One of the most significant and sacred cities that belong to the ancient world, Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka. Hosting UNESCO world heritage sites this city is the core of Buddhism and its people due to its grandeur history and the vast array of Buddhist monuments that dates back to more than 2000 years. The largest brick monuments of the world named, Jethavanaya and Abhayagiriya were situated there. Sri Mahabodhi the sacred Bodhi tree shrine of the Mahaviharaya which was planted in the 3rd Century B.C. .

The second largest of the stupas in Sri Lanka, Abhayagiri Stupa has been built by King Vattagamini alias Valagamba (89-77 BC). This extends up to an extent of nearly 200 hectares. According Bhikkhu Fa-hsein who visited Sri Lanka in the fifth century there had been three thousand resident bhikkhus in the Mahavihara and five thousand bhikkhus in the Abhayagiri.

The development of Abhayagiri reached its peak in the reign of King Mahasen and was the centre of Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhist buildings found in the environs of Abhayagri indicate that this complex had been an important educational institution both locally and internationally.

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The Most Attractive Places in Abhayagiriya

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abhayagiriya-stupa-overview-hdrAbhayagiri Stupa

The Abhayagiri Stupa built by King Valagamba in the first century BC had been known by various names such as Utara Maha Ceta, Abhayagiri Dagaba, Apahayagara, Bagirinaka, and Bayagiri. In the original Abhayagiri Stupa there had been three basal rings (pesa valalu), hataraskotuva (the cubic superstructure), spire and the umbrella. On the four sides of the stupa are four gateways (ayaka), stone-paved terrace, elephant wall, sand court, wall and gopura. The bahirava figures of Sankha and Padma on either side of the southern gate are exquisite examples of sculpture. Even at present various religious performances and rituals are held in association with these figures. There is evidence that the eastern gateway contained paintings. It has also been possible to discover a Sri Pada (sacred foot print) in the stupa terrace. The present height of the stupa is 235 ft and the diameter at the base is 310 ft.
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Anuradhapura Abhayagiri 6

The Kuttam Pokuna is a superb example of Sri Lankan art and technology. It is believed that these ponds had been built for the water needs of the resident bhikkhus of Abhayagiri Vihara. Probably built in the eighth or the ninth centuries, there are terraced stone steps in both ponds to reach the water. Water to the ponds had been first carried to the yard surrounding the ponds and then through the ‘dragon mouth’ in the small pond and to the bigger pond through an underground conduit. Water in both ponds had been drained away through an outlet at the bottom of the small pond. An excellent work of art is the five-headed Naga symbol sculptured at the entrance to the ponds.

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Samadhi Buddha-Anuradhapura

Samadhi Buddha Statue is considered as a creation that depicts the skill of the sculptor of the Anuradhapura period. The statue which is in deep contemplation pose is believed to belong to circa fourth century. It is in the veerasana pose reflecting concentration and is made of dolomite. There is evidence that the body and the robe had been painted. The robe that covers only one shoulder seems to have been glued to the body. The statue is exquisite in depicting Buddha’s deep meditation, which is expressed both by the face and the body. In excavations done in about 1960 evidence has been discovered that there had been a bodhighara (Bodhi-tree shrine) here. This is known as the bodhighara of Abhayagiri Vihara.

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rathnaprasada

Believed to have been built by King Kanitthatissa (164-192 BC), this building had been used for vinaya purposes of the bhikkhus. King Mahinda II (772-797 AC) has enlarged it with several floors and deposited a gold Buddha statue. In the rock inscription of Kasyapa V (10th century) it is stated that the Ratnaprasada seemed like a divine mansion. In the reign of Sena I (833-853 AC) the south Indian Pandya aggressors have looted the building and removed the gold Buddha statue. It has later regained from South India and deposited here. In the present building standing on a stone platform, a large and tall stone pillar is seen. The guard stones on either side of the main entrance are exceptional. This is believed to be the best specimen of a guard stone in Sri Lanka. The balustrade that connects with the guard stone is also an outstanding work of art.

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Moonstones

The best specimens of moonstones found in Sri Lanka are from Abhayagiri Vihara. The moonstone No.1 is believed to be the best creative work of art in conception and execution. Because of the realistic portrayal of animal figures and the delicacy of carvings such as creeper motifs, art historians believe that it is an outstanding specimen of stone carving. The No 1 moonstone is seen near a pancavasa now known as the Mahasen’s Palace in the Abhayagiri complex. About the carvings in the moonstone scholars express various opinions. Prof. Paranavitana in interpreting the carvings refers to Buddhist concepts. According to him the moonstone symbolizes samsara, the endless cycle of birth and death, and the path to freedom from this cycle leading to Nirvana. The moonstone No 2 also is based on the same form as the above moonstone. This is found near the so-called Queen’s Pavilion on the hillock near the Ratnaprasada.

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Eth-Pokuna

The largest pond found in the Abhayagiri complex, it is used for the water needs of Abhayagiri Vihara bhikkhus. Roughly, it is 150 m long, 50 m wide and 10 m deep. It is believed to have been constructed in the third century AC. In ancient texts it is called ‘Maspota Pond.’ It is stone-paved in all the four directions with flight of steps providing access to the bottom of the pond. Three underground conduits supply water to the pond and two of those in the north are still operative in the rainy season. Water is obtained from the Perimiyankulama tank and the Bulankulama tank to the north of the Pond. In the south-west quarter is a bisokotuwa (sluice gate).

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Asokarama

As the Asokarama is located in the village of Pankuliya, this archaeological site is also known as Pankuliya. Among the ruins are an image house, bathing place, stupa, a building resembling a long hall, an exceptional guard stone, and an excellent Buddha statue. On the flight of steps to the image house there is an inscription belonging to the eighth century. This seated Buddha statue is believed to belong to 9-10th centuries, and is made of dolomite.

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vijayarama

Vijayarama may be introduced as a Buddhist monastery belonging to the Abhayagiri monastery complex. This is situated about three kilometres to the north of Abhayagiri Stupa. This has been identified as a pabbata vihara where there are a ruined stupa and evidence of nearly 25 buildings. According to historical information this monastery premises has been used as a division of the Abhayagiri Vihara complex. In the excavations of the stupa a large number of copper plates where parts of the pragnaparamita sutra had been written were discovered. Thus, it is believed that the stupa contained the dharma dhatu. It is clear that this had been used as Mahayana religious centre. Among the carvings here are Avalokiteshwara Bodhistava, and Goddes Tara. This is a pleasing monastery complex located in bucolic surroundings during the Anuradhapura period.

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Situated about 400 m to the north-east of Vijayarama various are the opinions about this stupa. Some believe that it is the ‘Pathamaka Cetiya’ built by King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC). An inscription found here refers to it as the ‘Uttara Meghagiri Vihara’. The image house here is regarded as one of the oldest of its kind found in Sri Lanka. This image house now in a ruined sate closely resembles the image house at Jetavana. The standing Buddha statue has perished and is about 9ft in height. In addition there are ruins of a Stupa too. There is an attani pillar here belonging to the 10th century. It mentions the above name ‘megiri.’

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Vessagiri

Vesssagiri that is known as Issarasamanarama is a cave temple. It is believed to have been built by King Devanampiyatissa in the third century BC for bhikkhus. There are about 23 caves with drip ledges. In these caves are found inscriptions inscribed in Brahmi characters. In these premises are found paintings belonging to the Anuradhapura period.