Highlights of the Polonnaruwa Ancient City

Polonnaruwa is the second-oldest city in Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura being the oldest. Not only is the city’s name quite a mouthful, it’s long history dates back to the 5th century BC. During the Anuradhapura era, Sri Lankan kings decided that Polonnaruwa will be the next kingdom. It remained the capital of the country for 300 years (993-1284), during which several palaces, temples and gardens were built.

Polonnaruwa is another one of those cities where it is amazing to observe how the past blends with the present. Times have changed but faith will always remain. Worshippers still leave offerings for those centuries old Budhha stupas situated around the city.

Strolling around the city of Polonnaruwa, you will spot several ancient ruins including palace structures, religious buildings and some artistic sights. These attractions are spread out widely and hence a bicycle or a vehicle with a driver would be ideal to explore the city. Blue Lanka Tours recommends scheduling at least one day to study the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

Highlights of Polonnaruwa historical attractions

  1. Royal Palace
    This massive structure was King Parakramabahu’s Royal Palace (1153-1186), with 30 columns, inside which 50 rooms were neatly designed. While only some of the walls of this building are seen today, archaeologists believe it had seven floors and 3m thick walls; something very impressive to be built in days where machines did not exist!
  2. Audience Hall
    Located inside the Royal Palace, the King’s Audience Hall is a well preserved structure where you can see beautiful stone carvings of elephants on the wall. The elephants are uniquely carved where each elephant has a different look and is standing in a different position.
  3. The Sacred Quadrangle
    On a raised up platform, surrounded by a wall, you see a wonderful ensemble of 10 Buddhist structures. This area is the most concentrated collection of structures and is a must-see for visitors.
  4. 2nd Shiva Devale
    This building is the oldest in the city and dates back to when the Indian invaders came to establish the city. Because it is a stone structure, it has remained in its original condition over the centuries.
  5. Dagoba’s
    1. Pabalu Vehera
      This is an excellently preserved dagoba that was built during King Parakramabahu’s reign and is the 3rd largest in Polonnaruwa.
    2. Rankot Vihara
      Another well preserved dagoba which is the largest in Polonnaruwa.
    3. Dagoba Kiri Vihara
      This is an un-restored dagoba that has remained intact since its origin. It is a beautiful milk-white dagoba built in honor of the King’s Queen.
  6. Lankatilaka Buddha Statue
    Although the roof of this building is no more, the walls are an impressive 17meters high and when you walk down the aisle, you will reach a huge statue of a Buddha without a head.
  7. Gal Vihara
    Here you will find a group of Buddha postures that are carved out from a long granite slab, and are still remaining in perfect condition. The standing one is 7m tall, has an unusual position of arms and a sad face. The reclining Buddha is pictured entering Nirvana and is 14m long. This collection of 4 Buddha carvings are a splendid sight indeed.

What you need to know about the ancient city of Anuradhapura

In a Gist: Weathered ruins and tall dagobas are what make up Anuradhapura, a historical city that was the capital of the country for a long time.

Cycling is the best way to explore the ancient city of Anuradhapura. By wandering around on a cycle, you will get an idea of what the city that ruled Sri Lanka for over a thousand years looked like before its downfall in 993 AD.

History: Minister Anuradha and Prince Vijaya from India came to Anuradhapura and began a settlement in the 6th century BC. In 380 BC, the city first became a capital under Pandukabhaya, during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. For over a 1000 years, the city remained the capital and saw several kingdoms ruling it.

Geography: The sprawling cityscape covers more than 16 square miles and includes massive dagobas, old trees, reservoirs, and crumbled foundations. Anuradhapura is a huge city but just one day is sufficient to explore what there is to see. If you are a history lover, 2-3 days would be needed to examine the significance of each landmark.

What to see in Anuradhapura:

Many locals still reside in Anuradhapura, giving the city a vibrant feel. Cars drive past the roads through which the dagobas are within eyesight distance while shops and houses are scattered on either side of these roads. The mix of modern and ancient Sri Lanka existing side by side gives the perception of a very peaceful atmosphere in the city. Blue Lanka Tours offers detailed cultural itineraries that cover the city of Anuradhapura along with other cultural cities such as Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy where you can learn more about the history and culture of Sri Lanka. Here’s a gist of what you should see in Anuradhapura:

  • Begin with the Abhayagiri Museum for an insight of the lives of ancient civilization, as well as a detailed understanding of the history of Anuradhapura.
  • There is also the Anuradhapura Archaelogical museum where several artifacts are preserved. These include carvings, artworks and daily essentials of ancient Sri Lanka.
  • The Abhayagiti Dagoba, over 100 meters high, was one of the most splendid structures of the ancient world. Its height made it just a little smaller than the pyramids of Giza. Today, the structure has severely shrunk but is still as high as 75 meters.
  • Ratna Prasada, also known as the Gem Palace, was a five story building built in the 8th This was the main house of Abhayagiri monastery. The structure is very much ruined today and what remains is only an impressively carved guardstone.
  • An amazing white structure referred to as the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba was protected during those times by a wall of elephants standing shoulder to shoulder. Today, just a few of the original carvings of 140BC remain.
  • Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was originally believed to be over 120 meters tall, and the tallest structure in Sri Lanka. What you will see of this Dagoba today is just a height of 70 meters.
  • Successful irrigation systems were critical in Anuradhapura due to hot and arid weather conditions. Three ancient tanks were used as reservoirs to protect agriculture when the rains failed. Stroll along the banks of these tanks and you will have a wonderful view of the aforementioned dagobas.
  • Sri Maha Bodhi is an interesting place of worship which is surrounded by Bo Trees and ancient stone walls. The sun beats down through the trees and walls and the heat reaches your feet as you are not allowed to wear shoes here. The Sri Maha Bodhi (main Bo tree) is supposed to be the most ancient tree in the world that has remained uninterrupted over the years (approximately 2000 years old).
  • A temple known as Isurumuniya Vihara, was in use from 247-207 BC. There are many beautiful carvings here, along with a museum that has several ancient artworks. Upon climbing the carved steps of the rock temple, you have an elevated view of the Anuradhapura city.

What are your options for accommodation in Sri Lanka?

Guest house

A guest house in Sri Lanka is more like a mini-hotel and is almost always chosen when one is looking for budget accommodation. If your stay in one location is for about one or two weeks, guest house is a good option. Their packages most often include only the price for accommodation; meals and other services usually come at an added cost. Some guest houses offer catering, security and transfer services.

In Sri Lanka, guest houses don’t always have a wide variety of rooms. Some guest houses look like bungalows, some look like apartment buildings, some offer rooms with separate entrancea and so on. The prices they quote depend on the variety of conveniences the rooms offer: air conditioning, hot water, refrigerator, television, and so on. The locality of the guest house also effects pricing. Those located at city centers and close to beach areas have higher rates than others.

If you want to save money and end up in a low-cost guest house, do not expect too many conveniences apart from a bed to sleep and a mosquito net. The higher the prices, the more the conveniences, and the more the comfort levels.

Motel

Motels are smaller roadside hotels that are perfect for those looking for a ‘home base’ to easily explore local sights. In Sri Lanka, popular motels are located near freeways and very accessible by public transportation. Motels are an economical option for unwinding after a long day as they offer quiet rooms, complimentary toiletries and very comfortable sleeping areas.

Motels are also a budget friendly accommodation option that let you plan the vacation of your dreams without having to spend all the money allocated in your travel budget.

Popular motels in Sri Lanka:

  • ZEN Group of motels
  • Ocean View Guesthouse
  • Colombo Riverdale Hotel
  • Negombo Village
  • Berling Holiday Resort

 

Villas and Bungalows

The concept of spending your holiday in a villa or a bungalow in Sri Lanka is quite popular. Holiday villas are large country homes that offer standard or supreme levels of luxury and are located all around the island. These large houses usually have about 3-8 large rooms, 2-4 bathrooms or maybe even more, a hall, a kitchen and a spacious garden. In addition to these basics, some villas offer swimming pool facilities, access to the beach/river stream, and sports facilities such as badminton, tennis, foosball, table tennis, billiards, and so on.

For large families or a group of friends who want a private holiday, these villas and bungalows are ideal options. The entire estate is for themselves. Cooks are often provided by villa owners, who will prepare meals as per your requests.

Hotels

3 Star

Sri Lankan 3 star hotels are also referred to as motels and offer the same facilities: reasonably spacious rooms, a comfortable bed to sleep and an attached bathroom with toiletries.

4 star

4 star hotel rooms are quite large and have added conveniences such as television, mini bar, good food, room service and more. Other hotel facilities include swimming pools, sports, gym, spa, bar and so on.

5 star

Premium luxury standards are what 5 star hotels focus on. Rooms are very spacious, have great views and are equipped with the most modern amenities. Extra time is spent on the interior design of the hotel and rooms, the color coordination, the quality of services provided, excellent cuisines, and in trying to make the hotel look unique and luxurious.

When booking your Sri Lanka holiday package with Blue Lanka Tours, your accommodation is provided with 4 and 5 star partner hotels such as those owned by Aitken Spence, John Keells Holdings, Amaya Group and more.

Eighth wonder of the world in Sri Lanka

Yes, the locals refer to the Sigiriya “Lion’s Rock” as the Eighth Wonder of the World. This is an ancient palace and fortress complex which holds significant importance in terms of archaeology and attracts several thousands of visitors annually. In all of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is probably the most popular tourist attraction.

King Kasyapa built this palace complex not just as a place to live, it was a massive construction planned to glorify Kasyapa himself. The fortress was used to display his importance as a ruler and to present himself from up there with the concept that he was a living God staying on the summit of a huge rock.

Located exactly in the heart of the island, the palace is built on a rocky plateau that is 370 meters above sea level. This plateau was formed from an extinct volcano and is 200 meters higher than its neighboring jungles. Surrounding the fortress complex is a widespread network of extensive strengthening; including ponds, canals, massive gardens, alleys and fountains. Before Kasyapa decided to construct a palace, the rocky plateau served as a monastery. After his reign, the palace became a Buddhist monastery again until the 14th century and then it was abandoned.

The gorgeous paintings, of which we only see a fraction today, were celestial maidens while the mirror wall was a structure that reflected the red arsenic fields of the kingdom of God Kuvera. The Lion, whose feet you see just before the final ascent, is a part of the fields where the Lions fought.

The western wall of the rock is covered by frescoes that were engraved during Kasyapa’s time. Only 18 frescoes are visible today however. These frescoes are drawings of nude females who are possibly portraits of Kasyapa’s wives or priestesses who performed religious rituals. Although the true identity is unknown, these frescoes have unique historical significance in terms of celebrating female beauty.

Another popular feature of this construction is the mirror wall. During the Kings reign, the wall was thoroughly polished and the King could actually see his reflection in it. After Kasyapa’s reign, the mirror wall was used as an inscription site for visitors of Sigiriya. The most ancient inscriptions are as old as the 8th century, proving that the site has been a tourist destination for over a thousand years. Today however, inscriptions are strictly prohibited on the mirror wall.

The construction of this palace and fortress complex is a fine example of urban planning. In 1982, UNESCO declared this as a World Heritage Site and Blue Lanka Tours has always included Sigiriya on their list of must visit places in Sri Lanka. To locals, it still proudly remains as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Where to see vesak celebrations in Colombo

Vesak is a religious festival in the Buddhist calendar and is a very popular occasion celebrated by all Buddhists. The actual day of vesak is the full moon – Poya day in the month of May. People all around the country, regardless of which religion they belong to, give a lot of importance for vesak, and special preparations take place everywhere for the upcoming festival.

When the vesak season gets closer, those who are accustomed to making vesak lanterns, make and sell them. The streets of Colombo are lined up with several temporary stalls to sell lanterns in a variety of shapes and sizes. Along with lanterns, masks and vesak cards are also sold.

In Colombo, the Ganagarama vesak zone is the most popular place to be if you want to see the most creative collection of vesak lanterns. Organized by the Gangarama Temple with the support of national ministers, this vesak zone aims to not just celebrate vesak but also to educate people about the significance of vesak, regardless of which religion they belong to. The government, as well as many private companies donates in cash and kind to make this a worthy cause. People walking around the Beira Lake to see vesak lanterns are requested to wear appropriate clothing.

Dehiwala, a suburb of the city of Colombo, celebrates vesak in grand style on the road leading to the Dehiwala zoo. Along with vesak lanterns, exclusive pandals are featured here. Pandals are another feature that is part of the vesak festival, often placed on roads and junctions. These large decorative structures are lit up with bulbs forming dynamic patterns. Pandals are highly creative and attract a large number of people to listen to the stories of Buddhism.

Galle Face Green is another place to be to have a look at a stunning collection of vesak lanterns and pandals. Parking is a challenge here so it is a good idea to simple walk up to there and enjoy the view.

In addition to the above three places, simply drive along the streets of Colombo and you will get to see an amazing sight with colorful and creative lanterns decorating the streets. Popular hotels and restaurants also go out of their way to make vesak celebrations a part of their environment. Vesak is a time where you can enjoy the look of the city at its most beautiful.

Tip: Request Blue Lanka Tours to book you on to a Colombo city tour bus on a vesak night and it will take you around all the popular places to visit during the vesak season.

How to make creative Vesak Lanterns

Vesak is a popular festival celebrated by Buddhists worldwide. In commemoration of the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing Away of Lord Buddha, Vesak lanterns are amongst one of the most important activities carried out during this season. Celebrate vesak in Sri Lanka this year with Blue Lanka Tours and be amazed at how beautiful the country look at this time of the year.

Although lanterns are readily available, there is a completely different excitement in making these yourself. Each year, there has been a change in the art of making lanterns. People like to display their creativity in these lanterns. In fact today’s generation construct and exhibit large lanterns that depict stories of Lord Buddha. If you are a beginner at making vesak lanterns, here is a step by step guide on making a simple ‘atapattama’ shaped lantern.

What you need:

  • 24 sticks that are of the same length. The ideal material would be bamboo but if you cannot find bamboo, any sort of wooden strips would be fine.
  • Twine (light weight string)
  • A sheet of board (from an old cardboard box)
  • Decorative materials for the lantern: colored tissue paper, transparent plastic sheets, wrapping paper, etc. Make your choice depending on how you want the finished lantern to look.
  • Small candles placed in metal dishes (metal dishes prevent the lantern from burning)
  • Patience! A lot of patience is required in making a lantern.

 

Instructions

  1. With the 24 sticks and the twine, make 6 squares and tie each square with diagonals. This means the string should be stretched both directions from opposite corners. Measure the diagonals and ensure your squares are perfect. You can add strength to the lantern framework by adding glue at each of the intersections.
  2. Now you have to tie the squares together. This may be difficult, so get help from a friend who can hold while you tie, or vice versa.
  3. Decide the face of your base. Cut out a cardboard piece to fit the base. Let the board sit on the sticks or glue it underneath the sticks. Glue will make the lantern more long lasting. This base is where your candle will rest so it has to be quite strong.
  4. Tie a string to two opposite corners on the top of your frame to allow for hanging of the lantern.
  5. Cover the framework to add strength to your lantern. This step requires careful judgment of how well your corners are tied. Cutouts in some places will make the lantern beautiful. Keep in mind that a lantern uses light as its source. Use your imagination and get creative with the decoration. Tip: cellophane will give a nice effect to your lantern.
    When attaching decorative materials, think about the finished look of your lantern. Do all the cutting and painting before you paste it. If using candles, remember that the top should not be covered. Otherwise you may end up burning the lantern down.
  6. Colorful crepe/tissue paper strips hanging from the lantern gives a finishing touch to the decoration. Colorful glitter would also add to the attractiveness. If your lantern is strong enough, hanging smaller lanterns from corners would look exceptional.
  7. Place your candle or light bulb on the base of your lantern.
  8. Hang your lantern where people can see it and light it up at night. For candle based lanterns, be careful about the surroundings since there is a possibility of the lantern catching fire.

International Vesak Day Celebrations in Sri Lanka

Vesak is a popular Buddhist religious festival that is celebrated in memory of the birth of Lord Buddha, his Enlightenment as well as his passing away. In other words, this celebration is as big as Christmas, Easter and Whitsun all put together. As the full moon day in the month of May approaches, Buddhists prepare themselves with bamboo framed lanterns decorated in colored paper to be hung in and outside their homes. These lanterns are also displayed on roads throughout the country and they make up incredible illuminated displays to lighten up the streets. Devoted Buddhists spend the entire day praying in temples and as the sun sets, they take part in processions and spend the rest of the night visiting temples and listening to sermons from monks.

Some Buddhist families/groups put up stalls on the roadside to distribute fresh refreshments to those passing by. Some stalls also exhibit talented street theatre performances staged on tall platforms. Creative versions of vesak lanterns are also displayed on the streets and these always have a story to tell that is related to the history of Buddhism.

This year, vesak will be celebrated in Sri Lanka on the 10th and 11th of May 2017. Buddhist leaders across the world have decided to hold the UN International Vesak Festival 2017 in Sri Lanka. Every year, Buddhist countries are given the opportunity to host the celebrations of United Nations Day of Vesak and this is the first time Sri Lanka has been given the chance, after a request made by Minister Rajapakse at the last UN Vesak Day held in Thailand. According to Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapakhse, the UN Vesak Day Committee has unanimously agreed that the International Vesak Day festival will be held from 11th to 13th of May 2017.

This is the 14th annual UN Vesak day celebration and it will be held at BMICH – Colombo, where Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena, Indian President Narendra Modi and many other national and international delegates will be present. More than 2000 delegates, including political and Buddhist leaders across the world will be attending the event in a few weeks.

At 7.00 p.m. on the 11th of May, the launch of this festival will take place at Diyawanna – the special vesak zone near the Parliament complex in Colombo. The concluding ceremony will be conducted in the cultural capital of Sri Lanka – Kandy. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) is where the delegates will meet for the conclusion of this festival.

On February 7th 2017, a website for the 14th UN International Vesak Festival in Sri Lanka was launched by the President. Popular Buddhist leaders such as the Maha Sangha attended the launch. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace’.

If you are planning a holiday in Sri Lanka during the month of May, request Blue Lanka Tours to schedule a couple of days (preferably 11-13 May) in Colombo to see the best of the Vesak Festival.