Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka

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 Sri Lanka’s Cultural triangle is situated in the centre of the island and covers an area which includes the World Heritage cultural sites of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, the Ancient City of Sigiriya, the Ancient City of Dambulla and the Sacred City of Kandy. Due to the constructions and associated historical events, some of which are millennia old, these sites are of high universal value; they are visited by many pilgrims, both laymen and the clergy (prominently Buddhist), as well as by local and foreign tourists.


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One of the most significant and sacred cities that belong to the ancient world, Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka. Hosting UNESCO world heritage sites this city is the core of Buddhism and its people due to its grandeur history and the vast array of Buddhist monuments that dates back to more than 2000 years. The largest brick monuments of the world, Jethavanaya, Abhayagiriya and Ruwanvalisaya that are esteemed to be similar to the pyramids in Geese can be explored in Abhayagiriya

The Central Cultural Fund has conducted extensive conservation and excavation projects within Anuradhapura for the past 25 years. The conservation project on the Abhayagiriya for instance, that began 15 years ago, is nearly complete so that its visitors can experience it in its pristine condition first hand. Sri Mahabodhi the sacred Bodhi tree shrine of the Mahaviharaya which was planted in the 3rd Century B.C. still remains vital and receives veneration of the Buddhist world all year round.

The stone Buddha statues in Anuradhapura are some of the best classic icons of the world. The Samadhi Buddha statue in Abhayagiriya is popular the world over. Indian leader Sri Jawahalal Nehru derived a piece of mind during his time in prison by contemplating on an image of the Samadhi Buddha statue. Apart from this one must look out for the decorative sculptures that are unique to Anuradhapura. The moonstone, guard stones and the Isumuniya lovers are unparalleled works of art that is part of a golden capital that lasted till the end of the 1st millennium A.C


Polonnaruwa Watadage   

To the east of the Cultural Triangle, following the Anuradhapura era is the second ancient capital of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa. The Plonnaruwa legacy may have lasted for only two centuries however judging by the colossal monuments and monasteries it left behind it is clear that it was dynasty that cannot be easily forgotten. The archaeology remains at Polonnaruwa are exhibited at the Museum of the Central Cultural Fund and its visitor centre.

It was King Vijayabahu I who defeated the Chola invaders and regained its land after 52 years. Since then Vijayabahu devoted his long reign to the restoration of the country. However Polonnaruwa is largely King Parakramabahu’s city. He built walls that would surround the city and further strengthened the fortifications of its inner city. The great Parakramabahu tank was built after he linked up and expanded three former tanks of Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa is an unprecedented place due to its spectacular works of architecture that belong to both Buddhist and Hindu cultures. Stupendous image shrines like Lankathilaka, the Tivanka Image house, Gal Viharaya, Vatadageya and the Seven story edifice known as the Sathmahalprasada, just to name a few from the long list of invaluable sites that can be visited.


Sigiriya Frescoes   

In the 5th Century, King Kasyapa built his royal palace by transforming a natural rock into his fortress. The Sigiriya Lion rock fortress, considered to be a wonder of the world, is one of Sri Lanka’s most convoluted and invaluable sites. Landscaped into water gardens, island pavilions, courtyards and buildings by the king himself the natural fortress is a symbol of pride for its people. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, Sigiriya in recent times is gaining special attention by the Central Cultural Fund in order to conserve certain elements such as the Mirror wall, frescos, lions paw and even the rock itself.

It’s most outstanding aspect is that the rock summit was used to build the Kings palace which can be accessed through a gaping mouth of a lion and its astronomical paws that were built on the plateau. The western face of the rock was once covered with a painted surface. Paintings of heavenly damsels (Apsara’s) or ladies that graced the king’s court are viewable within a cave on the side of the rock. The Apsaras are floating among the clouds holding flowers and trays and retiring to the temple shrine at Pidurangala which is neighbouring the Sigiriya rock. The broad brush strokes on the figures displays unique classical qualities of painting techniques of that time. These classical works of art are similar to the famous mural paintings of Ajanta in India.

The Mirror wall built along the rock is a unique facet. It displays the flair of Sinhalese poets as they scribbled their thoughts on the mirror like surface of the wall upon their visits between the 6th and the 13th centuries. To the west of the Sigiriya rock one cannot miss the four symmetrically constructed ponds decked with natural water fountains. It’s undoubtedly displaying the great skills of the landscape architects of classical times.


Dambulla Cave Temple   

Major attractions of the area include the largest and best preserved cave temple complex of Sri Lanka, and the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, famous for being built in just 167 days. The area also boasts the largest rose quartz mountain range in South Asia, and the Iron wood forest, or Na Uyana Aranya. Ibbankatuwa prehistoric burial site near Dambulla cave temple complexes is the latest archaeological site of significant historical importance found in Dambulla. The area is thought to be inhabited from as early as the 7th to 3rd century BC. Statues and paintings in these caves date back to the 1st century BC. But the paintings and statues were repaired and repainted in the 11th, 12th, and 18th century AD. The caves in the city provided refuge to King Valagamba (also called Vattagamini Abhaya) in his 14 year long exile from the Anuradapura kingdom. Buddhist monks meditating in the caves of Dambulla at that time provided the exiled king protection from his enemies. When King Valagamba returned to the throne at Anuradapura kingdom in the 1st century BC, he had a magnificent rock temple built at Dambulla in gratitude to the monks in Dambulla.

At the Ibbankatuwa Prehistoric burial site near Dhambulla, prehistoric (2700 years old) human skeletons were found on scientific analysis to give evidence of civilisations in this area long before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Evidence of ancient people living on agriculture have been detected in this area for over 2700 years according to archaeological findings. (750 BC) It was earlier known as Dhamballai. This was ruled by Kings like Raja Raja Chola, Rajendra Chola, etc. during their tenure in the late 10th century and early 11th century.


Kandy Temple  

The sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is placed in Kandy in a temple known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa, one of the most venerable temples of the Buddhist world. It was tradition to house the sacred tooth relic in the city that the King chose to reside in and according to ancient scripts Kandy was the last capital in Sri Lanka.

Surrounded by forested hills and partly by the meandering river Mahaveli, Kandy was an urban centre from the 15th to the 19th century. The city’s bountiful aesthetics are enhanced by the artificial lake named the Milky Ocean, the royal palace complex and four shrines – Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama and Pattini. Not forgetting the two famous monastic complexes the Malvatta and AsgiriyaViharas. The city is admired by regular visitors the world over even if it was for just a short visit.

Justice would not be done to this city unless the most sought after event in Kandy is mentioned. The annual pageant of the Tooth Relic Shrine popularly known among the locals as the ‘Daladaperahara’ is held in July or August and is a worthy attraction for both local and international tourists.

In the suburbs the Lankathilaka and Gadaladeniya temples along with the AmbekkeDevalaya are shrines with archaeological and historic significance. The highly acclaimed University of Peradeniya and the Royal Botanical Gardens are also attractions that are worth exploring.