Unique Balustrade Carvings of Thuparama Panchayatana (ථූපාරාම පංචායතන සුවිශේෂී කොරවක්ගල්)

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Thuparamaya is the first stupa to be built in the country after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Built during the time of King Devamnampiyatissa (250BC – 210BC) this was a stupa as well as an Aramic complex (monastery). “As Contemporary with Asoka ” (says Mr. Fergusson, in his History of Indian and Eastern Architecture ), “it belongs to the most interesting period of Buddhist history, and is older, or, at least, as old as anything now existing on the continent of India” (Smither and Wikramagamage, 1993).

As you walk along the paved footpath from Thuparama to Ruwanweli Seya, you will find several conserved ruins belonging to the Thuparama Monastery which had been part of the bigger Maha Vihara monastery.

Just Opposite Thuparama Stupa lies the Sangamitta Stupa with a number of ruins in Welimaluwa (sand courtyard). Passing and just adjoining the Welimaluwa of Thuparamaya you will find ruins of the Hospital Complex of the monastery. This is not easy to see as it lies towards the rear of the Welimaluwa area. By the side of the Hospital Complex lies the restored building of Thuparama Chapter House.

Walking 220 meters on this footpath towards Ruwanweli Seya, again on the right you will find what seems like some insignificant ruins by the road. Behind these ruins, 85 meters away from the footpath, you will see another conserved building built on a high stone platform with large pillars. Originally there had been 32 sharply square pillars on this building.

Access to this building is through a finely built flight of six steps each carved with the typical 3 gana bas-reliefs with pillars on each step.

At the entrance, there are two beautiful guardstones, balustrades (Korawakgal) and a moonstone. The balustrades are flattened at the front indicating that there had been guardstones at the front but both are missing.

In addition to the artistic nature of the bas-reliefs on the two Korawakgal, the carvings are so unique and unusual, that anything similar is not found anywhere else in the country.

The side bas-relief in the left (southern) side balustrade (Korawakgala) depicts primarily a forest scene with thatched houses in between sylvan groves which all make separate divisions of the entire panel.

Inside the groves are depicted women with peculiarly elongated heads (resembling horse heads) caressing men. In the middle of this scene is carved a pair of maned lions probably a male and a female within an arched enclosure which covers about one-fourth of the entire scene.

The lions are shown as if they are about to come out of their den. More prominence is given to the pair of lions in their den by depicting them comparatively several times larger than the human and animal figures carved in the panel. The lion in front, probably the male, is shown with its right front paw raised.

The second panel which is on the right-hand side (northern) balustrade (Korawakgala) too depicts carvings in similar bas-relief of the same nature as in the left side panel. Here too prominence is given to the pair of maned liens in their den, at the very centre. The naked Kinnara and Sabara damsels inveighing men into their jungle groves for love play are clearly visible in this panel. One could easily find here the horse-headed (Assamukhi) and the bird-bodied Kinnara women.

A noteworthy note on the carvings as well as the shrine to which they belonged, has been made by Mr. H. C. P. Bell, in his 1894 Archeology Report.

“Judged by its basement ruins no more handsome specimen of this type of shrine was ever erected at Anuradhapura—The building was originally supported on thirty two sharply squared pillars of which not even the stumps have all been left in the ground The Vihara faces east and the perron stairway mounts to an open rectangular portico, 18 ft. by 6 ft. paved by an immense monolithic slab, into which were sunk a couple of pillars to hold the roof. A single fragment, the right angled return of one of the sedilia or low parapet kerb stones to the portico, was unearthed.

This shows in a panel bas-relief dwarf trampling on a snake. The risers of the five steps and landing slab exhibit the customary surface carving of rich staircases, triple ganas separated by pilasters of very conventionalised design.

The most striking feature of the beautiful stairs are the balustrades (sic). These are of the finest order of wing slabs dominated by that mythical Buddhist Monster, the Makara. From the mouths of the saurians issue ornamented scrolls curling downwards into volutes. On each balustrade’s outerface is cut in bas-relief a lion present and on the inner a posturing dwarf below the helix.

But added to this adornment is the absolutely unique specimen of genre carving which occupies the vertical outer side. Ordinarily, unless quite plain, this space is occupied by the figures of lions, passant guardant, and further back, relief pilasters on which rest the Makara’s talons.

On these wingstones the customary pilasters give place to representation of temple facades, and the lions are semi-duplicated and framed in forest and cave scenes, depicted in small panels separated by leafy boughs. Here are jungle men and women (?Veddo), unclothed, bears, deer, monkeys, peacock, mongoose and cobra, and other wild animal life for the most part spiritedly carved. This relievo carving differs on the two balustrades. Whatever deeper and obscure meaning be symbolized by the varied scenes depicted no monk but must assuredly have gathered one simple object lesson, the sanctity to be acquired by Wanawasa eremites who flee the world and live religious days midst forest surroundings in holy meditation”

Other than a few mentions, unfortunately, no proper study has been done on these unique balustrades up to date.


  1. Perera, A.D.T.E. (1973) “Unique Carvings on a Makara Wingstone from an ancient shrine at Anuradhapura,” Journal of the Sri Lanka Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society , XVII (new series).
  2. Bell, H.C.P. (1914) Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, Plans and Plates for Annual Report, 1897. Colombo, Sri Lanka: H.C. Cottle .
  3. Wikramagamage, C., (2004). Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. p.61.

Also See

Map of Unique Balustrade Carvings of Thuparama Panchayatana

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Driving Directions to Anuradhapura Unique Balustrade Carvings of Thuparama Panchayatana

Anuradhapura can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttalam (Puttalama) and through Kurunegala. Travelling from Puttalam, you will pass the scenic Wilpattu area. From Kurunegala, there are two main routes to Anuradhapura. The most common route is through Dambulla. The other route is through Galgamuwa. Out of all the routes, the most commonly used is the Kurunegala-Dambulla route (Route 2).

Route 01 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura
Through : Negombo – Chilaw – Puttalam
Distance from Colombo : 210 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo : 223 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google maps
Route 03 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute from Kandy to Anuradhapura
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Narammala – Wariyapola – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
Distance from Colombo :203 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katugastota – Matale – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :136 km
Travel Time : 3.5 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Route from Anuradhapura Railway Station to Thuparamaya
Distance : 3 kilometers
Travel time : 10 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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