Sri Lanka


Tour 1: The Historical North

The Sri Lankan National Anthem

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Introduction

I'll, sadly, always remember my tour of Sri Lanka because I left the day after the Tsunami of December 26, 2004.

Sri Lanka enjoys a long tradition as not only as a venerably aged kingdom but also as a center of Buddhism. It continues this tradition to this day only, whereas once Sri Lanka centered a massive and growing religion, it still has become almost synonymous with religious strife and sectarian violence. As I visited, the Tamil Tigers continue an surgency began when I was still in college with no clear final solution in sight. The guidebooks try to argue this represents a continuation of a tradition of cultural/regious class. However, Sri Lankan history probably holds as many examples of relgious accomodation as religious wars.

That history begins in the clouded misty era of the Hindu legends with dark-skinned people of the past and various wars. More verifiably, Sri Lankan history begins in Northern Sri Lanka with the rise of the rice-farming water intensive civilizations and empire of Anduraphurna and ends with beach bungalows. The later will appear if I ever make the second trip to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka: Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura existed before the Sri Lankan conversion to Buddhism. The Buddhist chroniclers, though, basically begin with and tell the story of Buddhism. No less a person than Ashoka's son converted the kingdom to Buddhism. Thereafter, the kings not only preserved Buddhism but spread it to far-away lands.

On a more mundane level, the kings used water with a particulary intensity. They built giant water reservoirs, tanks, etc. This supported a very intense pattern of irrigation that belied their dry country and its variable rainfall. The kings also built sumtuous bathrooms, baths, such that about one kingdom the chronicles proudly claimed "not a drop of water fell without the king bending it to its use."

As famous for its use of water, the kings built a number of dagabas, stupas, and other ceremonial buildings. They even built three different varieties of monasteries: royal for the upwardly mobile monks; middle of the road for heretics and upstarts; and finally stone monasteries for the really ascetic.

This is a Buddhist urinal designed to separate waste so as to not kill nearby animals.

Here is the Runwelli Dagabha, the main worship area of
the central city, built and consecrated in BC 144.

This is another view.

You get your camea off me you dirty human.

We have seen the birth of a Planet of Apes.

The Bodhi tree in the central area came from cutting from the Bodhi Tree under
which Buddha obtained enlightenment. It's the world's oldest living object.

The Thuparama contains a collar bone of the Buddha and was brought to Sri
Lanka circa 250 BC when brought by Emperor Ashoka's missionary son.

A Lankan king built this large dagaba, the Thuparama, in celebration
of the 158 BC defeat of the invading Tamil King Elara.

This is the Abhayagiri dagaba (88BC) for a long time held monks physically and spiritually
divided from the Mahaviri (central) monastery and devled in Tantrism and Mahayanism.

Not all works at Anuradhapura fill a skyline.

This shows some of the city walls.

On a more human scale, an abherrant monk founded the Dakhini Dagaba when
he moved physically/mentally towards the central monastery in BC 77.

Subject of a massive dispute, the dagaba built in AD 276 cut into the land of the
Mahavira monastery by building in its garden, but the removal of its fiery leader
meant it just became another large monastery on the grounds of the Mahavira.

Sigiriya: A Side Show

In AD 477, Prince Kasypaya and his cohorts engineered a coup d'etat against his father, killing the king in a particularly gruesome manner. The new king took the place of his half brother, who held the better claim to the throne.

While maintaining his ostensible seat of government at the old city, Kasypaya built the natural rock fortress of Sigiriya. Here, he awaited the inevitable attack by his half-brother. When the attack came, however, his own generals deserted him, leaving him totally alone. The king killed himself, leaving the Sigiriya fortess as his memoir. The capital returned to Anuradhapura.

This moats surrounds the entire site.

The ground view shows the sheer grandeur of the sight.

Here are the royal baths.

Here I point at the figures of the asparas, mythical round
breasted godesses famously shown on these walls.

Religious symbols or just an excuse to draw babes?

The King could sure see his enemies coming from a long way off.

It's a long way down from here, the upper royal baths. These never make much
sense because in the dry sense, when the court was up, the water was down.

Originally, this "Lion Gateway" featured the head of a lion also. The entrance
portrayed the power and majesty of the king (for awhile anyway).

It's a very long way down, like a mountain on top of another mountain.

It's a very long drop.

Would you buy a used elephant from this man.

This shows another gate here, the serpent gate.

Now that I'm back on the ground I feel safer. Wait, let go of me. Arrrrrrgh.

The snake is probably more scared of me than I of
him. Keep playing that funky music anyway, dude.

Polunnara, the Second Capital

Over time, things got worse in Anuradhapura. The capital had frequent dynastic quarrels all of which led to the neglect of the water works so essential to agriculture and their way of life. Meanwhile, the Tamil kingdoms of Southern India and the Sri Lankan Tamils became more aggressive. The kings tried to find their own allies and picked some of the wrong people. This resulted in their intervention in the Chola, Pandyan wars. As a result, the Cholas invaded and devasted the capital in 993. Though the kings drove them out, the city never recovered its importance or position.

The Chola kings themselves made the city of Polonnnaru as a majro city. The city strode the crossroads between the old city to the northwest and to the rapidly developing areas in the south, the future independent kingdoms of Kotte and Kandy. When the Sri Lankans drove out invaders, Polonnarawu obtained a new importance. As early as 1047 it functioned as effective capital of the city. In 1153, King Parakramabahu formally made the city the cpital.

Consequently, it thrived for awhile. Eventually, though as the center of gravity of Sri Lanka, again shifted south, it became a relatively isolated place, trying to control more profitable provinces in the north. The Malaysian Buddhist empire of Sri Vijaya attacked and ruled the city for awhile. Tamils lived in the city, worked there, and served in the armed forces. In 1214, another southern Indian dynasty, this time the Kalinga from South India, finished off the city. By 1315, the city, like Anuradhapura, became part of the jungle.

Unlike the fortess city of Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa came with the full complement of facities, monasteries, palaces and the like. However, the critics often say that Polonnaruwa's artists concentrated on making smaller things rather than the large monumental sites, craft over bulk.

I saw this funky lizard outside the city. You
don't see something like this every day.

The inner citadel of King Pakramahu (1153), this citadel
originally measured seven stories all made of timber.

The audience hall of similar vintage.

The vadatage or image house held Buddhist images.

This royal bath uses a rather unique shape.

The Thuparama image houses echoes that of Anuradhapura.

This Bodighara once protected a sacred bodi tree (as the name suggests).
Obviously, this one fared worse than the one at Anuradhapura.

This Shiva shrine indicates the presence, and not always hostile, of the Tamils.
Women still come here (as the shape suggests) to pray for their fertility.

Two monks would live in this cell. It's about
the same size as a bachelor apartment.

The "Golden Pinnacle" stupa tops this dagaba built by King Nissankamalla
(AD 1987). Note the scale in comparison to Anuradhapura.

Buddha and the metal box? No, this under reconstruction.

The familiar pose: "I come to teach."

Maybe we should rest a minute or go on to the following tour.


Related tour:
Onward to Sri Lankan Tour 2: Kandy

Back to Virtual Tours
Back to Fruit Home