Polonnaruwa was the last stop on our weekend tour of the cultural triangle. Of the 3 sites within the triangle, it was the furthest east and therefore in slightly dodgey grounds. We were advised that due to the civil war we should only go so far north and so far east, and Polonnaruwa was right on the edge of our allotted safe zone. To be honest once we arrived we never felt unsafe, in fact there were very few incidents during the whole of my time in Sri Lanka.
Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. Due to the growth of Southern Indian Empires and frequent invasion and destruction, the capital of Anuradhapura was deemed no longer safe, and Polonnaruwa became the countries capital city. Sri Lank’s capital city has continually moved south over time in what historians have called the ‘southward drift’. This movement is evident in the now capital of Colombo which is located in the south west.
The ruins of the ancient city stand on the east shore of a big old artificial lake, the Topa Wewa Lake, or Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama). This lake was created by King Parakramabahu I (1153-86), whose reign was Polonnaruwa’s golden age.
Polonnaruwa was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1982, and a little known fact, in that same year it was used as a backdrop to filmed scenes for the Duran Duran music video Save a Prayer.
Getting to Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa is around 216km from Colombo. Our own drive from Anuradhapura took around 3.5 hours, but that included a stop to allow us to climb Sigiriya Rock – An ancient fortress located at the top of a very very large rock.
Polonnaruwa is pretty big, and there’s a fair bit to see over several sites. Here’s a few bits I personally loved and would recommend.
Statue of King Parakramabahu:
On the eastern side of the Parakrama Samudra (the big artificial lake) is a striking rock craved statue of a man of noble disposition holding a stack of manuscripts.
The jury havent quite reached a verdict on the identity of the statue gentleman. A popular belief is that the sculpture that rises to a height of 3.5m is of King Parakramabahu the great. However its argued that the statue could actually represent the sage Pulasti, after whom the city was named Pulastinagara. Pulastinagara (Sinhala: City of Pulasti) is the pali version of the Sinhala name Polonnaruwa. The mystery goes on.
Palace of King Parakramabahu:
Enclosed by ramparts four leagues long and seven leagues wide the Royal Citadel has many interesting monuments. Palace of King Parakramabahu must have been an imposing edifice once, richly decorated and seven storeys high: the remaining walls of the palace are of extra-ordinary thickness and the drainage system is intriguing. A little further on is the handsome royal bath, the Kumara Pokuna. Across the way is the beautiful Royal Audience Hall – embellished with lion portals, graceful pillars and a moonstone. (a delicately carved stepping stone).
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.
Potgul Vehera in Polonnaruwa:
At the southern end of the city, outside the Royal Garden of Nandana Uyana is the Potgul Vehera, or the Library Monastery.
A central square terrace contains the main monument, a circular shrine or library where the sacred books were deposited. The theory is that due shape of the library and the acoustics created, the library had doubled up as an auditorium on occasions.
Hatadage and Atadage in Polonnaruwa:
Hatadage and Atadage are Sacred Tooth relic temples built by king Wijayabahu and king Nissankamalla. Atadage (11th century) and (12th century) both housed the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha. The Tooth Relic now resides in the aptly names Temple of the Tooth, further south of Polonnaruwa in Kandy.
Lankatileke in Polonnaruwa:
The giant towering Lankatilaka shrine was said to be one of the most splendid of Buddhist shrines in Asia in the 12th century. The huge brick structure, with 55ft. high walls, housed elaborate carvings and a colossal image of Buddha.
Video credit – lakpura Travels
Cost and Entry Times
Once again, entry times and cost information to the sites above is pretty limited. It seems that either hiring a guide or joining a tour and paying a lump sum is the popular option. A rough estimate would be $20US … sorry I cant be more accurate.
Some more light reading for you …