The area is thought to have been inhabited from as early as the 7th to 3rd century BC. As indicated in a Brahmi inscription indicted under the drip ledge of cave No.2 history could be traced back to 2nd century BC. Images and paintings in these caves date back to the 1st century BC. But the paintings and statues were repaired and repainted in 11th, 12th & 17th century AD. The caves in the city provided refuge to King Valagamba (also called Vattagamini Abhaya) in his 14 year long exile from the Anuradapura kingdom. Buddhist monks meditating in the caves of Dambulla at that time provided the exiled king protection from his enemies. When King Valagamba returned to the throne at Anuradapura kingdom in the 1st century BC, he had a magnificent rock temple built at Dambulla as a gratitude to the monks in Dambulla. However the first reference in the chronicle occurs during the reign of King Vijayabahu (11th century AD). Habitats of prehistoric man have been found in a series of large boulders, terraces & caves along the western slope of the rock. Dambulla is surrounded by a number of megalithic cemeteries, Ibbankatuwa site been the most significant
It is a World Heritage Site. It is the most impressive of Sri Lanka’s cave temples. The complex of five caves with over 2000 sq. meters of painted walls and ceilings is the largest area of paintings found in the world. It contains over 150 images of the Buddha of which the largest is the colossal figure of the Buddha carved out of rock and spanning 14 meters.
The earliest evidence of human habitation at Sigiriya was found from the Aligala rock shelter to the east of Sigiriya rock, indicating that the area was occupied nearly five thousand years ago. Buddhist monastic settlements were established in the western and northern slopes of the boulder-strewn hills surrounding the Sigiriya rock, during the third century B.C. Several rock shelters or caves had been created during this period. These shelters were made under large boulders, with carved drip ledges around the cave mouths. Rock inscriptions are carved near the drip ledges on many of the shelters, recording the donation of the shelters to the Buddhist monastic order as residences. These have been made within the period between the third century B.C and the first century A.D. In 477 A.D, prince Kasyapa seized the throne from King Dhatusena, following a coup assisted by Migara, the king’s nephew and army commander. Kasyapa, the king’s son by a non-royal consort, usurped the rightful heir, Moggallana, who fled to South India. Fearing an attack from Moggallana, Kasyapa moved the capital and his residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya. During King Kasyapa’s reign from 477 to 495 A.D, Sigiriya was developed into a complex city and fortress. Most of the elaborate constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces and gardens, date back to this period. Kasyapa was defeated in 495 A.D by Moggallana, who moved the capital again to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya was then turned back into a Buddhist monastery, which lasted until the thirteenth or fourteenth century. After this period, no records are found on Sigirya until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was used as an outpost of the Kingdom of Kandy. When the kingdom ended, it was abandoned again.
It was the first capital and undoubtedly the grandest city of the ancient Ceylon. Two of the World Heritage Sites are situated here and many places of historical and archaeological interest could be visited. Sri Maha Bodhi (Sacred Bo-Tree) was brought as a sapling of the tree under which Prince Siddhartha attained to enlightenment. It is over 2200 years old and is the oldest historically documented tree in the world. The Brazen Palace (2nd century B.C), the 1600 stone columns you see are all that is left of a magnificent multi-storied residence for monks. Ruwanweliseya (2nd century B.C) is the most famous of all the Dagobas. It originally depicted the perfect ‘bubble shape” that modern restoration has not been able to accurately reproduce. ‘Samadhi’ Buddha statue (4th century AD) is one of the most famous statues, depicting the Buddha in a state of ‘Samadhi’ or deep meditation and Isurumuniya rock temple (3rd century B.C) which is well known for its rock carvings.
Polonnaruwa is the second (Medieval) capital of Sri Lanka which lasted for about 200 years from about 1055 AD. But there is evidence that Polonnaruwa was a strategic point during A’pura period. When large irrigation works commenced after king Vasaba some of the complexed irrigation networks and large tanks were constructed in Polonnaruwa area. (Giritale, Kantale, Minneriya, Minipe, Elahera, Kaudulla & Maduru Oya). King Vijayabahu (Kitti) (1055-1110) was the hero who recaptured Rajarata from the Cholas. But while Vijayabahu’s victory and shifting of Kingdoms to the more strategic Polonnaruwa is considered significant, the real Polonnaruwa hero of the history books is actually his grandson, Parakramabahu I (1153-1186). It was his reign that is considered the Golden Age of Polonnaruwa, when trade and agriculture flourished under the patronage of the King, who was adamant that no drop of water falling from the heavens should be let to the sea without being of use to man; hence, irrigation systems far superior to those of the Anuradhapura Age were constructed during Parakramabahu’s reign, systems which to this day supply the water necessary for paddy cultivation during the scorching dry season in the east of the country. The greatest of these systems, of course is the Parakrama Samudraya or the Sea of Parakrama, a tank so vast that it is often mistaken for the ocean. It is of such a width that it is impossible to stand upon one shore and view the other side, and it encircles the main city like a ribbon, being both a defensive border against intruders and the lifeline of the people in times of peace. The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was completely self-sufficient during King Parakramabahu’s reign. However, with the exception of his immediate successor, Nissankamalla I (1187-1196), all other monarchs of Polonnaruwa, were slightly weak-willed and rather prone to picking fights within their own court. They also went on to form more intimate matrimonial alliances with stronger South Indian Kingdoms, until these matrimonial links superseded the local royal lineage and gave rise to the Kalinga invasion by Magha in 1214. After Nissankamalla 17 Kings/Queens have reigned from Polonnaruwa in a span of 22 years. Polonnaruwa was also called as Jananathamangalam during the short Chola reign. Declared world heritage in 1982
vailable historical records suggest that Senkadagalapura (an early name for Kandy) was established by King Wickramabahu III during the period of his reign from 1357-1374 AD. Some scholars contend that the original name of Kandy was Katubulu Nuwara located near present Watapuluwa. The more popular historical name – Senkadagala – according to folklore has originated from one of the several possible sources. These include naming after a brahmin with the name Senkanda who lived in a cave near by, a queen of King Wickramabahu named Senkanda, and after a coloured stone named Senkadagala. The present name Kandy is only an anglicized version of Kanda Uda Rata (meaning the land of mountains) originated in the colonial era. After King Wickremabahu III who founded the city, Senasammata Wickremabahu of Gampola ascended the throne in the 15th century (1473-1511) making it the new capital of the Kandyan Kingdom. He was followed by his son King Jayaweera Astan (1511-1551) and later by Karalliyadde Bandara (1551-1581). His successor however, preferred to rule the hill country from Sitawaka on the western flanks of the hills. A period of turmoil for power ended with the ascent to the throne by Konappu Bandara who came to be known as Wimaladharmasuriya I. Wimaladharmasuriya I having embraced Buddhism consolidated his authority further by bringing the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha to Kandy from a place called Delgamuwa. He proceeded to build a temple for the sacred relic which subsequently developed into the present Dalada Maligawa. Several invasions by the Portuguese and the Dutch (16th, 17th and 18th century) and later by the British (most notably in 1803) were repelled. In between the death of Wimaladhramasuriya I in 1604 and the capture of the last King of Kandy by the British in 1815 seven successive kings ruled the Kandyan kingdom from its base at Senkadagala or its suburbs such as Meda Maha Nuwara, Kundasale and Hanguranketa. The beautiful Octagon at the Dalada Maligawa and the picturesque Kandy Lake were constructed during the time of the last King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe. The last ruling dynasty of Kandy was the Nayakkars. Kandy stayed independent until the early 19th century. In the Second Kandyan War, The British launched an invasion that met no resistance and reached the city on February 10, 1815. On March 2, 1815, a treaty known as the Kandyan Convention was signed between the British and the Radalas (Kandyan aristocrats). With this treaty, Kandy recognized the King of England as its King and became a British protectorate. The last king of the kingdom Sri Wickrema Rajasinha was captured and taken as a royal prisoner by the British to Vellore Fort in southern India along with all claimants to the throne.
Mihintale is considered the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was here that Arahath Mahinda, son of Mayuran Emperor Asoka met king Devanampiyatissa as a result of which the king embraced Buddhism. It was on the Full Moon day in the month of Poson (June) in 247 BC. The name in fact is derived from the thero’s name meaning ‘Plateau of Mahinda’. It was also known as ‘Cetiya Pabbata’. The extent of the land at Mihintale is estimated to be about 182.25 hectares (450 acres) and historians believe that before it became a monastic complex there had been natural caves in the locality. A few of them contained pre-historic artifacts. These, along with newly constructed caves had been donated for the occupation of the monks. The Chronicles mention that 68 caves had been donated. At Mihintale there gradually grew a number of Buddhist viharas with all the dependent buildings characteristic of monasteries of that period. Fa-Hsien has reported that about 2000 monks were resident in the 5th century. Today the peak of Mihintale, approached by a grand stairway of 1840 granite steps, has many temples, lodgings for monks and several splendid statues of the Buddha. Ambastala stupa, Maha thupa, Mihinduseya & Aradhana gala are situated on the upper level. Mihintale becomes vibrant with thousands of Buddhist flags, electric lamps, earthen oil lamps, colourful paper lanterns & a great congregation of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims during Poson Poya (Full moon day in June) which commemorates the introduction of Buddhism to Lanka by Arahath Mahinda. While alms giving halls are open to people of all faiths, Buddhist rituals & sermons day & night are held at Mihintale, Anuradhapura & all over the island during a period of at least a week. Mihinthale is a collection of four mountains each about 1000 feet in height. They are Mihinthalawa, Ath Vehera Mountain, Anaikutti Mountain & Rajagiri Lena Mountain. Mihintale also has the distinction of being the first declared sanctuary in the world.
What may be called one of the wonders of the world is the tall, standing statue of the Buddha at Aukana, another architectural marvel of the ancient Sinhalese. The rock cut statue which stands 43 feet on its decorated lotus plinth and 10 feet across the shoulders, belongs to the period of King Dhatusena (459-477 AD), the builder of the great reservoir Kalawewa. It has been very well preserved over the years and is a joy for anyone to see and appreciate. It is a unique creation by an unknown sculptor. The statue has been very well proportioned and detailed. Round face & pleats of the robe are exquisitely carved and the technique is unmatched with no pegs & props. It is said that a drop of water from the tip of the nose would fall between the feet. The statue is in Abhaya Mudra with the left hand holding the end of the robe which is depicted as clinging to the body outlining the limbs. Note the curly hair (rightward) and the darn on the robe. The Nimbus has been added later. It also has a circumbular path. Note the Foot prints (Siri Pathul) placed around the Bo tree and flower alter. A rock inscription suggests that a temple existed here in 1st AD. It also has had a roof.
amous for its 7th century Vatadage Temple which is situated on top of a low rocky point. There are three concentric rows of pillars, making a total of 68, surrounding four large seated Buddha statues facing the four directions
Buduruwagala dates back to the 9th or 10th centuries. The central figure of the Buddha is 51 feet (15.5 metres) from head to toe. The statue is attended on either side by figures of two ‘Bodhisattvas’, each of 40 feet in height. It is approached through a jungle area until suddenly the face of the Buddha statue emerges through a dark arch of forest.