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Polonnaruwa Vatadage

By Devik Balami at
Polonnaruwa Vatadage

The Polonnaruwa Vatadge is an ancient structure located in a quadrangular area, Dalada Maluva in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. The Vatadage occupies most of the southwestern area of Dalada Maluva and is the prominent structure among other oldest and most sacred monuments of the city. The Vatadge has a similar design with that of the structures belonging to the Anuradhapura period, especially Thuparamaya and Lankaramaya.

The Polonnaruwa Vatadage has two stone platforms decorated with elaborate stone carvings. The lower one is entered through a single entrance facing the north while the second one is accessed through four doorways facing the four cardinal points. This platform houses the stupa which is surrounded by the brick wall. The Buddha statues are constructed around the wall facing the four cardinal points.

Historical accounts of Polonnaruwa Vatadage

Regarding the construction of the Polonnaruwa Vatadage, there are various theories among archaeologists and historians. One theory suggests that the Vatadage was built by Parakramabahu I in the 12th Century. An ancient chronicle, Culavamsa mentions that he built a circular stone shrine to house the tooth relic of the Buddha. This circular stone shrine, as believed by the archaeologist Harry Charles Purvis Bell is the Polonnaruwa Vatadage.

However, this belief contradicts with several other ancient sources and one of such source is Rajavaliya and Poojavaliya. These sources mention that the Polonnaruwa Vatadage was built by Nissanka Malla. Even the nearby stone inscription set by Nissanka Malla lists that the structure was one of his constructions. But the studies of Arthur Maurice Hocart mentions that Nissanka Malla renovated an already existed building. He added some features to that building such as the entrance and outer porch. Historian H. W. Codrington and translator Wilhelm Geiger both agree with this theory.

Whoever built this Vatadage, the purpose was to protect the small stupa that had an important relic enshrined in them. Whether it was tooth relic of the Buddha or alms bowl used by the Buddha, these relics were important objects in ancient Sri Lankan culture.

The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa came to an end with an invasion from South India in the early 13th century. With the fall of the kingdom, the Vatadage was abandoned and was not mentioned in the chronicles in later periods. Later in the early 20th century, the Department of Archaeology began excavation work at the site.

Features of the Polonnaruwa Vatadage

The Polonnaruwa Vatadage has been built around a small stupa with a base diameter of 27 ft. 8 inches. The Vatadage has two platform- the lower and the raised upper platform. The lower platform is 120 ft. in diameter and has a height of 4 ft. 3 inches from the ground level while the upper platform is 80 ft. in diameter and has a height of 5 ft. 3 inches from the lower platform.

The lower platform is entered through a single entrance on the northern side while the doorway in four cardinal direction leads to the upper platform. The upper platform is surrounded by a brick wall on its edge. The center of this platform has the stupa which is accompanied by four Buddha statues depicted in Dhyana Mudra in seating posture. The statues face towards one of the four cardinal directions. These statues are 5 ft. In height and are seated on the stone seats with a height of 2 ft. 10 inches. Among them, two statues are more or less intact. Buddha head and shoulder of one of the statue has been chopped off and the condition of other one is also same.

The stupa is constructed in Buddulakara or bubble-shaped design which is commonly seen in Sri Lanka. The upper part of the statue has been destroyed and there is only lower dome-shaped part remains.