Day 3 (4 of 4).
Mirisawetiya Stupa was just five minute walk away from our hotel Sanctuary at Tissawewa. As we left the ruins of Abhayagiri Monastery, it was still a little early for supper, so we decided to check out Mirisawetiya Stupa before sunset. The road leading to the stupa was decorated with colourful Buddhist banners and flags. Large group of people, some dressed in traditional costumes, gathered at the entrance parking lot. Red carpet was laid on the ground leading into the forecourt of the stupa. We were excited to see the scene, despite we couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on. We figured that there must be a certain kind of religious ceremony taking place. And so we followed the red carpet, took off our shoes at the forecourt, and entered the stupa complex.
It was still too early to call it a day, so we asked the tuk tuk driver to drop us off at Mirisawetiya Stupa.
A long red carpet led us into the stupa forecourt. A large TV screen was broadcasting the speech of a monk.
The vivid Buddhist colours and traditional costumes stand out extremely well from the white wash stupa.
The costume looks like to be some kind of ceremonial costumes.
Shrines at the Mirisawetiya Stupa was full of offerings.
Monks also gathered at the stupa with their offerings.
Crowds sat down at various locations around the stupa.
A parade of ceremonial procession walked right by us.
Followed by a number of people dressed in white.
Because of the crowds and security control, we could not move freely around the stupa.
We stayed with a group of worshipers for a while.
And admired the stunning Mirisawetiya Stupa below the setting sun.
Unfortunately we didn’t understand the language so we didn’t stay for long at the scene.
Later at night, we found out that the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka came to Mirisawetiya Stupa for a visit. What we saw was part of the ceremony associated with his visit.
Due to the close distance, we could still hear the speakers of Mirisawetiya‘s ceremony from our hotel until late at night. The event perhaps gave us an insight on how a Buddhist event might have look like in Anuradhapura over a millennia ago. The next day we would move on to Polonnaruwa and then Sigiriya, two other popular attractions in the Cultural Triangle.
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.
After lunch at Sanctuary at Tissawewa, we hopped on a tuk tuk for Abhayagiri Dagoba, the largest monument in the monastery vicinity.
Although not as crowded as Ruwanwelisaya and Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Abhayagiri Dagoba is popular among local worshipers.
Believed 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.
The shrine in front of the stupa houses a reclining Buddha.
Abhayagiri Dagoba just went through a 15-year restoration at 2015 as a UNESCO project.
Devoted worshiper praying at the stupa.
The majestic stupa was the main focus of the entire Abhayagiri Vihara Monastery.
A group of Western Buddhists sat down and listen to the teaching of their mentor.
Another highlight at Abhayagiri Vihara is the ruins of Pancavasa palace hidden in the woods.
The Pancavasa was famous for its exquisite carvings.
Interesting carvings of Buddhist guardians at Pancavasa.
All these exquisite carvings are not the reason why tourists flock into the woods in search for the ruins of Pancavasa.
All tourists come here for one thing, the moonstone carving on the ground.
Moonstone 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Day 3 (2 of 4).
In ancient times, two Buddhist monasteries dominated the religious scenes in Anuradhapura, the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri. Both monasteries were home to thousands of monks and represents the two competing sects of Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Their sectarian conflicts led to destruction of the Mahavihara, the main monastery of Theravada Buddhism built by the King Devanampiya Tissa. Upon destroying the Mahavihara, King Mahasena (reigned 273-301AD) constructed the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba to house the relic of the Buddha’s belt. Some also believed that the dagoba was built upon the place where Mahinda, the eldest son of Emperor Ashoka who first introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka, lectured Buddhism. Reaching a height of 400 feet, the original Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the third tallest structure in the ancient world, behind the two Egyptian pyramids in Giza. After Anuradhapura was abandoned in the 11th century, the stupa fell into ruins and subsequently renovated to its current height at 233 feet in the 12th century. The stupa was gradually covered by shrubs until 1909, when conservation and clearing works began.
Towering above the horizon east of Ruwanwelisaya, the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the second great stupa that we visited in Anuradhapura. On Google Map, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared to be less than 1km east of Ruwanwelisaya. We were too lazy to walk under the scorching sun, so we hopped on a tuk tuk for Jetavanaramaya. Upon arriving at the famous stupa, we were surprised by the lack of visitors. Unlike Ruwanwelisaya where the white stupa was surrounded by worshipers, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared quite empty with only a handful of locals and foreign tourists.
Once again we had to take off our shoes before entering the stupa platform.
It was hard to imagine the imposing prominence of the original 400 feet tall stupa.
A handful of local worshipers put down their offerings on the stone pedestals in front of the stupa.
Beautiful statues of Buddha made of pink stone stood out prominently against the stupa wall.
Dressed mainly in white, local worshipers circled the stupa in clockwise direction.
Another Buddha statue is made with translucent white stone.
Pieces of fine statues and relief carvings were placed in front of the brick stupa walls.
At one side of the stupa stands a small worship hall.
The Jetavanaramaya was constructed with special bricks made with 60% fine sand and 35% clay.
In early 20th century, Jetavanaramaya was covered with dense shrubs.
We left Jetavanaramaya after walking a full circle around the monument.
No tuk tuk could be found at the entrance of Jetavanaramaya. We decided to walk back to Ruwanwelisaya where we might be able to flag down a tuk tuk.
On our way, we walk by Silachetiya (Kujjatissa) Stupa, another 2000-year-old historical structure built in the era of King Saddhatissa (137 – 119 BC).
Near Ruwanwelisaya, we bumped into a group of tufted gray langur hanging around in the archaeological park.
From Ruwanwelisaya, we decided to walk back to The Sanctuary at Tissawewa via Basawakkulama Tank, where locals enjoyed picnic lunch by the water .
Day 3 (1 of 4).
At 400BC, the great thinker and religious teacher Gautama Buddha passed away. His body was cremated and the ash was divided into eight portions given to eight different kingdoms as sacred relics. During the reign of Ashoka the Great (268-232BC), relics of the Buddha was dug up and further subdivided into 84,000 portions. Stupas were erected across the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to house the relics. As time went by, only a small number of relics remain in the original two-thousand-year-old stupas, while most have been transferred to different temples around the world along with the spreading of Buddhism. Today, Buddhist relics can be found in many Asian countries, and even as far as in Russia and the United States. As one of the earliest countries where Buddhism was introduced, Sri Lanka has some of the oldest stupas in the world. Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka where Buddhism first arrived at Ashoka’s time, was home to the oldest and grandest stupas, also called dagobas, in the nation. While Buddhism in India has long declined, the religion continues to flourish in Sri Lanka until the present. Today, a number of ancient stupas in Anurādhapura remain as popular pilgrimage sites for worshipers, just as they were 2000 years ago.
Built by King Dutugamunu in 137BC, Ruvanvelisaya is the stupa believed to house the largest amount of the Buddha’s relics anywhere in the world. With a diameter of 300 feet and a height of about 350 feet, it was once one of the largest monuments in the ancient world. As the nation’s political and cultural centre shifted away from Anurādhapura, the stupa fell into ruins during the Medieval time. Restoration work of the great stupa began in early 20th century. Since then, the stupa has once again become a religious and historical icon for the ancient capital.
A short walk from our hotel brought us to the archaeological museum, a well established museum housed in the former district secretariat building. We stayed briefly at the museum to learn a bit more about the history of the city and its famous stupas. A museum staff was kind enough to show us around at a number of exhibition rooms. Then we walked over to the ticket office adjacent to the museum to purchase our one-day cultural heritage tickets.
After obtaining the cultural heritage tickets, we continued to head north to Ruvanvelisaya Stupa.
Ruvanvelisaya Stupa was the most crowded stupa we visited in Anuradhapura.
Before reaching the stupa, we arrived at glass building designated for candle and incense offerings.
It was interesting to see so many worshipers dresses in white and dogs resting on the floor inside the candle offering building.
Ruvanvelisaya’s famous elephant wall was originally built by King Dutugamunu’s brother Saddhatissa two thousand years ago. It was said that the original 344 elephants were coated with gold dust.
The actual stupa is washed in white paint, and wrapped at the base with a multi coloured band resembling the Buddhist flag of Sri Lanka.
Around the stupa stand offering tables and stone counters. Beautiful lotus flowers once again are the most popular offerings.
Some worshipers prefer to leave their offerings at the base of the stupa.
At each cardinal directions, a splendid shrine with Buddha’s figure known as vahalkada attract worshipers to leave offerings and chant prayers.
Once again lotus flowers are the most popular offerings.
Other than the white paint on the stupa and white clothing of worshipers, almost everything else is vivid in colours.
Other than lotus flowers, rice and sweet good are also used as offerings.
Somehow each worshipers would know where to place their flowers in order to create the fantastic flower patterns.
It was hard to imagine how abundant lotus flowers are in the nation to allow so many worshipers to leave their offerings.
At one end, we reached a small and crowded shrine.
Inside the shrine there is a mini stupa protected by transparent partitions.
Ruvanvelisaya was undergoing an extensive restoration.
Before leaving, we passed by an area full of incense smoke and devoted worshipers.
We left Ruvanvelisaya from the same path we came, where worshipers dressed in white continued to enter and pay their respect to the magnificent stupa.