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Anuradhapura Sri Lanka


A long succession of sinhalese kings adorned their ancient capital with royal palaces, pleasure gardens, artificial lakes monasteries and monuments to the Buddhist faith. Anuradhapura was the greatest monastic city of the ancient world. At its height it was home to thousands of monks at dozens of monasteries, served by a large lay population. It was the royal capital of a succession of 113 kings who oversaw a flowering of the arts that produced magnificent palaces intricate and exquisite sculptures, ornate pleasure gardens and of course the huge dagobas, the domed buildings that protected the most sacred relics of Buddhism. The gentle sway of the Buddhist faith inspired the kings of Ancient Lanka to allow freedom of workship and to build the world’s first hospitals. There were even animal hospitals provided for their non-human subjects. Perhaps the most impressive achievement was in irrigation, with reservoirs constructed to preserve the monsoon rains, and a system of sluices put in place to keep the rice paddies productive.The fame of the city spread; the Greek ambassador to India, Megasthenes admired the limousines of the ancient royalty, the state elephants, which were an important export, along with gems and spices. The mass of Roman coins which have been found show that Lanka was not short of trade and possibly even enjoyed some early tourism. In the early 5th century, the chinese Buddhist pilgrim Fa hien came in search of the Buddhist texts in Anuradhapura as Buddhism was then already waning in India.

Originally founded by a minister called Anuradhapura the city developed around 500 BC under King Pandukabhaya. In 161 BC king Dutugemunu united the island with Anuradhapura as the Capital. It was fought over and finally abandoned in 1073 when the capital was transferred to Polonnaruwa. By that time the city had served as the capital for about1,400 years. From then on the jungle enveloped the Palaces and temples, which slowely began to crumble. The British explorers who first surveyed the ruins in the 19th century justifiably felt they were rediscovering a ‘lost’ city. Subsequent archaeologists of Anuradhapura have had an invaluable aid in the form of the mahavamsa, the great chronicle which records the founding of the city’s monuments in pali verse. Restoration continues, somtimes amounting to rebuilding, since this is not a dead city but a living plgrimage site. Tourists, pilgrims and even monkeys flock here for their own reasons.

The most crowed part is around the sacred Bo Tree ( Sri Maha Bodhi), especially on the full moon, poson in June, when the area is packed with worshippers. People come because this is a sapling of the original tree under which the Buddha attained enlight enment in Bodhi Gaya in India.

It is the oldest known tree in the world and has been tended devotedly for 23 centuries, even when the city was conquered by Tamils. Seedlings from it have stocked temples throughout the island and around the globe. Today it is propped up on a frame of iron crutches and protected by a golden railing, swathed in colourful prayer flags offered by the pilgrims. The tree retains its beauty, turning a soft pink when it sprouts, preferring to keep a dignified distance from the crowds.

Near the sacred Bo Tree is the Brazen Palace (Loha Pasada) a grand name for what is now an unimpressive forest of short stone pillars, most of them rough-hewn, and all tilting at varying angles. These paltry remains convey nothing of the splendours described in the Mahavamsa. These chronicles tell of a palace nine storeys high, each floor with 100 rooms, and a throne of ivory with a seat of mountain crystal.

Although called a Palace, it was not a royal residence but the quarters of the monks (the name brazen refers not to the inhabitanta, but to the copper roof). Otherwise this magnificent palace was originally made entirely of wood, which unfortunately meant that it burned down more than once. The 1,600 oillars you see today are all that remains of the work completed by king Parakrambahu in the 12th century.

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