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Stop at: Ruwanwelisaya
The construction of Ruwanwelisaya was prophesied by the great Buddhist missionary Maha Thera Arhath Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka from India during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BC). Standing at a circumference of 370 feet and a height of 180 feet, Ruwanweliseya, the third largest stupa of Sri Lanka, is the focal point of the Maha Vihara, the first monastery of Sri Lanka. It is believed that a considerable amount of relics of Buddha is enshrined in this glorious stupa, built in replicating the shape of a bubble of water. At the eastern entrance to the stupa is a statue of King Dutugamunu. In the year 1893, a patriotic and pious Buddhist monk called Naranvita Sumanasara Thera supported by a community of humble villagers in the region, took upon the Herculean task of reconstructing the great stupa. The community resulted in forming a society called Ratnamali Chaityawardhana Society.
Stop at: Brazen Palace
Today, all we have are 1600 stone pillars in 40 rows of the Brazen Palace. A great gleaming roof, made of copper, slanting down to all four sides from the centremost point gave shelter to 1000 windowed chambers in 9 stories rising to a height of 150 feet. Adjoining Lohapasada or Brazen Palace are ruins of an Alms-hall called Catussala of the Buddhist monks of Mahavihara monastery. At the eastern corner of these ruins is a rice boat, a 45 feet long vessel cut into a slab of rock that could contain alms to at least 3000 monks at a time. The rice boat corresponds well with the narration of the Chinese Buddhist scholar Fa-Hsien.
Stop at: Sri Maha Bodhi Tree
It is hard to believe – but there is no shadow of doubt at all – that this small tree with limbs so slender that they must be supported on iron crutches, is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world (2,250 years). As lately as the reign of King Keerti Sri Rajasingha, a wall was built around the tree. In 1966 it was enclosed with a golden railing.
The great ancient Sinhalese Buddhist monuments of Anuradhapura are clustered around this Peepal tree (ficus religious) called Sri Maha Bodhi, a sapling of the Peepal Tree at Buddha Gaya, Northern India in whose shelter Gautama Buddha attained supreme enlightenment. The sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Buddhist nun Sanghamitta, the daughter of King Asoka of India during the 3rd Century B.C. To the north of the well protected and well adorned tree are three great monasteries: the Mahavihara, the Abhayagiri and the Jetavana.
Stop at: Abhayagiri Monastery
Abhayagiri Monastery spreading over an area of 200 hectares, was founded by King Valagamba also known by Vattagamini Abhaya (109 BC-89-77 BC) following his ascent to the throne for the second time, having the Dravidian invaders put to sword and fire. The main stupa at Abhayagiri Monastery, Abhayagiri Stupa was built over a footprint of Buddha. The Bo tree at the monastery is an off-shoot of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree also at Anuradhapura. Standing at 370 ft in height, when it was first built, Abhayagiri Dagoba was the second tallest dagoba in Sri Lanka.
Stop at: Samadhi Buddha
The 2m tall Buddha statue, popularly known as the Samadhi statue is a masterpiece of Sinhalese sculpture of Buddha in meditative posture carved in stone during the 4th century. It was one of the four Buddha statues placed around a Bodhi tree facing the cardinal directions. The hollow carved eyes were formally inset with crystals or precious stones.
Stop at: Kuttam Pokuna
Kuttam Pokuna or the twin ponds, a monument of great beauty and superior engineering, was built for Buddhist monks at Abhayagiri Vihara for their daily baths. On architectural grounds, the ponds are assigned to the period between 8th and 10th century. The supply of water to Kuttam Pokuna first flows into an enclosure built above the level of the ponds. The enclosure channels the water into the smaller pond through a stone carved Makara (English: dragon). At the northern end of the smaller pond is a fine sculpture of a five hooded cobra carved in stone. The cobra or Naga is a symbol of the guardian of water.
Stop at: Mirisawati Dagoba
Mirisawati Dagoba was built by King Dutugamunu (161-137 BC), “The Hero of the Nation”, following the water festival held on the seventh day of the victory of the Great War that rescued the nation from the Southern Indian Kingdom of Chola. The location of the great stupa, according the great historical narrative, Mahavamsa, is of exceptional significance. Having completed the construction in three years, the king donated the Viharaya to the Buddhist monks. He also declared the dagoba was built in repentance of his failure to offer a portion of pepper curry in alms giving to the Buddhist monks. He had eaten it first.
Stop at: Isurumuniya
Isurumuniya Temple, built by King Devanampiyatissa, is located close to the Royal Pleasure Gardens by the side of Tisaweva (Tissa rainwater reservoir). The Isurumuniya temple, built partly into a cave with a lovely pool in the front and with a boulder forming the rear wall, is a treasure-trove of exquisitely carved stone sculptures. The rock face bordering the rear of the pond is well adorned with a couple of exquisite rock carvings. Also at the temple is a celebrated sculpture on a slab of granite called ‘Isurumuniya lovers’. The stepping stone at the entrance called Sanda Kada Pahana (English: Moon stone), the guardstones at the entrance to the temple and the balustrades are exquisite carvings done in stone.
Stop at: Thuparama Dagoba
Thuparama dagoba, 20m in height and 60ft in diameter, one of the smallest of ancient stupas was built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the third century BC. Thuparama dagoba is believed to enshrine the collar bone relic of Buddha. The graceful monolithic pillars surrounding it once upheld a circular roof making the shrine a Vata Dage (Circular – Relic – house) a characteristically Sinhalese architectural feature. To the south-east of Thuparama dagoba are the ruins of a hospital as it is evident by the presence of an intact medicinal trough, an oil bath cut into a slab of stone.