The grandeur of Asokaramaya | Sunday Observer

The grandeur of Asokaramaya

27 June, 2021
The Ruwanweli Seya seen through the Asokaramaya archaeological site
The Ruwanweli Seya seen through the Asokaramaya archaeological site

The word ‘Pankuliya’ evokes much excitement may be because we hear less about this location on the outskirts of Anuradhapura with its farming community. This is literally a road rarely travelled by the usual pilgrim or tourist.

On the way to Pankuliya, we passed about five kilometres from the road leading to Gal Palama (stone bridge) from Kuttampokuna in Anuradhapura, where we came across a residential area and a notice board showing a road on the right side to the Pankuliya, which is today known as Asokaramaya.

Archaeological site

About a one kilometre from this junction, a narrow motorable road ends abruptly in the middle of the paddy fields. From this point no vehicle can enter and we walked about 300 metres along the deserted footpath to the Asokaramaya archaeological site in the cool breeze from Malwatu Oya. On either side, vast golden colour paddy fields lay across the flat landscape and the dance of the peacocks added to the serenity in the morning.

The main road about 500 metres across the vast stretch of paddy fields, leads to an ancient stone bridge over Malwatu Oya, close to Asokaramaya. This bridge made of stone is a marvel of ancient engineering feat of the days gone by. Many of the pillars of stone which held up the structure still stand, some near the bank, some further away and fallen, with a few sticking up mid-stream and some of which are still visible across the Malwatu Oya.


Asokaramaya is in one acre of land in a serene setting amid a lush green canopy surrounding the village of Pankuliya. This is largely an unknown site to the average pilgrim but houses one of the finest stone Buddha statues in the country today. This statue almost equals the artistic qualities of the famous Samadhi Buddha statue at the Mahamevna Uyana and the Tholuvila Buddha statue which is now kept in the Colombo museum. This statue is also known as Pankuliya Buddha. Unfortunately, this area has been neglected and sparsely populated, rarely visited by the pilgrims although it has been conserved by the Department of Archaeology.

Although we don’t have any historical information of the site, Asokaramaya is believed to have been built by Princess Asokamala, the consort of Prince Saliya, but there is no evidence to prove it further.

Ruined Dagaba

However, archaeologists believe that the complex was most likely a nunnery according to the inscription of King Dappula V, found at the site. At present, this archaeological site is popular among historians and archaeologists because of its unique Buddha statue.The multitude of ruin structures scattered throughout the complex are remnants of the ruined Dagaba which lies beside the image house. They have been conserved on a platform at a higher elevation from the ground. There are four cardinal entrances to ascend the Dagaba with a flight of steps. At the bottom of the each flight of steps, lies a unique stone carved pair of guard stones which showed antiquity of the complex and what we can see today is only its brick foundation.

However, venturing in, soon we were surrounded by countless ruins which included stone pillars, flower altars, a ruined stone bathing pond, guard stones, remnants of two stone stand to keep Punkalas and several stone pots which were kept beside each flight of steps to ascend the platforms. The archaeologists believe that these pots might have been kept full of water to wash hands and feet of pilgrims before they ascended the elevated sacred areas.

Several uneven stone pillars and a beautiful stone carved moonstone with a pair of stone carved guard stones which are an exquisite work of art by ancient sculptors lead to the image house on the higher platform. Enjoying in the serene atmosphere that held a spell of enchantment, we made our way to the unique image house where the Asokaramaya Buddha statue has been placed on a concrete structure. The several ruined pillars near the image house probably indicate that there had been a roof over the statue in the past.

Anuradhapura period

However, the Asokaramaya Buddha statue, according to the archaeologists, may belong to the ninth or tenth century in late Anuradhapura period. It is also a unique masterpiece of the Sinhala-Buddhist sculpture. The statue is sculptured out of dolomite marble, seated in Virasana posture and displays the Abaya Mudra.


The hollowed carved eyes indicate that they were once studded with precious stone – treasure hunters have removed those long ago.

The six feet and nine inches tall Asokaramaya Buddha statue has been exposed to elements such as rain, breeze and sun for centuries. A modern roof has been erected over the statue by the Department of Archaeology in the recent past, although this somewhat affects the beauty of the statue.

But its enchanting aesthetic appeal and sense of serenity has never been lost even though it has been exposed to the mercy of the elements. Paying our homage at the Buddha statue of Asokaramaya at the image house, we went out stopping for a moment to look at the surrounding. Through the ruins and paddy fields, we glimpsed the sacred Ruwanveli Maha Seya Chaitya in the distance.

With the sun setting, we had to end our journey. I visited the Buddha statue of Asokaramaya 20 years ago for the first time, what drew me back was the profound serenity of this desolated spiritual site.