27 Nov 2014....Pittsburgh PIT — Washington Dulles IAD — Istanbul IST — Colombo, Sri Lanka CMB
3 Dec.............Dambulla...Colombo...Embark M/V Voyager
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These few days in north central Sri Lanka were a pre-cruise trip before a month's sailing in the western Indian Ocean. Except for the last day, it was pretty well organized and the tours we did of the ancient sites allowed sufficient time to see them. Our centrally-located hotel was in a jungle setting with great food, nice rooms, and good service. Travel was by comfortable bus with both a company leader and local tour guides. It rained, more or less, every day which put a crimp in seeing the Sigiriya Fortress and the Dambulla Cave since they involved much scrambling over rock staircases. The last places, Hambantota and Kataragama, were visited as an excursion from the ship; while not really ancient, they were an interesting example of an almost theme-park like collection of temples and shrines from several religions. A busy couple of days, it was well-worth the cost to see these remarkable sites.
The Anuradhapura Kingdom was established in 380 BCE during the reign of Pandukabhaya of Anuradhapura. It served as the capital city of the country for nearly 1,400 years. Society underwent a major transformation during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura, with the arrival of Buddhism from India. In 250 BC, Mahinda, the son of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, and a Buddhist monk, arrived carrying the message of Buddhism. His mission won over the monarch, who embraced the faith and propagated it throughout the Sinhalese population. Succeeding kingdoms on Sri Lanka would maintain a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries and support the propagation of Buddhism into other countries in Southeast Asia. In 245 BC, a monk planted the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which was a sapling from the historical Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha became enlightened. It is considered the oldest human-planted tree (with a continuous historical record) in the world. Many of the structures have been preserved and/or restored, and the site is an active Buddhist place of worship and pilgrimage
Sigiriya is a palace and gardens dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 660 feet (200 m.) high. King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) moved the capital and his residence from Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya. During his reign, Sigiriya was developed into a complex city and fortress. Most of the elaborate constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces, and gardens, date from this period. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure —Sīhāgiri, the Lion Rock. The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king's death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century and today has been mostly restored. Because of rain and the lateness of the day, I didn't make it up the Lion Rock, which was a distinct disappointment.
The second most ancient of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated Chola invaders in 1070 to reunite the country once more under a local leader. The city is probably as old as Anuradhapura, but what is seen today is the work of the rulers during the12th and 13th centuries. Even more extensive water storage and distribution systems were built which are still in use today and the whole environment is green with forest copses alternating with flatlands and agricultural paddies. Some unusual and distinctive buildings remain in decent shape although most have lost their roofs; the sculptural work on columns and walls is particularly attractive and includes free-standing images, reliefs, and rock-cut images of Buddha and his symbols.
Dambulla, the Golden Rock Temple, is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 520 feet (160 m) over the surrounding plains, and there are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over 5 caves, which contain statues and paintings related to Lord Buddha and his life. It is a World Heritage Site, and is one of the very few I've missed—in this case, because of heavy rain, I decided the exposed rock surfaces and steps to get to the caves were too dangerously slippery to climb. I probably should have tried it, but a wise mind prevailed. Oh well...next time.
Kataragama holds a temple complex dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo. It is one of the few religious sites in Sri Lanka that is venerated by the Sinhalese Buddhists, Hindu Sri Lankan Tamils, Sri Lankan Moors and the indigenous Vedda people. It is a collection of modest shrines, of which the one dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo is the most important. For most of the past millennia, it was a jungle shrine very difficult to access; today it is accessible by an all-weather road and pilgrims flock to the site. Almost all the shrines are managed by Buddhists, apart from Hindu shrines dedicated to Devasena and Shiva and the Islamic mosques. It is unusual, and heartening, to see religious shrines and people intermixed like this; and the buildings, while not great architectural masterpieces, are honest representations of the various faiths.
WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Ancient City of Sigiriya
Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
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