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A Brief History of The Ruined Kingdom of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Updated on August 8, 2013
A markerAnuradhapura -
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
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Location of Anuradhapura...

Anuradhapura is situated in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka and is the capital city of the said province. Anuradhapura is located 205 km north of Colombo.

Anuradhapura falls into the dry lands of Sri Lanka and gets monsoon rains in seasons.

The city of Anuradhapura has an area of 14 sq mi (36 km2).

Prince Vijaya meets Kuveni
Prince Vijaya meets Kuveni

Arrival of Prince Vijaya...

The recorded history of Sri Lanka begins with the arrival of Prince Vijaya and his 700 followers from India to Sri Lanka, roughly around 540 BC. Prince Vijaya was the son of Kinf Sighabahu and Queen Singhaseevali of India, and expelled Vijaya because of his constant mischievous behavior. Prince Vijaya and his followers floated on a ship and landed on the North Western shore of Sri Lanka, which is today identified as Thambapanni.

When Prince Vijaya lands on the Sri Lankan shore, he finds that the entire beach is of a bronze color, and hence he names the country as "Thambapanni"-which means the land of bronze color.

Prince Vijaya marries a 'Yakka' clan queen named Kuveni and becomes the first king of Sri Lanka.

Early Settlements at Anuradhapura...

King Vijaya orders his fellow men to go further into the land and establish settlements and develop villages and cities wherever possible. As a result of this order King Vijaya's men explore into the lands further and further in all directions.

One such follower named 'Anuradha' travels along the 'Malwathu Oya' ('Malwathu river) towards the Southeast of Vijaya's location. Then he establishes a settlement there in a prosperous land fed by the waters of Malwathu Oya. Then he informs this to King Vijaya and in honor of Anuradha for discovering the settlement, it is named 'Anuradhapura'-which means the state of Anuradha.

The complete history of Sri Lanka...

The Kingdom of Anuradhapura...

King Pandukabhaya was the first king ever to make his kingdom Anuradhapura in 437 BC. He is also credited with building a glorious city at Anuradhapura than a mere settlement. He built palaces, fortresses, houses, tanks, irrigation systems and moats and ramparts.

King Pandukabhaya is the sixth king in the Sinhalese King's lineage. (For the full list visit here: King Pandukabhaya ruled Sri Lanka from Anuradhapura for 70 years before he died of old age.

Significance of Anuradhapura...

Anuradhapura is the heart of the history of Sri Lanka. Today, the ancient structures are in ruins, but preserved for future generations. Anuradhapura is a UNESCO World Heritage site and and a World Heritage Site of Sri Lanka.

Ruwanweli Seya
Ruwanweli Seya

Anuradhapura is the ancient and former hub of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. There are great stupas that were built by the ancient kings by placing the physical relics of The Buddha. There are four major temples or stupas in Anuradhapura. They are;

  • Ruwanweli Seya
  • Jethavanaramaya
  • Thuparamaya
  • Abhayagiriya

These are just the most worshiped four dagobas out of a much larger number. All these major stupas are preserved and rebuilt and are worshiped by millions of deities every year.

A must have for travelling in Sri Lanka...

Ancient Anuradhapura was the pinnacle of kingdoms of Sri Lanka which withstood for more than 100 years of ruling by ancient kings.

Anuradhapura also gave birth to some of the most magnificent and awe inspiring structures and decorations the world has ever seen.

Sandakadapahana or the Moonstone
Sandakadapahana or the Moonstone

Shown above is the pinnacle of all stone carvings and this was just used as a doormat at the entrances to the sacred buildings of the ancient times. In Sinhalese it is called 'Sandakada pahana, which means 'a half of the moon'. The details on these stone carving are so exquisite and artistic and only two of these Moonstones are preserved in this condition. These stone carvings are as old as the Anuradhapura kingdom itself. Besides the unimaginable stone masonry in this piece of art, there is also a deep religious meaning to each and every piece of design on this Moonstone. More about Sandakada Pahana can be read on Wikipedia.

Lovamahapaya | Source

The picture above shows another miracle of a structure built during the Anuradhapura period, which bears evidence to the miraculous and breathtaking stone masonry in ancient Sri Lanka.

Lovamahapaya is located just near the Sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura. Lovamahapaya was a construction for the Buddhist monks to meditate and sermons. The structure had been built up to seven storeys in height. But today only the base structure remains, which consists of 1600 stone pillars.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya is probably the second most sacred place of worship for Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the first being the The Temple of Tooth Relic in Kandy.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya is a sapling from the great Bo Tree in India under which The Buddha achieved enlightenment. So it is considered the most sacred tree for Buddhists all around the world. Every years millions of Buddhists and non-Buddhists visit the Sri Maha Bodhiya.

The Sri Maha Bodhi sapling was brought from India to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, who planted the sapling in the place is stands today.

The original sapling was planted in 245 BC, and although that original tree had died away of old age, the branch plants that stemmed from it still stand to date.


There is no real end to the extent of the article I could compose on the city of Anuradhapura. These are merely the most significant things about the Kingdom of Anuradhapura.

There still are numerous things that I could not cover in this hub, such as, stupas, massive tanks, palaces of kings and queens, fortresses, moats and ramparts, unbelievable irrigation systems, massive structures, breathtaking stone and wooden carvings and last but not least amazing stone carvings of The Buddha. I would focus on giving detailed descriptions on each of the places of visit at Anuradhapura in upcoming hubs. So subscribe to me and keep in touch.

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    • Nimesh De Silva profile image

      Nimesh De Silva 4 years ago

      You're very welcome!!!

      Really beautiful and it does have an amazing meaning to it too.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 4 years ago

      Thank you for suggesting the video. By seeing the size of the feet and the bars in the video, I was able to get a perspective on the size of the moonstone. Really beautiful.

    • Nimesh De Silva profile image

      Nimesh De Silva 4 years ago

      There are different sizes and shapes of the Moonstone carving. The specific one mentioned here is about 5 feet in length and 4 feet in width.

      Here is a short clip of the video, sorry it's in Sinhala.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 4 years ago

      Great Hub with lots of interesting information. I'd be curious to know the size of the moonstone carving?