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The largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa

Rankot Vihara

The Rankot Vihara or the Golden Pinnacle Dagoba in Polonnaruwa is the fourth largest dagoba in Sri Lanka after the three great dagobas (Ruwanveliseya, Jetawanarama and Abhayagiriya) of Anuradhapura.

It is one of the many chetiyas located in the Alahena Pirivena complex.

The 55 metre (180 feet) high dagoba has a base with a circumference of 168 metres (550 feet). It is the original Ruwanveliseya or 'Golden Sand' Dagoba and is a clear imitation of the style of construction during the Anuradhapura era. Small chambers containing Buddha statues had been around the dagoba.

That, one of them had housed a statue in the lying down position is evident from the remains of its brick wall. The entire dagoba has been constructed with bricks and a unique factor about the design is that a limestone foundation had been laid every 10 feet.

Some believe that the limestone was laid from one side of the building to the other to level the surface of the brick structure.

Although the dagoba was completed by King Nissanka Malla, it is believed to have been initiated by Rupavati, one of King Parakramabahu's wives. There is an inscription in the middle of the road at the entrance to the site which states that King Nissanka Malla had stood at the very spot, watching the workmen carry out construction work at the Rankot Vihara.

The dagoba, which was covered in jungle, was exposed through latter day archaeological excavations. Archaeologists recovered surgical instruments from the ruins of a 12th century hospital located near the dagoba.

These instruments were said to be similar in design to the surgical instruments used in the modern day. Ruins of monasteries which had housed Buddhist monks had also been found close to this complex. This has led researchers to believe that monks lived outside the main city during the Polonnaru era.


King Nissanka Malla

King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196), who ascended the throne of Polonnaruwa after King Parakramabahu I, is known as another great king of Sri Lanka.

Although a descendent of the foreign Kalinga clan, Nissanka Malla was a clever king and did much towards the country's development during his nine-year reign. The only public road in the country at the time, from Mathota to Magama, was restored by him, along with numerous irrigation systems. He governed the country according to principles of co-operation, and provided security to the citizens by curbing crime. He travelled around constantly to look into the citizens' welfare and tried at every opportunity to remove the obstacles to their happiness. He also united the Sangha, which was divided at the time, and drove away immoral monks from the sasana.

Some of the more prominent religious buildings for which he was responsible are the Rankot Vihara, Vatadage and Hetadage.

Nissanka Malla believed that a king who doesn't commit sins can be equalled to a Buddha and tried to live and rule the country accordingly. Despite his good deeds, sections of the Sinhala noblemen were said to be against him.

It is said that he virtually made the kingdom bankrupt through his efforts to keep up with King Parakramabahu.

Although three other Kalinga kings succeeded him, none of them lasted for more than a year. The Polonnaru kingdom went into ruin due to the absence of a proper ruler.


The brick-built Menik Vehera

The Menik Vehera in Polonnaruwa is now in a ruined state. It is built on a platform measuring 55 x 58 feet, and is notable for the terracotta lion plaques fixed to its base. The supporting walls as well as the top layer of the structure have been built with bricks. A well-carved stone doorway with its lintel intact can be seen on the platform. A relic chamber, with its nooks and relic stones open to the sky, which are generally inside the vihara mound, is also in the centre of the platform.

The courtyard of the temple is entered from the south. A small chamber with four pillars had been to the east of the courtyard. A stone plaque of Nissanka Malla is situated between the pillars, which has now been made to stand upright.

Image houses (pilima ge) with standing stone Buddha statues are situated to the west and south west of the dagoba. of Relief Rehabilitation & Reconciliation)


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