To the north of Kandy, the beautiful and tangled hills of the central highlands gradually 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 the two most ancient cities in the Cultural Triangle 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.
Table of Contents
- Anuradhapura the first capital of Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
- Polonnaruwa the second capital of Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
- Dambulla temple and Mihintale
- Some other important places in the Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
- Origin of Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
- Where is the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka?
- How to explore Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka from Kandy?
- Temple of Aluvihare
- Highlights of Aluvihare temple
- Wildlife watching inside the Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
- Origin of Anuradhapura
- Ancient Irrigation in Sri Lanka
- Important kings of Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
- King of Dutugemunu
- Rise of Dutugemunu
- Reconstruction efforts in Anuradhapura
- Both Yasalalakatissa and Subha were present
- Position relative to Anuradhapura
- The Holiest Part of the Temple
- Mihintale, the cradle of Buddhism
- Trips to the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
Anuradhapura the first capital of Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
A visit to Anuradhapura is a must on any Sri Lanka cultural triangle tour. 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 Triangle. 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, the only structures in antiquity of their size that may be compared to the Egyptian pyramids.
Polonnaruwa the second capital of Cultural triangle 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.
Dambulla temple and Mihintale
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 important sites in the Cultural triangle Sri Lanka.
Some other important places in the Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
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.
Origin of Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
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 many refer to the region as the Cultural Triangle. 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.
Where is the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka?
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.
How to explore Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka from Kandy?
The vast majority of tourists that travel to the Cultural Triangle from Kandy travel immediately north up the main route to Dambulla, Sigiriya, and other destinations further afield. On the other hand, if you have a private tour in Sri Lanka with a driver/guide, 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 popular travel route of Sri Lanka, 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 admittance is typically free, you will be expected to pay a fees in order to have the opportunity to observe the different plants and bushes, some of which are spices.
Temple of Aluvihare
The Aluvihara Buddhist monastery is located in close proximity to the main 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 very first place that it has been written. The entire body of the Buddha’s teachings was simply memorised and passed down verbally from one generation to the next during the first five centuries of the religion’s history. Nevertheless, around the year 80 BC, King Vattagamani Abhaya, who was also responsible for the construction of the enormous Abhayagiri monastery at Anuradhapura and the Dambulla cave temples, was anxious that the Tripitaka might be lost in the upheaval caused by recurrent South Indian invasions. He founded Aluvihara and staffed it with 500 monks who, over the course of several years, laboured to transcribe the Buddhist scriptures into the Pali language onto ola-leaf manuscripts. He did this by rubbing ola leaves together. 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.
Highlights of Aluvihare temple
The complex’s main draw is a network of cave temples connected to one another by winding staircases and narrow corridors. These structures may be found tucked away inside 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 via 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 in this subject matter, which is somewhat surprising. On the other hand, a similarly gruesome tableau vivant represents the brutal punishments given by Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, the last ruler of Kandy. This tableau vivant is found in a separate cave from the first one.
A further cave temple can be reached by ascending the steps that lead around the side of the second temple. This temple is dedicated 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 ever visited Aluvihara) and composed the most thorough set of Tripitaka commentaries. This temple was built in his honour. An ole-leaf text is offered to the scholar by a figure of Vattagamani Abhaya standing in the cave’s corner, and a brilliant golden Buddhaghosa image from Thailand keeps guard outside. A large new golden Buddha, which was also provided by Thailand, watches over the entire complex from a hillside far above. 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 here, a final flight of steps leads up past a bo tree (which appears to be growing out of solid rock).
The International Buddhist Library and Museum is located just up the hill to the left of the temple complex. It contains a few odd items, one of which is a large, multivolume old ola-leaf copy of the Tripitaka. A local monk may also demonstrate the dying method of writing on ola-leaf parchment. To write on the leaf, one must first use a metal stylus to scratch out the words, then rub ink into it to make the words emerge visibly.
Wildlife watching inside the Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
Wasgomuwa National Park is among the most untouched of all of Sri Lanka’s 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. The park is home to up to 150 elephants, which can be seen at their most active between the months of November and May (and in particular, between the months of February and April). 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.
Origin of Anuradhapura
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. Over the course of more than a millennium, it maintained its dominant position until it was finally wiped off 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 largest monastic cities in the history of the world since it contained 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.
Ancient Irrigation in Sri Lanka
There are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of man-made lakes scattered across the landscape of Sri Lanka. These lakes are commonly referred to as tanks or wewas (sometimes spelt ‘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. Because of this, the early Sinhalese civilization relied heavily on irrigation. When it was finally developed, irrigation was able to transform the dry plains in the northern part of the island into a large rice bowl that could support a burgeoning 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 tiny community reservoirs. This is the earliest known case 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 kings of Cultural triangle Sri Lanka
During the reigns of Mahasena (274–301), who oversaw the construction of sixteen major tanks, including the Minneriya tank, and Dhatusena (455–473), who built the incredible Jaya Ganga canal, which is nearly 90 kilometres long and has a gentle six-inch gradient per mile, the initial massive reservoirs were constructed. 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 rice crop in addition to additional vegetables and pulses, which allowed for bigger population densities than would have been possible without the additional water. 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.
King of 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, swear fealty to Elara in spite of his growing fame. Gemunu was appointed as Kavan Tissa’s successor. Gemunu, who was 12 years old at the time, became infuriated 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 Dutugemunu
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, 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 uniting the island for the first time under Sinhalese power, Dutugemunu is regarded as one of the greatest heroes in 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 in Anuradhapura
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.
Both Yasalalakatissa and Subha were present
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 served as a gatekeeper for the royal palace. 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. Ultimately, Subha was 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 very close to the Harischandra Mawatha, which can be found to the east of this site.
The Holiest Part of the Temple
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. Walk in a southerly direction from the Ruvanvalisaya dagoba to the Sri Maha Bodhi, then turn around and 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, the cradle of Buddhism
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. “O king, what name does this tree bear?” Mahinda posed his famous mango puzzle as a means of establishing whether or not the monarch was prepared to embrace the teachings of the Buddha. “What name does this tree bear?”
This tree is what we refer to as a mango tree.
Is this the only mango that you have?” he said.
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 quite a few trees, but those fruits are not mangoes,” the man replied.
And, in addition to the other mango trees and the trees that don’t produce mangoes, are there any other trees?”
“Please look at this mango tree, sir,” the man said.
After establishing the monarch’s intelligence with this tedious display of tree-headed reasoning, Mahinda continued to expound the teachings of the Buddha, and quickly converted the king and his forty thousand attendants, according to the Mahavamsa. The king was so thankful to Mahinda and his allies that he gave them a royal park in Anuradhapura, which would later become the heart of the Mahavihara. Additionally, Mihintale, which is a Buddhist centre, became an important location over time. The name “Mahinda tale” comes from the phrase “Mahinda’s hill.” Despite the fact that modern-day Mihintale being no more than a sizeable village, the town plays host to tens of thousands of white-robed pilgrims during the Buddhist holiday of Poson Poya in the month of June. This festival honours Mahinda for bringing Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
The ruins and stupas at Mihintale are not quite as magnificent as those at Anuradhapura; but, the environment around them is absolutely breathtaking, including rocky hills connected by exquisite ancient stone steps and frangipani trees providing shade. It is possible to avoid the first flight of stairs at Mihintale by driving up the Old Road to the Dana Salawa level; however, Mihintale’s 1850 stairs, nearly all of which need to be climbed in order to take in everything the attraction has to offer, can be rather taxing. It is recommended that guests come either very early in the morning or very late in the afternoon so that they can avoid having to climb the steps during the warmest portion of the day.
Trips to the Cultural triangle of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka cultural triangle is part of most Sri Lanka trip packages. The trips to the cultural triangle is available as Sri Lanka one day tour or part of Sri Lanka multi-day tours such as Sri Lanka 3 days tour, Sri Lanka 4 day tour or Sri Lanka 7-day tour package.