Ancient grandeur of Panduwasnuwara | Sunday Observer

Ancient grandeur of Panduwasnuwara

25 June, 2023

Panduwasnuwara is near the Hettipola Town in the Hettipola Divisional Secretariat division of the North Western Province. A person travelling from Kurunegala can reach this historical site by turning left at the Wariyapola town on the road from Kurunegala to Anuradhapura and travelling 17 km on the Wariyapola -Chilaw main road.

It is believed that the first legend in the history of the Panduwasnuwara kingdom is related to king Panduvasudeva who was a nephew of prince Vijaya, who became the first recorded king in Sri Lanka, according to the Mahawansa chronicle.

But the most convincing reference to the Panduwasnuwara kingdom is related to the Panda Wewa and a nearby temple.

Historical records

Historical records indicate that the first king of Polonnaruwa, Vijayabahu the Great, (1055-1110 A.D) renovated Pandaawiya or the Panda Wewa .But the golden era of Panduwasnuwara  and the nearby Panda Wewa dawns a short period of time after King Vijayabhahu.

After the death of king Manabharana, who ruled Mayarata, his son Parakramabahu became the ruler of Mayarata in Dakkhinadesha and with the objective of spreading his power throughout the island, he was determined to wage war on King Vijayabahu ,who ruled the country from Polonnaruwa.

Before embarking on such a crucial course of action, with the idea that as much paddy as possible must be amassed, King Parakramabahu, having developed irrigation systems in his territory, led his subjects towards economic prosperity which was a prerequisite for a military victory.

First man-made reservoir

Under his economic development drive, one of his main concerns was to renovate and develop the Panda Wewa or Pandu Wewa, which is presumably thought of as the first man-made reservoir in the world. The Mahawansa records that the Panda Wewa, which was once very small, was made big and a pagoda and a three-storeyed palace were built on the island of the large tank which also came to be known as ‘parakum sea’.

The Panda Wewa had extended up to the present Panduwasnuwara city and the current building complex identified as the palace complex may have been in the island in the extended Panda Wewa which is no more. Viewed in that light, the Mahawansa reference lights up the claim that King Parakramabahu’s ruling centre was in Panduwasnuwara also known then as Parakkramapura of Dakkhinadesha.

It is also stated that the King not only made the previously small Pandu Wewa gigantic but also named it  Parakum Sea. Later, he became the  king of the whole country and named the tank that he built by joining small tanks in his Polonnaruwa capital Parakrama Samudraya in remembrance of what he did during his reign as a local ruler with his capital in Panduwasnuwara.

Most of the ruins found today in the ancient city of Panduwasnuwara belong to the reign of King Parakramabahu (1153- 1186) who had established his temporary capital in this city in the 12th century.

Whenever King Parakramabahu had to retreat in his battle against king Vijayabhahu in Polonnaruwa, his army reorganised in Panduwasnuwara or Parakramapura where a retreating army could take refuge with the perfect protection given by the strong brick wall and the moat built around  the palace complex in particular. 

The Mahawansa doesn’t record anything about what happened to the Panduwasnuwara kingdom after Parakramabahu became the king of the whole country and established his kingdom in Polonnaruwa. However, King Kirthi Sri Nishshankamalla (1187- 1196 AD), who succeeded King Parakramabahu, had a close connection with Panduwasnuwara.

King Nishshankamalla

The fact that King Nishshankamalla during his journeys around the country came to Panduwasnuwara and having seated on the stone seat inscription watched dances and enjoyed music has been inscribed on the stone seat itself, which is well-preserved to date in the palace complex. As no historical chronicles record anything about Panduwasnuwara after this period, it can presumably be thought that the city was abandoned after the Polonnaru era and went into hiding in a vast, densely- wooded expanse of land.

The palace complex in the wooded ground has been enclosed by a strong wall surrounded by a moat and the palace is 168 feet wide and 268 feet long. By finding a staircase in the palace that gives access to an upper floor, archaeology confirms that this palace was a multi-storeyed building. The upper floors may have been made of wood. The fact that the plan of this palace is similar to the plans of other palaces belonging to the Polonnaruwa period is suggestive of the idea that this palace was also built in the 12th century.

Prof. Senarath Paranawithana says that this floor plan is the same as the floor plan of the palace in the middle of the inner city of Polonnaruwa. The remaining palaces of the 12th century that are similar in basic plan to the Panduwasnuwara palace are the Anuradhapura Inner City Palace built by King Vijayabhahu for his coronation and the Cold Palace on an island in the Parakrama Samudraya in Polonnaruwa .

Within the palace complex is another building known today as Biso Maligaya (Queen’s Palace) and foundations of three other buildings have been preserved. The protective wall, the inner moat, the slab inscription by King Nishshankamalla, a pond and an ancient well also remain. Close to the palace are three small building constructions on the North, East and South sides. The courtyard facing the front of the central house was much more spacious than the courtyards on the other sides.

King Kali Mahadatika Mahanaga

 Among the pagodas belonging to the pre-Parakrama period, the oldest recorded pagoda of Panduwasnuwara is the Panda Wewa Vehera (stupa) dating back to the reign of King Kali Mahadatika Mahanaga ( 9-21 A.D ). It is still uncertain where this pagoda is because including the current Rajamaha Vihara complex, there are seven temple complexes with stupas built in different locations within the Archaeological site. Three of them have been constructed on high square platforms made of bricks whereas the others are on circular platforms now filled with sand.

In the temple complex 4 is a small stupa West to the main stupa. This was built with gradually shrinking circles of bricks starting from the ground level to the top creating step wise circles. In almost all the temple complexes we can see Bodhigara, Pohoya Geya, entrances to the stupas made either with bricks or with granite, stone pillars, abode rooms of monks and also Buddha statue houses .

The rectangular building with a stone platform and 32 stone pillars on it near the Panduwasnuwara Rajamaha Vihara is regarded by villagers as Dalada Maligawa. This building is 50 feet in length and 30 feet wide. Later, a roof was added to the building by the Department of Archaeology. However, there is no evidence that Panduwasnuwara ever housed the sacred Tooth Relic even though it was called Dalada Maligawa. Between the Dalada Maligawa and the present bhikkhus’ residence are the remnants of a building with 16 stone pillars. Perhaps, it might have been a Pohoya Geya.

On the sandy courtyard of the Rajamaha Vihara is a Tampita temple (A Buddha image house on stone pillars) belonging to the Kandyan period. Attached to the Tampita temple, in front of it is an open building with a roof supported by stone pillars. Near the steps leading to the Bodhimalu and the temple grounds, there are several stone pillar inscriptions dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries. They make it clear to us that even before king Parakramabahu established this local kingdom of  Panduwasnuwara, it was famous and had connections with the Anuradhapura kingdom.  

Unique structure

Chakrawala Kottaya found behind the Panduwasnuwara Rajamaha Vihara is a unique structure not found anywhere in the country. Popularly known as Bisokotuwa, this construction is believed to be the Ectam Geya which is associated with the legendary love story of Dighagamini and Unmada chitra, who was the daughter of king Panduvasudeva.

The remains of a circular construction can be seen in the middle of a large circular ground surrounded by an earth embankment constructed in the style of a tank embankment forming a circular bund rising above the ground. The inner face of this bund is covered with bricks. This is a construction reminiscent of a circular outdoor theatre.

The ancient kingdom of Panduwasnuwara, which is full of historical ruins belonging to three eras: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy, is worth visiting several times in that it has so many wonderful monuments and extraordinary Buddhist masterpieces of unique significance to please the visitors’ eyes.