The ancient white building, pond and the rock of the Isurumuniya Temple, a Wonderful Religious Attraction in Anuradhapura
Isurumuniya Temple, a Wonderful Religious Attraction in Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka is one of the major tourist hotspots in South Asia. That is simply owing to its significant natural environment, historical background, and geographical location. Although the size of the country is seemingly small, its content is much bigger. Further, more than half of the lot particularly eye towards the highly preserved heritage of the island, as it arouses, anyone who gets to know a bit about it, the interest to explore more. Particularly, ancient cities such as Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa gain the spotlight when it comes to the history and heritage of the country. Isurumuniya is one of the monuments in Anuradhapura that reveal a hundred historical factors about the country.

Hence, we thought of focusing this article on this important religious and cultural attraction. Continue reading to know more about it!

What is Isurumuniya?

Isurumuniya is a Buddhist monument, a temple located in Anuradhapura. It stands with grandeur, right next to Tissa Wewa, one of the major tanks in Anuradhapura city. This temple holds major historical values, along with four stone carvings that showcase the talent of the ancient people, especially the talent in carving. Further, Isurumuniya reveals the quality of the architecture of that time as well. Significantly, the temple’s structure has an incredibly formed structure with several features.

The temple premises is on a huge rock and it extends into a certain distance. Most importantly, there is a cave and a cliff that connects to the Viharaya above the rock, and there is a stupa on the cliff itself.

So, all these things reveal to the world the grandeur of Buddhist culture and artistic values.

Stone Carvings at Isurumuniya

The inscribed carvings around the stone cliff, on a rock that appears to rise out of a pool, showcase the advanced technology of the industry of the time. The rock particularly has carvings of elephant figures and a figure of a horse.

Most of the visitors to Isurumuniya mainly focus on these carvings, their perfection, and their techniques. Even some of them relate these carvings to their research studies while digging into the past of them and the industry.

Besides, there are three world-famous stone carvings at Isurumuniya. They are as follows.

  • Isurumuniya Lovers
  • Royal Family
  • The Elephant Pond Carving

Scroll down to know more about these wonderful carvings!

Isurumuniya Lovers

This is one of the most popular carvings in Sri Lanka. And yes, it is also a focus of major discussion and appraisal due to the uniqueness of the carving.

According to historical legends, Isurumuniya lovers carving belong to the 6th Century. Also, it shows the artistic features that belong to the style Gupta. The carving is all about two lovers. It shows a woman sitting on a man’s lap. The woman has a gesture of lifting the warning finger while the man has no specific hand gesture.

The legends further say that this couple is King Dutugamunu’s son Saliya and his lover, the low caste maiden Asokamala. It is carved as a memorandum in order to remind that Prince Saliya has given up his throne in order to have his lover in his life. As per history, this happened because he was having an engagement with a woman of a low caste.

However, the sculpture was originally installed in Vessagiriya. After donating it to the monks only the carving slab of Isurumuniya lovers has been placed in Isurumuniya.

The Royal Family

This is another famous carving within the island as well as Isurumuniya. This particular carving located on the premises of Isurumuniya temple is quite special as this carving has several figures in a limited space.

The carving of the royal family is carved on a granite plate. People believe that it belongs to the 8th century A.D. Further, it belongs to the Anuradhapura period when the Gupta Kala was performing at its best. 

When it comes to the background story of the carving, the legends say that this is a family portrait of King Dutugemunu. Accordingly, the five human figures there show King Dutugemunu in the center, his wife, and the children. Also, since the king is wearing a tall crown and a ‘Poona Noola” around his chest, it is believed that this was carved after him being the ruler of a certain period. 

The gestures and postures of the figures are very clear and perfectly carved in a way the viewers can separately distinguish each. So, this carving is one of the masterpieces of the industry which showcases the advancement and perfection of the craftsmen back in history. 

Elephant Pond Carving

The elephant pond carving is one of the major carvings that one can find on the premises of Isurumuniya temple. This is different from the above-mentioned two carvings, as this is carved on a rock of the premises itself rather than a separate slab. In fact, it can be found on a stone cliff, on the wall of a rock that appears to be raised out of the pool. This carving also belongs to the Anuradhapura period but particularly to the 7th Century A.D. According to the records, the rock is granite. Hence, carving is a hard one. Further, the carving belongs to the tradition of Pallava.

This particular carving demonstrates a figure of elephants bathing in a pond. And yes, it is the reason for this carving to get that name as well. In fact, in the figure, to be very precise, there are four elephant figures who showcase different postures to show that they are bathing.

This carving is quite artistic and the clarity and perfection of the carving are mind-blowing. According to the records, the elephant figures that are in this carving are resembling the elephant figures in Mamallapuram in India. So, after all, this carving is a perfect example to prove that the industry back then was a really improved and advanced one. 

Historical Significance of Isurumuniya

According to historical records, Isurumuniya was the resident of the mythical Pulasthi Rishi. Also, history reveals that it was the birthplace of the mythical King Ravana. Apart from these folk stories, it was King Devanampiyathissa who built this temple. His intention in building this was to provide shelter for ordained 500 children of high caste. Hence, the premises had a huge land extend, particularly to make their stay and meditational work easy. Even the selection of location was also based on the intention to be very peaceful for spiritual learning. Therefore, Isurumuniya temple has a tight relation with the steps taken for the betterment of the Buddhism religion and for the establishment of the religion within the country. 

Later King Kayapa renovated the temple by giving it another name, “Boupulvan, Kasubgiri Radmaha Vehera”. It is said that he named the temple after the names of his two daughters and his own.

How to Reach Isurumuniya?

Since Isurumuniya is in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, reaching it does not come under hard or impossible tasks. If your journey begins in the commercial city of Sri Lanka – Colombo, you can choose any transportation mode. Yet, flying and waterway transportation is not available for this destination.  

If you prefer the rail ride, you just have to take a direct train from Colombo Fort to Anuradhapura. This would be a wonderful experience as it allows you to enjoy the hidden beauty of the environment during your ride. This will not take more than 3 and a half or 4 hours. However, after getting down at Anuradhapura, you just have to take a tuk-tuk or a taxi to reach Isurumuniya. It is around 4 km away from the railway station. However, it is better if you plan a whole tour around Anuradhapura so that you can hire a foot bicycle and roam around peacefully. 

If you prefer a bus ride, the same process applies. In fact, you have to take a direct bus to Anuradhapura from the main bus station of Colombo. The only difference is that this will take more time than the train ride. Approximately, it will take around 5 and a half hours including the time to reach Isurumuniya’s aftermath. Thus, the earlier you start the journey, the faster you reach the destination.

If you are a person who prefers a zero-interrupted journey, you can easily travel by taxi or a rented vehicle. The approximate duration to reach the destination through this particular mode will be 3-4 hours from Colombo.

The Bottom Line

All in all, it is worth having a journey to Isurumuniya and witnessing the wonders there as the place is a package of valuable content. This place is surely going to take you on a journey to the past, with its wonderful monuments, and carvings. Besides, the perfect talents that you witness here will impress you beyond a doubt. Even the Department of Archaeology is further providing services to preserve its grandeur. So, visit Isurumuniya, as you explore this splendid island. Happy and safe traveling!