ultramarinus – beyond the sea

ABHAYAGIRI MONASTERY, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (3 of 4).

From 399 to 414AD, Chinese monk Faxian traveled to India and Sri Lanka in search for Buddhist scriptures.  In his travelogue A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms, he documented the places he visited in his journey, including Anuradhapura where he stayed briefly in 412AD.  Faxian gave the following account on Abhayagiri, the largest Buddhist monastery in Anuradhapura: “A monastery, called the Abhayagiri, where there are five thousand monks.  There is in it a hall of Buddha, adorned with carved and inlaid works of gold and silver, and rich in the seven precious substances, in which there is an image (of Buddha) in green jade, more than twenty cubits in height, glittering all over with those substances, and having an appearance of solemn dignity which words cannot express. In the palm of the right hand there is a priceless pearl…”

Founded in the 2nd century BC, Abhayagiri Vihara was once a world renowned Buddhist monastery and learning institution attracting monks from all over Sri Lanka and surrounding countries including Java, Burma and India.  In the 4th century, the Buddha’s tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka from India.  Abhayagiri was selected as the shrine and designated venue to showcase this precious relic in public veneration.  Supported by different rulers, Abhayagiri continued to serve as the main hub of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism until the 12th century, when Anuradhapura was sacked and abandoned, and the national capital was moved to Polonnaruwa.  The magnificent monastery fell into ruins for 800 years until late 19th century and early 20th century when excavation and restoration work began.  Today, Abhayagiri has become one of the largest clusters of ancient ruins in Sri Lanka, where gigantic stupa, stone pools, brick walls, foundations of multi storey buildings, and exquisite stone carvings in the midst of lush green jungle reveal the bygone glory of Anuradhapura two millennia ago.

01After lunch at Sanctuary at Tissawewa, we hopped on a tuk tuk for Abhayagiri Dagoba, the largest monument in the monastery vicinity.

04Although not as crowded as Ruwanwelisaya and Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Abhayagiri Dagoba is popular among local worshipers.

05Believed to reach a height of 115m, Abhayagiri Dagoba was once the fourth tallest monument in the classical period, behind the Egyptian Pyramids in Giza and the Jethawanaramaya Dagoba.

06The shrine in front of the stupa houses a reclining Buddha.

07Abhayagiri Dagoba just went through a 15-year restoration at 2015 as a UNESCO project.

08Devoted worshiper praying at the stupa.

09The majestic stupa was the main focus of the entire Abhayagiri Vihara Monastery.

10A group of Western Buddhists sat down and listen to the teaching of their mentor.

11Another highlight at Abhayagiri Vihara is the ruins of Pancavasa palace hidden in the woods.

12The Pancavasa was famous for its exquisite carvings.

13Interesting carvings of Buddhist guardians at Pancavasa.

14All these exquisite carvings are not the reason why tourists flock into the woods in search for the ruins of Pancavasa.

15All tourists come here for one thing, the moonstone carving on the ground.

16Moonstone is a unique architectural feature in Sri Lanka. It usually appears as a base landing at a set of steps. Moonstones symbolize samsara, the endless cycle of reincarnation and the path to nirvana.  Each ring of animals represents a successive phase of one’s passage through samsara.

17The last thing we checked out in the monastery area was the Samadhi Buddha Statue.  The statues is believed to be part of a sacred Bodhi tree shrine.

18The 7′-3″ Samadhi Buddha Statue was carved out from a dolomite marble.  Sculpted in around the 5th century, the statue is considered one of the nation’s finest.

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