Splendor of Ranmasu Uyana | Sunday Observer

Splendor of Ranmasu Uyana

10 May, 2021

Walking along the bund of the Tissa Wewa in Anuradhapura, three of the eight historical icon-Ruwanweli Seya, Jethawanaramaya and Abayagiriya - come into view beyond the horizon.

Many are the sites that hold pride of place in the ancient city. The length and breadth of the land harbor remnants of the past, some that still remain hidden.

If you happen to tear your gaze away from the views across Tissa Wewa, you may discover another lying just below the bund of the tank-a lesser known glimpse into lives of Royals who trod the earth centuries ago. From Vessagiriya we proceed further North along the Kurunegala road until we come to the rocky site of Isurumuniya Vihara. Just behind the Isurumuni Vihara is the Ranmasu Uyana, the Royal Park and above it is the Tissa Wewa built in the third century BC. Let us proceed to the Royal Park by climbing on to the bund of the Tissa Wewa and go a short distance North. Parks were a definite feature of city planning in ancient Sri Lanka.

Thus, we have the names of several royal parks in the ancient capital of Anuradhapura before the dawn of the Christian year. The Mahamega Park was founded by King Mutasiva in the third century BC. So were the Nandana Park and Jotivana. All these were however, donated by King Devanampiyatissa to the community of bhikkhus.

These parks were located within the boundaries of the Mahavihara. Therefore, the need to find an alternative place for a royal park was felt to be an urgent matter and the place was found just outside the boundary of the great monastery and to the South of it. The Vessagiriya inscription of Mahinda IV in the tenth century gives the name of this park as Ranmasu Uyana meaning the Gold-fish-park.

Today, the area covered by this park is about forty acres and the park itself is a fine example of garden architecture in ancient Sri Lanka. This park previously covered by the jungle was discovered by H.C.P. Bell in the year 1901 and conservation work commenced in 1940.

King Vasabha of the second century who carried out a program to beautify the capital city of Anuradhapura by creating artificial ponds with swans in them. Unfortunately we have no records in history as to who created this great royal park which is named the Gold-Fish-Park. As said above, this is the name found in the Vessagiriya inscription of Mahinda IV. It is mentioned therein that the water of the Tissa Wewa that is let out through the royal sluice must first be allowed to go into the Ranmasu Uyana, the royal park.

While it is believed that the leisure park was built as far back as third century BC by King Devanampiyatissa, the site draws significance as a setting for an age-old romance that changed the course of history. The story unfolds that Prince Saliya, son of King Dutugemunu fell in love with Asokamala, a girl far beneath his standing, who wandered unwittingly on to the leisure park.

The Prince disregarding his royal duties went on to marry Asokamala, thus jeopardising his right to the throne. If this is true, then we can safely say that the gold-fish park was founded in the third century BC immediately after King Devanampiyatissa donated the royal parks to the community of Maha Sangha. But the legend of Dutugemunu began to echoes in the second century BC suppressing every other story. The rocks scattered all over the area were used by architects in designing the rock-garden. Two boulders lying in close proximity have been bridged with stone slabs and a building constructed on them.

On either side of these boulders are three bathing ponds. On the bed rock above is a bas-relief of elephants sporting in a lotus pond. They are beautifully sculptured. Small steps cut on the boulders on the Southern side of this bathing pond lead to a trough scooped out the boulders. The holes round the trough indicate that wooden pillars were set up in them. This trough may have been the place where the gold fish were located.

Bathing pond

The bathing pond at the southern end of the boulders comprised two parts forming one unit. Beyond the pond on the side of the boulder is a chamber. This may be a dressing room. The baths are square in plan, each measuring 20 ft. at ground level with a projection on the south for the flight of steps leading into it.

Three openings in the stone roof above the chambers are for water to flow and fall over the doorway and fill the pond. Since the water covers the chambers from view, some surmise that this pond was solely for women. The channel system which fed these baths and emptied the water in it shows the skill of the ancient irrigation engineers. The park also has smaller ponds. In ancient time, these may have been filled with flowers, fishes and aquatic birds. The channel system starting from Tissa Wewa led water to all the ponds and baths of the royal park. The open channels flow around the natural and architectural contours exhibiting the skills of ancient irrigational engineers. The channel which brought water to the cistern to feed the baths, runs westwards to a distance of 30 feet, then turns northwards, parallel to the Tissa Wewa embankment.

This embankment of the Tissa Wewa formed the western boundary of the park. Another significant attraction at the Ranmasu Uyana is the ‘stargate’. Farther away at the base of a rock is a circular carving of curious symbols. While its unusual presence at this site has ignited fascinating beliefs that go as far as drawing extra-terrestrial links, little is known with certainty. Some conjecture that it is a map of the world with the sea and its creatures surrounding the Earth. At the foot of the ‘stargate’ are three stone surfaces embedded in the ground that may have served as seats for meditation. Much of this site remains a mystery to date.