The city is steeped in cultural and religious heritage, which ranges from the temples, carvings, and reservoirs to the sacred Dagabas. Moreover, you can visit the historical artifacts and archeological sites of the city to explore new things.
The Anuradhapura Kingdom, named for its capital city, was the first established kingdom in ancient Sri Lanka and Sinhalese people. Founded by King Pandukabhaya in 377 BC, the kingdom’s authority extended throughout the country, although several independent areas emerged from time to time, which grew more numerous towards the end of the kingdom. Nonetheless, the king of Anuradhapura was seen as the supreme ruler of the country throughout the Anuradhapura period. Buddhism played a strong role in the Anuradhapura period, influencing its culture, laws, and methods of governance. Society and culture were revolutionized when the faith was introduced during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa; this cultural change was further strengthened by the arrival of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha in Sri Lanka and the patronage extended by her rulers.
Invasions from South India were a constant threat throughout the Anuradhapura period. Rulers such as Dutthagamani, Valagamba, and Dhatusena are noted for defeating the South Indians and regaining control of the kingdom. Other rulers who are notable for military achievements include Gajabahu I, who launched an invasion against the invaders, and Sena II, who sent his armies to assist a Pandyan prince.
Because the kingdom was largely based on agriculture, the construction of irrigation works was a major achievement of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, ensuring water supply in the dry zone and helping the country grow mostly self-sufficient. Several kings, most notably Vasabha and Mahasena, built large reservoirs and canals, which created a vast and complex irrigation network in the Rajarata area throughout the Anuradhapura period. These constructions are an indication of the advanced technical and engineering skills used to create them. The famous paintings and structures at Sigiriya; the Ruwanwelisaya, Jetavana stupas, and other large stupas; large buildings like the Lovamahapaya; and religious works (like the numerous Buddha statues) are landmarks demonstrating the Anuradhapura period’s advancement in sculpting.
In 543 BC, prince Vijaya (543–505 BC) arrived in Sri Lanka, having been banished from his homeland in India. He eventually brought the island under his control and established himself as king. After this, his retinue established villages and colonies throughout the country. One of these was established by Anuradha, a minister of King Vijaya, on the banks of a stream called Kolon and was named Anuradhagama.
In 377 BC, King Pandukabhaya (437–367 BC) made it his capital and developed it into a prosperous city. Anuradhapura (Anurapura) was named after the minister who first established the village and after a grandfather of Pandukabhaya who lived there. The name was also derived from the city’s establishment on the auspicious asterism called Anura. Anuradhapura was the capital of all the monarchs who ruled the country in the Anuradhapura Kingdom, with the exception of Kashyapa I (473–491), who chose Sigiriya to be his capital. The city is also marked on Ptolemy’s world map.
Architecture and engineering
The construction of stupas was noticeable not only during the Anuradhapura Kingdom but throughout the history of Sri Lanka. Stupas were built enshrining an object of worship. The stupa of Thuparamaya, built by Devanampiya Tissa, is one of the earliest built and was constructed immediately after the arrival of Buddhism. The construction of large stupas was begun by King Dutthagamani with the construction of the Ruwanweli Seya, standing 300 feet (91 m) high with a circumference of 298 feet (91 m).
The Abhayagiri stupa in the Abhayagiriya monastic complex is another large stupa of the Anuradhapura period the original height of which was 350 feet (110 m). The Jetavana stupa, constructed by Mahasen, is the largest in the country. Stupas had deep and well constructed foundations, and the builders were clearly aware of the attributes of the materials used for construction. Suitable methods for each type of material have been used to lay foundations on a firm basis.
All buildings have been adorned with elaborate carvings and sculptures and were supported by large stone columns. These stone columns can be seen in several buildings such as the Lovamahapaya (brazen palace). Drainage systems of these buildings are also well planned, and terra cotta pipes were used to carry water to drainage pits. Large ponds were attached to some monasteries, such as the Kuttam Pokuna (twin pond). Hospital complexes have also been found close to monasteries. Buildings were constructed using timber, bricks and stones. Stones were used for foundations and columns, while brick were used for walls. Lime mortar was used for plastering walls.
Irrigation and water management
The water harvesting and water management systems are composed in Anuradhapura. Rainfall in the dry zone of Sri Lanka is limited to 50-75 inches. Under these conditions, rain fed cultivation was difficult, forcing early settlers to develop means to store water in order to maintain a constant supply of water for their cultivations. Small irrigation tanks were constructed at village level, to support the cultivations of that village. The earliest medium-scale irrigation tank is the Basawakkulama reservoir built by King Pandukabhaya. Nuwara wewa and Tissa Wewa reservoirs were constructed a century later. These reservoirs were enlarged in subsequent years by various rulers.
The government spent around Rs. 3,000 million to extend drought relief facilities such as dry food rations for the victimised families. The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB), in collaboration with the National Community Water Supply Department and the Sri Lanka Navy, is engaged in remedying the problem of acute shortage of drinking water by installing reverse osmosis filtering devices in the dry zone which includes the North Central Province as well. It is learnt that the government spent Rs. 109,153 million in 2018 for the provision of potable drinking water. Between 2015 and 2018, eighteen new water supply projects were commissioned, while 440,220 new water connections were given to the people.
Advanced technology was required for the planning and construction of large reservoirs and canals. When constructing reservoirs, the gaps between low ridges in the dry zone plains were used for damming water courses. Two different techniques were used in construction; one method involved making an embankment using natural rock formations across a valley and the other involved diverting water courses through constructed canals to reservoirs. All the reservoirs and canals in an area were interconnected by an intricate network, so that excess water from one will flow into the other. The locations of these constructions indicate that the ancient engineers were aware of geological formations in the sites as well, and made effective use of them. Underground conduits have also been constructed to supply water to and from artificial ponds, such as in the Kuttam Pokuna and the ponds at Sigiriya.
The 54 miles (87 km) long Jayaganga has a gradient of six inches to the mile, which indicates that the builders had expert knowledge and accurate measuring devices to achieve the minimum gradient in the water flow. The construction of Bisokotuva, a cistern sluice used to control the outward flow of water in reservoirs, indicates a major advancement in irrigation technology. Since the 3rd century, these sluices, made of brick and stone, were placed at various levels in the embankments of reservoirs.
If you are fond of archaeology or anthropology, make a visit to Anuradhapura to know about historical artifacts and archaeological sites.