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Polannaruwa – A Fascinating Tourist Resort of Educational Value

Updated on November 22, 2010

The Ancient Capital Full of Ruins of Architectural Beauty

Polannaruwa, in the North-Central province of Sri Lanka, is another of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. It lies 222 KM (138 Miles) from Colombo. It dates back from the late 10th century, when the Chola kings South India invaded, and captured Anuradhpura. The strategically placed city of Polannaruwa was chosen by the conquerors in order to defend it against the Sinhala kings from thw Ruhuna region, in the South of the country. However, in the year 1070 A.D., King Vijayabahu I overcame the rulers of Polannaruwa. However, as Vijayabahu and his successors realized the vulnerability of Anuradhapura from invaders from South India, they made Polannaruwa their capital city, building vast buildings, temples, parks, gardens, and tanks. However, fresh waves of attacks from South India compelled the kings to abandon the Northern region in favour of Kotte in the Western Province, and Kandy in the Central Hills, as their capitals.  

The ruins of ancient Polannaruwa lie to the East of the Topawewa, also called the Parakrama Samudraya (The sea of Parakrama) constructed by King Parakramabahu I –also known as ‘Parakramabahu the Great’ (1153 to 1186 A.D.) –considered to be the Golden Era of Polannaruwa. The National Museum in Colombo has a range of the relics of that era. The entire area is filled with ruins of palaces, Royal Bathing pools and Assembly Halls of the ancient kings. Some of the ruins found in Polannaruwa are the Watadage, the Hetadage, the Latha Mandapaya, the Sathmal Prasadaya, Gal Potha, etc.

The ‘Gal Potha’ is a 9 meter (29ft) carving of one of the palm (ola) leaf books used at that time to record Buddhist texts and royal genealogies. The inscriptions on the Gal Potha illustrate the deeds and achievements of King Nissanka Malla.

In another corner of the Quadrangle can be seen the SATMAL PRASADA –a six-storey building, like a pagoda, unlike any other building in Sri Lanka. The archeologists were left puzzled about its origin. The Siva Devale is a stone temple –supposed to be the oldest building in Polannaruwa; and South of this is the Parakramabahu Vihara –said to be one of the largest dagobas in Polannaruwa. In case of competition, it will be a very close call to decide which of the two ancient capitals was the more impressive –Anuradhapura, or Polannaruwa. Yet, the decision will be very narrow indeed.

Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka from 437 B.C. to 845 A.D. Polannaruwa was Sri Lanka’s capital from 846 to 1302 A.D. Polannaruwa was protected by a 6 KM wall encircling it. It commanded a clear view of all the crossings over the country’s longest and largest river –the Mahaweli Ganga. Its extensive, and well-preserved ruins exhibit reveal a clear picture of ancient Sri Lanka. In later times Kotte in the South-West and Kandy in the Central Hills became the strongholds of the Sinhala Kings.

The ancient city is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. It was the seat of the Sinhala Kingdom after Anuradhapura. It was the seat of the Sinhala Regime between the middle of the 11th century, to the 13th century. Situated in the arid plains of the Dry Zone, Polannaruwa depended heavily on channeled water in order to work the fields, resulting the construction of massive Irrigation Projects. PARAKRAMABAHU I was a Warrior King and also a builder of great repute. He constructed the massive ‘Parakrama Samudra’ or ‘Sea of Parakrama’ which, indeed, is a great feat.

The other ruins that merit note are the Royal Citadel constructed by King Parakramabahu, the Gal Vihara, Vata Da Ge,  Hatadage and the Lotus Pond. There can also be seen the ruins of an ancient hospital with 33 stone pillars on the outer structure and 20 pillars on the inside. The ruins indicate three entrances, rooms and doors.

THE POLANNARUWA VISITOR-INFORMATION CENTRE was built with aid from the Dutch government. This is located on the bank of the lake. It vividly explains the many ruins to life, in a five-minute video presentation. It brings Polannaruwa’s palaces, temple, and other important constructions to life. It is worth visiting before one goes on an exploration of the ruins. The entire area is full of interesting, historical ruins and a visit there will be really educative and interesting.

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