Abhayagiri is the largest monastery complex in the Anuradhapura kingdom for it covers an area of 200 hectares. In the 1st century BC, a Sinhalese King by the name of Vattagamini Abhaya had been forced to flee and abandon his capital during a Tamil Chola invasion. While he was hiding, he heard the sarcastic ramble of a Hindu priest named Giri. “The great black lion is fleeing!”14 years later, the king came back with a robust army and trampled the occupation. In celebration, he built a monastery, and named it after himself (Abhaya) and the priest who had aroused his rage (Giri). This monastery was given to a Buddhist monk Thera Mahatissa as a gesture of appreciation for all the support he had lent to the king during his time of adversity and who had assisted him in the rebuilding of his army.
This Moonstone within the Abayagiri Monastery is found in the main flight of stairs on the centre building. This moonstone is considered one of the best and most preserved of an era dating back to the 7th-8th centuries. Its design is a ring of flames on the outer edge and below that is a ring of 4 different animals which are elephants, horses, lions and bulls. The next line incorporates a floral design and then a line of swans with a twig of flower and leaf in the mouth which is then followed by a line of floral patterns and the centre is a lotus with petals around the semi circle on the moonstone.
• Rathna Prasada (Guardstone)
The Rathnaprasada was the largest building in the monastery. It was first built by king Kanitthatissa in the 2nd century and was rebuilt in the 8th century by King Mahinda II on a grandeur scale with many storeys and had put up a golden statue of Buddha. Unfortunately, it was all destroyed during the South Indian invasions. Over the years, the successive kings were able to protect and preserve some ruins. Among the ruins, there is an exquisitely carved guardstone which portrays a god king protected by a five headed cobra (Naga Gala) holding a vase with flowers reflecting prosperity. This was installed to secure the prasada and gemstones in the vicinity. The massive pillars, a ruined building nearby and this guard stone are great examples of stone carving reflecting the architecture at that time which give glimpses of Sinhalese architectural styles. Other guard stones (Mura Gal) can also be found in this site.
- Abhayagiri Stupa
The main stupa, Abhayagiri Stupa was constructed over a footprint of Lord Buddha. A part of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree is there. The stupa is 370 feet tall when originally built and it was the second tallest stupa in the island. During its zenith, the monastery was home to one of the greatest libraries in the world. A museum was inaugurated by the government of China to commemorate the efforts of Fa-Hsien, a Chinese monk who had devoted his time studying the Buddhist manuscripts. This museum was also initiated to keep all archaeological treasures and artefacts that have been excavated through archaeological explorations.
The new museum at Abhayagiri Monastery was established in memory of Fa-hsien to preserve and exhibit the treasures discovered during the excavations which were ornaments and jewellery made of gold and with gems and crystals; coins belonging to ancient era; metal objects; moulds and crucibles used in their manufacture; ceramics; pottery; glass; tiles; sculptures etc.
- Kuttam Pokuna
Kuttam Pokuna, known as the ‘Twin Ponds’ is an architectural landscape to be explored in Anuradhapura. It was built to be a bathing pool with terraces for the monks and it dates back to the 8th century. At that time, there was no modern technology to construct the place to its full effect yet it is an example of noteworthy achievements in engineering and architecture.
The pond at the northern end measures 91 feet long whereas the other pond is 132 feet long. Both ponds have steps right to the bottom of the pool. This gives evidence that there was an improvisation in Sri Lanka’s Irrigation system. Water from the man made reservoir, Basawakkulama which comes through stone conduits underground fill up the pools.
- Eth Pokuna
Eth Pokuna or Elephant Pond is the largest man made pond in the whole of Anuradhapura. Sitting among the forest at 159 metres in length and 152 metres wide, it is a great marvel that speak of the ancient irrigation wonders of Sri Lanka. It was used by monks who lived in the nearby buildings for their daily cleansing and other water related necessities. The water fills up from the Periyamkulama Tank through underwater channels and heavy rains cause water to flow from the inlets.