provision for a canopy over it. It is here that the monastic ceremonies and rites were performed.

North of the chapter house the other monuments of the Alahan pirivena can be reached either directly from the western side of the former monuments, of along the ancient road at low level on the eastern side.

Lankathilaka

The main approach to the premises of the Lankathilaka is by a pathway westwards from the ancient road, by way of flights of steps across two terraces. On either side of the path on the terraces, there are cells for the monks of the monastery. As the third terrace is reached to the left of the visitor there is to be seen a conserved stone pavilion which takes the form of a bayed structure. The pillars are ornamented rather like those of the Atadage in the Quadrangle. The stylobate is devoted to a dado of lions reliefs, and there are two entrances, east and west to the pavilion.

The visitor looking west of the pavilion cannot fail to impressed by the sight of the stupendous ruin of a brick built image house for the standing Buddha known as the Lankathilaka. Like the Thuparama, and the Tivanka image house in the north of Polonnaruwa. This monument to has a second entrance on the north side of the vestibule. From the vestibule, two flights of stairs led up, north and south, to an upper floor. There is an inscription on the inner side wall of the south balustrade recording that this monument was repaired by Vijayabahu 6 (1270-1272). On the façade of the building there is a row of lions in relief and at a higher level, there are dwarfs or ganas as ornamentation. As in the Thuparama the walls are ornamented with relief of buildings in the niches of which there would have been statues of deities. These facades are ornamented with sacred geese and leogrifs.

Statue at Pothgul Vehera

To the north of Pothgul vehera, outside the boundaries of the site, lies a rock boulder of which south face is adorned with a large statue hewn into the rock in high relief. This is considered to be one of the best examples of the fine craftsmanship of the ancient artists. The statue is 11 ft and 6 in height. Even though the figure is not identified yet, it believes to be either of king Parakramabahu or depicting a Brahminical sage. Most of the archeologist believes it to be the statue of a Brahminical sage and this theory is supported by the evidence of the matted hair, long moustache and beard, very simple dress and lack of ornaments, Brahmanical sacred thread that runs from the left shoulder across the body around the right hip, corpulent stomach and an object reminiscent of an ola leaf book held in the hand. As for the identification of the sage represented by the statue, the following come to mind Agastya, Kapila, Pulasti. Archaeologists believe that it could not be representing the Agastya on account of the absence of the iconographical attributes of this sage, the pot and the necklace. The figure suggested being present the Kapila for whom king Parakramabahu is reported to have built a dwelling. The third possibility is that it could be representing the Pulasti, a possibility that comes to mind when it is remembered that an early name for Polonnaruwa was Pulastipura.

Ponds and Baths

Sri Lanka possessed an advanced water management system in the ancient time. Pond and drain spill system, which existed in Polonnaruwa, shows some important evidence to prove it. Underground drains from the rubble-lined embankment of the Topawewa connect with a sluice from which aqueducts carried water through a diverging drain to a spill which borders a pond on its western side. The eastern boundary of this pond is a bow-shaped embankment which permits excess water to flow through two drains into a second pond which is roughly in the form of a square. Abutting the first pond and to the mouth of it are to be seen the baths of king Nissankamall (1187-1196). There are two baths here, first a circular bath and connected to it at a lower level a rectangular bath. The circular bathe is a little over 5min internal diameter enclosed by a brick wall, but no signs of an entrance can now be seen. The floor of the bath is plastered in a durable lime plaster. The water for this bath was provided by way of a covered brick drain from a cistern within a brick structure situated about 5m slightly west of north.

The second bath which is a sunken chamber is built of brickwork faced with stone and has steps leading down to it from ground level. The water for this was led in from the circular bath over the sill on its northern side. The east side wall bears an inscription of Nissankamalla at the end of which it is recorded that this was the bath of the king. The excess water was led over the south wall into the pond.

To the west of the baths of Nissankamalla and bordering the bund of the tank, there are the remains of a few buildings built of brick which are aligned roughly south to north. Among these structures is a rectangular hall with an entrance on the northern side fronted by a weathered ornamented moonstone cut in limestone, depicting the four animals of the cardinal direction, elephant, lion, horse, and bull. The last of these animals is generally not to be found in moonstone of the Polonnaruwa period, probably due to a certain Hindu influence. It is likely that this particular moonstone belongs to the Anuradhapura when Polonnaruwa was the camp-city. Immediately to the north of the western side of the building a flight of steps leads to the tank.

Mausoleum

A short distance from Parakrama Samudra is a two stories building, which lower story walls are intact. The constructions of the building were completed in the 12th century. The walls are ornamented with stucco and friezes of sacred geese.  There are some patches of the original painting that beautified the building; the paintings were in single colour, blue and red. The plaster of the wall is observed to be of a high quality. A flight of steps can be seen in the building which was constructed in a later period at the south-east corner of the building. One distinct feature of the architecture of the building is absent of windows that had led to the term mausoleum being applied to the building.

Audience hall

In the direction of north-east from the mausoleum is the audience hall. The long rectangular shaped building is constructed of bricks aligned east-west and has two entrances on either short side. The audience hall is constructed on the platform with a moulded base; the building is with a large open hall that presumably used as the audience hall. Lower platform set against the side walls of the north, south and eastern sides serving as seats for the assembly. The roof of the building was supported by two rows of stone pillars and they are adorned with various forms of stone carvings. Towards the western end of the building is the separated ante-chamber which had an upstairs section. The remains of a right-angled flight of steps can be seen at the south-western corner of the building. A broad couch which is built of brick can be found in the north-east corner of the building that has a moulded sides and a flat top. At the back of the couch is the wall of the ante-room and beyond this wall, there is a lavatory.

Uttararamaya

The image house known as Uttararama houses one of the most outstanding statuary of medieval period of Sri Lanka. Uttararama was built by king Parakramabahu the great (1153 AD-1186 AD). The statuary is part of the Uttararama temple complex. There are 4 Buddha statues in the statuary. All statues are carved on to the living (a chrnockite biotite gneiss) by the stone craftsmen of that time. This rocky outcrop rises gradually from one side and then falls in height towards the other end.

According to the historical information there had been four image houses and every image house was surrounded by a protective wall. The first image house is known as nisinnapatimalena. There is a four meters tall meditation Buddha statue n the first cave. The statue is carved on a natural granite rock. The alms of this seated Buddha statue is folded and resting on the lap.  The seat is beautifully decorated with neatly carved thunderbolt (vajrasana) and the lion (simhasana). There are some patches of painted lime on the statues, which suggest that the statue was painted in the early days of the temple.

The second image house is also cut out of the same rock as the first cave. In front of the second cave is a small pavilion and a wall surrounding whole area. Next to the second cave is a stone inscription dating back to 12thcentury.

A standing Buddha statue with folded arms across the chest can be seen after the stone inscription. There are some indications such as brick works to suggest that there had been a separate image house for the statue.

After the standing Buddha statue is the recumbent Buddha statue, which measured to be 14 meters long. It is one of the biggest Buddha statues in the island. The rock cut Buddha statue is in very good consdition and regarded as a masterpiece of ancient craftsmen. The Buddha statue was housed in an image house. There had been one entrance and two windows I the image house. The center of the pillow on which the Buddha’s head rests is decorated with a lion face (kirtimukha). This motif is found in both Hindu and Buddhist art. While the feet of Buddha statue are also rests on a cushion, there are lotus flower symbols are carved on to the soles.

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Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity tours)

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