Vijayarama Aramic Complex at Anuradhapura (අනුරාධපුර විජයාරාම පුරාවිද්‍යා නටබුන්)

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Vijayarama is an ancient Buddhist monastery on Anuradhapura’s outskirts close to the ancient stone bridge (Gal Palama). The complex spans 23 acres which has been declared as an archaeological site.

H.C Bell first noted the ruins of Vijayarama but no attention was given to these ruins since 1896.  The complex was covered in jungle for over 120 years without any attention until 2014 when the archaeological department initiated a project to study and protect the ruins.

The study has discovered 43 ruins so far in the Vijayarama archaeological reserve and this complex has been identified as a pabbatha viharaya completed with Panchavasa belonging to the Abayagiri Mahayana Buddhists.

This monastery is made in the form of a pabbatha viharaya architecture. Archaeologists believe that Pabbata Vihara was built by merging with a natural rock formation. Pabbata Vihara is built by arranging several rectangular building areas (courtyards) at different levels surrounded by water. In the upper courtyard itself are the four sacred buildings arranged in specific order. In the ancient architecture book ‘Manju Sri Bhashitha Vastuvidyawa” (මඤ්ජු ශ්‍රී භාෂිත වාස්තුවිද්‍යාව) written in Sanskrit, these buildings and standards are well explained. 

The basic feature of these monasteries is a large rectangular precinct or sacred quadrangle which contains the four major shrines, a stupa, a bodhighara, a patimaghara and a prasada which has been identified as the uposathaghara. VijayaramayaAsokaramayaPacina Tissa Pabbatha ViharayaPuliyankulamaToluvila and Vessagiriya are the temples of this tradition in Anuradhapura. Kaludiya Pokuna (Dhakkinagiri Viharaya) in DambullaLahugala Magul Maha Viharaya, Menikdena, Pulukunava in the Gal Oya valley, a group of shrines at the foot of the rock at Sigiriya and Moragoda in Padaviya are the other provincial sites where Pabbata Vihara have been identified. (Bandaranayake, 1974).

During the excavation of the stupa, six copper plaques dated the 8th to 10th centuries were discovered, The plain guardstones, moonstones, balustrades and other carvings at Vijayarama have been dated between the 7th to 10th centuries. Therefore considering the above it can be safely assumed this Pabbata Viharaya was built in the 8th century with possible renovation after its initial construction (Le, 2010).

The Historical Guide to Anuradhapura’s Ruins by Hubert E. Weerasooriya published in 1939 provides a detailed description of this site

Following the Vijayarama path, and after crossing a bed of an ancient village tan, the forest which has so far been enveloping us opens out like a funnel, to disclose an enchanting glade covered with stone pillared structure.

A pillared ruin on the southern side introduces itself as the guard house. This gives access to a 25 feet wide path which stretches for nearly ninety yards. To the east of the path close to the entrance is a ruin of about fifty pillars with a mud floor, which was very probably the chief awasa or the residence of the priests. A closet stone seen in an outhouse attached to this building confirms this view.

Opposite the awasa, on the west of the path is an interesting ruin. While being excavated it disclosed signs of a fire place as one corner. The middle of the ruin is paved as among Jantagharas.  This too has been established as a Jantaghara or hot water bath by Mr Bell, but it is more probably the muluthan-ge or the kitchen of the monastery.

The north of this ruin is a filled up well, lined with rough granite boulders.

At the end of the path, an imposing double entrance gateway presents four handsomely molded pedestals on one of which is a kneeling bull in good condition. A path runs east and west of this double entrance about 20 feet wide, which is the distance between the two entrances Towards the west end of this path, the ground shows marks of several minor buildings, and the closet-stones lying about close by, given an indication to the identity of these rooms.

Form the second gate of the double entrance, the path leads to the sacred precincts of the monastery enclosure proper, which is on a raised level. …….

…… With the dagaba there are 3 other image houses, the one on the south-west corner having a headless statue of a standing Buddha.

A caving of Goddess Kali discovered in Vijayarama.
A caving of Godness Kali discovered in Vijayarama taken in 1900

Just below the sacred enclosure, within the path tranced out by the double entrance gateway, are ranged 12 awasas or residencies of monks, symmetrical order three on each side. Just outside these are a few annexes used as closets. A couple of ponds to the north and the north-east respectively, complete the monastery.

But the most interesting and simultaneously puzzling piece of ruin at Vijayaramaya has yet to be seen. Of the four entrances to the sacred enclosure from four directions, the one on the north gives access to an elongated hall. Four lion head sprouts drained the compound. Whether there was a roof cannot be definitely ascertained for there are no granite pillars stranding on this area.

Round this hall are symmetrically cut panels of granite on which are caved in shallow bas-relief some unusual carvings such as have never been seen any other monastery. They are all of a similar pattern being single or double figures of man and woman, caved in sunk relief, within ovoid arch niches. Over the arches are seen delicate and superb Makara Toranas (carving of the fictitious monster Makara, adorning the gateways), rivalling Isurumumiya Vihare. These handsome figure carvings are connected by panels of flower patterns running round the hall.

The attitudes of the figures specially in the double figured patterns are interesting and instantly reminds one of the much discussed and unique panel of the male and female in a love scene, at Isurumuniya.

What connections had these carvings with Buddhism? As at Isurumuniya was this building too pre-Buddhist which later had been converted in to a Buddhist monastery? Or had Buddhism degenerated to such an extent at that particular period as to include various other gods who’s figures were the carvings on the panels?

The above mentioned panels around the hall is decorated with figures differing from each other, some containing only a single male figure and others a male and female. They stand beneath a carved canopy of curious makara – patterns. These bloated dragon beasts face each other open-mouthed, each with a figure, sometimes human, sometimes animal, in their jaws. In the hollows of their backs are quaint dwarfs. The makaras, with their curved backs and fish-like tails, here much more resemble dolphins than crocodiles. Besides these, there are striking gargoyles and bits of floral decoration falling vertically (Milton, 1917).

 Unfortunately with over 100 years of neglect, the remains of the aramic complex have been heaven for treasure hunters. Almost all of the ruins have been, dug, excavated, and broken in search of treasures. Some of the above-mentioned carvings described above have been carefully chiselled away to be sold as archaeological artefacts.

The ruins lie 1 km off the Sangamitta road before the popular Stone bridges. The road is a gravel road and soft clay makes it impossible for vehicles to travel on this road during heavy rains. Tractors, motorbikes, high powered 4 wheel drives and maybe 3 wheelers might be able to travel on this road. Cars and vans will find it impossible to travel when the road is in this condition.

Plan of Vijayarama Pabbata Viharaya
Plan of Vijayarama Pabbata Viharaya
source : Le, H., 2010. Buddhist architecture

References

  1. Weerasooriya H.E., 1939. Historical guide to Anuradhapura’s ruins. Colombo: W.E. Bastian, 64-70.
  2. Mitton, G., 1917. The lost cities of Ceylon. New York: Fedrick A. Strokes Company Publishers, pp.132-140.
  3. Le, H., 2010. Buddhist architecture. United States of America: Grafikol, pp.77-80.
  4. Bandaranayake, S., 1974. Sinhalese Monastic Architecture – The Viharas of Anuradhapura. Leiden: Brill.

Also See

Map of Vijayarama Aramic Complex at Anuradhapura

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)
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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

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Driving Directions to Vijayarama Aramic Complex at Anuradhapura

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 Vijayarama Aramic Complex
Distance : 5 km
Travel time : 10 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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