Sri Lanka beyond the Sea
Posted on June 12th, 2022

Courtesy Wanderlust

With over 2,500 years of recorded history, those in search of archaeological and cultural treasures in Sri Lanka soon learn the Pearl of the Indian Ocean more than lives up to its name.

Get ready to experience Sri Lanka’s version of a full moon party,” warned Viraj, my story-loving guide, as we headed deep into the ancient citadel of the island’s first capital, Anuradhapura. Founded in the 4th century BC, the city continued for 1,300 years as Sri Lanka’s foremost urban centre, and my gaze was pulled in every direction as we drove the remains of one of the largest monastic citadels the world has ever seen on a busy holy day.

This was just the start for me. I was on a journey that would take me to some of Sri Lanka’s finest treasures, on a route navigating the Cultural Triangle linking the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, ending at the island’s historic commercial gateway, Galle.  

You’re very lucky to be visiting Anuradhapura, one of the holiest places for Buddhists on the island, on a Duruthu full moon Poya,” said Viraj as we drove past dagobas  and palaces. Every full moon in January, Buddhists commemorate the first visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka (around 528 BC), and I’d arrived in time to see the festivities.

We headed first to Mahavihara, the oldest of the city’s monasteries. It was thronged by thousands of worshippers drawn to the holy Sri Maha Bodhi tree, said to be grown from a cutting of the original tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Dressed in all-white, pilgrims carried colourful exotic flowers as offerings while loudspeakers blasted pirith chanting, to help with their quest for spiritual contentment. 

It’s a little louder than usual with the use of speakers, but it really does help with meditation,” Viraj affirmed, acknowledging my surprise at the scene. 

It wouldn’t be a party without loudspeakers, after all,” I smiled back at him.

While the scale of Anuradhapura’s ancient citadel is extraordinary, nothing prepares you for that first view of the colossal dagoba of Jetavanaramaya, taking over a gargantuan square platform of over 233,000 square metres. Erected in the 3rd century AD, it is still the largest brick-built monument in the world and a highly revered site by Buddhists everywhere. 

A dagoba, also known as a stupa, is a dome-shaped shrine containing relics of the Buddha or a Buddhist saint. Anuradhapura boasts several fine examples, including the first built in Sri Lanka, the Thuparama dagoba.

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