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Polonnaruwa temple ruin Sri Lanka

A temple ruin in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa

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Called Serendib by Arab traders (the origin of the word “serendipity”), Sri Lanka has an amazing diversity for a small island and offers the possibility of experiencing vastly different climates, history, and cultures during a short vacation. In this Four Part Series I will share a glimpse of four vastly different areas of Sri Lanka that can, and should, be a part of any itinerary to the island of providence. The first part in this series explored the the East Coast city of Trincomalee and the Hindu  Koneswaram Temple.

Nestled in the lush central jungles of Sri Lanka sits Polonnaruwa, the 10th century ancient capital on par with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat,  Myanmar’s Bagan, or Thailand’s Ayutthaya. The rectangular archeological site sits on the shores of the Topa Wewa Lake, slightly north of the modern day town of Polonnaruwa where you can buy your entry ticket. Crumbling palaces, dozens of dagobas (stupas), temples and a multitude of ancient religious buildings peak through the dense jungle where monkeys run and swing in troops. Part of the enchantment is the journey there as you drive along the boarders of national parks where it’s common to see wild elephants crossing the road or disappearing into the thickets.

Close up of reclining buddha Gal Vihara Sri Lanka

The site covers an extensive area and under the hot Sri Lankan sun it can be quite taxing to see all of it.  Rent a bicycle  in town if you want to stay close to nature, or even rent a taxi and pick up one of the guides waiting at the entrance gate.

Walking amongst the crumbling temples, solitary Buddha statues and exposed rock walls transports the visitor into a bygone era of ancient kingdoms and fierce battles. While all of the sites are amazing and should be enjoyed with equal attention, the real delight are the four Buddha statues at Gal Vihara on the northern boarder of the complex. Crafted in the 12th Century by unknown artists the Buddha’s represent the pinnacle of Sri Lanka rock carving and are probably the most beautiful images of the Buddha in all of Sri Lanka.

Two buddha statues in Gal Vihara Sri Lanka

Beautiful carvings with smooth clean lines.

The four Buddhas are carved out of a single cliff, the tallest towering seven meters into the air while the enormous reclining Buddha measures a full 14 meters. However, its not the size that draws attention but the skill of the carvers and the enchanting veins of different rocks that sweep easily across the smooth faces and bodies allowing the statue to at once stand out and be a part of the surrounding cliff.

Reclining stone buddha Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

Reclining stone Buddha

The large seated Buddha on the far left depicts the dhyana mudra which is rare in Sinhalese sculpture as it is related to the Mahayana (such as tantric) forms of Buddhism rather than the Theravada Buddhism present in Sri Lanka today and which is said to be the original teachings of the Buddha.

Large seated Buddha Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

Large seated Buddha

Centre Buddha at Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka

The smaller center Buddha

A small seated statue is located in an artificial cave near the center of the cliff and is similar in style to its larger neighbor. Be sure to remove your shoes before you enter the statue areas and do not turn your back to the statues  to take a picture as it is considered extremely rude.

A visit to the the ancient city will leave you amazed at the history of the area, but a visit to the Buddhas will leave you calm and relaxed. If you are interested in ancient majestic statues this is a must see part of any trip to Sri Lanka.

If you go

Getting there:

Travel by car or bus is your only real option. The road conditions are fine, if a bit crowded until you reach Habarana. The drive typically takes 8 hours from Colombo and can easily be combined with a few nights in Habarana to check out nearby Sygiria, the Dambula Cave Temples, or safaris in the national parks along the way.  Kandy is only 90 miles  (140 km) away and a trip to the other ancient capital, Anuradapura can easily be included as a day trip as well.

When to Go:

No particular season…just go!

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10 Responses to “Experiencing Sri Lanka’s Providence- Part 2: The Ancient Buddha Rock Statues of Polonnaruwa”

  1. BethanyNo Gravatar says:

    These are really cool! I love these statues – thanks for sharing!
    .-= Bethany´s recent blog ..Vintage Vegas =-.

  2. MonicaNo Gravatar says:

    It’s hard to tell in pictures but these stone carvings look massive. I can only imagine how tall 14 meters are. I’ve never been to Sri Lanka but it’s definitely on my list of places to go. There is something similar like this in Louyang, China. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the stone carvings are incredibly sculpted and very meticulous. Unfortunately a lot of the Buddha carvings have been decapitated during the Japanese invasion. I’m glad to see these Buddhas still have their head on right. :)

  3. ClaireNo Gravatar says:

    Sri Lanka sounds interesting. The images of Buddha reminded me of Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ayutthaya, Thailand.
    .-= Claire´s recent blog ..First-time in Triple G beach resort, Laiya =-.

  4. SuzyNo Gravatar says:

    I am incredibly jealous you saw these statues! I can only imagine how they must seem in person. Wonderful photos and information as well! Adding Sri Lanka to my travel list. Looking forward to the rest of the series.
    .-= Suzy´s recent blog ..Suzy Stumbles Over Travel: Week Of May 3, 2010 =-.

  5. VibekeNo Gravatar says:

    This place looks amazing! I want to go today:-) Although I’ve never been there, I know a good share of Sri Lankans living abroad, and they’re such sweet, peace loving people. Must be heaven on Earth. Would you consider it a safe place to travel with little ones?
    .-= Vibeke´s recent blog ..Pont fever =-.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Vibeke,

      Yes, I think it is generally safe for travel with children. You just need to be careful of mosquito born diseases such as denge, chinkingunya, and malaria.

  6. PraveenNo Gravatar says:

    Dear all,

    The New York Times has announced recently that Sri Lanka is the best place to visit in the world.
    And also with end of the war period now so many foreigners coming down to Sri Lanka.
    If anyone interedted to visit Sri Lanka, I would like to advice to do your reservation as soon as possible. Because currently Sri Lanka facing to kind of overbooked situation, but with boutique & luxury properties they are managing to sort it out.

    .-= Praveen´s recent blog ..Wonderful weekend beckon from your Window to the South =-.

  7. It is so beautiful. Did you enjoy some great food on your journey?
    .-= Travel Tips Newsletter´s recent blog ..Forex Profit Accelerator – The best way to discover last second vacation packages =-.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      I always enjoy as much Sri Lankan food as I can when I am there. I was lucky enough to live there for 3 years so I grew to love curries even for breakfast.

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