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Monday, August 4, 2008


Even today this ancient city steeped in history is revered by the people of Sri Lanka. Situated in the north central province of the country, it is 205 kilometers (128 miles) from the heart of Colombo. Even though it is in the dry zone it has an agrarian based agriculture and supplies a large portion of paddy to the market. It also had the most number of Buddhist monuments in the country and is considered as a holy city.

Anuradhapura is the most famous and longest standing royal capitol of ancient Sri Lanka. It was established as the capitol around the year 400 BCeart of colombo.r ry behind it. by a descendent of Prince Vijaya, the half legendary founder of Sri Lanka. The site was originally a settlement established by on of Prince Vijaya’s chief followers by the name of ‘Anuradha’, hence the settlement was named ‘Anuradha Gama’ which later turned to ‘Anuradhapura’. According to legen King Pandukabhaya relocated the capitol to this settlement following advice from a soothsayer, who foretold that the city was blessed and auspicious capitol city. From then onwards for over a millennia, Anuradhapura stood as the royal capitol of ancient Sri Lanka. A succession of kings developed the city with buildings, lakes, tanks and religious monuments. Its biggest wave of developments came during the reign of King Devanapiyatissa, the grandson of the founder King Pandukabhaya during 250 - 210 BC. This was the time when Buddhism was established in Sri Lanka and after the king and his court converted, he focused on building religious monuments to help with the establishment and spread of Buddhism throughout the country. Many Viharas (monasteries) were constructed to accommodate monks and for the teaching of Buddhism. It was seen as the duty of the king to facilitate the spread of Buddhism and building of these religious monuments was seen as a way of attaining ‘pin’ or merit for the next life. It is possible that Anuradhapura would have had thousands of these religious monuments built by its succession of kings spanning a history of over a millennia. For this reason this city is today considered as a holy city with people from all over the country making pilgrimage to worship the many Buddhist monuments.

Throughout its colorful history, Anuradhapura fell into the hands of south Indian invaders on several occasions, but it was always won back by the brave Singhalese warriors of that time. One of the most famous battles was between the South Indian Prince Elara and the Singhalese King Dutugemunu in the mid 2nd century BC. He was one of the most famous kings of Anuradhapura and built many Dagabas, Viharas and many other religious monuments in honor of Buddhism.

Some of the most famous monuments include, the Ruwanweli Maha Seya, Mirisawatti Dagaba, Abhayagiriya and Thupuaramaya. It is also home to the Mahamewna Uyana where the sacred Bo Tree is planted. It is a sapling taken from the original Bo Tree under which Lord Buddha attained nirvana. It is one of the most sacred places for the people of Sri Lanka.

The other area that the Singhalese kings focused on was building tanks and providing irrigation facilities to help the agrarian based economy. Rice was the main agricultural crop and it required a huge amount of water. Since the area is in the dry zone, collecting of water and distribution of it was an important issue. These ancient people had very good knowledge of irrigation technologies. They built dams across rivers and created tanks and reservoirs to collect rain water from the monsoon showers. After building these reservoirs, they built complex irrigation canals to distribute the water to the paddy fields. These tanks and canals are still part of the irrigation system that feeds the paddy fields of Anuradhapura and its outlying territories.

Anuradhapura is a city steeped in history and one that should not be missed. A journey through this city is like a journey through history, where in depth knowledge about the cultire, heritage and the people of Sri Lanka can be gained.

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