Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

  • Category: World Heritage Sites
  • Distance From Colombo‎: 200 km
  • Established: 4th century BC
  • District: Anuradhapura
  • Drive Time: 3 h 40 m
  • Location: North Central Province
  • Availability: All Year
  • Txp: Van, Car, Jeep, Bus
  • Area: 7,179 km²
  • Best Time To Visit: July and December
  • Elevation: 81 m above sea level
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site
About Polonnaruwa

According to the chronicles during the 12th century; a prince forced his way to the throne of Sri Lanka as King Prakrama Bahu the Great. Moreover, He established himself in Polonnaruwa – today a Unesco world heritage site; where he proved himself both a great warrior and administrator. While, during his reign, through a 9-mile dam, he created the so-called “Sea of Parakrama” to collect rainwater for cultivation purposes through irrigation in dry periods. So, he enabled the people to store foodstuffs in hard times too.

As a result. today many ruins bear witness to his power and glory in Polonnaruwa. Just like his seven-storeys Palace, furnished with thousand chambers according to a local legend – nowadays, unfortunately, the ruins of the ground floor surrounded by ten-feet thick walls are all we can see.

However, between the Palace and the garden; once lay the pool and towards the north the pavilion of the council chamber; where presumably the king and his councillors would plan sea trips and military expeditions. The entrance to the building was decorated with magnificent and elaborate carvings of elephants, horses and lotus flowers engraved in stone.

Respect for the Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka
Temple Etiquette

Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of the majority of Sri Lanka practised by 70% of Sri Lanka’s population. Theravada Buddhism and religion have long influenced culture is particularly strong in the southern and central regions of the country. Before Visit, find out about these practical label tips.

Never touch or pat the top of a Buddhist monk’s head, including small children in temples. This seen as disrespectful.

Don’t take selfies with a statue of a Buddha.

Never turn your back on any figure of the Buddha.

Don’t share appropriate clothes when you are going to religious sites or temples.

Keep in mind that on full moon days, Poya (monthly) is not possible to serve or sell alcohol. Even in these days, no meat is sold in the markets.

If you have Buddha tattoos on your body, you must take care to hide them because it is considered disrespectful to have a Buddha image on your body.

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Polonnaruwa Highlights
Unesco World Heritage Site

Gal Vihara


This group of valuable Buddha statues probably marks the highest point of the Sinhalese rock sculpture. Moreover, The Gal Vihara is part of the northern monastery of Parakramabahu I; also consists of four distinct figures, each derived from a single long granite slab. Originally each of them was enclosed by a fence. However, the standing Buddha is 7 m tall, and for many, it is the most beautiful statue of the group. The unusual crossed posture of the arms and the pained expression of the face led to believe that it was Ananda; a disciple of the Buddha; who mourns the departure of the master for nirvana (also because next to it there is a statue of the reclining Buddha).

Since the icon was inside a separate fence and since other figures were discovered with the arms in the same position; this theory is now discredited, and today it is believed that all the statues depict the Buddha. The reclining Buddha, Buddha depicted entering Parinirvana (nirvana-after-death) is 14m long. Notice the subtle depression in the pillow under the head and the symbols of the lotus symbols on the pillow end and on the soles of Buddha’s feet. The other two statues both represent the seated Buddha. The sculptures bring out the marvellous natural marbled effect of the rock; the one in the narrow rocky cavity is smaller and of lower quality.


Buddhist temple

Built by Parakramabahu I and subsequently restored by order of Vijayabahu IV, the Lankatilaka is one of the most striking buildings of Polonnaruwa. The large hedge has 17 m high walls, but the roof has now collapsed. The central nave, similar to that of a cathedral, leads to a giant standing Buddha (without ahead). The faithful who burn incense, the columns and the arches of the structure create a very suggestive mystical atmosphere.


Buddhist Site

Reachable with a short walk from the Royal Palace group in a northerly direction, the Quadrilateral area (Quadrangle in English) is precisely what the name indicates: a compact group of fascinating ruins placed on a raised platform, surrounded by a wall. Among the ancient cities of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa is the one with the highest concentration of buildings – a real paradise for archaeologists. It is probable that over time the structures of the Atadage, Vatadage and Hatadage, built by various sovereigns in succession as a sign of devotion, took turns to host the relic of the sacred tooth of the Buddha.
In addition to the main ruins, take a look also at the house of the reclining statue, the chapter house, the bodhisattva temple and the bodhi tree temple.

Rankot Vihara

Buddhist Temple

Rankot Vihara’s dagoba, which at 54 m is the largest in Polonnaruwa and the fourth in Sri Lanka, was attributed to the reign of Nissanka Malla. As in many other essential sanctuaries of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the dome consists of a dam covered with a layer of bricks and concrete. The building is a blatant imitation of the Anuradhapura style. Among the ruins of a 12th-century hospital located nearby, some surgical instruments have been found that are surprisingly similar to those used today; some examples are kept at the Archeological Museum.

What to See and Do in Polonnaruwa
Closest landmarks
  • Archaeological Museum
  • Atadage
  • Audience Hall
  • Bath of ablutions
  • Buddha Seema Prasada
  • Gal Pota
  • Hatadage
  • King's council chamber
  • Kiri Vihara
  • Latha-Mandapaya
  • Palace of Nissanka Malla
  • Pabula Vihara
  • Ruins of Polonnaruwa
  • Potgul Vihara
  • Royal baths
  • Royal Palace
  • Satmahal Prasada
  • Shiva Devale
  • Statue
  • Girithale Lake
  • Kaudulla National Park
  • Minneriya National Park

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Buddhism in Sri Lanka
A Short History:

  • There are around 6,000 Buddhist monasteries on Sri Lankawith approximately 15,000 monks.
  • Sri Lanka was ruled by 181 monarchs from the Anuradhapura to Kandy periods.
  • Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 236 b.e. (cir. 250 BCE)
  • Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the oldest tree in the world, and it planted in 249 (2268 years ago) BC
  • Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle includes three major sites that form a triangle. Anuradhapura to the north, Polonnaruwa to the east and Kandy to the south-west. Inside the triangle, there are other places of interest; Mihintale, Ritigala and Dambulla.

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Spiritual Journeys To Sri Lanka

Wonderful 15-day spiritual tour in Sri Lanka, bursting with cultural richness, many stunning historical landscapes and fabulous sacred sites with intriguing history. Commencing from Negombo, you will explore the former capital cities and discover more than 9 amazing ancient monuments and temples, such as: The Sacred City of Anuradhapura (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Sigiriya rock fortress (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), the incredible stone cave temple in Dambulla, the Ancient Kingdom of Yapahuwa, Arankele Ancient Monastery and the Mysterious Forest Monastery of Ritigala.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What type of Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka?

What type of Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka? Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Sri Lanka, with about 70% of the country’s population as followers.

How many Buddhist temples and monks are there in Sri Lanka?

There are around 6,000 Buddhist monasteries on Sri Lanka with approximately 15,000 monks.

Did Buddha visit Sri Lanka?

The Siddhartha Gautama’s (Buddha) first visit was in the ninth month after Buddhahood on Duruthu (January) Full Moon Day.(1 B.E. or 528 B.C.)

How did Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka?

How did Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka?
Buddhism came to Sri Lanka in the third century BCE. After the Third Buddhist council by Arhanthà Mahinda Thero, son of Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura.

How old is the Buddhist religion?

The religion is 2,500 years old and is followed by 350 million Buddhists worldwide.

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