Sri Lanka, a South Asian country amidst the massive Indian Ocean, is generally famous for its green and beachy ambiance. Yet, the real treasure of Sri Lanka is its conserving historical and cultural heritage. In fact, certain parts of the country can relate to the long history of Sri Lanka along with its establishment, heritage, and original traditions. Mainly, the culture is a significant part of the island. The best example of this long-lasting culture is the cultural triangle. So, we thought of focusing this read on the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. Continue reading to know about it!
What is the Cultural Triangle?
The most ancient cities Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Dambulla make this cultural triangle. This particular area is considered the crucible of early Sinhalese civilization which lies in the exact center of the island.
Simply, there is a lot to know about these cities, and a number of places to visit around them as well. So, scroll down to know more about them!
The main part of the cultural triangle, Anuradhapura is the most ancient city in the country. Hence, it comes to the top whenever the topic is related to culture. In fact, being the most ancient city in the country, it is one of the pioneers in establishing the prevailing culture of Ceylon. The journey of it being one of the major landmarks of Sri Lanka started with its role as the first ancient capital of the island.
If someone says that almost every cultural aspect of Sri Lanka got their start from Anuradhapura, there is nothing wrong with that. The birth of irrigation, cultivation, and many more local industries happened at Anuradhapura and then spread along the country for the time being. In fact, one can find the largest water sources including lakes, streams, and the huge arenas of prosperous paddy fields within the vicinity of Anuradhapura.
Apart from that, it is the city that started establishing one of the major religions in Sri Lanka, Buddhism as well. For instance, there are many remarkable Buddhist monuments within its territory. Hence, it is the foremost sacred city in the country. And yes, the city is well-known for its preservation of the historical importance of the country and its presence of the religion, Buddhism.
Significant Attractions in Anuradhapura
There are many religious and cultural attractions within the boundaries of Anuradhapura. Some of them are as follows.
This refers to the eight great places of veneration related to the Buddhist religion. Simply, no Buddhist would go back without visiting these places, if they choose to explore the cultural triangle.
These eight Buddhist monuments include Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya, Ruwanweliseya, Thuparamaya, Lovamahapaya, Jethawanaramaya, Abhayagiri Dagaba, Mirisaveti Stupa, and Lankaramaya.
1. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya
This refers to the sacred bo tree which is the oldest living tree in the documented history of the world. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is a significant symbol of the Buddhist religion as the legends say it is a sapling of the Bodhi tree under which Buddha enlightened.
This refers to a Buddhist monument in Sri Lanka, which is originally a stupa. Ruwanweliseya is a supremely glorious Buddhist monument that takes the Buddhist heritage from one generation to another. One of the significant kings of ancient Sri Lanka, King Dutugamunu, built this monument.
This is also a Stupa that has high recognition among Buddhists. In fact, this is the oldest Stupa in Sri Lanka. It was built immediately after the introduction of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. This is also a creation of a well-known king from ancient Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyathissa. The name reflects the meaning of a residential complex of Buddhist monks.
This is a Buddhist monument that you can find between the Ruwanweliseya and Jaya Sri Maha Bodiya. Presently, it is an area with a set of ruins with hundreds of stone pillars. It says that it was once a nine-storied monastic structure built by King Dutugemunu. After turning into a whole lot of ruins, now one can find a modern monastery within the territory.
This is a Buddhist reliquary monument which is a stupa located amidst the ruins of the Jetavana monastery. The specialty of this stupa is that it is the world’s largest stupa and the third tallest structure in the world. This was a stupa that was subjected to several renovations and rebuilding from time to time. Hence, its record of being the world’s largest stupa dropped.
6. Abhayagiri Dagoba
This is once again a Buddhist stupa that acts as a symbol of all forms of Buddhism, Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana. According to the records, it is one of the most extensive ruins in the world and one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage cities in the nation. This is also a creation of one of another king in ancient Sri Lanka, King Valagamba during the period of his second reign.
7. Mirisveti Stupa
This is one of the most ancient Dagobas in Sri Lanka. The great king Dutugamunu built it. This is one of the most visited and must-see Buddhist monuments in Anuradhapura. It says that the structure of the Stupa is significant and that is the main reason to get floods of visitors frequently. There are beliefs that this Stupa presence is a spiritual power that makes the wishes true.
This is another Stupa that is in Anuradhapura which has a long history with hundreds and one legend. It is also a creation of a king who ruled the country back then, King Walagamba. Until recently, there were ruins of the original Stupa and its Vatadageya. But lately, it has been renovated and now the Stupa is a complete building with the ruins of the stone pillars.
This is a Buddhist temple located near the tank Tissa in Anuradhapura and well-known for its stone carvings. There are particularly three carvings that have gained attraction, the carving of Isurumuniya lovers, the elephant pond, and the royal family. Isurumuniya along with its carvings is famous not only in Sri Lanka but in the whole world.
This refers to one of the traditional specimens of bathing tanks and pools of ancient Sri Lanka. The specialty of the pond is that it is in the form of pairs so it is known as a twin pond/pool. According to the records, this was built by the Sinhalese in the ancient Anuradhapura. The significance of this pond is in its hydrological engineering and outstanding architectural and artistic creations of early Sri Lanka.
This is a historical destination in Sri Lanka containing Magul Uyana. It is situated close to Isurumuniya Vihara and Tissa Wewa in Anuradhapura. This park includes ponds and some of the ancient monuments. This is considered the most visited destination in Anuradhapura.
This is an ancient Buddhist forest monastery that is a part of the ruins of Anuradhapura. It is located quite South of Isurumuniya. Within this monastery, the monks used to meditate on the premises and they lived in rock shelters. However, now one can see only the bare stones. Most of the stones are carted away and reused elsewhere.
This is a skyscraper and it belongs to the reign period of King Kanittha Tissa. This was then a residence to the Bhikkhus of Tapovana. The beautiful guard stones of Abhayagiri Viharaya belong to this place as it was found here. Not only that, one can even see the perfect guard stone of the Anuradhapura kingdom in this place.
This is a famous Buddha statue in Mahamevna park. This statue depicts one of the major meditation postures of Lord Buddha, Samadhi Mudra. The records say that this 25 feet statue is a creation of a monk sculptor who did amazing creations back in history during the ancient periods.
This is one of the 16 places belonging to Solosmasthana in Sri Lanka that is situated West of Jethawanaramaya. The specialty of this Stupa is that it was built in stone. In fact, the whole Stupa is a stone-made one. At the same time, this is one of the rare places in Sri Lanka where one can find both the moonstones and guard stones in its territory. Also, archeologists reveal that Sela Chethiya is the place where one can find the original form of moonstone as well.
How to Reach Anuradhapura?
From the main cities, Colombo and Kandy, it is not so difficult to find a one-way transportation method to reach Anuradhapura. If you are fond of train rides, you can take the direct train to Anuradhapura as there are few turns from Colombo Fort to Anuradhapura daily. If not, you can also travel by bus, as there are enough turns of direct buses from Colombo to Anuradhapura throughout the day. At the same time, you can travel by your own vehicle as well. The journey would however take a course of around 4-5 hours no matter whatever the method you chose.
After reaching the destination, if you are not traveling by a private vehicle, it is better to rent a foot cycle as it may make your tour around the city easy and convenient.
Belonging to the culture triangle, Anuradhapura preserves the tradition, culture, and heritage within its territory. From ancient times until today, it has been a significant destination when it comes to those heritage sites. So, if you are exploring the cultural triangle, make sure you spend some time in Anuradhapura too.
Polonnaruwa is another city in the cultural triangle that preserves its historical values, traditions, culture, and heritage. This city is only second to the ancient city, Anuradhapura. Yet, both cities do the same in order to preserve what is unique to Sri Lanka.
Being a connecting point of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, it obviously is an ancient city that houses a whole lot of monuments, and ruins that relate the historical stories. According to the legends, Polonnaruwa contains far superior irrigation systems, architectural technologies, and advanced technologies of cultivation. Since ancient times, the city has been a prosperous area as it houses a number of lakes, cultivation plots, architectural relics, and religious monuments.
After Anuradhapura ancient city, Polonnaruwa has the most number of historical and religious monuments being the second ancient kingdom in ancient times. Other than that, the city is popular for its presence of ‘toques macaques’, a species of monkeys. In fact. Polonnaruwa is the backdrop of the world-famous documentary, Monkey Kingdom.
Altogether, maintaining and preserving the culture, traditions, and heritage of the island is the most prominent role of the city being a part of the well-known culture triangle of Sri Lanka.
Significant Attractions in Polonnaruwa
Similar to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa also houses a number of significant cultural and religious attractions. Some of them are as follows.
Statue of King Parakramabahu
This refers to a stone statue built in Anuradhapura during the Polonnaruwa period. Although the wide opinion is that it is a statue of King Pandukabhaya, most of the legends say that its identity is uncertain. The statue is carved on a large boulder. The statue gives out a majestic figure with a grave expression holding a book or a yoke in his hands. This can be found near the Pothgul Viharaya, one of the main attractions in Polonnaruwa.
This is a structure that belongs to the Polonnaruwa era and now it is more like a set of ruins. The most significant and important thing about this place is the structure as it has unusual, yet very creative architectural features. This is the best-preserved ‘Watadageya’ structure that you can find within the territory of Sri Lanka. After several years of abundance, the excavation in the early 19s could make this place an attraction for the present generations.
This is an ancient Stupa in Polonnaruwa. This Stupa is also a creation of one of the well-known kings who ruled the Polonnaruwa Kingdom back in ancient times. According to the records, Rankoth Vehera resembles the most famous Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura city. The inscription built beside the Stupa reveals each and every fact about it. The specialty of this stupa is that it is built with all bricks.
Nissanka Latha Mandapaya
This is also once again a unique structure in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. This resembles an open stage as it has a pillared structure open on all sides with a roof for the inner surface. According to the legends, this is a structure built inside the buildings as a temporary space. The purpose of this building has been to hold recitation events during remembering ceremonies for the dead. The inscription near the Mandapa says that this is the space where the creator king listened to Buddhist sermons.
This is another Buddhist monument in Polonnaruwa city, in fact, a temple. The specialty of this temple is that it is a rock temple. As the main feature one can find four rock relief statues of Buddha that are carved into the face of a large, gigantic rock. The statues consist of two seating figures, a larger one and a smaller one, a standing figure and a reclining figure. Therefore, Gal Viharaya is the most visited Buddhist monument in Polonnaruwa as it is famous for the ancient sculpting and carving arts.
This is a pyramid-shaped monument with steps that include seven stories. The specialty of this structure is that it has entrances from all four sides and an additional staircase outside in order to reach the upper levels. Being anonymous about its builder and the purpose of the building, the local believes that it is a stupa considering the monuments in its vicinity. Yet, according to the records, it hardly resembles the structure of any other monument established within the country back then.
The Palace of King Parakramabahu
This refers to the residence of one of the major kings of the Polonnaruwa era, King Parakramabahu. This dates back to around the 10th century as that was the time period when Polonnaruwa functioned as the capital and a kingdom of Sri Lanka. Being one of the major monuments in Sri Lanka, it contributed to the city being the top attraction all around the country. According to the records, this palace spread over an area of around 403 sq. meters.
Archeological Museum in Polonnaruwa
This is a house of many valuable artefacts found during the excavations in the Polonnaruwa area. When it comes to the outer appearance of the palace, it resembles a small and simple hut from the outside. But in reality, it houses a thousand varieties of informative visuals and artefacts on the inside. In fact, the exhibits of this museum can relate to the whole history of Polonnaruwa by connecting the dots through the items preserved there.
This refers to the huge tank established within the territories of Polonnaruwa. In fact, there is a belief that it is the biggest antique man-made rainwater tank in Sri Lanka. Dating back to the ruling period of King Parakramabahu, it spreads over a region of around 2500 hectares with the capacity of storing 134 million cubic meters of water. However, according to the historical records, this was and still is the water source for the agricultural area of Polonnaruwa including its environment.
This refers to a group of brilliant and attractive ruins on a raised scaffold surrounded by a wall. And yes, this is a major attraction in this ancient city. Here one can explore hundreds of things about the ancient times of the city including architecture, carvings, and building structures. According to the records, this is the highly rich accumulation of buildings in the entire ancient city having a circular relic dwelling in the center of it called Vatadage. All around the place one can find guard rocks acting as a border to the territory of the place.
Thivanka Image House
This refers to a place that houses a significant Buddha statue that has a specialty on it. According to the legends, this is the most significant rock structure in Sri Lanka, and it houses a Buddha statue. The importance of this statue is that it has been bowed in the spots at the shoulders, at the waist, and at the knees. Also, history reveals that no one can find a similar king statue all around the world. Apart from that, surrounding the statue, there are two-layered plastered walls highlighting the wall paintings associated with the Polonnaruwa time.
This refers to an ancient library with a strange structure in Polonnaruwa. According to the records, it is a small, circular, hollowed dome that used to be a library storing sacred books. As the same, some say that this place used to be an ancient lecture theatre due to its unusual shape. However, this is also one such place where visitors can find the richness and the quality of the architectural technology and skills of ancient times. Many consider that it is the only old library that remains in the country at present.
How to reach Polonnaruwa?
Reaching Polonnaruwa is not a problem if you are familiar with the route to Anuradhapura, or else if you are exploring the cultural triangle. From the commercial city of Sri Lanka – Colombo, the journey to Polonnaruwa will only take around 5-6 hours through any transportation method.
If you are choosing a train ride you have to get the train to Habarana and then travel by bus/taxi to reach Polonnaruwa. If not, you can also take a bus to Polonnaruwa from Colombo and take a direct journey to Polonnaruwa. You always have the option of traveling by your own vehicle or a rented car if it is the most convenient one for you.
Preserving hundreds of historical values within its territory, Polonnaruwa fulfills its responsibility of being a part of the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka. In between the historical monuments, excavated relics, and preserved items, Polonnaruwa has the originations and establishments of cultural and traditional norms of the country. So, if you are hoping to explore the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, do not miss Polonnaruwa!
Dambulla is a city full of surprises and amazing. That is simply because it houses many valuable relics within its territory. Being one of the three connecting points of the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka, it contributes a lot towards the preservation of historical traditions and norms.
However, Dambulla is a major town in the Matale district. In fact, it is the second largest, most populated, and urbanized centre in the Matale district. Besides, Dambulla is famous as a major vegetable distribution center in the country, considering its location at a major junction. The city is completely a different world with its ancient and historical ambiance and atmosphere. This city has even been subjected to excavations, as this has been one of the major destinations in historical times.
Dambulla is always about ancient and religious values considering the attractions in the city. Among its major attractions lies the most famous rock fortress Sigiriya and the largest cave temple complex on the island. These two have become the major historical attractions in Sri Lanka being the most visited historical monuments in Sri Lanka.
At the same time, Dambulla is famous for having evidence of ancient civilizations. That is because the archeologists were able to find prehistoric human skeletons in and around this area. In fact, this evidence proves the presence of the civilizations long before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Further, Dambulla provides evidence for the agricultural and cultivation history of the country through the excavations done at the city. Also, the city provides evidence for the archeological technologies and systems that were prevailing back in historical times.
Significant Attractions in Dambulla
Even though there are not as many religious and cultural attractions in Dambulla than the other two cities in the cultural triangle, the places it houses have some unique set of values and importance. The following sections will reveal it to you!
Sigiriya stands with grandeur, a few miles away from Dambulla. This refers to the eighth wonder of the world, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage. The history of this rock fortress goes back to the times of King Kasyapa. This is famed as lion rock. Moreover, it is a natural yet massive column of rock that has a height of 200 meters. The top of the rock consists of a palace complex that belongs to King Kasyapa. According to historical records, it has advanced drainage and archeological systems. In fact, those technologies are not present even in the present-day systems. However, Sigiriya is also well-known for its frescoes, the mirror wall, the gardens, the boulder gardens, and the terraced gardens.
Dambulla Cave temple
Dambulla cave temple refers to the largest cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. This is located at a height of about three hundred and fifty feet above the plain. It is uncertain to say whether this is natural, partly natural, or partly artificial due to the unusual structure it possesses. However, the locals assume that it has to be natural considering the formation of caves. As a result of the excavations, up to now, they could explore about 80 caves, and the major attractions of the cave temple are spread over 5 caves that the visitors have permission to enter. However, the cave temple is all about the paintings and statues that depict Lord Buddha and his teachings.
How to reach Dambulla?
Reaching Dambulla is not such a hard task, as you can choose whatever transportation method you want. If you are willing to take a train ride, you can take a train from Colombo Fort to Maho Junction. Then, you can take a bus/taxi to reach Dambulla. It will take around 4-5 hours altogether. If not, you can easily take a direct bus from Colombo to Dambulla. That will also eventually take the same duration of time. Besides, you can even choose to go by taxi if you expect more convenience and comfort.
The Bottom Line
After all, the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka is the best for you to visit, if you love exploring the grandeur of Sri Lanka’s past. The religious and cultural attractions that you find in these cities are sure to delight you. Besides, the knowledge that these cities would provide you would further magnify the significance of your trip. So, never miss exploring the cultural triangle, if you are traveling in Sri Lanka. Happy and safe traveling!