Renowned as the heart of Sri Lankan civilisation of all time, Anuradhapura was the greatest monastic city of the ancient world for over a millennium. It was then made royal capital in 380 BC by King Pandukabhaya and was Sri Lanka’s first ancient kingdom and capital. Visiting Anuradhapura would take you back in time reflecting with imagination visualising how busy and active this city was during its golden years.
At its peak, Anuradhapura was home to thousands of monks from many monasteries and it remains as Sri Lanka’s most important and spiritual site. Having been the royal capital of 119 successive kings who had passions for art and architecture and who propagated the flourishing Buddhist culture; Anuradhapura was one of the best places of the Cultural Triangle for the city was dotted with ancient monuments, sacred stupas, ruins of temples and palaces and a network of stunning irrigation lakes, ponds and reservoirs.
Architectural achievements have made the city famous, earning recognition as one of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The 3 main dagobas of Jetavaranamaya, Ruwanweliseya and Abhayagiriya are among the biggest architectural creations ever attempted in the ancient world, second only to the pyramids of Egypt. Today the city is famous for its ruins which have been in good condition, preserved and protected making it one of the most sacred cities in Sri Lanka. Although today, time stands still among the ruins, when one visits, they would attain pensiveness, peace and tranquility.
Anuradhapura is home to the world’s oldest and most revered tree – the Sri Jaya Maha Bodhi. This tree was grown from a sapling of the original sacred fig tree under which the Buddha had attained enlightenment more than 2500 years ago. Rathnaprasada, Lovamahapaya (Brazen Palace) are monastic buildings in Anuradhapura. Thuparama Temple, Samadhi Buddha Statue, Miriswatiya Dagoba and Isurumuniya Viharaya are few of the attractions in Anuradhapura that will attract travellers who love history.
Mihintale, 12 km away from Anuradhapura, bears a historical legacy as being the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Therefore, its history makes it, an unforgettable pilgrimage site with a sequence of beautiful shrines, stupas and caves strung out across the hills, busy with multitudes of pilgrims. Over 2000 years ago, on Mihintale Mountain, King Devanampiya Tissa was approached by Mahinda, son of the great Indian Buddhist emperor, Ashoka with a message from Lord Buddha. Upon hearing Mahinda’s revelation, the king had embraced and converted to Buddhism. Renowned as a sacred site, Mihintale commemorates the birth of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by celebrating Poson Poya on Poson full moon night.
Anuradha, a devotee of Prince Vijaya who was the founder of the Sinhala race, was the first person to have settled in this city. After being made the royal capital by King Pandukabhaya, it was an archetype for development and planning. Many buildings were built; water tanks and artificial reservoirs were constructed to supply water to the city.
Over 2000 years ago, on Mihintale Mountain, King Devanampiya Tissa was approached by Arahat Mahinda, son of the great Indian Buddhist emperor, Ashoka with a message from Lord Buddha. Upon hearing Mahinda’s revelation, the king had embraced and converted to Buddhism. The new religion spread very quickly. The King had contributed land to build a great monastery in the centre of the city which was also known as the Royal Park – the stunning Mahamegha Gardens. Buddhism contimued blossoming for over a century until the Cholas from India took over Anuradhapura. The Chola Dynasty was short-lived since they were challenged and defeated by King Dutugemunu, a champion of Sinhala nationalism. Dutugemunu had extreme devotion for the religion of Buddhism thus his reign helped the progress and completion of Buddhism. Anuradhapura Kingdom lasted 1500 years since it had become more vulnerable to the threats of South Indian invasions which eventually led to its abandonment and ruin.
However, the monuments of its glorious years remain, giving glimpses to the past.
How to get there
There are many options of travel to Anuradhapura by train, bus, taxi, air or road. One of the best ways of getting there is by train. From Colombo Fort Railway Station you can reach Anuradhapura within four hours and there are train rides four times a day. Alternative options are by bus in which you can take from Pettah Bus Station in Colombo to Puttalam which would take approximately 4 hours and then you could take a taxi to Anuradhapura that would take a maximum an hour and a half. You could also rent a car and drive which would take four hours if you go via Negombo and take the A28 route. We at Epic Sri Lanka Holidays could arrange a car for you. There are no direct flights to Anuradhapura but there are options via different cities in which Epic Sri Lanka Holidays could make arrangements for you. However if you plan to go to Anuradhapura from Kandy, you can take the rail train which occurs once daily and takes 3 and a half hours. If you opt to travel by road, the A9 Kandy road is the route to take. If you are in Sigiriya and want to reach Anuradhapura, you could travel by road via A11 and A9 Kandy Road/Kandy-Jaffna Hwy. Your Epic Sri Lanka Holidays Tour Consultant can make arrangements for you if you choose to taxi or rent a car.
Since Anuradhapura is situated in a dry zone, there is hardly any rain and the air is usually arid. May is the hottest month with an average temperature of 29°C (83°F) and the coldest is in January at 25°C (78°F) with the most daily sunshine hours in March. October is the wettest month with some rainfall.
Food & Drink
In Anuradhapura and within the Cultural Triangle, traditional rice and curries, Indian and western cuisine are served in all the hotels and restaurants. There are several eateries and stalls along the way to the Cultural Triangle where you can rest and grab a bite or have a cup of tea. Popular restaurants for your meals are Seedevi Restaurant, Mango Mango, Hotel Shalini and the Sanctuary at Tissa Wewa.
Mihintale – Since Mihintale is the cradle of Buddhism, its history has made it a key pilgrimage site with a sequence of ancient ruins, beautiful shrines and caves strung across the hills for Buddhists in Sri Lanka and from rest of the world.
Jetavaranama Stupa – The vast Jetavaranama stupa is the largest stupa in Anuradhapura and is the centrepiece of the great Jetavaranama monastery founded by King Mahasena. It is said that this monument was built upon the enclosure where Mahinda, son of Indian Emperor Ashoka who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, was cremated.
Abhayagiri Monastery Complex – Abhayagiri is the largest monastery complex in the Anuradhapura kingdom. King Vattagamini Abhaya founded this monastery in the 2nd century BC in celebration after his thrilling defeat of the Indian Tamil Cholas. This monastery consists of a huge stupa, a large Buddha statue, a huge pond cut out of stone known as the Elephant Pond and further to the east, the Twin Baths, where monks would cleanse themselves for rituals.
Mahamewna Park – This Mahamewna Park is a pleasure garden which was created by King Mutasiva in the early 3rd century. The name is immersed in legend for there was a heavy downpour of rain during the auspicious time of construction of the park which culminated in it being given the name of ‘heavy shower’ in Sinhalese it means, ‘Maha – heavy’ ‘megha – shower’. The people at the time saw it as a sign of great things to come.
Samadhi Buddha Statue – A classic monument of Sinhalese art and sculpture is the Samadhi Buddha Statue which stands tall at 2 metres. A granite stone carving erected in a position of meditation (Samadhi) which was associated with Buddha’s first enlightenment and is one of the four Buddha statues that was placed around the Bodhi tree facing fundamental directions.
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi – The Sri Maha Bodhi is said to be a branch of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. It is believed to be the only surviving branch of the original Bodhi tree and is thus famous as an item of religious worship, as well as being the oldest recorded tree in the world.
Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba – As the oldest stupa in Sri Lanka, Ruwanwelisaya is considered an icon of architectural glory in ancient Sri Lanka. Also known as the Great Stupa, Ruwanwelisaya was built by the victorious King Dutugemunu in 140 BC. It was his ambitious project and this stupa bears witness for its unparalleled service to revive Buddhism in the country. The compound of the stupa is characterised by a parade of elephants carved around the base of the stupa.
Thuparama Temple – This is believed to be the oldest stupa in Sri Lanka and perhaps in the whole world. It is renovated and well preserved to date. It was built by King Devanampiya Tissa (247BC – 207BC). This stupa is small in comparison to other stupas in Anuradhapura and its shape is different and unique with delicate pillars that surround the stupa which gives the place a likeable charm and tranquil ambience.
Great ancient reservoirs of Anuradhapura – The city of Anuradhapura would have never developed without the existence of its man-made reservoirs such as Tissa Wewa, Nuwara Wewa and Basawakkulama. These artificial lakes had given life to irrigation by providing water which facilitated the cultivation of rice hence giving the people food.
Aukana Buddha Statue – Aukana holds prestige in the historical chronicles as being one of the tallest standing statues of Buddha in Sri Lanka. It is situated in the district of Anuradhapura and is steeped in rich history.
Lovamahapaya or Brazen Palace – Brazen Palace, also known as Lovamahapaya is a building of nine stories framed with stone pillars which are located between Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba and Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. It was built by King Dutugemunu who ruled the entire nation at the time. It is of historical value since it was built to house 1000 monks and attendants by providing shelter, nursing care and facilities for the injured and had accommodated monks from different countries.
Miriswatiya Dagoba – The Miriswatiya Dagoba was the first monument built by King Dutugemunu. After his consecration, an ornate sword which contained a sacred relic of Buddha was left implanted on the bank of the Tissa Wewa reservoir. Upon returning after his bath at the reservoir, the king couldn’t take out his sword after several attempts which led them to believe that it was a miracle, hence the building of the Miriswati Dagoba occured on this location around the sword.
Royal Palace of Vijayabahu – After the defeat of the Indian Cholas, King Vijayabahu I celebrated his consecration in Anuradhapura before choosing to rule from Polonnaruwa.
The remains of the Royal Palace of King Vijayabahu I that we see today were considered to have been the temporary palace he had built for the celebrations in Anuradhapura. This building as it stands today measures 128 feet by 216 feet.
Isurumuniya Viharaya – A picturesque view of a temple slightly built into a cave with a cliff above is of the Isurumuniya Viharaya. It is located close to the Tissa Wewa reservoir, constructed by King Devanampiya Tissa and the Royal Pleasure Gardens. The temple is a treasure trove holding exquisite carvings which are the finest in Sri Lanka.
Ranmasu Uyana or Royal Gardens – Ranmasu Uyana is a park in Anuradhapura containing the ancient Royal pleasure gardens. It is located between the Isurumuniya Rock Temple and Tissa Wewa, an artificial reservoir. Covering 40 acres, it is a worthy archetype of Sri Lankan garden architecture of ancient times for it is chiefly known for its rock sculpted bathing ponds or pools with an elaborate hydraulics system.
Wilpattu National Park – Considered as the oldest wildlife National park in Sri Lanka, Wilpattu National Park spans over a huge area of 131,693 hectares hence it also being the largest National Park in Sri Lanka. This National Park is renowned for its beautiful scenic landscapes consisting of natural lakes, dense forests, extraordinary flora and fauna and a variety of birds.