Polonnaruwa is the main town of Polonnaruwa District in North Central Province, Sri Lanka. Kaduruwela area is the Polonnaruwa New Town and the other part of Polonnaruwa remains as the royal ancient city of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa.
Gal Viharaya or the Rock Temple, which is unparallel among such ancient monastic edifices, takes the form of a group of colossal Buddha statues carved out of a granite boulder. Most prominent is the standing image, 7m (23ft) tall.
Next to it is an enormous 14m (46ft) reclining Buddha. The head rests on the right palm, while the left hand is stretched along the left side of the body. The dent on the pillow caused by the weight of the head and the slightly drawn angle in the left leg adds life to the superb rock carved work of poise and balance.
Next to the reclining Buddha statue is the standing figure of Buddha. According to archaeologist Dr. Senerath Paranavitana, the pose and the facial expression of Buddha shows his supreme compassion towards the suffering.
The seated Buddha statue on the southern end with a backrest decorated in an arch is carved in front of the seat.
At the heart of the Alahana Pirivena is the remains of the towering Lankatilaka shrine, one of the most splendid of Buddhist shrines in Asia in the 12th century. This enormous brick structure consists of include 55ft. high walls, elaborate carvings and a colossal image of Buddha. The Lankatilaka shrine Image House is a fine example of vaulted shrines called gedige’s. The colossal Buddha statue today sans the head, when intact would have measured 41ft in height. The exterior of the walls are decorated with stucco figures and architectural models. On the right balustrade is carved an exquisite figure of great beauty, which is believed to be Nagini, the female counterpart of Nagaraja. Though Naga images are common in the guard stones at cultural monuments in Sri Lanka, the Lankatilaka shrine is the only example where such images are found in balustrades.
Tivanka Image House
The northern road ends at Tivanka Image House. Tivanka means ‘thrice bent’, and refers to the fact that the Buddha image within is in a three-curve position normally reserved for female statues. The building is notable for the carvings of energetic dwarfs cavorting around the outside, and for the fine frescoes within – the only Polonnaruwa murals to have survived. Some of these date from a later attempt by Parakramabahu III to restore Polonnaruwa, but others are much older.
Vatadage, a circular relic house possesses an elegance and beauty that is rare even in ancient Sri Lanka. In line with the outer circle of stone pillars is a tastefully ornamented screen wall patterned with four petalled flowers.
The access stairs at the cardinal points are beautifully carved. At the head of each flight is a Buddha statue in stone. Vatadage is lavished with moonstones and guard stones.
Palace of King Parakramabahu
Enclosed by ramparts that are four leagues long and seven leagues wide, the Royal Citadel has many interesting monuments. Palace of King Parakramabahu must have been an imposing edifice once, richly decorated and seven storeys high. The remaining walls of the palace are of extra-ordinary thickness and the drainage system is intriguing. A little further on, is the handsome royal bath, the Kumara Pokuna. Across the way is the beautiful Royal Audience Hall – embellished with lion portals, graceful pillars and a moonstone. (a delicately carved stepping stone).
The structural techniques of this period were the same as those of the Anuradhapura
period, but there was a greater use of lime mortar, which enabled the building of brick structures of dimensions that were never before attempted.
built by King Nissankamalla, is the largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa. Rankoth Vehera
had followed the traditions of early stupas built in Anuradhapura. The enormous dagoba that measures 550 ft. in girth belongs to the Alahana Pirivena monastery complex.
Around the enormous dagoba are image houses and flower alters set in the wide sand terrace surrounding the stupa. At the four central points are Vahalkadasa or front entrance enclosures built of brick, with four flights of steps providing admission to devotees.
The inscription on the stone-seat in front of the dagoba says that King Nissankamalla used to supervise the construction of the Rankoth Vehera. Another inscription on the platform to the south narrates that King Nissankamalla used to worship the dagoba from the pavilion.
Thuparama, a brick-built gedige (Sinhala: vaulted shrine) is in a fine state of preservation. Thuparama, the oldest image house at Polonnaruwa goes back to the reign of King Vijayabahu the first (1055-1110 A.D.).
A brick base is about one meter high with three projections that once carried an image of Buddha, which is now simply a pile of bricks. The stone images in the Thuparama date back to the Anuradhapura period.
Gal Potha (Stone Book)
Gal Potha is a massive 26 ft slab of stone that lies by the side of the Hetadage in which King Nissankamalla had his own deeds recorded in stone.
The inscriptions also contain particulars of King Nissankamalla’s genealogy and his wars with Dravidian invaders from South India. The inscription itself says that the slab of stone was brought to the location from Mihintale.
The inscription has been of great assistance to the scholars since it also reveals evolution of the Sinhala script. On the side of Gal Potha are two stone carved Elephants sprinkling water on goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Prosperity.
Shiva Devale 1 A Hindu Temple of chaste and restrained line dedicated to God Shiva of 12th century vintage.
Shiva Devale 2 Past the north gate of the citadel is the 11th century Hindu temple built entirely of stone. Within in the sanctum is a stone carved lingam or phallus, a symbol of Hindu god Diva. In front of the temple is the Nandi bull, God Shiva’s vehicle.
At the southern end of the city, i.e. 100m south of the statue of King Parakramabahu, outside the Royal Garden of Nandana Uyana is the Potgul Vehera, or the Library Monastery’. A central square terrace houses the principal monument, a circular shrine or library where the sacred books were deposited. It is surrounded four small dagobas.
The superior acoustics of Potgul Vehera leads to the conclusion that the library had doubled up as an auditorium on occasions to read the books, read the tenets of Buddhism and chant the blessings called “Pirith” The buildings called Potgul Vihara or library that was utilized for the same purposes as the shrine at Polonnaruwa, can be seen in some of the Buddhist monuments too.
Nissanka Lata Mandapaya
Nissanka Lata Mandapaya, built by King Nissankamalla, is an innovative work of art depicting the splendour of classical architecture. The pavilion was believed to be used for chanting Buddha’s teaching while the inscription at the pavilion reveals that the king used to listen to the chanting of pirith, which were Buddhist blessings.
The Nissanka Lata Mandapaya pavilion which is surrounded by Buddhist railings, houses a bubble shaped small dagaba, without its upper part, while it is carved out of stone in the centre. It is possible, the stone carved stupa used to hold the relic casket during pirith chanting.
Kiri Vehera is just ahead of Lankatilaka. The milk-white shrine was named Kiri Vehera (Sinhala: Milk coloured stupa) for its exterior of gleaming white, built by Queen Subhadra, a consort of King Parakramabahu. Noted for its perfect proportions, Kiri Vehera is the best preserved of Sri Lanka’s dagobas. A three-chambered relic bloc that was found while excavating a large mound to the east of Kiri Vehera reveals the structure and composition of relic chambers during the Polonnaruwa period. In addition to that, the excavations have unearthed many mounds which were originally minor stupas containing the corporeal remains of the royal family and the prelates of the monastery.
On the lower terrace towards the west of Kiri Vehera are ruins of a chapter-house or a assembly hall for the Buddhist monks.
Map of Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka