Jetavanaramaya is an Ancient stupa located in Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka's ancient capitals. It is a prominent landmark not just within Sri Lanka but also in the world of ancient architecture and Buddhist heritage. Originally constructed in the 3rd century AD, Jetavanaramaya is an awe-inspiring structure that stands as a significant point of interest for historians, architects, and devotees alike.
Jetavanaramaya was initially commissioned by King Mahasena, a ruler notable for his contribution to Sri Lanka's architectural and religious landscape. The project took over 15 years to complete, overseen not just by Mahasena but also by his son Maghavanna I. This lengthy period of construction reflects the monument's significance in ancient Sri Lanka.
Purpose and Intent
Jetavanaramaya was not just an architectural marvel; it had a deeply spiritual intent. The stupa was built to honor the teachings of Buddha and aimed to serve as the core establishment for Theravada Buddhism in the region. Monks and scholars often gathered here to debate and study Buddhist scriptures.
Restoration and Preservation
The stupa's history is filled with periods of restoration and repair. Various Sri Lankan monarchs have played a role in maintaining this historical structure. For example, Parakramabahu I undertook extensive renovations during his rule in the 12th century. Despite these changes, the essential framework and intent of Jetavanaramaya have remained consistent.
Surviving Against Odds
The stupa's endurance over nearly two millennia is noteworthy. It has survived invasions from South Indian kingdoms, internal strife, and natural calamities like floods and earthquakes. These challenges make its survival even more remarkable, symbolizing resilience and making it a significant part of Sri Lanka's ancient narrative.
In contemporary times, Jetavanaramaya continues to serve its spiritual and educational functions. While its basic structure has remained largely intact, the area surrounding the stupa has expanded to include museums and libraries. These additions serve to preserve and share the ancient scripts, sculptures, and art related to Theravada Buddhism and Sri Lankan history.
The Significance of Buddhism
The significance of Jetavanaramaya extends beyond its grand architecture and religious importance. Serving as a central point for Theravada Buddhism, it has been a venue for theological discussions, meditation, and religious rituals for nearly two millennia. It functions not merely as a place of worship but also as a vital center for spiritual learning and practice.
Its enduring presence on the island has made it a symbol of Sri Lankan identity and resilience. Over the centuries, it has played a pivotal role in unifying diverse communities under the banner of Buddhist teachings. It continues to attract a wide range of visitors, from devout monks to historians and tourists, each drawn by various aspects of its multi-layered significance.
The complex also has a crucial role in the academic sphere. Home to ancient texts and scriptures, it has served as an important educational center. Researchers and students from around the world visit to study its relics and texts, which offer invaluable insights into the development of Theravada Buddhism and Ancient Sri Lankan society. Thus, Jetavanaramaya is not only a physical structure but also a living institution that continues to contribute to Sri Lanka's cultural, spiritual, and intellectual landscape.
The architecture of Jetavanaramaya is remarkable for its scale, design, and craftsmanship, setting it apart as one of the tallest brick structures of the ancient world. Standing at an impressive height of approximately 122 meters, its imposing dimensions alone make it a significant architectural achievement. It's estimated that around 93 million baked bricks were used in its construction, a feat that showcases the high level of skill and resources involved.
The stupa features a distinctive bell shape, a design commonly seen in ancient Sri Lankan stupas but rarely executed on such a grand scale. This shape is not just aesthetically pleasing but also symbolizes the spreading of Buddhist teachings, extending from the base to the pinnacle like a blooming lotus.
While the primary construction material is brick, the stupa was once covered with lime stucco, a layer that not only enhanced its visual appeal but also protected the underlying bricks from weathering. The finesse with which the lime stucco was applied demonstrates a mastery of ancient construction techniques.
Surrounding the main stupa are various smaller structures that contribute to the overall significance of the complex. They offer an extended canvas that reveals the artistry of the period.
What to See
The Relic Chamber
Inside the stupa is a relic chamber said to house a portion of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha. This relic chamber is a primary point of interest and a significant place for Buddhist rituals.
The Surrounding Area
Visitors can explore the surrounding precinct that houses various sculptures, inscriptions, and small pagodas. Each of these elements adds depth to the overall understanding of the place and provides excellent opportunities for photography.
Opening Times and Entry Fees
Jetavanaramaya is easily accessible to both locals and tourists. The site is open every day from early morning until late evening. There are entry fees for both local and foreign visitors, but these are nominal and go towards the upkeep of this historical site. Discounts are available for students and groups.
Location and How to Get There
Jetavanaramaya is situated in the city of Anuradhapura, which lies approximately 205 kilometers north of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.
If you're already in Anuradhapura, reaching Jetavanaramaya is straightforward. You can take a local tuk-tuk, and the journey typically takes around 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic conditions. Alternatively, taxis and local bus services are also available, providing easy and economical options for reaching the site.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Jetavanaramaya is between February and April when the weather is dry, and the temperature is moderate. During these months, the site is also less crowded, allowing for a more peaceful exploration.
Tips and Advice
- Dress Code: Dress modestly due to the religious nature of the site. Long skirts or trousers and shoulder-covering tops are recommended.
- Footwear: Remove shoes before entering the main stupa area, as per local customs and religious practices.
- Local Guide: Consider hiring a local guide to enrich your experience with historical and cultural context.
- Photography: Photography is generally allowed, but be respectful of devotees and areas where photography may be restricted.
- Ruwanwelisaya: This is another significant stupa in close proximity to Jetavanaramaya. It is renowned for its unique bubble shape and is a crucial landmark in the practice of Theravada Buddhism.
- Isurumuniya Temple: Located near the Tissa Wewa reservoir, this temple is famous for its rock carvings and elegant gardens. It provides a deep insight into ancient Sri Lankan rock art and landscaping skills.
- Sri Maha Bodhi: This is one of the oldest living trees with documented history, believed to be a sapling from the tree under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. It serves as a place of veneration and pilgrimage for Buddhists worldwide.
- Thuparamaya: Another ancient stupa in Anuradhapura, Thuparamaya, was the first stupa to be built in Sri Lanka after the introduction of Buddhism. It is known for its historical importance and its circular shape, surrounded by stone pillars.
- Lovamahapaya: Also known as the Brazen Palace, this was once a massive structure with a bronze roof situated between Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanwelisaya. Though now mostly in ruins, it offers a glimpse into the grandeur of ancient Sri Lankan architecture.
Jetavanaramaya serves as an interesting destination for those interested in Sri Lanka's rich history and vibrant Buddhist culture. Its towering stupa and surrounding complex offer a reflective and spiritual experience for visitors. From understanding its significant role in Buddhism to marveling at its architectural brilliance, a visit to Jetavanaramaya promises to be enlightening and awe-inspiring.