Thuparama Dagoba, Anuradhapura (2)

Thuparama Dagoba, Anuradhapura (2)

Thuparama Dagoba, Anuradhapura (2)

The Thuparamaya dagoba is one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in Sri Lanka, perhaps the first built after the introduction of the religion. The building must have impressed Terry Ruff, as he included two pictures of it in his wartime photo album.

Many thanks to Ken Creed for sending us these pictures, which were taken by his wife's uncle Terry Ruff during his time with No.357 Squadron, a special operations unit that operated over Burma, Malaya and Sumatra.


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Anuradhapura, city, north-central Sri Lanka. It is situated along the Aruvi Aru River. The old section of Anuradhapura, now preserved as an archaeological park and designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, is the best known of Sri Lanka’s ancient ruined cities. In the immediate vicinity are huge bell-shaped dagobas (Buddhist commemorative shrines, or stupas) built of small sun-dried bricks as well as temples, sculptures, palaces, and ancient drinking-water reservoirs. The city also contains an ancient pipal tree that is believed to have originally been a branch of the Bo tree at Bodh Gaya (Bihar, India), under which Gautama Buddha attained Enlightenment. The Bo tree branch was planted at Anuradhapura about 245 bce , and it may be the oldest tree in existence for which there is any historical record.

Anuradhapura was founded in the 5th century bce and was the Sinhalese capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century bce until the 11th century ce , when invasions from South India forced the shifting of the capital. The city was abandoned and overrun by jungle in the 19th century it was rediscovered by the British and subsequently became a Buddhist pilgrimage centre. The revival of the city began in earnest in the 1870s. The contemporary city, much of which was moved during the mid-20th century to preserve the site of the ancient capital, is a major road junction of northern Sri Lanka and lies along a railway line. The city is the headquarters of Sri Lanka’s archaeological survey, and tourism is a significant factor in its economy. Pop. (2001) 53,151 (2012) 50,595.

5 Things To Know Before Visiting The Sacred City Of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

The cost of visiting Anuradhapura

Must like all other sites of historical, cultural and religious significance Anuradhapura is actually quite expensive to visit. Access to the whole site costs $30 USD for a day. To that, you’ll have to add the cost of a tuk tuk or a bike to go around, so your overall cost for a day will be no less than $40 USD.

TIP: Make sure to keep your ticket with you and handy at all times, as police officers patrol the area and they often stop visitors to make random checks and ensure they have tickets.

How to visit Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is a huge site and there is no way you can just walk around. You need some sort of transportation to take you to the various places to visit on the site. Whether you decide to go around by bike or by tuk tuk, you will spend an average of six hours exploring the site.

By bike

Most visitors opt to explore Anuradhapura by bike. Rentals are available close to the entrance of the site, and cost between $7 and $10 USD for a day. Make sure to double check that your bike actually works – breaks and all – because bikes are often in dire conditions.

By tuk tuk

If you don’t like the idea of biking in the heat, then hiring a tuk tuk for the day is a good idea. This should cost you around $10 USD – remember to always bargain the prices. You will have to book it in advance and pay for your entrance fee separately.

Best guided tours of Anuradhapura

When I visited Anuradhapura I opted to go around on my own, by bike, and though I enjoyed my time there, I regret not having a guide that would help me put what I was seeing in context. Indeed, Anuradhapura is a very vast site, and unless you are an expert in Sinhalese culture or history, making sense of what you will be seeing will be impossible. I wholeheartedly recommend hiring a guide to take you around (it should cost you between 800 and 1000 Rupees for the day), or joining a guided tour for your visit.

What to wear and bring when visiting Anuradhapura

Make sure to dress modestly for your day in Anuradhapura. Remember that most of it is a holy site, with people praying. Wear a pair of pants or a long skirt, and sandals (though not flip flops in case you are going to bike) and bring along something to cover your shoulders when you enter holy sites.

You will have to remove your shoes any time you visit a temple.

Make sure to also bring along a hat and sunglasses, and to wear a lot of sunblock. Finally, carry enough cold water for the day. There are a few vendors in the biggest sites, but at times it may be a while until you find one!

Continue reading to discover all the must sees in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

Why is Thuparamaya sacred?

Arahant Mahinda thero has requested to built this stupa, enshrining right collar-bone of Lord Buddha. Therefore King Devanampiyatiss built this bell shaped stupa at the monastery premises. The name Thuparamaya comes from “stupa” and “aramaya” which is a residential complex for monks.

At present, four concentric circles of stone pillars are found around the stupa. Those are the ruins from former ‘Vatadage’. Which can describe as a house for the stupa. This vatadage has been built in the 1st century AC. It was not complete, but there has been 176 pillars which supported this stupa house and in 1896.

This stupa was destroyed from time to time, but during the reign of King Agbo II it was completely destroyed and the King has restored it. As a result of several renovations over the years, Thuparamaya currently has a diameter of 59 ft (18 m), at the base. The dome is 11 feet 4 inches (3.45 m) in height from the ground, 164½ ft (50.1 m) in diameter.

On the left to the Thuparamaya, there are remains of ancient construction belongs to the stupa. According to the legends King Devanampiyatissa has also built this. It seems like this was the first temple of tooth relic.

However, almost all the Buddhists never forget to visit Thuparamaya when they visit sacred city of Anuradhapura.

Thuparamaya of Ancient Anuradhapura – ථුපාරාමය

This is the first stupa to be built in the country after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Built in the time of king Devamnampiyatissa (250BC – 210BC) this was a stupa as well as an Aramic complex (monastery). Today ruins of this complex covers nearly 3 ½ acres. The stupa was built on the instructions of Mahinda Thero who brought Buddhism to the island to enshrine the right collar-bone of Lord Buddha.

On this stupa you can see a unique architectural feature called vatadage, a stupa-house. This building completely housed the stupa. At present four concentric circles of stone pillars are found around the stupa. They diminish in height from inner most circle and at one time carried the weight of a dome-shaped roof over the stupa. There has been 176 pillars which supported this stupa house and in 1896, 31 complete pillars with capitals has been standing. This vatadage has been built in the 1st century AC.

In the seventh century BC the stupa was covered with a gold and silver casing and the vatadagê (stupa-house) with golden bricks and golden doors. Then Pandyans (south Indian Tamil) plundered the stupa of it’s all gold, jewels and treasures.

Again Mahinda IV (956-972) re installed the golden casings and the golden doors but again in the late 10th century Colas (south Indian Tamil) completely plundered the complex of its valuables.

The renovation of the present stupa was completed in 1862 which as completely changed the ancient features of this most ancient stupa.

On the left to the stupa you can see the conserved remains of an Image house belonging to this stupa complex. This was built by king Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century BC and six hundred years later this was destined to be the fist to house the Tooth Relic of Buddha, to claim the title of first Dalada Maligawa in the island.

The building is adorned by a pair of beautiful guard stones at the entrance. Some of the pillars still holds the lotus shaped crown and smooth polished surface which has survived over 2 millennia is a rarity in the building in Anuradhapura.

Next to this is remains of a small building with the two smaller guardstone and a granite doorway. Next to this is an ancient well made of granite blocks. On the opposite side of the walkway to the stupa you will find a small stupa called Padalanchana Stupa.

On the north-western side of the stupa you can see the Basawakkulama tank. This is the most ancient monument in Anuradhapura. This was built by king Pandukabhaya in the 4th century BC.


There are two recorded instances regarding the construction of stupas in Sri Lanka in the lifetime of Gautama Buddha. One of those instances is the construction of the cetiya at Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara at Mahiyangana in the valley of Mahaweli, which enshrines the Buddha's Hair Relic reputedly presented by the Buddha to Saman, a deva.The other instance is the construction of a stupa at Tiriyaya enshrining the Hair Relics presented to the tradesman brothers Tapussa and Bhallika from Okkalapa (present-day Yangon). The gift of the Hair Relics to the brothers is explicitly mentioned in the Pali Tipitaka. The latter This event is mentioned in an inscription written in Sanskrit found at this site. [1]

During the time of Ashoka, numerous ‘stupas’ were built at hallowed sites in India. In these were enshrined relics of the Buddha which people venerated. When it was observed that there were no Buddha relics in Sri Lanka, the king, at Mahinda’s suggestion, appealed to Emperor Asoka to send some relics. He responded to the king’s request and sent the right collarbone relic of the Buddha. King Devanam Piya Tissa built the Thuparamaya to enshrine this relic, the right collarbone of the Buddha. The Thuparamaya is regarded as the first ever historical stupa built in Sri Lanka. The building of colossal stupas started during the reign of King Dutugamunu. Afterward many kings built stupas. [1]

The construction of stupas were considered acts of great merit. The purpose of stupas were mainly to enshrine relics of Buddha. The design specifications are consistent within most of the stupas, entrances to stupas are laid out so that their centre lines point to the relic chambers. [6]

The stupas were covered with a coating of lime plaster, plaster combinations changed with the requirements of the design, items used included lime, clay, sand, pebbles, crushed seashells, sugar syrup, white of egg, coconut water, plant resin, drying oil, glues and saliva of white ants. [6] The fine plaster at Kiri Vehera used small pebbles, crushed seashells mixed with lime and sand were used in the stupas from the fifth to twelfth centuries.

A stupa usually has six parts: [5]

A stupa consists of three such berms at its base. The three berms rising from the base gradually reduce in size.

The hemispherical dome is constructed on the three berms. In the middle of the dagaba was built a relic chamber (Dhathu garbhaya). The Buddha's relics are enshrined there. In the centre of the Relic Chamber was placed a bo-tree made of precious metals, and an image of the Buddha round which were groups of figures representing various events in the life of the Buddha.

Relics are enshrined in this part too.

This is built on the Hatharas Kotuwa. Figures of deities are carved on the surface.

This is built on the Devatha Kotuwa. A crystal (chudamanikya) on a pinnacle made of metal is placed at the top of the spire to adorn it.

  • Kotha – This is also called "silumina" in Sinhala. This is usually a pinnacle made of metal on top of which is a precious crystal or gemstone(chudamanikya).

There are other constructions associated with the stupa:

This is a structure constructed joining the stupa at its four cardinal directions as a decorative flourish. Later these frontispieces came to be decorated or embellished with designs such as the creeper design. Stone slabs erected for the purpose of offering flower at the stupa too have been added to these frontispieces.

The chetiyagara is a structure constructed as a protection chamber for the stupa. There is evidence to show that such chambers were erected to shelter the small stupas built during the early years. The roofs of these structures are believed to have been wooden. [1]

Basically, a stupa has several salient features. Buddhist literature mentions six types of stupas differing according to the shape of the dome or body of a dagaba. [1] This is mentioned in "Vijayantha Potha". [5]

e.g. : Ambastala dagaba at Mihintale

e.g. : Ruwanweli Maha Seya at Anuradhapura, Rankoth Vehera & Kiri Vehera at Pollonnaruwa

e.g. : Situlpavwa, Somawathiya, Kiri Vehera at Kataragama

e.g. : Vijayarama at Anuradhapura, Puliyankulama, Indikatu Seya at Mihintale

No records exist of the finding of this type of stupa in Sri Lanka.

Another type of stupa is mentioned in the book "Manju Sri Vasthu Vidya Shastra"

King Devanam Piya Tissa built the Thuparama dagaba to enshrine the Right Collar Bone of Lord Buddha. The Thuparama is regarded as the first ever historical stupa built in Sri Lanka. [1] Originally it was in the shape of a heap of paddy but as restorations were done in later years, it took the form as seen today. It has a diameter of 59 feet 6 inches (18.14 m) at the base. As the name suggests, Thuparama comprised a ‘stupa’ and an ‘arama,’ a residential complex. Ruins of such a complex can be seen within an area of over 3 acres (12,000 m 2 ) around the ‘stupa.’

The ‘stupas’ built later on were much larger than the Thuparama.It is accepted that the building of colossal stupas started during the reign of King Dutugemunu. King Dutugemunu (161-137 BC) built the Mirisaveti which has a diameter of 168 feet (51 m) at the base and the most venerated ‘stupa’ - Ruvanvali Mahaseya, also known as Ratnamali Mahathupa. While the base has a diameter of 289 feet (88 m), the height is given as 120 cubits (‘riyan’), equivalent to around 300 feet (91 m). It took the form of ‘bubbulakara’ or bubble shape. When the Abhyayagiri dagaba was originally built by King Vattagamani (Valagamba - 103 BC) it was not very large but later enlargements made it larger than the Mahathupa.

King Mahasena (276-303 CE) is credited with building the largest of them all - the Jetavana, which has a diameter of 367 feet (112 m) at the base. Though the present height is estimated at 232 feet (71 m), the original height is supposed to have been 400 feet. The main feature of Jetavana is its foundation, which goes all the way to the bedrock and 25 feet (7.6 m) deep. The height of Jetavana and the depth of the footing is approximately equal. Large stupas were also built at Mihintale at the site where Arahat Mahinda met the king, Magama, Dighavapi (near Ampara), Kataragama and other places. The builders of ‘stupas’ in Sri Lanka had closely followed the designs of such monuments built in Sanchi and other places in India. In huge monuments, the dome rose from a triple-based platform. The dome was surmounted by a square railing of wood or stone which later became a cube of masonry. A stone pillar embedded in the dome rose above the railing. The ‘stupa’ was crowned by an umbrella (‘chattra’) or a series of umbrellas.

The Kantaka Chaitya in Mihintale is a fine example of a small dageba. It features some of the finest stone carvings and terra cotta figures. They are well preserved to this day. The presence of a ‘vahalkada’ or front piece is another interesting feature in this chaitya. There are carvings of animal figures, pot and foliage and other familiar ornamental motifs. These front pieces seen in most dagebas project from the base and face the cardinal points.

It can be observed that after the 4th century, the building of colossal dagebas has virtually ended. Thereafter smaller ones have been built using Thuparama in Anuradhapura as a model. This type came to be known as ‘vatadage’ or rotunda. It is a circular relic house and apart from Thuparama and Lankarama in Anuradhapura, the best example is seen in Polonnaruwa.

There are two other beautiful ones at Medirigiriya close to Polonnaruwa and Tiriyaya off the Anuradhapura-Trincomalee road. These circular shrines enclosed stupas of smaller size and had wooden pillars right round. Later they were replaced by carved stone pillars. The pillars are arranged in four to two concentric circles, diminishing in size outwards.

    - King Devanampiya Tissa - King Dutugemunu Dagaba - King Valagamba - King Mahasena Stupa - King Dutugamunu - King Valagamba - King Kanittha Tissa - Minister Uttiya - King Lajjitissa - Unknown - King Kavan Tissa

It is important to examine the technology applied in the construction of stupas comprising the features mentioned above. Examining the building of the foundation of a stupa to suit its size, one can get an idea of the application of the knowledge of science and geometry prevalent in ancient times. The Jetavana excavations conducted recently confirm that the construction of the platform or base on which a stupa stands has been very solid and strong. The skill shown by the craftsmen in maintaining the shape of the stupa reveals the advanced state of technology prevalent at the time. One wonders how the materials used in building Jetavanaramaya could have been carried to such a height. [1]

  1. ^ abcdefgSocial Studies and History Grade 10, Sri Lanka. Educations Publications Department, Sri Lanka. 2006. p. 141.
  2. ^ Silva, R. 1990, "Bricks – A unit of construction in ancient Sri Lanka", ICTAD Journal, Vol.2, No. 1, pp. 21-42, Colombo.
  3. ^ ab
  4. Upali Salgado (29 June 2008). "Tales from the hills of Uva". The Sunday Times . Retrieved 30 September 2014 .
  5. ^
  6. "City of Anuradhapura". . Retrieved 30 September 2014 .
  7. ^ abcd
  8. Professor T.G.Kulathunga (2004). "4". Lankave Stupaya(Stupa of Sri lanka) (in Sinhala) (first ed.). p. 66.
  9. ^ ab Pieris K (2006), Architecture and landscape in ancient and medieval Lanka
  10. ^
  11. "National Engineering Technological Heritage Gallery ceremonially opened". The Sunday Times . Retrieved 30 September 2014 .

Paranavitana, S, Stupa in Ceylon
von Schroeder, Ulrich. (1990). Buddhist Sculptures of Sri Lanka. (752 p. 1620 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd. 962-7049-05-0

Thuparamaya was the first stupa in Sri Lanka after the introduction of Buddhism in the country by the King Devamnampiyatissa. History states that King Ashoka had sent his envoy to Sri Lanka who introduced Theravada Buddhism and also Chaitya worship to Sri Lanka. It was on his advice that King decided to construct the stupa in which he enshrined the right collar bone of Gautama Buddha.

The name Thuparamaya comes from "stupa" and "aramaya" which is a residential complex for monks. An ancient inscription states that a tank was near Thuparama, and the ancient harvest from the paddy fields around the reservoir was given to the Bhikkhus (an ordained male monk in Buddhism).

Things to do in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura provides you amazing opportunities to explore this sacred city in various ways. However, you can find below, the best way to explore this wonderful city.

Whatever it is, the main thing to do in Anuradhapura is to explore the vast archeological ruins and fascinating religious sites. Therefore, first of all, let’s get to know about the places to visit in the charming city of Anuradhapura.

The Best Places to Visit in Anuradhapura

Indeed, as we always highlight, Anuradhapura houses a bunch of places with significant cultural and religious values. Hence, if you visit Anuradhapura you have plenty of places to visit and enjoy as per your wish. So, in order to choose the best, we have listed below the most ideal places to visit in Anuradhapura. Never forget to have a look!

  1. Sri Maha Bodhi
  2. Abhayagiri Dagoba
  3. Ruwanweli Maha Seya
  4. Isuruminya Temple
  5. Abhyagiriya Museum
  6. Brazen Palace
  7. Mirisawetiya Dagoba
  8. Royal Palace
  9. Jethawana Dagoba
  10. Thuparama Dagoba
  11. Awukana Buddha Statue
  12. Anuradhapura Ruins
  13. Sandakadapahana
  14. Ath Pokuna
  15. Kuttam Pokuna
  16. Samadhi Buddha Statue
  17. Archeological Museum
  18. Nuwarawewa Tank
  19. Thissa Wewa
  20. Kala Wewa

Of course, all these places hold a uniqueness of their own. Moreover, the grandeur they exhibit is impressive beyond a doubt. So, for abetter overview, let’s get to know about each of these places in detail.

Sri Maha Bodhi (The Sacred Bo Tree)

Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred acacia tree located in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is the southern sapling of the historical Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment in India. In the 3rd century, Theri Sangamatta brought this Bo sapling to Sri Lanka. She was the daughter of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, who later became a pioneer in establishing the Sri Lanka Bhikkhuni Sasana. However, King Devanampiyatisa was ruling the country, when Sangamitta Theri arrived. So, King Devanampiyatissa in 249 BC, planted this Bo Sapling, ceremoniously, in the Maha Mevna Uyana in Anuradhapura. Hence, it is by far the oldest tree in the world with a recorded planting history.

From time immemorial, Buddhists came from far and wide to pay homage to this sacred Bodhi tree. Buddhists believe that offering sacrifices to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi will bring significant and positive changes in their lives. Hence, Buddhists make special offerings to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, wishing success in their pursuit of various goals such as healing, childbirth, passing exams, and employment. It is also a long-standing tradition among the farmers of Anuradhapura to offer their first paddy harvest of the year to the Sri Maha Bodhi tree. Going beyond, the Bo tree is revered by many people and thus, holds a cultural heritage.

This is just a glimpse of this most sacred Bo tree of Buddhists, Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Check our article on ‘Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi‘, to get to know more about its grandeur.

Abhayagiri Dagoba

It is also famous as the Abhayagiri Uththara Maha Chaitya. King Walagamba built this stupa. A coffin in the shape of a bull is treasured here. To the north of the city of Anuradhapura, there is this Abhayagiri Dagoba with its walls, ornate carvings, highly artistic fence, and moonstone. Also, Abhayagiri is not just a temple complex. It was also a bhikkhu sect that maintained a unique historical writing tradition and way of life. Moreover, from the 2nd century, it was an international center that froze all Buddhist philosophy, attracting scholars from all over the world. Thus, in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, the Abhayagiri Vihara, the Maha Vihara, and the Jetavana Buddhist sects stood on equal footing.

Ruwanweli Maha Seya

Ruwanweli Maha Seya or Swarnamali Maha Seya is a majestic stupa in the sacred city of Anuradhapura. This was the main dagoba belonging to the ancient Maha Vihara. Also, this still remains as the main dagoba of the Maha Vihara in the present as well. Ruwanweli Seya was the most important physical shrine in ancient Sri Lanka until the establishment of the Temple of Tooth Relic. However, with a diameter of 338 feet (103 m) and 942 feet (287.1 m), Ruwanmahaweli Seya stands as one of the tallest monuments in the present world.

Owing to its historical and religious values, this undoubtedly happens to be one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura. Besides, this is just a quick run-through of its significance. Feel free to check our article on ‘Ruwanweli Maha Seya‘ for a detailed overview.

Isurumuniya Temple

King Devanampiyatissa, a prominent ruler from the Sri Lankan Monarch built this temple. Further, there is a belief that the purpose of building it was to house 500 high caste children. However, King Kasyapa (473 – 491) renovated this temple and named it “Boupulvan Kasubgiri Radmahavehera”. There is a temple by a cave, and above it is a rock. Also, there is a small stupa. At the bottom, on either side of an opening, are ivory figures that emerge from a pond. Besides, this site houses a bunch of amazing carvings, that hold a series of fantastic artistic values.

A 6th-century mystical sculpture. It depicts a woman sitting on a man’s lap. There is a belief that this carving features King Dutu Gemunu’s son Prince Saliya, and his girlfriend Ashokamala, a saddle girl. Nevertheless, this remains one of the most valuable artistic sculptures from the Kingdom of Anuradhapura.

This carving shows a human and a horse’s head. It is also one of the most appreciable sculptures from ancient Sir Lanka. However, there is a belief that this carving signifies Agni (fire) and Parjanya (cloud).

Abhayagiriya Museum

The Abhayagiri Museum is located in the Abhayagiri Ancient Monastery Complex in Anuradhapura. This was opened on June 13, 1992. Architecturally designed with the ancient Panchavasa Sangarama in mind, the museum was built by the Central Cultural Fund with a generous donation from the People’s Republic of China. Named the “Mahatissa Fa-Hien Cultural Complex”, the museum commemorates the Chinese Fa-Hien monks who studied Buddhism at the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara during ancient times.

In brief, this museum reveals the grandeur of ancient Sri Lanka as a land of great harmony between art and technology. To be specific, the Abhayagiri Vihara, which functioned from the 1st century BC to the 11th century BC, had bronze technology. So, this museum features fine arts in the ancient architecture of the scriptures, sculptures and carvings, sanitation in the fine arts, water management technology, temple administration, and a collection of informative artifacts from this wonderful period of Anuradhapura.

Lowamahapaya (Brazen Palace)

Lowamahapaya is a sub-hall built in the 1st century in the Maha Vihara, and it still stands near the Ruwanweli Maha Seya, in Anuradhapura. Its roof is of Metal tiles. Thus, it was famous as the Metal Palace in the history of Sri Lanka as well. The Lowamaha Palace was built by King Dutugemunu. The present small building in the middle is a modern one, but the monks of the Bodhimalu dynasty still use this place for the poya rituals of the Maha Vihara.

In the past, there was an almshouse, a lodge, and a sub-hall. There was also a boundary stone and on the days of Poya, the monks would gather and perform Poya rituals. It was a nine-story mansion with 100 rooms on each floor. The ground floor was for the Protestant monks, the second floor for the Tripitaka monks, the third, fourth, and fifth floors for the Sovan, ascetic, and non-secular monks, and the rest for the Arahants.

The building is square and the sides are 400 feet long. The roof was made of copper and bell alloy bronze tiles. Moreover, that is the reason why it got the name, ‘Lowamahapaya’, meaning the ‘red palace’. There are 40 rows of stone pillars. The total number of stone pillars is 1600 with 40 pillars per row. All of these are the same in height. Further, these pillars are adorned with solid figures and floral scrolls. It is said that it took 6 years to complete the building. It is believed that the plan of Lowamahapa was built to resemble the palace of the goddess Tharani Thawthisa “Bharani” and that a pavilion similar to the female vehicle of “Vesravana” was erected in the middle of the palace.

Mirisawetiya Dagaba

The Mirisawetiya Dagoba is the first dagoba built by King Dutugemunu the Great, who ruled Ceylon during the period 161 – 137 BC. However, later various kings rebuilt and expanded it. This dagoba is mentioned in historical legends as one of the foremost dagobas of that time.

Also, there is an interesting story about why King thought of building this stupa. He placed the relics of the Buddha on a stick, and then he left the stick to go to Tissa Wewa to take a bath. After bathing, he returned to the place where the baton had been placed and noticed that it could not be carried. Then, he had thought to build a stupa at the place where the rod was. Also, he named this stupa ‘Mirisawetiya’, commemorating the ill-deed he did by enjoying a chilly curry without offering it to Sanga. He had thought, that building this stupa is a punishment for his ill-deed.

However, after a series of renovations, Mirisawetiya still stands strong adding a glamour of charm to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. So, beyond a doubt, it is one of the best places for you to visit in Anuradhapura.

Royal Palace

Among the cultural and religious attractions in Anuradhapura, the Royal palace held a fabulous prestige over the past ecnturies. It is located about 200 m north of the Thuparama Dagoba. The Royal Palace was built by King Vijayabahu, a crown head during the 12th century. His purpose of building this was to use it for some transitional ceremonies in Anuradhapura.

The stone buildings of the palace still remain in good condition. Also, you can see a ruined temple on its southern side. After all, these Royal Palace ruins simply happen to be one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura. Further, the Royal Palace is regarded as a photogenic site for travelers in the present as well.

Jethawana Dagaba

Standing 400 feet (120 m) high, it is the tallest stupa in the world. It is also the largest brick-built building to date. Jethawanaramaya was built by Mahayana Buddhist King Mahasen (273 – 301). It is believed that part of the belt relic worn by the Buddha is treasured there. So, this is a consumer chaitya. It is the 3rd largest structure in the ancient world after the two Great Pyramids at Giza. Approximately 93,300,000 baked bricks were used to build it.

The area around it is about 8 acres (5.6 ha). More than 3,000 Buddhist monks were accommodated in this viharaya. The length of one side of the stupa is 576 feet. The stairway on all four sides is about 28 feet wide. The altar in the courtyard is 27 feet high. The foundation of the stupa extends to a depth of 6 meters and is built on the rock on which it is located. The names of the people who supported the building industry are inscribed on a stone plaque.

Thuparama Dagoba

Thuparamaya is considered to be the first Chethiya built in Sri Lanka after the introduction of Buddhism. The shrine was built in a Vatadage on a high platform. The wall around the dagoba of the Vatadage and the roof above it is now defunct but the four rows of stones that supported the roof are still intact. These four rows of stones vary in height from one another. In each inner row, the pillar is taller than the outer row. All stone pillars are octagonal. The carvings on the pillar heads are also different from each other. The first and second rows are adorned with solid heads, the third row is adorned with bird figures and the fourth row is adorned with floral letters.

To the south of the eastern entrance is a small pantry for the convenience of the pilgrims. The steps leading to the Dagaba and the cobblestones, watchtowers, and moonstones on either side are also beautifully designed. Owing to these features, Thuparamaya not only happens to be a religious attraction, but also a cultural attraction with a series of amazing artifacts. Hence, this is surely one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura.

Aukana Buddha Statue

The Aukana Statue is simply a wonderful creation that positions Sri Lanka as a proud nation in the eyes of the world. Also, this work unveils to the world the past pride of a great generation of Sri Lanan artists.

Carved in the face of a large black stone, the statue is 38 feet 10 inches high. It stands facing the Kalawewa and is considered by some scholars to be the masterpiece of Dhatusena, the 5th-century ruler of Ceylon. Moreover, this statue is undoubtedly one of the finest surviving statues found in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it certainly happens to be one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura.

Anuradhapura Ruins

Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka has a unique beauty, owing to the treasure it holds with regard to religious and cultural history. The historic and spectacular values of this city reveal the vast empire of the ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Also, its ruins are reflections of what was in antiquity. Hence, the ruins in Anuradhapura are simply worth exploring. You can find below some of its most significant ruins.

However, the excitement is not only in observing these ancient monuments but also in understanding their legends and exploring their delight in every detail. So, if you ever visit Anuradhapura, never forget to witness their enchantment, and the following briefs would help you explore them in a better way.

Sandakada Pahana (Moonstone)

The moonstone is the crescent-shaped stone slab at the foot of the stairs. They were common at religious places. However, during the later centuries, carved moonstones were used for important places such as idol houses as well. Further, moonstones belong to the seventh and ninth centuries. In the early days, this was done in a simple manner without any carvings. Then after several years, they have been decorated.

The moonstone in the Bisomaliga of the Abhayagiri Vihara in Anuradhapura is considered to be one of the finest works of art. According to Prof. Paranavithana, these carvings remind the viewer of Buddhist ideas. According to him, the horseshoe surrounded by an artistically represented flame on it, signifies that the ordinary world is full of troubles and sufferings.

Eth Pokuna (Elephant Pond)

This is a historical pond in the ancient city of Anuradhapura and is in the southwest of the Abhayagiri Stupa, close to the Lankaramaya. Due to its size, it is popular as the Elephant Pond. Still, in the past it was popular as the Maspotha Pond.

The pond is 159 meters long and 52.7 meters wide and has a depth of 9.5 meters. Also, this happens to be the largest pond in Sri Lanka. There are two main waterways that supply water to the pond. One of these routes still brings water from the Periyankulama tank to the pond. It has two other waterways on the south side, one of which still supplies water to the Elephant Pond during periods of heavy rainfall. It is said that this pond was built to meet the drinking needs of the monks of the Abhayagiri. Also, this is popular as a work of art by King Agbo I. However, it is indeed a splendor of the era, and thus, is one of the best places to visit in Anuradhapura.

Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds)

Kuttam Pond is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful creations by our ancient ancestors. Moreover, it depicts how strong their connections were with nature, and also their frozen artistic talents. It is not a sacred place but it is one of the most visited places by the pilgrims. This pool is near the Abhayagiri Vihara in Anuradhapura and the purpose of building this in the past was for the bathing of the monks in Abhayagiri.

Kuttam Pokuna, or ‘Twin Pond’ simply suggests the structure of this pond. Of course, it has two ponds, both having the same width. The larger one is 132 feet long, and the small pond around 90 feet long. Also, there are three marvelous staircases that lead to the large pond. All of them are highly decorative, and they exhibit the rich artistic values of the Anuradhapura Era.

Samadhi Buddha Statue

The Samadhi Buddha statue is located in the Mahamevna Garden in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. This statue depicts Lord Buddha meditating. In this meditative posture of ‘Dyana Mudra‘, the Buddha sits with his hands on his hips, with his arms folded and his hands turned upside down. The Anuradhapura Samadhi Statue is 7𔃽″ high and it is a wonderful creation out of a single granite (limestone) stone.

Also, as per researchers, this statue is the best sitting statue in the world. It belongs to the 4th-5th centuries, which means to the Anuradhapura period. Scholars who study the statue are of the opinion that it reflects the Buddha’s unique personality, spiritual superhuman qualities, gentleness, and directness. Also, showing the robe in only one wave exhibits the marvelous creativity and the talents of the artist. The full round serene face radiates great kindness. So, all these amazing features make it a must-see. Thus, if you ever visit Anuradhapura, make sure you visit this place.

Archaeological Museum

Anuradhapura Archaeological Museum is one of the best archaeological museums on the island of Sri Lanka. It is in the old kachcheri building, between the Brazen palace and Ruwanweliseya. Also, the history of the museum dates back to1947, and its establishment is a prime effort of Dr. Senarath Paranavithana. The museum exhibits antiquities and valuables found from various regions of Sri Lanka, and they mainly focus on religious ornaments, and ancient miscellaneous things.

So, if you are excited to explore the splendor of the Anuradhapura era, this is simply one of the ideal places for you to visit in Anuradhapura.

Reservoirs in Anuradhapura

The irrigation systems during the Anuradhapura Period were remarkable features of the kingdom. As a result, there are a number of reservoirs still existing in Anuradhapura. Their rhythmically flowing waters not only cultivate the fields around but also add a sense of beauty to the city. Hence, they undoubtedly happen to be some of the best places to visit in the city of Anuradhapura. Moreover, you can find below some of the major reservoirs out there.

Thissa Wewa

King Devanampiyatissa who ruled Anuradhapura from 307-267 AD built Thissa wewa. Moreover, this Lake provided water since ancient times to water the Sri Maha Bodhi, and for the drinking purposes of the citizens. That is why even the kings did not use this lake for bathing. Also, during the reign of King Vasabha, a tunnel system popular as Ummagga Jala Mathika carried water from Tissa Lake to Ranmasu Uyana. Further, even in the present, it has a capacity of about 3500-acre feet and it currently provides water to a large number of people around the city.

Nuwarawewa Tank

Nuwarawewa is the largest of the three man-made reservoirs in Anuradhapura. King Watagamini Abaya, popularly known as King Walagamba in the first century built this tank. According to Parker (1909), the capacity of this tank reflects the capacity of the bricks of the Abayagiri Stupa. Also, flowing across peaceful greenery, it offers visitors a perfect place to soothe themselves. Hence, for travellers exploring the city of Anuradhapura, Nuwarawewa tank happens to be one of the best places to visit.

Kala Wewa

King Dhatusena created Kalawewa, the largest tank built during the Anuradhapura period. The size of this tank which is a combination of Kala and Balalu tanks is 6380 acres. Also, this lake has a water capacity of about 100,000 acre feet and consists of 6 sluices. The length and width of the Kala Wewa outlet which is 64.4 km in circumference is 170 feet and 216 feet respectively. King Parakramabahu the Great who ruled in Polonnaruwa, restored this vast reservoir which made Rajarata self-sufficient even in the past. Further, the two English governors, William Gregory and Arthur Hamilton Gordon, later renovated Kalawewa. Besides, in the past, King Dhatusena created the Jaya Ganga to carry water from Kala Wewa to Tissa Wewa to supply water to the people of Anuradhapura.

Later, under the accelerated Mahaweli movement, a canal named Nawa Jayaganga came up to supply water from Kalawewa to Anuradhapura. As evidence of the existence of high irrigation technology in Ceylon, this design shows the world the amazing ability of the previous kings. Hence, never forget to spend some time by Kalawewa, if you ever travel around Anuradhapura.

Cycling in Anuradhapura

Cycling is one of the best ways to explore the sacred city of Anuradhapura. The Anuradhapura Cycling Tour explores the architectural talents, culture, and prosperity of ancient Sri Lankans. Moreover, it includes visiting historical sites such as Abayagiriya, Jethawana Stupa, Ruwanwelise Dagoba, Samadhi Buddha Statue, Kuttam Pokuna, and Isurumuniya. Its duration is roughly 3 – 4 hours. However, if you wish to, you can even accompany a historical English speaking guide to get an extensive knowledge of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura.

Hiking in Anuradhapura

The Anuradhapura is 80m above sea level and it has a pleasant and tropical climate. Also, its average annual temperature is around 27.3 degrees Celsius. Further, the forestry areas, and the rocks and caves in the surroundings of Anuradhapura, make it one of the best areas for hiking. However, if you are wondering about hiking spots in this splendid city, nothing to worry about! You can find below some of the best places for you to visit in Anuradhapura for a wonderful hiking experience.


Mihintale is popular as the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. According to the chronicles, in 247 BC, Mahinda, an Indian missionary, met King Devanampiyatissa on the rock of Mihinthale and converted Buddhism into the state religion of the island. Thus, this location holds a high religious value. Also, in the present, it is a place of charm with a series of beautiful shrines, stupas, and caves spread across forested hills, usually full of devout, white pilgrims. Owing to these reasons, Mihinthale happens to be a significant attraction related to the history of Sri Lanka. Hence, this is one of the ideal places for you to visit around Anuradhapura.

Around 1800 steps, lead to the summit of Mihinthale, where you can find shrines. Also, this site becomes a major religious center, especially in June. Of course, hundreds of visitors arrive at this site to celebrate Poson, the day that commemorates Sri Lanka receiving Buddhism. Mohinthale is more glamourous and awe-inspiring during this season as well. Hence, we suggest that this Poson season is the best for you to witness the delight of Mihinthale at its best.

Rajagiri Lena

Rocks and caves are anyway quite common in the area of Anuradhapura. However, Rajagiri Cave is located around Mihinthale. These rock caves have been occupied by various monks throughout the period. Monks of great virtue and wisdom used them in the past for shelter, and for their religious activities. Thus, this cave seems to have maintained a Buddhist shrine in the early days. Numerous cave inscriptions dating back to the early Buddhist period can be found in these caves.

A series of steps leading to the top of Rajagiri hill where the Rajagiri cave is located has been carved into the rock. Anyone can reach Ranajagrilena from the entrance to the Kaludiya Pond Complex.

How to visit Anuradhapura?

You can either reach Anuradhapura by bus, by train or even by taxi. However, if you aiming for public transportation, the following information will help you make the right choice.

How to get to Anuradhapura by Train

To reach Anuradhapura, you can easily take trains from Colombo Fort. There are several trains that head to the Jaffna peninsula that pass Anuradhapura. You can choose them even. The journey takes about five and a half hours.

How to get to Anuradhapura by bus

Local buses that head to Anuradhapura, and go passing Aanurdhapura are common. You can easily find a bus of that sort from Colombo fort, Kurungala, Kandy, Jaffna, Mannar, or any other major cities. The time they take and their cost might vary with the place from where you get the bus.

The Best Way to Travel around the Ruins of Anuradhapura

There are four main ways to visit the magnificent Anuradhapura Archaeological site. You can find their details below.

Exploring Anuradhapura by Bike

It gives you freedom and versatility, a little more speed, and it is the most affordable of the wheeled options. Best of all, you will experience a sense of wonder and freedom as you travel through the countryside of Sri Lanka. If you were in a car you could see a lot more, including things you didn’t know existed. Renting a bicycle costs around 500LKR or about $ 3. After all, the heat and effort is the only drawback. However, you can break your trip through Anuradhapura into pieces.

Exploring Anuradhapura by Car

If you have the money to spend and know where to rent a car this is definitely the best option. However, we can assume that it is much more expensive than any other option. Yet, you will be able to see the ruins faster and more comfortably, and then take the fun of cycling through the rural areas of Sri Lanka a bit further. It will surely be delightful to plan your journey that way. Think about it if you find it interesting!

What is the best time to visit Anuradhapura?

The best time to visit Anuradhapura is from April to September. The warmest times of the year in Anuradhapura are May, June and July, when the average temperature changes slightly. The highest is 35.3 C in late May the night temperature is approximately 26 C.

History of Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka’s historical chronicle, the Mahavamsa, records that Anuradhapura first became the capital of ancient Lanka in 4 th Century BC, during the reign of King Pandukhabaya. The King is attributed with designing the city, developing a core town and even surrounding suburbs based on a highly complex plan.

Anuradhapura came into prominence after Buddhism was introduced to the island in the 3 rd Century BC during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa. He built the country’s first stupa here, the Thuparama, which is said to house a relic of the Buddha, his right collarbone. King Tissa also arranged for the planting of the sacred Bo sapling brought to the country by Princess Sangamitta, daughter of Emperor Asoka of India. This is today the venerated Sri Maha Bodhi, which is considered the oldest living tree in the world.

King Devanampiya Tissa was also one of the first Kings to build irrigation tanks to develop inland agriculture, especially the growing of rice. He is credited with building the Tissa wewa (also known as Tisa wewa), which covers an area of approximately 550 acres and the embankment alone is measured at around 2 miles long. This man-made lake continues to be a major irrigation tank even today, and has become an essential resource to rice farmers in the area.

This ancient capital city fell many times to invading armies from India, but was famously recaptured and established as the pinnacle of the country’s development and culture by King Dutugemunu in the 2 nd Century BC. During his reign in Anuradhapura, he embarked on a massive construction project which created many of the magnificent monuments which are visible even today, chief amongst them the Ruwanweliseya stupa (built to house the begging bowl of Lord Buddha), the Mirisavetiya temple and the Lohapasada or Brazen Temple.

There were many among King Dutugemunu’s successors who added on to the city through construction of religious buildings, gardens and parks as well as irrigation tanks. The city became not only the centre of commerce and religion, but a place of learning and cultural expression.

King Valagamba, who reigned towards the end of the 3 rd Century BC, built the 230ft high Abhayagiri stupa, while King Mahasena is credited with having built 16 irrigation tanks which created a thriving agricultural community in Anuradhapura and its environs. King Mahasena also built Sri Lanka’s tallest stupa, the Jethavanaramaya, which at 400 ft is one of the highest stupas in the world, as well as one of the oldest brick buildings of the ancient world.

Anuradhapura continued to be the seat of power from the 4 th Century BC to 11 th Century AD. During this period, there were intermittent invasions by armies from India, but it remained the stronghold of the King of Lanka until King Vjayabahu I declared Polonnaruwa the capital city in 1070.

Thuparama Vihara

The Thuparama Vihara, located within the sacred city of Anuradhapura, is the oldest stupa in Sri Lanka and was constructed by King Devanampiyatissa in the third century BC. Throughout its history, the structure has seen damage and even total destruction, and though originally built in the paddy heap shape, its present form is in the bell shape. Standing at a height of 59-feet, it is believed to enshrine the collar bone of the Buddha. The ruins of what would have been a roof over its platform are evident in the stone pillars that surround the stupa.

Written by Jonathan Roelofsz for Travel Lanka Compass


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