Day 2 (5 of 5).
Since most attractions in Anurādhapura are covered by the one-day Cultural Heritage Ticket, we decided to visit the two obvious exceptions on our first day: Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, and the rock temple of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, and leave the rest covered by the day ticket for the following day. On the east coast of Tissa Wewa, the reservoir built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, stands a group of giant granite boulders, where for the past two thousand years had been served as a small Buddhist temple, the Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya. Constructed under the reign of Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC, the vihara was used as a Buddhist monastery to the house 500 ordained children. Renovations and additions in later centuries continued to transform the temple into its current form, which is consisted of the old rock shrine, the new shrine, the lily pond, and the rock cliff on which visitors can climb atop to check out the stupa and a rock engraved footprints of the Buddha. The temple is famous for its stone carvings, but unfortunately much of the complex, including the small museum, was under renovation during our visit.
From Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we followed Google Map and walked towards Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya. On our way, we passed Dakkhina Stupa, a brick stupa constructed in the 2nd century BC.
Unlike the ancient stupas in town, Sandahiru Seya near Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is in fact a modern construction commissioned by President Rajapaksa in 2010. Once completed, the modern stupa will reach a height of 85m. Slow funding and construction means Sandahiru Seya won’t be completed anytime soon.
Near the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya, we passed by the Buddhist monastery Sri Sarananda Maha Pirivena.
Beyond a bridge over a beautiful lotus pond, we arrived at the entrance of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.
Lotus ponds are common all over Sri Lanka.
It was almost sunset when we reached the magnificent rock temple. Just like the shrine of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, we had to take off our shoes before entering the compound of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya.
Set in front the backdrop of granite boulders, the Isurumuniya Temple and the adjacent pond are the most prominent features in the complex.
Splendid stone carving of Isurumuniya Rajamaha Viharaya is one of the main reason why foreign visitors come.
The shrine of Isurumuniya Temple contains a Buddhist image behind glass.
Unfortunately the small museum on site was closed for renovation. We left the temple and walked over to the stair at the back side.
Behind the Isurumuniya Temple, a series of steps led us to the top of the granite boulders.
Top top of the boulders is dominated by a stupa and rocks with carvings.
The white stupa is actually a relatively recent addition to the complex.
Late afternoon sun cast a peaceful aura onto the stupa.
At the top, ancient carvings, including a pair of Buddha’s footprints.
What seems to be a designated area of money offerings at the top.
Looking down, we could see the pond and more incoming visitors.
Behind us to the west, the sun sett over the peaceful reservior Tissa Wewa. It was time for us to head back to the hotel for a Sri Lanka supper to conclude the day.
Day 2 (4 of 5).
In 288BC, a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred fig tree in Buddha Gaya of India under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Theri, the eldest daughter of Indian Emperor Ashoka the Great. The sapling was brought to the island in a golden vase on the ship, and planted by King Devanampiya Tissa on a 6.5m high terrace in the Mahamevnawa Gardens of Anuradhapura. Sangamitta stayed in Anurādhapura and established the nun-lineage of Bhikkhunī with several other Indian nuns. Along with his elder brother Mahinda, Sangamitta was a vital figure for spreading Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The ancient capital Anuradhapura continued to flourish and develop into a hub for Buddhist teachings that lasted for many centuries.
Today, the sacred tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi continues to thrive and has become one of the most important pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world. The amazing 2308-year-old tree is also known as the oldest living tree planted by human hands on record. Given the significance of the tree, the Sri Lankan government banned all construction within 500m from it. Walls were also erected in the 18th century to protect the tree from wild elephants. Golden fence around the tree was later added in 1969. Buddha statues were placed at four sides of the sacred tree by different ancient kings. Ceremonies are held at the site to celebrate new year and several other festivals every year.
After a light lunch, we ventured out the Sanctuary Tissawewa and head east. Following the instruction given by the hotel staff, we found our way towards the legendary fig tree.
From the main road, we followed a pedestrian only path for about 10 minutes towards the sacred tree. At one point, we passed by a tree full of monkeys.
Most worshipers arrived at the sacred tree with lotus flower as offerings.
A green garden mat surrounds the terrace where the sacred Bodhi is located.
From the semicircular Moon stone (Sandakada pahana, a floor feature unique to Sinhalese architecture), worshipers would go up the steps to the shrine at the second level of the platform.
At each cardinal direction, a shrine is built for worshipers to leave their offerings and receive blessing from the monk.
The shrine is relatively simple, with an offering table and small Buddha statues.
Offerings of lotus flower can be seen at all Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, including Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.
Some shrines are more popular than the others.
Dressed in white, worshipers would leave a handful of lotus flower at the shrine, and receive blessing and a white string wrist bracelet from the monk of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.
At the platform, monks and worshipers interact and chat prayers towards the sacred Bodhi tree.
Behind the shrine further up the platform, we could see what must be the 2300 year old sacred Bodhi tree.
The lush green crown of the sacred tree provides a perfect backdrop for the golden features of the shrines and colouful Buddhist flags. The golden sunlight, peaceful aura, and sounds of rubbing leaves in the gentle breeze convey a strong sense of spirituality.
Structures painted in gold are erected to support certain branches of the sacred tree.
A small temple is located at one side of the platform.
Inside the temple, a decent sized worship hall houses a Buddhist statue.
Apart from the sacred Bodhi tree on the highest terrace, younger fig trees are planted at the lower platforms. These trees are meant to provide protection to the sacred tree against storm and animals.
We enjoyed the spiritual atmosphere of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. After checking out the shrines at all four sides of the sacred tree, we left the compound at the south gate.