In front of most buddhist buildings we see 3 common items. They are
The moonstone (Sandakada Pahana) is a permanent feature of the buddhist building of all historical periods. This is a semi circular piece of stone which stood at the foot of a flight of steps in most buddhist buildings. Although the moonstone is generally semi circular, Sometimes you can come across square moonstones. It is thought that the moon stones originated as blank square stone and later developed in to a semi circular shape. This again developed to include multitude of carved decorations in later stages. But the moonstones in the monasteries where the forest dwelling monks lived maintained the blank semi circular shape.
The design of the moonstone has undergone many changes over time, But the moonstones show the highest level of creativity towards the end of the Anuradhapura Era.
In most of the moonstones of Anuradhapura Era, the outer edge is designed with a ring of flames and below that is a ring filled with 4 types of animals – The elephant, the horse, the lion, and the bull chasing each other. Some moonstones show these beasts in their own semi circular band. The next is a semi circle of a creeper with a wavy stem with foliage (“liyawela”). Next is a line of swans with a twig of flower and a leaf on their mouth. Next is again a floral pattern and at the centre is lotus with petals all around the semi circle on the moonstone.
The meanings of this combination of patterns are debated widely. Professor Paranavithana believes that the outer ring of fire represents the never ending life and the pains of passion associated with it. The four animals represent the four noble truths (“Chathurarya Sathya”) which are birth, old age, disease and death. The leafy creeper next to it is a reminder of desires which creates little fruits but only foliage Next is a motif of swans. It is said that the swan is capable of separating out milk from a mixture of water and milk. He who understand (conquer) four noble truths can easily filter the good from the bad like the swan filters out milk. Once you do that you are capable of attaining the “Nibbana” represented by the lotus.
Another interesting fact is that the bull in the moonstones was apparently dropped in the Pollonnaruwa era (see Vatadage in Pollonnaruwa). This is thought to be the influence of Hindus. The bull is a sacred animal to the Hindus and trampling of this symbol was probably disrespectful. With the omission of the bull the lion too have been taken a way from the moonstone as the lion is used to represent the Sinhala Race. With the omission of these two animals, the bull moved on to a pedestal on the side of the Balustrade and the lion is carved on the outer wall of the Balustrade itself.
Moonstones After the Pollonnaruwa Era
In later stages after the Polonnaruwa Era, the moonstone started to appear in various shapes such as triangular shapes ( Sri Dalada Maligawa – Kandy) and full circular shapes ( Horana Raja Maha Viharaya). The carvings of the moonstones also became varied loosing the standard symbols and patterns. If the patterns in the moonstone represented any symbolic religious meaning, this was totally forgotten after the Polonnaruwa Era. But none of these moonstones didn’t show the level of workmanship that of the Anuradhapura / Pollonaruwa Era craftsmen. Historians believe that this was due to the craftsman of later kingdoms lacked the artistic skills of the older generations and they attempted to create variety and complex patterns in order to make their moonstones attractive to the eye.
- Moonstones adorning the foot of stairs
- Guard stones (Mura Gal)
- Balustrades (Korawak Gal)
- The Nagas in Sinhala Sculpture
- Makara Torana – The Dragons Arch
- Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka