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Location in Sri Lanka
Coordinates: 8°20′6″N80°24′39″E / 8.33500°N 80.41083°E / 8.33500; 80.41083
CountrySri Lanka
Province North Central Province
District Anuradhapura
Established5th century BC
  Type Municipal Council
   City 7,179 km2 (2,772 sq mi)
36 km2 (14 sq mi)
81 m (266 ft)
   City 50,595
  Density2,314/km2 (5,990/sq mi)
Demonym Anuradhians
Time zone UTC+5:30 (Sri Lanka Standard Time Zone)
Postal code
Official nameSacred City of Anuradhapura
Criteria Cultural: ii, iii, vi
Reference 200
Inscription1982 (6th Session)

Anuradhapura (Sinhala : අනුරාධපුරය, romanized: Anurādhapuraya; Tamil : அனுராதபுரம், romanized: Aṉurātapuram) is a major city located in the north central plain of Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of North Central Province and the capital of Anuradhapura District. The city lies 205 kilometers (127 mi) north of the current capital of Colombo in the North Central Province, on the banks of the historic Malwathu Oya. The city is now a World Heritage Site famous for its well-preserved ruins of the ancient Sinhalese civilisation.


While Mahāvaṃsa places the founding of the city in 437 BCE, the site has been inhabited for much longer, making it a major human settlement on the island for almost three millennia and one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Asia. It is the cradle of the Hydraulic Sinhalese civilisation, Theravada Buddhism, and the longest-serving ancient capital of Sri Lanka that has survived for 1500 years. Moreover, It was the first capital of the Sinhala Kingdom of Rajarata, following the kingdoms of Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara. Anuradhapura was also the centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries and has been a major Buddhist pilgrimage site with ruins of many ancient Buddhist temples, including the famous Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest still-living, documented, planted tree in the world [1] and that is believed to have originally been a branch of the sacred fig tree at Bodh Gaya (Bihar, India), under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. These vast networks of ancient temples and monasteries now cover over 100 square kilometers (40 sq mi) of area of the city today.

The city was mostly destroyed and largely deserted after 993 CE, with the Chola invasion from South India. [2] Although several attempts were made by later Sinhalese kings to return the capital to Anuradhapura, it was not reestablished as a major population centre of the island until the British colonial era in the 19th century CE. The revival of the current city began in earnest in the 1870s. The contemporary city, much of which was moved during the mid-20th century to preserve the site of the ancient capital, is a major road junction of northern Sri Lanka and lies along a railway line. The city is the headquarters of Sri Lanka's archeological survey, and tourism is a significant factor in its economy.


According to historical records such as Mahavamsa, the origin of the name Anuradhapura is traced to the minister named 'Anuradha' in the court of Prince Vijaya (543–505 BCE), the first Sinhalese king of the island. According to the legends related to Vijaya, his minister named 'Anuradha' established the settlement that later became Anuradhapura. However, the finding of earlier settlements in the citadel area of the old city dating back to until 10 century BCE would doubt this claim.

The name 'Anuradhapura' means the 'city of Anuradha' (Anuradha+pura), where "pura" stand for 'city' in Sanskrit, Pali, and Sinhala. However, before Anuradhapura was considered a city, it was called the 'Anuradhagrama,' meaning the 'village of Anuradha' (Anuradha+grama). [3] This older name was also mentioned in the work of ancient Greek and Roman scholars such as Strabo and Claudius Ptolemy. [4] In Ptolemy's world map from 2 century CE, the place was named 'Anourogrammoi.' Thus, It is believed that the expansion of this earlier smaller settlement called Anuradhagrama into a city during the reign of Sinhalese king Pandukabhaya (474–367 BCE) in 437 BCE caused the change of the name to Anuradhapura. [3]

Significant milestones in the development of the name

Early history

Anuradhapura is the best representation of the beginnings of pre-modern urbanization in Sri Lanka. The development of the initial settlement at the site of the city can be attributed to the second global cycle of historical evolution with the generalised diffusion of iron technology in the Old World through the first millennium BCE, culminating in the emergence of many historical civilizations. The history of Anuradhapura then extends from its traditional founding in the recorded history in the fourth century BCE and its subsequent laying-out by Devanampiya Tissa (250–210 BCE) to its abandonment by the last of the Anuradhapura kings at the end of the tenth century CE, its brief reoccupation in the eleventh century and the restoration of some of its major monuments, in the third quarter of the twelfth century.[ citation needed ]

Iron Age

Even though, historical chronicle Mahāvaṃsa (5th century CE) place founding of the city in the 5th century BC, the archaeological data from the excavation of the citadel area of the old city puts the date of the human settlement as far back as the 10th century BC. [5] According to these excavations, protohistoric Iron Age of the city spans from 900 - 600 BCE, with the appearance of iron technology, pottery, the horse, domestic cattle and paddy cultivation. [6] [7] In the time period 700-600 BCE, the settlement in Anuradhapura had grown over an area of at least 50 ha. Irrigable and fertile land surround the city, strategically situated with major ports northwest and northeast of the island. The city also benefited from dense jungle surroundings, providing a natural defense from invaders.

Excavation at Anuradhapura has unearthed Painted Gray Ware (PGW) pottery from the 'Basal early historic' period of Anuradhapura (600 BC-500 BCE) showing connections with North India (during vedic period). [8]

Early Historic Period

Details of city's development in this early historic period, spanning from 500 to 250 BCE can be found in Sinhalese Chronicles. According to these records, King Pandukabhaya formally planned the city with gates and quarters for traders. The city at the time covered an area of one square kilometer, making it one of the largest cities on the continent at the time.The city was largely deserted after the invasion by the Chola Tamil Hindu king Rajaraja 1 in 993 CE and his son Rajendra 1 in 1014 CE. According to Culavamsa (6th century CE-18th century CE), Anuradhapura was "utterly destroyed in every way by the Chola army. Still, the place was continuously inhabited after this event as indicated by records of visitors to the island such as Robert Knox and others. [9] [10] Thus, the city was the longest-serving Sinhalese capital of Sri Lanka from the 5th century BCE (437 BCE) until the 11th century CE (1017 CE) flourishing for around 1,500 years. [11]


Anuradhapura was a major intellectual centre for early Theravada Buddhism, home to revered Buddhist philosophers including Buddhaghosa. [12]

During the reign of Dhatusena (455-473) a redaction of the Theravada Buddhist canon took place while at the same time 18 new vihara (temple complexes) were built and a statue erected for Mahinda, the Indian prince-monk who introduced Buddhism to the island. [13]

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. Artworks featuring depictions of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion, became increasingly popular. [14]

Modern era

European discovery

The area was sparsely inhabited for many centuries, but the local population remained aware of the ruins. In Robert Knox's 1681 An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon , he wrote: "At this City of Anurodgburro is a Watch kept, beyond which are no more people that yield obedience to the King of Kandy". [9] In 1821, John Davy wrote that: "Anooradapoora, so long the capital of Ceylon, is now a small mean village, in the midst of a desert. A large tank, numerous stone pillars, two or three immense tumuli, (probably old dagobahs,) are its principal remains. It is still considered a sacred spot; and is a place of pilgrimage." [10]

Ruwanwaliseya Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.jpg


Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.jpg
Abhayagiri Dagoba in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Various excavations have taken place at the site, beginning in 1884–86 by Stephen Montagu Burrows. [15]

Sacred city and new town

Anuradhapura became the centre of administration of the North Central Province and with the building of the Northern Railway line, Anuradhapura became an important railway town with the opening of the Anuradhapura railway station in 1904. The Government of Ceylon tasked Oliver Weerasinghe to develop the Anuradhapura Preservation Plan in 1949, aimed at establishing a new planned town east of the existing Anuradhapura town, thereby establishing the Sacred city of Anuradhapura, with the aim of preserving the ancient city. The "New Town" had many of the government offices and law courts moved into it. The Anuradhapura Preservation Board was established with this aim.

Nissanka Wijeyeratne was Government Agent of Anuradhapura District from 1958 to 1962. He was arguably the best known of all government agents of his time. His stature ensured that the voice of Anuradhapura was heard at the highest levels in Colombo. Apart from being Government Agent, he was Chairman of the Anuradhapura Preservation Board. This was the time when the city of Anuradhapura was in a period of historic transition. The new town of Anuradhapura was being built, and the residents of the old were being transferred to the new town. It was a time of some tension and of excitement. He managed this process of change with courage and remarkable political skills. While in Anuradhapura, he unveiled a memorial for H. R. Freeman, a popular British Government Agent who later was elected by the people of the district to represent them in the 1st State Council of Ceylon. [16] Coming events cast their shadows before. A striking feature of Wijeyeratne's Anuradhapura days was his great ability to see the bigger picture and focus on the key issues, and delegate responsibilities to his staff officers. He was never one to be enmeshed in detail. He also set up the Sacred City of Anuradhapura shifted the urban city to the newly created Anuradhapura town and is responsible for the establishment of Anuradhapura Airport. [17] [18]

Places of veneration

Other structures

Abhayagiriya Monastery with Samadhi Statue, Kuttam Pokuna (twin pond) and moonstone. Abhayagiriya Monastery-EN.svg
Abhayagiriya Monastery with Samadhi Statue, Kuttam Pokuna (twin pond) and moonstone.


EthnicityPopulation% Of Total
Sinhalese 51,77591.42
Sri Lankan Moors 3,8256.75
Sri Lankan Tamils 8501.50
Indian Tamils 450.08
Other (including Burgher, Malay)1370.24

Source: Archived 13 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine - Census 2001


Anuradhapura has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen As).

Climate data for Anuradhapura (1991–2020)
Record high °C (°F)35.0
Mean daily maximum °C (°F)30.4
Daily mean °C (°F)26.2
Mean daily minimum °C (°F)21.8
Record low °C (°F)17.5
Average precipitation mm (inches)86.0
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)
Source: NOAA [19]


Anuradhapura is served by railway and highways. The Northern railway line connects Anuradhapura with Colombo, Jaffna, and Kankesanthurai. Anuradhapura railway station is the city's rail gateway, with major services, such as the Yal Devi, Uttara Devi stopping there.

There are a number of bus routes passing through Anuradhapura from Colombo to the northern province. Some of them are 04, 15, 57, 87 etc.

Anuradhapura is a central city in Sri Lanka. It is directly connected by road to a large number of major cities and towns on the island. By road, it is connected to Vavuniya, Dambulla, Matale, Puttalam, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Kurunegala and Kandy.

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sinhalese people</span> Native ethnic group of Sri Lanka

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Abhayagiri Vihāra was a major monastery site of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism that was situated in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is one of the most extensive ruins in the world and one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage cities in the nation. Historically it was a great monastic center as well as a royal capital, with magnificent monasteries rising to many stories, roofed with gilt bronze or tiles of burnt clay glazed in brilliant colours. To the north of the city, encircled by great walls and containing elaborate bathing ponds, carved balustrades and moonstones, stood "Abhayagiri", one of seventeen such religious units in Anuradhapura and the largest of its five major viharas. One of the focal points of the complex is an ancient stupa, the Abhayagiri Dagaba. Surrounding the humped dagaba, Abhayagiri Vihara was a seat of the Northern Monastery, or Uttara Vihara and the original custodian of the Tooth relic in the island.

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  1. "Herbarium | A Visit to Anuradhapura and Horton Plains, and a Fond Farewell to Sri Lanka". Retrieved 10 September 2022.
  2. Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Sacred City of Anuradhapura". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
  3. 1 2 "Anuradhapura: The 1400-year capital of Sri Lanka". Sahapedia. Retrieved 26 August 2022.
  4. Reisch, Gregor (5 March 2018). "The Accuracy of some Mediaeval Maps of the Taprobane Island".{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. Deraniyagala, SU. The Prehistory of Sri Lanka, Vol II, Department of Archaeological Survey, Colombo: 1992. p435.
  6. "Anuradhapura". Cultural Triangle. 5 September 2010. Retrieved 26 August 2022.
  7. Kulatilake, Samanti (2016). "The Peopling of Sri Lanka from Prehistoric to Historic Times". A Companion to South Asia in the Past: 426–436. doi:10.1002/9781119055280.ch27. ISBN   9781119055280.
  8. Tyagi, Manisha (2006). "Commercial Relations Between North India and Sri Lanka in Ancient Period: A Study". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 67: 106–117. ISSN   2249-1937. JSTOR   44147927.
  9. 1 2 Robert Knox (1681), Historical Relation chapter 2, full quote "There are besides these already mentioned, several other ruinous places that do still retain the name of Cities, where Kings have Reigned, tho now little Foot steps remaining of them. At the North end of this Kings Dominions is one of these Ruinous Cities, called Anurodgburro, where they say Ninety Kings have Reigned, the Spirits of whom they hold now to be Saints in Glory, having merited it by making Pagoda’s and Stone Pillars and Images to the honour of their Gods, whereof there are many yet remaining: which the Chingulayes count very meritorious to worship, and the next way to Heaven. Near by is a River, by which we came when we made our escape: all along which is abundance of hewed stones, some long for Pillars, some broad for paving. Over this River there have been three Stone Bridges built upon Stone Pillars, but now are fallen down; and the Countrey all desolate without Inhabitants. At this City of Anurodgburro is a Watch kept, beyond which are no more people that yield obedience to the King of Candy. This place is above Ninety miles to the Northward of the City of Candy. In these Northern Parts there are no Hills, nor but two or three Springs of running water, so that their Corn ripeneth with the help of Rain."
  10. 1 2 John Davy (1821), An Account, full quote: "Anooradapoora, so long the capital of Ceylon, is now a small mean village, in the midst of a desert. A large tank, numerous stone pillars, two or three immense tumuli, (probably old dagobahs,) are its principal remains. It is still considered a sacred spot; and is a place of pilgrimage. This information was collected partly from the natives, and partly from an officer who visited it during the rebellion."
  11. "Anuradhapura | Sri Lanka | Britannica". Retrieved 26 August 2022.
  12. Buddhaghosa. (1999). The path of purification : Visuddhimagga. Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu, -1960. (1st BPE Pariyatti ed.). Seattle, WA: BPE Pariyatti Editions. ISBN   1928706002. OCLC   44927676.
  13. Culavamsa, tr. W.Geiger, London PTS 1971, pp.31-41.
  14. Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 57. ISBN   978-1-904832-77-5.
  15. Department of Archaeology - Sri Lanka Archived 2017-11-14 at the Wayback Machine : "The first methodical excavation of the Department of Archaeology had been carried out by Mr. S.M. Burrows in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa during 1884 to 1886. Subsequently, the exploration and excavation activities were undertaken mainly in Anuradhapura and Sigiriya with the guidance of Mr. H. C. P. Bell in 1890. Similarly, archaeological excavations in Anuradhapura and other areas of the island were carried out under the supervision of Mr. E. M. Ayrton (1912-1914) and Mr Raja De Silva (1983). Mr. E. M. Hocart who was appointed as the Commissioner of Archaeology in Sri Lanka in 1926, carried out excavations using the method of stratification, in places such as Mathota, Pomparippu, Anuradhapura inner city and Ambalantota."
  16. How Freeman won the NCP seat. Island (Sri Lanka), Retrieved 10 March 2010.
  17. Vote of Condolence to Dr.Nissanka Wijeyeratne by Parliament of Sri Lanka 10 June 2011
  18. වැඩ ගොඩක් හැඩ කළ නිශ්ශංක ලකුණ. Dinamina (Sri Lanka), Retrieved on 20 August 2021.
  19. "World Meteorological Organization Climate Normals for 1991-2020 — Anuradhapura". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 20 January 2024.