Towards the end of the tenth century AD, the great kingdom of Anuradhapura, which had ruled Sri Lanka for 1,500 years, collapsed under pressure from foreign invasions and the progressive decay of its elaborate irrigation system. Its rulers withdrew southward and eastward to Polonnaruwa, a better-protected location on the flood-plain of the Mahaweli, the island’s principal river. Here, against the odds of history and circumstances, there came about a renaissance of Sinhalese civilization and culture that lasted another two centuries before succumbing to war, disease and political division.
At Polonnaruwa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins and monuments are sited in fairly close proximity to one another; you can see most of what there is to see in the course of a day’s excursion. Not to be missed are the sculptured reclining, sedent and standing Buddhist images at Gal Vihare, which some have called the most impressive sculptured grouping in Asia, and the Tivanka image-house, where the colourful remains of ancient frescoes adorn the walls of a building which, even in ruin, bears witness to its architect’s magnificent eye for proportion. Ruined temples to the god Siva, close to the strangler-fig-infested ruin traditionally known as the King’s Palace, are reminders that the religious culture of mediaeval Polonnaruwa was nearly as Hindu as it was Buddhist, while the ‘stone book’, a massive inscription authored by Nissanka Malla, last of the city’s great kings, retails the events and achievements of his reign. However, it was his predecessor Parakramabahu I, greatest of the Polonnaruwa kings, who is responsible for most of what remains to be seen at the site, as well as for the vast irrigation reservoir known as the Sea of Parakrama, which adjoins the town and is still in use to this day.
Visiting: Polonnaruwa is roughly 90min from Ulagalla, travelling through countryside that still looks much as it must have done during the days of Parakramabahu and Nissanka Malla. Individual, family or group excursions can be arranged from any Uga hotel or via our head office in Colombo.