Cultural Triangle

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Sri Lanka  , North Central,
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We're finally broke out of Southeast Asia and Oceania with a short jaunt to Sri Lanka. Dropping in was not without some concerns as this country's recent history has been marred by a 3-decade inter-ethnic conflict which decisively, but controversially ended in a gov't military victory over the rebel Tamil Tigers in 2009. Safety and infrastructure tend to be casualties of war and although Sri Lanka has some distance to go yet, we've been pleasantly surprised so far.

Beyond safety concerns, and back in her Top Cop days, DH had far too many negative encounters with Sri Lankan immigrants, primarily young Tamils who had brought their conflict with them to Toronto, and as such, scheduling a visit to Sri Lanka was a bit of a tough sell. I was at the other end of the scale remembering a time when Sri Lanka was often profiled as a South Asian paradise ("Pearl Of The Indian Ocean"), and by throwing in the idea that Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to have had a female ruler (Queen Anula who reigned during 47–42 BC), I invoked the power of the Sisterhood and I was able to close the deal.

We hit the ground running (although given the road systems and drivers, "running" might be overstating the case- we definitely weren't in the open spaces of Australia anymore), and went right to the northern most point of the aptly labeled 'Cultural Triangle', and the ancient city of Anuradhapura. After just leaving a country that simply refused to deal with place names that went beyond two syllables, Sri Lanka was already proving to be a tongue twister. The ruins here were outstanding but are largely unknown outside of Sri Lanka- as part of some free advice to the countries tourism folks, I'd be bringing in an Aussie who would immediately cut the people and place names in half- at least- and stick a vowel at the end.

Anuradhapura is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka. From the 4th century BC until the beginning of the 11th century AD, it was the capital of Sri Lanka. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. The ancient city, considered sacred to the Buddhist world, is today surrounded by monasteries covering an area of over sixteen square miles. During the late Anuradhapura period, the royal family and nobility of Sri Lanka strongly supported Buddhism. As such, they frequently commissioned works of art and donated these items to Buddhist temples. In return, the temple and local Buddhist community supported the king's rule.

Tracing the city history is where we need some more help from the Aussies. Just to give you some sense of what we're dealing with, sample the following: King Pandukabhaya made Anuradhapura his capital and his son Mutasiva, maintained it as his capital (claim to fame was Mahameghavana Garden). King Kutakannatissa built the first city wall with a moat in front of the wall. This fortification was further enlarged by King Vasabha. There were several hospitals in the city and King Upatissa II provided quarters and homes for the crippled and the blind. King Buddhadasa, himself a physician, appointed a physician to be in charge of every ten villages. The medieval period of Sri Lanka began with the fall of Anuradhapura- the invasion of Chola emperor Rajaraja I forced the then Sri Lankan ruler Mahinda V to flee to the southern part of the country marking the end of the two great houses of dynasties of ancient Sri Lanka, the Moriya and the Lambakanna. Are you kidding me!! Not a King Arthur, King Tut, or Roman Empire in the bunch. Trying to pronounce some of these names was headache inducing and trying to remember them...forget about it.

Nonetheless wandering the ruins allowed us to imagine the pomp and circumstance that must have a key part of day-to-day life in this magical city (and still is today albeit to a much lessor extent). The ruins consisted largely of three classes of buildings, dagobas, monastic buildings, and pokunas. The dagobas are bell-shaped masses of masonry, varying from a few feet to over 1100 ft in circumference. One of the really big ones, Jetavanarama Dagoba, is said to contain enough masonry to build a town for twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Remains of the monastic buildings are to be found in every direction in the shape of raised stone platforms, foundations and stone pillars. The pokunas are bathing-tanks or tanks for the supply of drinking water, which are scattered everywhere throughout the surrounding jungle. The city also contains a sacred Bo-Tree, which is said to date back to the year 245 BC and is a direct descendant of the tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment.
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Carol C on

I've worked out the Kings names in Aussie speak for you:
King Pandukabhaya now known as King Pando
His son Mutasiva now known as Muto
King Kutakannatissa now known as King Kuty
King Vasabha now know as King Vaso
King Upatissa II now known as King Up
King Buddhadasa now known as King Bud
See much easier to say and remember!

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