Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century BC to the beginning of the 11th century AD, is famous for its well-preserved ruins depicting ancient Lankan civilization. This UNESCO World Heritage Site lies 205km north of the current capital Colombo in the North Central Province, in the midst of large reservoirs, on the banks of the historic Malvathu Oya. It had been one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia and its ruins point to a rich and proud heritage.
This ancient city, sacred to the Buddhists, is today surrounded by monasteries covering an area of over 16 square miles (40km²). Since Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C, the city became one of the 10 largest cities on the subcontinent with vast monastery complexes and reservoirs and great stupas – some of the tallest amazing buildings in the old world. The sacred Bo tree known as the Sri Maha Bodhi is believed to have been planted in 288 B.C. grown from a cutting of the original fig tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. It is presently the holiest site in Anuradhapura venerated by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike and is believed to be the oldest authenticated tree in the world. Apparently, a special caste was designated to care for this priceless tree, and ever since their descendants have looked after it.
Some of the most interesting sites to see today include the remnants of the Brazen Palace with 1,600 stone columns which are all that are left of a multi-storied residence for monks, Ruwanweliseya Stupa, one of the largest structures of the ancient world, Isurumuniya rock temple well known for its rock carving of ‘The Lovers’, the twin ponds used as a bathing pool for Buddhist monks and Thuparama Dagoba, the oldest Dagoba on the island believed to enshrine the collarbone of the Buddha himself. Thousands visit these sites everyday.
One could spend days discovering the ancient history of Sri Lanka, exploring the picturesque countryside and watching the many pilgrims dressed in white paying homage to the Sri Maha Bodhi tree and spending hours of meditating at the holy shrines or walking along reservoir bunds. One almost feels that one’s inner self is lifted beyond this world, a rare experience in one’s life.