The Ancient Kingdom of Anuradhapura: Sri Lanka’s First Capital

The Ancient Kingdom of Anuradhapura: Sri Lanka’s First Capital

The Ancient Kingdom of Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka and one of the region’s most significant cultural, political, and religious centers for over 1,300 years. It was founded in the 4th century BCE by King Pandukabhaya, who unified several small settlements in the region into a single kingdom. Anuradhapura remained the capital of Sri Lanka until the 10th century CE when it was abandoned after a series of invasions by the Chola dynasty of South India.

Anuradhapura: Origin, Capital, And Destruction

Anuradhapura’s founding was connected to Indian events, just like its destruction. Anuradha, a minister in the court of Prince Vijaya, the first king of Sri Lanka and progenitor of the Sinhalese people, who traveled from Kalinga (modern-day Odisha, India) with 700 followers, created the village. Anuradhagama was the community’s original name, which gained political notoriety when King Pandukabhaya (474–367 BCE) made it the location of his capital in 377 BCE.

King Pandukabhaya (437–367 BC) established it as his capital, turning it into a thriving metropolis in 377 BC. Except for Kashyapa I (473–491), who opted for Sigiriya as his seat of government, Anuradhapura served as the nation’s capital for all of the rulers who presided over the Anuradhapura Kingdom. The city is also seen on Ptolemy’s map of the globe. Throughout the Anuradhapura period, the monarch of Anuradhapura was regarded as the nation’s paramount leader.

Buddhism significantly impacted the Anuradhapura era’s culture, legal system, and administrative structures. The introduction of the faith during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa transformed society and culture; this cultural change was further bolstered by the advent of the Buddha’s Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka and the support shown by its leaders.

Ruwanwelisaya AnuradhaouraSource: Pixabay

South Indian Invasions And Irrigation Works

South Indian invasions were a persistent danger during the Anuradhapura era. The South Indians were conquered, and rulers like Dutthagamani, Valagamba, and Dhatusena retook the kingdom. Other kings renowned for their military prowess include Sena II, who dispatched his soldiers to aid a Pandyan prince, and Gajabahu I, who launched an expedition against the invaders. The Anuradhapura Kingdom ruled the entire nation by Dutthagamani (161–137 BC).

Before he slew Elara, the South Indian king occupying Anuradhapura, and took the throne, overthrew 32 kings in various regions of the nation. Construction of irrigation works, which ensured water supply in the arid zone and helped the country develop largely self-sufficient, was a vital accomplishment of the Anuradhapura Kingdom because it was primarily based on agriculture. Many monarchs, most notably Vasabha and Mahasena, constructed huge reservoirs and canals, which produced a massive and intricate irrigation network in the Rajarata region throughout the Anuradhapura period.

After Dutthagamani and Valagamba, other kings who ruled over the entire nation included Saddha Tissa (137-119 BC), Mahaculi Mahatissa (77-63 BC), Vasabha (67-111), Gajabahu I (114-136), Dhatusena (455-473), Aggabodhi I (571-604), and Aggabodhi II (604-614).

Anuradhapura Irrigation WorksSource: Pixabay

Buddhist Monuments And Agriculture In Anuradhapura.

Some of the most important Buddhist monuments in the entire world may be found in the city, which once served as a center for Buddhism. Anuradhapura is home to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. This revered fig tree was planted more than 2,000 years ago and is considered a cutting from the original tree where the Buddha obtained enlightenment. The Abhayagiri Dagoba, Thuparamaya Stupa, and Ruwanwelisaya Stupa are a few other noteworthy structures in the city.

The Anuradhapura Kingdom’s economy was dependent primarily on agriculture. The primary agricultural commodity was rice, which was grown with the help of a sophisticated irrigation system. The nation was self-sufficient primarily because of the large amount of rice produced. To supply the need for textiles, cotton was widely grown. Also grown were sugarcane and sesame, frequently mentioned in classical literature. In the drier regions of the country, finger millet was farmed in place of rice. Some items had surpluses, mainly rice, which was exported.

The Anuradhapura Kingdom’s culture was founded mainly on Buddhism, and it was thought that killing animals for food was a low and dirty act. Animal husbandry, therefore, wasn’t common except for raising buffalo and cattle. Only the nobles could afford prestige animals like elephants and horses. The abilities required to raise and train these creatures were highly valued. For preparing paddy fields and for plowing, people utilized cattle and buffalo. People’s diets include a significant amount of dairy products, and literature in Pali and Sinhala frequently refers to the five products from cows: milk, curd, buttermilk, ghee, and butter. Also utilized for transportation were bullocks and bullock carts.

Due to Sri Lanka’s dry environment, rain-fed agriculture posed a challenge and endangered the kingdom’s survival and prosperity. The Anuradhapura Kingdom’s leaders undertook an ambitious endeavor to build a sophisticated system of canals and reservoirs to address this problem. The pools were meant to gather and store rainwater and then move it through a complex drainage system to different kingdom sections, allowing crops and rice paddies to grow. Some of the oldest and largest reservoirs in the world can be found in Anuradhapura today. For instance, the 54-mile-long canal with a gentle slope of one foot every mile connects the nearly four-mile-long Kala Wela to other kingdom regions.

The well-preserved remains and monuments of the city, which have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, still reflect its rich cultural legacy. Anuradhapura was also a center of learning and scholarship, and its monasteries attracted scholars and students from across the region. Today, Anuradhapura is a primary pilgrimage site for Buddhists and a popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka. It continues to be an important cultural and historic site, and its ruins are a testament to the impressive achievements of the ancient Sri Lankan civilization.

About The Author

Rajika Nanayakkara

My name is Rajika Nanayakkara and I am a passionate writer with a deep love for ancient history. With a keen eye for detail and a natural curiosity, I have dedicated myself to exploring the mysteries and wonders of the past. Through my writing, I seeks to bring the stories of ancient civilizations to life, providing a glimpse into the rich and fascinating world of our ancestors. My writings has been featured through

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