Polonnaruwa the medieval capital of Ceylon Where art architecture, and engineering were revived into a cultural epoch is a monument to Sri Lanka’s great renaissance. The ancient ruins are more or less unexplored and the majority of Lankans do not even know what wonderful cities and towns existed during the time of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa eras. It is exciting to visit these places and ponder on the past. People wonder how these statues, Temples, monuments, massive structures could have been built during such an early period. How could they have been erected with just one stone? Driving through the jungles of Polonnaruwa is a delight for almost everyone.
After the decline of the Anuradhapura kingdom, Polonnaruwa became the next seat of rule. The city which is the main town in the north central province could be approached when travelling along Trincomalee Road, turn off from Habarana, proceeding 28 miles on the Batticaloa Road. It could be approached by rail road from Kaduruwela Railway station. Once Giritale is passed and here the historic walls of the city of Polonnaruwa come into sight.
This city was known as Kandavuru Nuwara, Pulasthipura and Jananathapura. Among the kings who ruled in Polonnaruwa are the famous kings like king Vijayabahu I(1055–1110 A.D.) Parakramabahu the Great (1115-1186 A.D) and king Nissanka malla (1187–1192 A.D.). King Kalinga Magha who ruled from Polonnaruwa (1215-1236 A.D.) destroyed Buddhist places of worship and burnt the books. The Sinhalese kings abandoned Polonnaruwa, but king Parakramabahu III (1284-1293 A.D.) made an attempt to rule from Polonnaruwa for a short time.

Potgul Vihara

One of the largest tanks known as Parakrama Samudraya was constructed by king Parakramabahu I. He is said to have declared that "not even a drop of water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean, without being made useful to man."
When walking about a mile along the bund of this tank is a building of a unique type, is the so called Potgul Viharaya. The building is a rotunda. In the surrounding area are many ruins and it is accepted that this would have been an educational institution consisting of a large library.

The Status of king Parakramabahu

North of Potgul Vihara on a slight elevation is a statue of granite. This remarkably fine statue is 11 1/2 feet high, rock–cut nearly in the full round of a king, probably Parakramabahu I himself. The popular belief is that this statue depicts Pulasthi Rishi, who was the grandfather of king Ravana. This statue bearing in his hands an object like an ola leaf, is facing the Potgul Vihara. Therefore it can be concluded that there would have been some connection between Potgul Vihara and the person representing the statue. The body of the statue is drapped in a robe, with a sash round the waist has a headgear resembling an ancient Turkish hat and a yellow thread on the shoulder, and bare bodied above the waist. The figure possesses a long beard, has a dignified expression and majestic bearing. There is a view that it represents either one of the Hindu sages–Agasthi, Pulasthi or Kapila. Whatever the statue represents, it is full of dignity, strength and is undoubtedly a master piece from the hands of the sculpter.

King Nissanka Malla’s Council Hall

Between Parakrama Samudraya and the main Road are many ruins. In this area was constructed King Nissanka Malla’s Palace and the council hall. The building which is rectangular in shape has 2 tiers raised above the ground, built on rock in Nissanka Malla’s council hall. On one side is the throne of Nissanka Malla, on it is engraved that "this is the throne where Veera Nissanka Malla sat" Therefore it can be identified that this is definitely Nissanka Malla’s throne.
These are inscriptions indicating the places reserved to various high dignitaries of state. The seating plan is similar to the present plan of a state council. Stone slabs are used for the ground and the stone pillars can be seen up to the present day. Stone pillars were frequently used to reinforce the superstructures.

The Palace of King Parakramabahu the Great

There are ruins of king Parakramabahu’s Palace in close proximity to King Nissanka Malla’s palace and the main road. This has been constructed with thick strong bricks with stone facings and it consisted of many storied buildings. On the rafters, planks were fixed and the upper storey was completed. There still remains the hole dug along on the walls. There were a flight of steps to climb the top storey. The palace building in 150x150 feet and is square in shape.
There are some buildings connected with the palace, and close to it is the building which appears to have been designed to serve as a hall of public Audience referred to as
"Vatum Maduwa" This is constructed on rock and has tiers raised above the ground. The lowest platform of the stylobate is ornamented with bas–reliefs of elephant figures, on the stone pillars are carved beautiful designs. On the stairway opposite the entrance on either side are the stone balustrades and figures of elephants and this pavilion bore the magniloquent title of "Raja Vaisya bhujanga Mandapaya”"
An essential feature in a royal establishment in those days was a bath and it is constructed in the garden, attached to Parakramabahu’s palace. This is built in stone and is still being preserved.

Quadrangle of the Temple of the tooth

After passing the ancient Royal palace and proceeding forewords, one would reach the temple of the tooth. This is build above the ground on a rectangular piece of land. In this area are the ruins of Vatadage, Atadage,Nissanka Latha Mandapaya, Sat Mahal Prasadaya (Pyramedical tower of seven storeys) and Thuparamaya. During the Polonnaruwa Period the temple of the tooth was located here.


Is a circular relic house or a house built encircling a stupa. The Vatadage at Polonnaruwa represents the utmost elaboration of the circular cetiyaghara in Ceylon. This is a beautiful circular structure. It consists of two concentric circular stone terraces one above the other. On the stone pillars is constructed the roof of the building. A conventional entrance leads to the first terrace. From this to the upper terrace, there are 4 entrances at the 4 cardinal points. The upper terrace housed a small dagaba with 4 statues depicting posture of tranquility (Samadhi). The floor is of stone slabs. According to the rock inscription found there, it is believed that King Nissanka Malla constructed this building.


This building is one of the vaulted shrines at Polonnaruwa. Exquisite creation of architecture can be seen in this shrine. The roof and the walls were entirely of brick were plastered with stucco. There are signs that there was a seated image of the Buddha in the sanctum of the thuparama, but this has been destroyed by Vandals. The walls of the shrine are constructed with special kind of stone. There are statues of the Buddha along the walls of the shrine. There is a window above the entrance through which the sunlight falls on the seated image of the Buddha. The eyes of the statue are made of precious stones which reflect sunlight illuminating the image house. Even today a match stick or a lamp is lit inside the shrine, the statue glistens.


Only one building is assigned to king Vijayabaha I and that is the temple of the tooth on the quadrangle. (Dalada Maluwa) in front of the Vatadage. This consisted of several stories. The tooth Relic would have been placed on the upper storey.


This building is situated close to Galpotha inscriptions. It is believed that this temple of the tooth is assigned to King Nissanka Malla. On the western side of the building, is the stairway consisting of 10 stone steps. Therefore it could be concluded that this building would have been multi streyed. (The name is due to a belief that it was completed in 60 hours)


Placed on the quadrangle (Dalada Maluwa) is a large stone inscription. It is believed that this was carried by the giants of King Nissanka Malla from Segiri. This is 27 feet in length, 41/2 feet in width, & about 2 feet in thickness, is the longest rock inscription in Ceylon. King Nissanka Mallas greatness, his works and achievements are engraved on this slab.

Nissanka Latha Mandapaya

It is not definitely known why this small building consisting of stone pillars with decorative scroll design was constructed. This attractive Pavillion named Nissanka Latha Mandapa may have been used for chanting of sacred protective texts (pirit) and for the exposition of the Tooth Relic. In the centre is a stone platform and the space is quite small. This is enclosed by a small railing.

Satmahal Prasada

A short distance from Vatadage and close to Galpotha is situated the sat Mahal Prasada. This building has not been identified as yet. The sathmahal prasada was a square pyramidical tower of seven diminishing stages of 7 storeys is situated at the north eastern. Corner of the quanrangle (Dalada Maluwa) at Polonnaruwa. As this consists of seven storeys this is known as Sathmahal Prasada. It is doubted whether it was a stupas of a different shape.

Pabalu Vehera

When proceeding northwards from the Dalada Maluwa (Quadrangle) is situated the pabalu Vihara. It is said that the Vihara is established by Queen Rupawathi, one of the Queens of Parakramabahu and is different to the normal stupas in shape.

Siva Devale II

The shrine is rectangular in shape and is built entirely of stone, mainly granite. Chola influence is seen in the structural style of the devale. At the centre of the small building is the “Siva linga” As the Siva devalas are established amidst places of Buddhist worship, it can be said that this was possible due to Tamil influence A Tamil rock inscription is also found here.

Vishnu Devale

Proceeding from Siva Devale II northwords are the ruins of an ancient Vishnu Devale. This is built of stone. The statue of lord Vishnu that was here has now been shifted to the museum. In close proximity to this, was the Ganadevi kovil and Siva kovil.

Manik Vehera

Proceeding further north, is the Manik Vehera. The base of the dagaba is made of brick with a figure of a lion looking ahead. A rock inscription assigned to King Nissanka Malla was found here. The quadrangle is made of bricks.

Siva Devale I

Proceeding north–wards, on the left side is situated the siva Devale I. there is a figure of God Ganesh and also from what remains it could be said that there many have been lingams at this place.

Rankoth Vehera

Ruwanvali Stupa or Rankoth Vehera was built by King Nissanka Malla. There is a rock inscription assigned to the king. This stupa thus surpassed in magnitude every stupa of that type built during the Polonnaruwa period. There are a number of Buddhist shrines around it. This is the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa.

Baddha Sima Prasadaya

The alahana Pirivena has 3 important ruins. They are Baddha sima Prasadaya, Lankathilaka Vihara and Kiri Vehera. This building together with the Alhana Pirivena was constructed by Parakramabahu the Great. Badda Sima prasada is an uposathagara, where the bhikkus got together to perform their eccleciastical rites on the new moon day of the lunar month. There are 4 entrances on the 4 sides to this building.

Lankathilaka Viharaya

Is the large structure built of bricks. The seated image of the Buddha considered to be the main statue is made of brick and was plastered with stucco. The upper section of the statue has collapsed. On either said of the shrine are 2 flights of steps, this building is assigned to king parakramabahu I. according to a rock inscription this building was renovated by king Vijayabahu IV. The walls of the building are decorated with the figures of lions and dwarfs, made of plaster. These figures stand out of the wall.

Kiri Vehera

This large building is situated to the north of Lankathilaka Vehera. Rankoth Vehera is of the same architectural pattern as the kiri vehera, but far exeeds it in dimension. The best preserved of the Polonnaruwa stupas is Kiri vehera, which being the largest monument of this type at Polonnaruwa. The white plaster on the stupa can still be seen. This is also assigned to Parakramabahu I.

Gal Viharaya

Passing Kirivehera and proceeding northwards, one sees the Galvihara at Polonnaruwa which was earlier named as "Uttararamaya". The colossal figures carved on the face of the living rock at Galvihara and the walls constructed to protect the statue can be with certainity be taken as representative of the type of the Buddha image that was common during the Polonnaruwa period. These have been destroyed and only the foundation can be seen. Four colossal Buddha image have been carved from one large rock. At the left while facing the shrine is a sedent Buddha. This image is preserved. In the background of the statue on the edge of the rock is a carving of a Pandol. Next is the "Vidyadhara Cave". This cave Shrine hollowed out with the alter, a stone umbrella(supported by a stone shaft over the dome of the Stupa) and other decorations and sedent Buddha image is carved out of the living rock. This is an artificial cave. Although these are preserved, all the paintings have been destroyed. Inside the cave are the statues of gods Brahma and Vishnu.
Next is the Polonnaruwa Edict Popularly known as "Polonnaru Kathikawatha&". Parakramabahu the Great along with Dibulagala Kasyapa Thera purified and restored the sasana and engraved on the edict containing rules for the guidance of monks.
The next image is a large figure of the Buddha. Earlier this image was mistaken to be the statue of Ananda Thera.
The statue of the Buddha standing with arms crossed over the chest and with a sorrowful expression in the countenance and is the only one of its kind in Ceylon. According to some, this depicts the symbol of "Pardukka dukkitha" , He who is sorrowing for the sorrows of others. Finally at the extreme right is an image of the recumbent Buddha. A small section of this has peeled off. There is also a view that this image depicts the parinirvana of the Buddha (passing away of the Buddha)
Uttaramaya or Galviharaya is assigned to parakramabahu The Great.

Demala Maha Seya

Passing Galvihara and Proceeding northwards are ruins of the half build, gigantic dagaba known as Demala Maha Seya. It is larger than a dagaba and today it appears as a huge mound. As this is not completely constructed when one climbs it, there is a flattened plain. The dagaba built by parakramabahu the Great, utlising the labour of Tamil prisoners of war and hence called the Demala Maha Seya is a popular belief. It is possible to conclude that this dagaba was not completed as the architects intended it to be, therefore a small dagaba was constructed on top of this.

Lotus Pond (Nelum Pokuna)

Passing Demala Maha Seya and proceeding a little distance, and turning towards the left is a beautiful pond known as the lotus pond. One of the most fascinating sight in Polonnaruwa is bath cut in stone, resembling a full blown eight-petaled lotus. Surrounding this is a brick wall constructed for its protection. From what remains of this place shows that water was sent to the pond through pipelines.

Thiwanka Image House

The principal shrine in the Jetavana Vihara assigned to Parakramabahu the Great, is a large and decorative one. The vihara has derived the name –Thivanka– as the main Buddha statues are curved in three places. The inner walls have many paintings. The themes depicted are taken from Jataka and other Buddhist stories. These paintings have now been destroyed.
The outer walls too are decorated with carvings. This Viharaya has been renovated recently.

Other Hindu Devala (shrines)

En route from Thiwanka Image House, facing the opposite direction one sees 2 Hindu Shrines. One is known as Nayi Pena Vihara. The building towards the right is the Siva Devale. The places of worship at Polonnaruwa one not included in the 16 great shrines. There are no definite historical facts connected with the Buddha’s visit to the city of Plonnaruwa. Hence Polonnaruwa is not of importance to the Buddhist pilgrims as Anuradhapura. The ruins of Polonnaruwa are considered as of archaeological importance rather than religious significance.