Another 8am start and we drove to Anuradhapura – a very scenic drive through paddy fields and small villages, with wattle and daub shacks built right next to some much nicer properties.
After all the recent heavy rains much of the flat landscape was flooded.
Our first stop was the ancient Isurumuni Rajamaha Vihara (2nd century BC) with its rock temple and square lotus pond in front of it.
There are carvings of elephants cavorting in the water on the rocks and
just above them is a carving of a man and a horse dating back to C6AD.
In the reproduction of the cave temple there was a reclining Buddha statue, murals depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha and a fabulous painted ceiling.
Anuradhapura first became a capital in 380BC but was replaced by Polonnaruwa in the 11th century. It is now a Unesco world heritage site. It was and continues to be a major centre for Buddhism. The ruins are spread over a very large area so we only visited the most important ones.
We drove to the Mahavihara, the central part of the complex with relics dating from 3rd century BC to the 11th century AD, and where the Sri Maha Bodhi tree grows;
this sacred tree is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world. It is in fact not one but several trees with golden supports to hold up some of its branches.
The day we were there was a poya (full moon) and therefore a day of public celebration. People had come from far and wide bringing picnics with them and all the women wore white.
From there we walked along the avenue
passing a diorama depicting the story of how the first Bo tree was brought to Sri Lanka
and then the Lovamahapaya, the Brazen Temple so-called because it once had a bronze roof but today only a few columns remain.
The huge white Ruvanvelisaya dagoba was set amongst trees and grassland and we only viewed it from afar.
In the Anagiri monastery complex we saw some well preserved carvings and another moon stone. The moon stones in Anuradhapura differ from those in Polonnaruwa in that “A half lotus was carved in the centre, which was enclosed by several concentric bands. The first band from the half lotus is decorated with a procession of swans, followed by a band with an intricate foliage design known as liyavel. The third band has carvings of four animals; elephants, lions, horses, and bulls. These four animals follow each other in a procession symbolizing the four stages in life: growth, energy, power and forbearance. The fourth and outermost band contains a carving of flames.” (Wikipedia). The bands are clearly visible in this photo.
The last stop of the day was to see the 4th century Samadhi Buddha. It is said that when viewed from one side he appears to be smiling and from the other, he appears to have a sad expression on his face but I have to admit that I couldn’t see any difference in his expression.