For those looking to soak in Buddhist culture, Polonnaruwa beckons
Ancient dagobas, moonstones, beautiful parks, massive buildings and stunningly beautiful statues – Polonnaruwa forms the perfect setting for a person seeking history and culture on a holiday.
Polonnaruwa lies 216 km northeast of Colombo, 140 kms northeast of Kandy and 104 kms southeast of Anuradhapura.
The majestic King’s Council Chamber, the Lotus Bath, the Lanka Thilaka Viharaya, the Gal Viharaya (rock temple) and the statue of one of Polonnaruwa’s great kings, Parakramabahu, are a few of this capital’s memorable sights. The Sea of Parakrama — a vast 12th century man-made reservoir dominates the city that was once Sri Lanka’s capital (11th – 12th Century AD). Although it is nearly 1000 years old, the city is much younger than Anuradhapura, and is much better preserved. Moreover, the monuments here are located in a more compact area, and their development is easier to follow.
Places of interest
One of the most striking features in Polonnaruwa, the vast Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Parakramabahu) is an irrigation tank built by King Parakramabahu the Great. This was his largest irrigation project and covers an area of more than 15 square kilometers. The dam (or bund, as it is known in Sri Lanka, is almost 14 km long and 12 metres high.
The Dipuyyana (Island Garden) is on the promontory by the rest house. When King Parakramabahu had built his vast lake, he selected this lovely spot for a royal garden, but later, King Nissankamalla liked it so much that he built his palace and council chambers there.
Royal Palace and Council Chambers
The chronicles describe Parakramabahu’s Palace as “seven stories high, furnished with a thousand chambers”. And yes, the royal palace is as imposing and magnificent as its description. Entering the palace from the south, you come to great hall (31 metres long and 13 metres wide), which was probably an audience hall.
Across the way is the council chamber of Parakramabahu — embellished with lion portals, graceful pillars and a moonstone (a delicately carved stepping stone). The building is supported by powerful bas-relief elephants around the base. Each one is different from the next.
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.
Nissanka Lata Mandapaya (Audience Hall)
A very pretty pavilion, this floral altar in stone has pillars which simulate with rare grace, a lotus on a stalk. This is a sacred hall of unknown purpose, and it was built by Nissankamalla. In the centre of the building is a small model dagaba, with worshippers sculptured around the base.
Gal Vihare – Rock Shrine
The most impressive sculptures at Polonnaruwa are the colossal Buddha images carved on the face of a granite boulder at the Gal Vihare. It includes some of the masterpieces of Sri Lankan Buddhist art, and these were commissioned by Parakramabahu I.
The first sculpture, and among the most impressive, is a seated Buddha image in a deep meditation, on a throne decorated with lions and thunderbolts and behind the Buddha is a halo.