The enormous ruined city of Anuradhapura, which was the capital of the island from the third century BC to 993 AD and one of the major metropolises of mediaeval Asia, may be found at the heart of Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.
Table of Contents
- Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
- Anuradhapura the oldest city of Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
- Polonnaruwa, the second capital of Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
- The Kings country better known as Cultural Triangle
- Dambulla can be reached by travelling north from Kandy.
- Aluvihara monastery
- Temples carved out of caves
- Wasgomuwa National Park and Park
- The city of Vijayadhapura.
- Water in the Ancient World: Irrigation in Sri Lanka
- Important water projects in the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
- The reign of King Dutugemunu
- Rise of King Dutugemun in the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
- Reconstruction efforts of cities in the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
- Yasalalakatissa and Subha
- Position relative to Anuradhapura
- The Holiest Part of the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
- Mihintale, Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
To the north of Kandy, the beautiful, tangled slopes of the central hill country give way to the plains of the dry zone. This arid and desolate region is characterised by the presence of lone mountain outcrops that tower dramatically over the surrounding flatlands and are covered with thorny shrubs and jungle vegetation. Despite the unpromising natural surroundings, the magnificent towns of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa served as the core of early Sinhalese civilization. Their imposing structures still serve as compelling reminders of the golden age of Sinhalese culture. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are still in Sri Lanka. These plains in the north, which were formerly known as Rajarata, which literally translates to “The King’s Land,” are now more commonly referred to as the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.
Anuradhapura the oldest city of Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
The enormous ruined city of Anuradhapura, which was the capital of the island from the third century BC to 993 AD and one of the major metropolises of mediaeval Asia, may be found at the spiritual core of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura served as the capital of the island from the third century BC to 993 AD. It is the location of a large number of monasteries, elaborate palaces, vast tanks, and three enormous stupas, which are the only structures in antiquity that can compete with the Egyptian pyramids in terms of size.
Polonnaruwa, the second capital of Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
The ruins of Polonnaruwa, the island’s second capital, are smaller but just as intriguing, and few travellers pass up the opportunity to climb the majestic rock castle of Sigiriya, which is undoubtedly the most outstanding sight in all of Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa was the island’s second capital after Anuradhapura. Two more prominent attractions on the island are the spectacular cave temples of Dambulla, which are a mystic treasure trove of Buddhist art and painting, and the holy hub of Mihintale, which is the site of Buddhism’s introduction to the island. Both of these locations are on the same island.
The abandoned cities of Yapahuwa and Panduwas Nuwara, the enormous Buddha statues of Aukana and Sasseruwa, the captivating temples of Aluvihara and Ridi Vihara, and the eerie forest monasteries of Arankele and Ritigala are just a few examples of the fascinating but relatively less well-known ancient monuments that can be found throughout the Cultural Triangle. In addition, the national parks of Minneriya, Kaudulla, and Wasgomuwa are filled to the brim with beautiful natural sights to see.
The Kings country better known as Cultural Triangle
Since ancient times, the plains located in the northern part of Sri Lanka have been known as Rajarata, which literally means “The King’s Land.” On the other hand, in more recent times, this phrase has largely fallen away, and now days many refer to the region as the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. The name of this region comes from an endeavour by the government in the 1970s to rehabilitate and promote the region’s hugely devastated ruins for the modern tourism sector. This effort, which may have been influenced by the “golden triangles” of Thailand and India, is where the name arose. The three sites that make up this fictitious triangle are the ancient Sinhalese capital cities of Kandy, located in the south, Anuradhapura, located in the north, and Polonnaruwa, located in the east. Kandy’s history is rather distinct and distinct from the history of the other cities, both chronologically and geographically, therefore this tourist-oriented construct actually provides a rather distorted sense of the past of the region. This is due to the fact that Kandy’s history began much later than that of the earlier capitals.
Dambulla can be reached by travelling north from Kandy.
The vast majority of tourists that go to the Cultural Triangle from Kandy do so by heading immediately north up the main route to Dambulla, Sigiriya, and points further afield. On the other hand, if you have private Sri Lanka tour, you may make a number of stops along the way that are well worth your time. Two of these are placed directly on the major roadway; the well-known monastery of Aluvihara and the lovely little temple at Nalanda are the two that come to mind first.
Along the main route that runs between Kandy and Dambulla, there are also a great many spice gardens that can be seen. The climate in this area, which lies roughly in the middle ground between the hill country and the coastal plains, is just right for gardening, making it an ideal location. If you’ve ever been curious about the origins of the ingredients used in Sri Lankan cuisine, now is the ideal moment to find out more about those origins. In spite of the fact that admission is typically free, you will be required to pay excessive fees in order to have the opportunity to observe the countless plants and bushes, some of which contain spices.
Directly adjacent to the Aluvihara monastery is the primary highway that runs between Kandy and Dambulla. The Tripitaka, which is also known as the “Three Baskets,” is the most important collection of Theravada Buddhist literature. Despite its tiny size, the Tripitaka maintains tremendous significance in the annals of Buddhist history all over the world. This is the first place that it has ever been written. For the first five centuries of the history of the religion, the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings were simply memorised and passed down verbally from one generation to the next. This method lasted for the first five centuries. However, around the year 80 BC, King Vattagamani Abhaya, who was also responsible for the construction of the massive Abhayagiri monastery in Anuradhapura, King, who also built Dambulla cave temples, was worried that the Tripitaka might be lost in the chaos caused by successive South Indian invasions. He founded Aluvihara and staffed it with five hundred monks who, over the course of many years, laboured hard to transcribe the Buddhist scriptures into the Pali language onto ola-leaf manuscripts. Those scriptures are now in existence. Despite having survived for almost two millennia, British troops nearly completely destroyed this ancient library in 1848 when they attacked the temple to put down a local uprising. This was despite the fact that the library had survived for nearly two millennia.
Temples carved out of caves
The major attraction of the complex is a network of cave temples that are connected to one another by means of narrow corridors and winding staircases. These structures may be found tucked away inside of a spectacular jumble of massive rock outcrops. From the first temple, which contains a ten-meter-long sleeping Buddha, one can go to the main floor by a flight of stairs. Inside, a second cave temple conceals a giant sleeping Buddha along with a number of images and sculptures illustrating the gruesome penalties that will be inflicted on sinners in the Buddhist version of hell. The normally peaceful Sinhalese seem to have a morbid interest with this subject matter, which is somewhat surprising. On the other hand, a similarly gruesome tableau vivant depicting the merciless punishments given by Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, the final ruler of Kandy, may be found in a nearby cave. This tableau shows the punishments.
A further cave temple can be reached by ascending the steps that lead around the side of the second temple. This temple is devoted to the famous Indian Buddhist scholar Buddhaghosa, who lived and worked in Anuradhapura in the fifth century AD (though there is no record that he actually visited Aluvihara) and composed the most thorough set of Tripitaka commentaries. Buddhaghosa is honoured here with a temple that bears his name. The figure of Vattagamani Abhaya, which was found standing in the cave’s corner, presented the scholar with an ole-leaf manuscript, and an exquisite golden image of Buddhaghosa, which was found in Thailand, kept guard outside. From a hillside far above, a sizable new golden Buddha that Thailand also provided watches over the entire complex. A dagoba and terrace located at the very top of the complex allow superb views over the surrounding hills and across to the Buddha. From this vantage point, an additional set of stairs continues up, passing by a bo tree that gives the impression that it is growing directly out of the rock.
The International Buddhist Library and Museum may be found not far from the temple complex, just up the hill to the left. A big, multivolume, antique ola-leaf copy of the Tripitaka is one of the strange things that may be found within it. It is also one of the more unusual artefacts in the collection. A local monk may also provide a demonstration of the dying process that is used while writing on ola-leaf parchment. In order to write on the leaf, one must first use a metal stylus to scratch out the words, and then one must rub ink into it so that the words can be read.
Wasgomuwa National Park and Park
Wasgomuwa National Park is among the most untouched of all of Sri Lanka’s wildlife reserves because of its isolated location and the fact that two significant rivers, the Amban Ganga and the Mahaweli Ganga, enclose it to the east and west and provide some protection. These rivers are called the Gangas. at the Mahaweli Ganga, the elevation of the park ranges from over 500 metres down to just 76 metres. The park is located at the northeastern edge of the hill area. Wide plains may be found in the southeast and east of the country, while the majority of the dry-zone evergreen forest can be found on the hills and along the major rivers. There are up to 150 wild elephants who call this park home, and the months of November through May (especially February through April) are the greatest times to see them. The elephants have a tendency to travel to Minneriya and Kaudulla national parks during the dry season and the wet season, respectively. There are also spotted deer, sambar, buffalo, sloth bears, and occasionally leopards and sloth bears can be seen. Additional fauna includes sloth bears and buffalo. There are also over 150 unique species of birds, the most of which are native to the area.
The city of Vijayadhapura.
For at least a millennium and perhaps longer, the history of Sri Lanka is practically the same as the history of ANURADHAPURA. Because of its location, which is quite close to the geographical centre of the island’s northern plains, the city became significant during an extremely early period in the history of Sri Lanka. It maintained its position as the dominant power in the region for more than a millennium, until it was finally wiped out by Indian invaders in the year 993. Even now, Anuradhapura remains a beautiful place to visit. Due to the huge size of the once-thriving metropolis that has since been reduced to rubble and the thousands upon thousands of years of history that lie dormant here, it is possible that you will spend days or even weeks investigating the ruins.
Anuradhapura was one of the largest towns during its time and was famous for being the centre of both temporal and spiritual authority for the entire island. It was one of the most important monastic cities in the history of the world since it included dozens of monasteries that were home to thousands of monks. The colossal stupas and temples that were constructed by the Anuradhapura rulers, who oversaw the golden age of Sinhalese civilisation, are considered to be among the greatest architectural accomplishments of all time. The pyramids of Giza are the only structures that can compete with them in terms of size. The city achieved fame in Greece and Rome, and the discovery of a large number of Roman coins suggests that commerce between Greece and Rome was thriving at the time.
Water in the Ancient World: Irrigation in Sri Lanka
The island nation of Sri Lanka is covered in tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of man-made lakes that are commonly referred to as tanks or wewas (sometimes written ‘vavas’). Rice farming required a steady supply of water, and the early capitals of Sri Lanka were situated in the dry plains to the north, therefore this posed a significant challenge in terms of water availability. Agriculture played a significant role in the early stages of civilisation in Sri Lanka. Irrigation, which includes conserving water for the purpose of regularly cultivating wet fields, was an essential component of early Sinhalese civilisation since the climate in this region varies between long stretches of drought and brief monsoonal floods. since of this, the early Sinhalese civilization relied heavily on irrigation. When it was finally developed, irrigation was able to transform the dry plains of the island’s northern region into a large rice bowl that could support a rising population.
The first documented examples of hydraulic engineering date back to the third century BC, during the early stages of Sinhalese colonisation. At that time, farmers began building dams on rivers in order to store water in small community reservoirs. These dams are considered to be the first known examples of hydraulic engineering. Later on, after their power had increased, the monarchs of Sri Lanka became involved in the construction of various irrigation systems. In the meantime, engineers from Sri Lanka worked to establish a system that would allow water to be stored in tanks until it was required, after which it would be released through sluice gates and transported down canals to distant fields.
Important water projects in the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
The first massive reservoirs were constructed during the reigns of Mahasena (274–301), who oversaw the construction of sixteen major tanks, one of which was the Minneriya tank, and Dhatusena (455–473), who constructed the incredible Jaya Ganga canal, which is nearly 90 kilometres long and has a gentle six-inch gradient per mile. Together, these two kings were responsible for the construction of the initial massive reservoirs. The construction of the canal, which supplied Anuradhapura with water from the enormous Kalawewa reservoir, finally accelerated the unlucky king’s end. During the reigns of Mogallana II (531–551) and Aggabodhi II (604–614), further tanks and canals were built. Mogallana II was responsible for the construction of the largest tank ever built in ancient Sri Lanka, which was located in the northern Vavuniya area. Aggabodhi II was in charge of the construction of the tank at Giritale, among other works.
The early Sinhalese civilisation was distinguished by the construction of large-scale irrigation projects, which led to the development of the civilization. Nevertheless, in order to keep these massive hydraulic accomplishments in working order, a highly developed administration and professional engineers were required. The collected water made it possible to grow an additional crop of rice as well as more vegetables and pulses than would have been possible without it, allowing for population concentrations that otherwise would not have been achievable. Irrigation on a massive scale resulted in an abundance of agricultural produce, which in turn generated a substantial amount of revenue for the royal family in the form of taxes levied on the system. It was during the reign of Parakramabahu I, the king of Polonnaruwa, who famously proclaimed that “not one drop of water must flow into the ocean without serving the purposes of man” and oversaw the construction of the enormous Parakrama Samudra, one of the last but finest examples of ancient Sinhalese irrigation. This allowed for the construction of massive domestic infrastructure projects as well as military expeditions abroad. This culminated in the reign of Parakramabahu I.
The reign of King Dutugemunu
Dutugemunu, who ruled Sri Lanka between the years 161 and 137 B.C. and is considered to be a semi-legend, is the most respected of the approximately two hundred monarchs that have ruled Sri Lanka over the period of millennia. He was a military prince and eventually a Buddhist monarch, and the singular mix of religious piety and anti-Tamil nationalism that he exhibited throughout his life continues to serve as a source of motivation for many Sinhalese even in modern times.
As Dutugemunu was growing up, he was subject to the rule of Elara, a Tamil general who had seized control of Anuradhapura in 205 BC. Elara’s rule lasted for forty-four years. Despite the fact that they might have been able to claim some form of nominal allegiance to Elara, a major chunk of the island was ruled by a number of subordinate kings and chiefs who were independent from Anuradhapura’s authority. The most influential of these subsidiary kings was Kavan Tissa, who was married to the legendary Queen Viharamahadevi. Kavan Tissa was also the most powerful. With Kavan Tissa serving as his stronghold and the city of Mahagama (which is now known as Tissamaharama), he gradually took control of the all of the southern region. The naturally reserved Kavan Tissa insisted that his eldest son and heir, Gemunu, take an oath of allegiance to Elara despite the fact that he was becoming more powerful. Gemunu, who was just 12 years old at the time, became outraged when he was asked to sign this oath. He tossed his rice dish from the table and declared that he would rather starve to death than swear allegiance to a foreign overlord. Following this, he showed his hatred for his father by sending him articles of women’s attire. This earned him the nickname “Dutugemunu,” which can also be translated as “Gemunu the Disobedient.”
Rise of King Dutugemun in the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
After the death of his father, Dutugemunu ascended to the throne of the kingdom. Dutugemunu amassed an army and led it into combat, armed with a spear whose shaft contained a Buddhist relic and escorted by a sizeable group of Buddhist monks. He was victorious. After putting down an uprising led by his brother Saddhatissa (a battle symbolised by the large dagoba at Yudaganawa), this enabled him to portray himself not just as a military leader but also as the leader of a kind of Buddhist jihad. This allowed him to position himself not only as a military leader but also as the leader of a Buddhist jihad. The campaign for Dutugemunu took a significant amount of effort. It took him around fifteen years to make his way north, conquering a string of minor kingdoms that stood between Mahagama and Anuradhapura on the way. Finally, he was able to confront Elara in Anuradhapura after making his way there through a series of bloody battles. After a series of preliminary battles, Elara and Dutugemunu fought a single bout atop their respective elephants in the aftermath of the conflict. After a lengthy battle, Dutugemunu was finally able to pierce Elara with his spear, causing her to fall to the ground unconscious.
Dutugemunu gave Elara a proper burial and ordered that anybody passing the grave of the defeated general should dismount as a token of respect. Elara was laid to rest with all the honours she deserved. Even though it is unknown where Elara’s grave is located in modern times, it is interesting to note that this arrangement was supposedly still observed in the early eighteenth century, which is around two thousand years later. After finishing his conquest, the new monarch began a huge construction project in Anuradhapura. This project included the construction of the majestic Ruvanvalisaya dagoba, whic is one of atamasthana, but Dutugemunu did not live to see it finished. It is said that as he lay dying, he looked up at the unfinished structure and spoke the following words: “In the past…I fought; now, by myself, I begin my final struggle – with death, and it is not allowed for me to triumph over my adversary.”
Because of his leadership in driving away the Tamils and bringing the entire island under Sinhalese authority for the first time, Dutugemunu is regarded as one of the greatest heroes in the history of Sri Lanka (at least among the Sinhalese). However, in spite of his accomplishments, the fragile unity he left behind after his death was quickly destroyed by rulers with less capability, and within 35 years, South Indian invaders had once again taken control of the northern region of Sri Lanka.
Reconstruction efforts of cities in the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
Anuradhapura was reclaimed by the forest after the great northern Sinhalese civilisation collapsed and was largely forgotten by the outside world. The only people who survived to live in the city were groups of reclusive monks and guardians of the sacred bo tree. Anuradhapura was “rediscovered” by the British in the nineteenth century, and in 1833 it was chosen to serve as the capital of the province government. After that time, the city began to emerge from the ashes in a methodical manner. Since the 1950s, the sizeable Anuradhapura New Town has been expanding to the east of the Sacred Precinct, and in 1980, a comprehensive UNESCO plan was initiated with the intention of completely rebuilding the ancient city. The Buddhist Sinhalese see the removal of Anuradhapura’s enormous stupas and other monuments from the jungle after more than a millennium as a profound symbol of national identity and rebirth. As a result, the programme, which is still proceeding to this day, has taken on great national significance for the Sinhalese people.
Yasalalakatissa and Subha
Despite the fact that the ancient Anuradhapuran monarchs frequently fell short of the principles they swore to maintain, the religious and benevolent shows of those rulers were greatly revered. The story of King Yasalalakatissa (r. 52–60), who took the throne by killing his brother, is one of the most well-known examples of the murky nature of Anuradhapuran royalty. This king usurped the throne by killing his brother. Practical jokes were one of Yasalalakatissa’s many vulnerabilities. After seeing how much they looked alike, he decided to trade clothes with Subha, who worked as a gatekeeper for the royal family. Because of this, he was able to observe the nobles of the island bestowing praise onto a lowly servant. This was something that Yasalalakatissa thought was so funny that he had it repeated several times. After some time had passed, Subha, now playing the part of a king, issued the command to have his “gatekeeper” put to death because of his impertinence. Yasalalakatissa’s claim that he was the rightful monarch was quickly ignored by the general populace, which ultimately led to his demise. Subha was allowed to continue governing for a further six years after his dishonesty was uncovered before he too was put to death, which is indicative of the warped values upheld by the Anuradhapuran monarchy. Subha was eventually put to death.
Position relative to Anuradhapura
Both the Sacred Precinct to the west, which is the location of the ancient city, and Anuradhapura New Town, which is home to almost all of the town’s housing and practical amenities, are considered to be independent parts of the city of Anuradhapura. The town is surrounded by three big man-made lakes that are commonly referred to as tanks: Nuwara Wewa to the east, Tissa Wewa to the south, and Basawakkulama Tank to the west. Post offices, banks, and a variety of other establishments may be found along New Town’s Main Street, which serves as the town’s geographic centre. The majority of Anuradhapura’s lodging options may be found on or in the immediate vicinity of Harischandra Mawatha, which can be found to the east of this site.
The Holiest Part of the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
Anuradhapura is covered with a large number of structures and ruins, some of which could be puzzling to visitors. It is easiest to make sense of the Sacred Precinct by considering its three primary monasteries, which are the Mahavihara, the Abhayagiri, and the Jetavana. A little less than two thirds of the important sites are included in one of these complexes.
The Mahavihara, which served as both the historical and physical focal point of the old city, is the area that is the most logical place to begin. From the Ruvanvalisaya stupa, head south to the Sri Maha Bodhi, and then do a U-turn to head in the direction of the Thuparama. You have the option of travelling to the Abhayagiri complex to the north or to the Jetavana Monastery to the east from this location.
Other notable sight clusters can be seen to the south of the Mahavihara, between the Mirisavetiya dagoba and the Isurumuniya Temple, as well as at the Citadel, between the Mahavihara and the Abhayagiri monastery. Both of these locations are in the same general area. The primary stupas can be used as useful landmarks in the event that you become disoriented; however, you should exercise extreme caution to avoid conflating the Ruvanvalisaya and Mirisavetiya stupas, as they might appear extremely similar from a distance.
Mihintale, Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
MIHINTALE, which is located approximately twelve miles east of Anuradhapura, is famous for being the place where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka. Legend has it that the Sinhalese monarch who ruled Anuradhapura between the years 250 and 210 B.C., Devanampiya Tissa, went hunting in the Mihintale hills in the year 247 B.C. As he followed a stag to the top of a hill, he was confronted by Mahinda, who introduced himself as the son (or maybe brother) of India’s greatest Buddhist emperor Ashoka and explained that he had been dispatched to Sri Lanka to convert the locals to his faith. Mahinda presented the king with his famous mango riddle as a means of initially measuring the king’s level of knowledge and establishing whether or not the king was prepared to absorb the teachings of the Buddha:
“O king, what name does this tree bear?”
“We call this tree a mango tree.”
Is this the only mango that you have available to you?”
There are quite a few mango trees in this area.
Is there anything else growing here besides this mango and the others? Are there any other trees?”
“Sir, there are a lot of trees, but those aren’t mangoes.”
And in addition to the other mango trees and the trees that do not produce mangoes, are there any other kinds of trees?”
“Sir, look at this mango tree.”
After demonstrating the king’s cunning with this tiresome demonstration of tree-headed reasoning, Mahinda continued to explain the Buddha’s teachings, quickly converting (according to the Mahavamsa) the king and his forty thousand attendants to Buddhism. The grateful monarch bestowed a royal park in Anuradhapura, which later became the centre of the Mahavihara, upon Mahinda and his supporters. Mihintale, a Buddhist centre, also became significant.
The ruins and stupas at Mihintale are not as impressive as those at Anuradhapura; however, the surrounding area is breathtaking, featuring rocky hills connected by exquisite ancient stone staircases shaded by frangipani trees. Although you can bypass the first flight of stairs at Mihintale by driving up the Old Road to the Dana Salawa level, the remaining 1850 stairs at Mihintale can be exhausting to climb because you must climb virtually all of them if you want to see everything.