Polonnaruwa – or to use its proper name, the royal ancient city of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa – is the second oldest of Sri Lanka’s ancient kingdoms, after Anuradhapura. It was made the capital of the island in 1070 by King Vijaybahu I, who defeated the Chola (south Indian) invaders who had ruled there for fifty years and reunited the country under a Sinhalese ruler.
Polonnaruwa remained the island’s royal capital for over two hundred years, finally being abandoned in 1310 AD. King Parakramabahu I, who succeeded after Vijaybahu I, was responsible for the significant development of the ancient city throughout the 12th century, creating stupendous sculptures and temples with elaborate carvings. The ruins have lasted impressively well throughout the years and Polonnaruwa remains an awe-inspiring cultural site to visit.
Most impressive is the colossal sculpture carved into a huge granite boulder at the Gal Viahara, which dates back to approximately 1150 AD. It is comprised of four statues of Lord Buddha, where in each he is depicted in a different position. In two images he is seated: one is the samadhi meditation pose, whilst the other shows him inside a cave. There is also a carving of a standing Buddha, which is a remarkable 23ft in height, and a recumbent Buddha image – representing the passing away – which measures a monumental 46ft.
As well as these images of Lord Buddha there are ruins of the ancient palaces, many of which still show the original intricate stone carvings and detailed sculptures of animals and gods. An enormous stupa also still stands, as well as the Satmahal Prasada – a seven-storey edifice – the unusual architecture of which still baffles historians today.
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Miguel Cunat is a Partner of Sri Lanka In Style founded in 2005 to provide visitors with insightful, engaging experiences in his adopted homeland. Recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as Sri Lanka’s Top Travel Specialist, and recently featured on Wendy Perrin’s WOW List.