Explore The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa on our travel blog (Coming Soon)

The ancient city of Poḷonnaruwa in Sri lanka, is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms. Polonnaruwa was first established by the Chola dynasty after their successful invasion of the country’s then capital, Anuradhapura, in the 10th century. The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa has been declared a World Heritage Site.

The name Polonnaruwa is of unknown origin and was adopted by the traveller James Emerson Tennent. Its Tamil form, Pulainari, is mentioned in Tamil inscriptions found at Polonnaruwa of the Chola period. The name was perhaps a contraction of its ancient name Pulastya nagara or Pulatti nakaram meaning city of the Hindu sage Pulastya.

It was renamed under Chola rule as Jananathapuram or Jananathamangalam. The place was later known as Vijayarajapuram as mentioned in the records of Jayabahu I, which probably was derived from the name of Vijayabahu I.


Polonnaruwa was established by the Cholas as capital city under the name Jananathapuram in the 10th century. Under this period systematic destruction of the Buddhist civilisation took place in the northern plains of Sri Lanka. Raja Raja Chola I built Vanavan Mahadevisvaram, a Shiva temple at Polonnaruwa named after his queen, which presently is known as Siva Devale. The temple among other contained Ganesa and Parvati statues of bronze. north and central parts of Sri Lanka was under this period ruled under Rajendra Chola I directly as a Chola province. However, following the year 1070 AD ended the Chola rule in the island, and Polonnaruwa was captured by Vijayabahu I of Polonnaruwa also known as Vijayabahu the great.

Cholas Vanquished

Starting from Mahanagakula on the south of the Walawe river, Vijayabahu dispatched three armies to attack Polonnaruwa from three fronts. One army was sent along the western shore of the country to Mahathittha port to deal with any reinforcements arriving from South India. Afterwards, part of this army moved towards Polonnaruwa and attacked from the North-west, while the other part held the ports to prevent reinforcements from arriving. A second army was sent from the east across Magama to attack Polonnaruwa from the east. The third and main force advanced across the country, led by the king. Surrounded by these three armies, Polonnaruwa was besieged for seven months before king Vijayabahu’s forces entered the city. In 1070, Vijayabahu became the ruler of Polonnaruwa. At that time Sri Lanka was known as Thambapanni.

Golden Age

Trade and agriculture flourished under the patronage of the famous grand son of king Vijayabahu I of Polonnaruwa, king Prakramabahu the great, who was so adamant that no drop of water falling from the heavens was to be wasted and each was to be used toward the development of the land. Hence, irrigation systems that are far superior to those of the Anuradhapura Age were constructed during Parakramabahu’s reign – systems which to this day supply the water necessary for paddy cultivation during the scorching dry season in the east of the country. The greatest of these systems is the Parakrama Samudra or the Sea of Parakrama which were also used as a large sea going ship anchorage via Mahaweli River. The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was completely self-sufficient during King Parakramabahu’s reign.

Invasion by Kalinga Magha

With the exception of his immediate successor, Nissankamalla I, all other monarchs of Polonnaruwa were slightly weak-willed and rather prone to picking fights within their own court. They also went on to form more intimate matrimonial alliances with stronger South Indian kingdoms until these matrimonial links superseded the local royal lineage. This prompted an invasion by the Aryacakravarti dynasty war load Kalinga Magha in 1214, who saw the complete destruction of the metropolises of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by burning. Kalinga Magha by the time of his defeat had destroyed the Buddhist civilization in north of Sri Lanka.

Present Day

Today the ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned archaeological relic cities in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the Kingdom’s first rulers. Its beauty was also used as a backdrop to filmed scenes for the Duran Duran music video Save a Prayer in 1982. The ancient city of Polonnaruwa has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Another draw for tourists is the city’s population of toque macaques. The monkeys have been living in the ruins since human occupation and continue to thrive here long after the humans left.


Site Maps

There are several maps you can use to aid in your quest to explore the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa. A more complete list and most number of sites (24) are in the old multilingual map. Others contain lists of the most popular and most visited ones. Therefore, make use of all in deciding your path and make sure not to miss anything. As also always make sure to read about the site, its history and importance in advance. This will bring a sense of appreciation and fulfilment, it will allow you to visualize and transport yourself through time and imagine the majesty of a time gone by.

As you examine the above maps, I think you would have already realized, that your destinations are mainly divided into three sections. A bottom/southern section ( Map 1 Site 1, 2   or Map 3 Site  B), a middle section ( Map 1 Site 3-13  or Map 3 Site C-M), Upper/northern section ( Map 1 Site 14-26 or Map 3 N-Q)

  • Please notice that Map 3 also has more site that labeled but not assigned a letter. Assume the letter as signifying an area.

We shall list the sites as best as we could based on Map 1 chronological order.

Let’s go!

2. Pothgul Vihara Statue

Statue of Parakramabahu I, located near the Pothgul Vehera in Polonnaruwa is a stone sculpture dating back to the Polonnaruwa period of ancient Sri Lanka. Its identity is uncertain, although the widely accepted theory is that it is a statue of Parakramabahu I. However, it has also been suggested as the statue of a sage. Carved on a large boulder, the statue depicts a majestic figure with a grave expression, holding a book or yoke in his hands.

The statue is located to the north of the city of Polonnaruwa, and close to the eastern bank of the Parakrama Samudra reservoir, which was built by Parakramabahu I himself. It is about 100 metres (330 ft) north of the ancient Potgul Vehera monastery.

The statue was built presumably in the 12th century, during the reign of Parakramabahu I. The statue of Parakramabahu I is one of the best stone sculptures belonging to the Polonnaruwa period. The 11-foot-2-inch-high (3.40 m) statue is carved in high relief on a large boulder, with full use being made of its height. Its upper body is bare except for a single thread worn over the left shoulder. A long object is held in the hands. The statue’s face carries a grave expression, with half-closed eyes, a high forehead, a long beard and a moustache. The shoulders of the statue are rounded, suggesting “extraordinary strength”. The right leg is relaxed with the right knee bent forward slightly. The left leg carries the weight of the body, while the hip is also slightly inclined to the left. According to archaeologist Senarath Paranavitana, this statue is “the very embodiment of strength, majesty and dignity”

The statue has not been positively identified, but the popular and widely accepted belief is that the statue is of King Parakramabahu I, who ruled the country 1153 to 1186. Historian Mendis Rohanadeera has suggested that the statue shows a man belonging to the Lambakanna clan, because a hare—a symbol of this clan—is depicted above the left shoulder of the statue. This supports the theory that it is a statue of Parakramabahu I, who was of the Lambakanna clan. However, another theory is that it is the statue of a sage; either Agastya or Pulasthi. The object held in the hands of the statue may be an ola (cured palm leaves) book. This, and the fact that it is located close to the Potgul Vehera, which was a library in ancient times, supports this theory. However, another belief is that the object is a “yoke of kingship”.

3. Parakrama Reservoir

Parakrama Samudra (or King Parakrama’s sea or the Sea of King Parakrama) is a shallow reservoir (wewa), consisting of five separate wewa (reservoirs) (thopa, dumbutulu, erabadu, bhu, kalahagala tanks) connected by narrow channels in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka.

4. Polonnaruwa Museum

The museum is located near the main sluice gate of the Parakrama Samudra in Polonnaruva. It was designed for two purposes; in situ exhibition of artifacts that were recovered through explorations, excavations and research carried out since 1981 by the Ālāhana Project of the Central Cultural Fund, and providing a sound knowledge and understanding to the visitors about the Polonnaruva World Heritage Site. The fundamental concept of the Polonnaruva Museum is to help the visitor easily understand the ancient urban plan of Polonnaruva and monuments within it. The gallery plan starts from the urban center and proceeds towards the hinterland.

Visit the following link for more pictures and info.

5. ``Deepa Uyana`` Park

The Deepa Uyana lies outside and to the west of Parakramabahu’s walled palace enclosure extending to the shores of the Parakrama Samudraya.

The Council Chamber of King Nissankamalla, the area which is today called the Promontory, was amongst the many parks built by Parakramabahu and Nissankamalla. Anciently it was referred to as the Dipuyyana in Pali meaning an Island Garden.

The Chulavamsa mentions some of the constructions that graced this beautiful island garden. The Dhavalaghara was a white house made entirely of stucco, the Vidyamandapa was a pavilion built to illustrate the various branches of science, the Dolamandapa was a swing pavilion , the Kridamandapa was a sports pavilion, the Mayuramandapa was the Peacock Pavilion, the Sanimandapa was the Pavilion of Saturn, and it was made out of Ivory, Adasamandapa was a Mirror Pavilion, Srngaravimana was of four storeys adorned with pictures, Anantapushkarani was a pond of stone whose layers resembled the coils of the serpent King Ananta and Citrapuskarani or the picture pond adorned with pictures. According to the above account this garden would have been like no other. A grand garden complex – maybe even grander that the Great Parakramabahu’s palace complex.

6. Citadel

Considered to be the grand palace of King Parakramabahu, it consists of massive columns rising up, giving a glimpse of what it might have looked like. Devastated by invading forces from India, the battering and destruction of Polonnaruwa  leaves us with remnants of this great city of old. It is told that the palace was a seven-storey structure amazing 1000 rooms.


Look around and move on to No. 9  😛

10. Shiva Devale (Temple) No.1

Noting much… move on to No. 9  😛

11. The Sacred Quadrangle

This area is a hotspot, containing eleven important ruins in total and should not be missed by any tourist. This section deserves a page unto itself, so please enter Sacred Quadrangle Page for more details and 3D models.


Pabalu Vehera, meaning Beads (Pabalu) and Stupa (Vehera), was named after excavations found glass beads around the complex. Its real name is still unknown to us. It is believed to have been commissioned by one of King Parakramabahu’s consorts, Queen Rupawathi.By looking at the structure, it is circular and has a staggered appearance. What is present today is only a remnant of the true structure, destroyed by invaders and treasure hunters alike. A special trait, which makes it a bit different from the other stupa’s, is its surrounding image houses. Usually, stupa are surrounded by four image-houses in total, but “Pabalu Vehera” has nine such image houses. These image-houses contain images of Buddha and his footprint.

13. Shiva Devale (Temple) No.2
14. Menik Vehera
15. Rankoth Vehera
16. Monastic Hospital
17. Gopala Pabbata
18. Baddhasima Prasada
19. Alahana Parivena
20. Lankatilaka
22. Gal Vihara
23. Demala Maha Seya
24. Lotus Pond
25. Tivanka Image House
26. Naipena Vihara

Explore The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa on our travel blog

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