Anuradhapura (the "h" is not pronounced) was the ancient capital of Sri Lanka for well over a thousand years, from the reign of Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 BC)1 until it was sacked by Chola (the "h" is pronounced) invaders from Southern India in 993 AD, at which time the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa. As usual in Sri Lanka, the political and the religious were thoroughly entwined; Anuradhapura was a religious as well as a political capital. Here was planted a branch of the sacred Bo tree from India, and royal patronage erected the monasteries and stupas whose remains still flourish today.
Of the monasteries shown here, Mahavihara is by far the earliest (c. 246 BC); it was founded by King Devanampiya Tissa. Orthodox and Theravadin in doctrine, Mahavihara attracted the patronage of the Early Anuradhapura kings. It reigned supreme for the next century and a half, until challenged by Abhayagiri, a heterodox (Mahayana) upstart that was founded about 89 BC. Their rivalry continued for over three hundred years, until King Mahasena (274-301 AD) tried to compromise their differences by establishing Jetavana (Jetavarama) Vihara in Jotivana Park. This accomplished nothing but to add one more rival to the mix; all three monasteries competed, with ever-changing outcomes, for religious and political favor thereafter.
Anuradhapura is a very extensive site, measuring approximately 4000 km (2.5 mi) east-west by 8000 km (5 mi) north-south. The archaeological site is bounded on the east by the Malwatu River, across from which lies the modern town, and on the west by several gargantuan, man-made, reservoirs that provided endless supplies of life-giving water to the ancient city. From all its riches, we select only a few images, in the following pages, to illustrate the archaeological and religious heritage of the area, and the hydraulic technology that enabled it to thrive.