Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle is found within the three points marked by three historic capitals of the island: Kandy, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. A myriad of Buddhist Temples, Stupas, Ancient Monasteries and sculptures are found within this area. A visit to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka offer travellers a unique insight into the ancient Buddhist culture along with the opportunity to see unique and awe-inspiring sights.
Founded in 380 BC, Anuradhapura is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the Buddhist capital of Sri Lanka. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and consist of many monasteries and religious sites including the three great monasteries of Mahavihara, Jetavana and Abhayagiri. The sacred Bo Tree of Sri Maha is located at the centre of Anuradhapura. This tree is said to be the tree where Buddah received his Enlightenment and is the oldest documented living tree in the world.
Polonnaruwa represents medieval Sri Lanka and was the capital of the island between the 11th and 13th centuries after defeating Chola Invaders in 1070. The central citadel which includes the royal palace complex, the royal baths and the council chamber is surrounded by the city walls and covered in vegetation. The vastness of the ruins in this area encourage a feeling of awe in visitors. Among these ruins are the 17 meter tall walls of Lankatilake with its 18 meter tall statue of Buddah. This area also showcase the amazing Sinhalese rock carvings of Gal Vihara- four Buddhas, two of which are in a seated position while the other two are standing (7 meters tall) and reclining (14 meters long).
Mihintale is located on a mountain peak near Anuradhapura and is a popular pilgrimage site with numerous religious monuments and ruins. The ruins of a hospital, medical bath and stone inscriptions can be found at the foot of the mountain. There are 1850 steps carved into granite that leads to the summit of the mountain that is littered with shrines and rock dwellings from as far back as the 2nd century with frangipani trees scattered in-between.
Ascending the staircase you can see the remains of Kantaka Chetiya dogoba- the earliest stupa in the area. You can also see a stone aqueduct and two granite troughs (one used by followers to leave food for the monks of the Medamaluwa monastery in the past). Nearby there are two stone tablets engraved with the monastery’s rules and regulations in Sinhala. Further up is the Ambasthala dagoba and the largest dagoba at Mihintale- the white Mahaseya dagoba.
Also known as Lion Rock, Sigiriya was chosen by King Kasyapa (447-495 CE) as the site for his palace. The flat-top rock is 200 meters high and houses cave temples, a mirror wall (highly polished and covered in graffiti that dates back as far as the 7th century) and a number of gardens- including the beautiful water gardens at the base. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site with staircases and walkways making their way up the rock face. Along the way visitors can see the well-preserved fresco gallery of painted ladies.
The cave system of Dambulla is the largest and best preserved in Sri Lanka and filled with colourful statues and murals dating back to the 1st century BCE. The main attraction of Dumbulla is found in 5 separate cave temples. Numbered from 1-5 the caves hold a variety of murals and statues. It is suggested that visitors start off with cave 5 and work their way to cave 1 where they will find an impressive 15 meter long Buddah carved out of solid rock – still with traces of ancient gold gilding. There is a total of 80 documented caves in the area and the murals cover an estimated total of 2100 m²!
Kandy is the religious, cultural and administrative capital of the Central Province of Sri Lanka and the second largest city on the island. The city was the last stronghold of the Buddhist political power against the colonisation by the Portuguese and Dutch enabling the area to hold onto its customs, culture and artistic traditions. The UNESCO World Heritage site – the Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses one of Buddha’s teeth. The tooth was brought to the temple in the 16th century. The tooth is held (out of sight) in a two-storey shrine that is covered by a golden canopy. The sacred tooth relic is honoured annually by a 10- day festival called Esala Perahera. The festival is usually held in late July or Early August.
These are only a few religious and cultural sites to visit in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Many more are scattered along the way with even more found off the beaten track. The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka is one of the best places to get lost in if you are looking for spectacular sights mixed with awe-inspiring religious sites.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com