Polonnaruwa, an Ancient City With Carved Rock Buddha Sculptures, In Sri Lanka
Polonnaruwa is a well designed ancient royal capital that was established in the 11th Century, A.D.
It replaced Anuradhapura as the capital, which had been sacked by invading armies from Kerala in South India.
The new city of Polonnaruwa is a mishmash of broken pavement blocks, car exhaust, and makeshift crowded shops, all set along a busy main road.
In contrast, the ancient city was set among large trees and green lawns with vast cool stone pools, designed with great mastery.
Each building, stupa, temple, hall, pond and Palace courtroom, was designed like a Mandala.
A Mandala is a Sanskrit word that literally means a “circle.”
Mandalas are spiritual symbols that are frequently used in Hinduism and Buddhism.
A Mandala represents the Universe, although it is common to find it used as a map to represent Heaven and the path to enlightenment and Self Realization.
The basic form of the Mandala is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point.
The Mandala has almost a divine design, with a radial balance.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which is now in very well preserved ruins, was designed in this way, as a series of mandalas, circles within squares.
I walked around in awe at the beauty of the design, the artistic, elaborately carved stonework, and the harmony of the gardens and temples.
Large trees create shade and beauty everywhere, and the old walkways around the city are wide and pleasant.
The entrance fee to the city includes a visit to the excellent museum, that details many of the designs and explains the history of the buildings.
The ruins of the ancient city stand on the east shore of a large artificial lake called the Topa Wewa Lake, or the Sea of Parakrama.
King Parakramabahu (1153-86) who reigned in Polonnaruwa‘s golden age, created this rainwater reservoir to supply water to the vast rice fields in the area.
The reservoir spreads across an area of 2500 hectares and has the capacity of providing sufficient water to the agricultural district of Polonnaruwa and its surroundings.
Our hotel, the Echo Lake House, is located right on the lake and across from the entrance to the ancient city.
The lake is full of birds and while sitting in the hotel’s beautiful glass restaurant, we could enjoy birdwatching.
Within the ancient city walls, there is a palace and clusters of dozens of Dagobas (stupas), Buddhist and Hindu temples and various other religious buildings.
Many people hired bicycles to roam around the vast gardens, pedaling from sight to sight.
Many of the sights are stunning, but for me the highlights were the huge red brick Buddha standing in the middle of a ruined temple, and a marble rock cliff which was carved with three large Buddha figures, the larger than life reclining Buddha, the standing Buddha and the sitting meditating Buddha.
All three Buddhas were carved from the same variegated marbel cliff, and the veins of the marble run through all three statues in a most beautiful way…
It is amazing that everything is so well preserved and still radiates an air of a royal and even a holy place.
Even though the day was very hot, the shade of the trees, combined with the green gardens, the pools and the cool stone, made the beautiful pathways a very pleasant place to stroll among the stupas and temples.
In a rock meditation cave, I heard a local guide talk to a couple of tourists.
He said that many Spiritual Masters lived in Sri Lanka and established many of the temples, or lived as hermit monks in the caves, following strict ascetic disciplines.
He said that even today around the world, there are Masters living that can manifest Siddhi or miraculous powers.
These spiritual Masters can levitate, manifest water from hard dry rocks, manifest what they need directly from the unseen, create scents, heal people, walk through walls, dematerialize their bodies and re-materialize in remote places, multiply their bodies to be in two places at the same time, and many more miraculous powers like these.
He said that there is a famous Buddhist nun living today in Thailand who can walk on water.
In fact, he said, she is very famous in the Buddhist world for her ability to walk on water.
The Western world, he added, only values political power, money and physical prowess, so miraculous things like these are unknown.
After we left the cave, I reflected on what this old guide had said.
It is true that in the Western world little is known about spiritual powers and living Masters.
We live in a culture that idolizes physical beauty and wealth.
The newspapers are filled with information about how certain wealthy people became rich, how they live, and in what they invest their money.
So little interest is shown in humble people who have achieved high levels of spiritual advancement.
Polonnnaruwa is famous among tourists visiting Sri Lanka.
The Queen of England came to see the ruins, and stayed in the Royal Suite in the same hotel at which we stayed.
We heard that at the beginning of next month, Harry, one of the Royal princes of the UK, will be coming to Polonnaruwa to stay in the same hotel as well and visit the ancient city.
But the ancient city is large and it is easy to avoid the tourist crowds.
It is less easy to avoid the many salesmen who try to sell you elephant carvings, wooden books with secret compartments, straw hats and many other souvenirs.
Having a lovely place to stay made our visit to Polonnaruwa very enjoyable.
We had great food at the hotel’s restaurant and enjoyed the great bed and fabulous shower.
Before I bid you good night, I will add a small poem from a book of old Sri Lankan literature. The author is unknown:
“The fields around constantly yield fragrant rice
Cries of monkeys and buffalo calves spread far and wide
Like Celestial abodes the temples here,
A sight like ambrosia to the mind.”
With love and appreciation,