Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Another Medievil City: Polonnaruwa

D. Fernando, Licensed Guide
Polonnaruwa  was our third stop on our tour of Sri Lanka's cultural sights. After two days of walking/struggling on pebbles in bare feet I came prepared with socks. They worked! I enjoyed pleasant, stone-free touring.

Our guide was 71 year old D. Fernando, who has about 50 years of guiding experience. He started at the museum where he explained the reproductions of the ruins that we would later visit. As we toured he reminded us of what we had seen in the museum. This strategy has made it easy to recall what saw. As we read more on Polonnaruwa we aren’t wondering “did we see that.”

After leaving the museum we went to the statue of King Parakramabahu I, the visionary ruler during Polonnaruwa's golden age. He built Sri Lanka's largest man made lake by combining three existing reservoirs (locally referred to as “tanks”). Now over a 1000 years later it serves as an important water source for local farmers. In front of the statue was the sign pictured below.

The statue was carved out of a rock. Was the rock to be excluded? No, the rock was in, but people were out The juxtaposition of human and statute shows disrespect. Although we heard a later story about a tourist who was posing next to a statue, tripped, and cost the statue three fingers. This accident may be the real motive behind the sign.

Here is King Parakramabahu rock and all

King Parakramabahu was also credited with creating the Library Monastery. (Tour guides use the terms university and monastery interchangeably.) In the center was a stupa shaped building that housed sacred manuscripts. Housing for faculty, which included classrooms, and students surrounded the library

Faculty Housing

In its day the palace was an imposing building. Designed by a Chinese architect it had seven stories. It allegedly had a 1000 rooms - surely an exaggeration to account for a lot of rooms. The lower story had rooms where the king's valuables were stored, an audience hall, and a bathing pool.

Palace Audience Hall

The Quadrangle is an area packed with the ruins of sacred buildings. At one time it was the site of the tooth relic, a lower molar from Lord Buddha, which has been moved around. It came to Polonnaruma from Anuradhapura. Currently the relic is in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. The picture below is of the Vatadage, a relic house, from the 12th century.

Vatadage at Polonnaruwa - images in front are temple guard stones
Close by was the stone book also from the 12 century. Chiseled in the stone was the king's story of himself and his rule. Note at the ends are Hindu figures, even though the king who commissioned the work was a Buddhist. According to our guide the figures were to honor a request from the king's Hindu wife to recognize her religion.

We again found the rules of the monastery. One passage directs the monks not to eat after their midday meal, after which they should not engage in "worldly talk or sinful thoughts" and only focus on religion and meditation. A guide in Sri Lanka told us the last meal at midday was still the practice here. The guides in Laos were more graphic - if you are hungry your mind won't turn to sex. (If you wish to see the rules, make a comment and we will arrange to send you the photos and you can enlarge them.)

We drove by the Hindu temples. Our guide referred to one temple as the "Ladies Temple" where only women could worship. The temple had a lingam, which you can see in the photo. Our guide kept referring this as "Shiva's penis," an interpretation that seems unique to himself or at least among Polonnaruwa guides.

Shiva temple - Lingam barely visible in background

Our last stop was at Gal Vihara with its four Buddha images carved out of one boulder. The first picture below depicts Buddha meditating. The second is controversial as to  whether it represents Buddha or not and what he is doing. According to our guide he was teaching meditation.The third image is of Buddha after he has died and reached Nirvana. We to tell that he was not resting was because he feet were uneven and his knees were slightly bent.

The guide offered to take us to other sites, but we were a bit templed out. Better to return on another day.

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