Not many tourists visit the very northern parts of Anuradhapura. There are indeed no major attractions to the north of the junction between Kuttam Pokuna (twin pond) and Samadhi Buddha. However, the seclusion of the sites in northern Anuradhapura contributes to their charm. And from a cultural-historical perspective they are quite special.
The first site you will reach when driving northwards from the Kuttam Pokuna, is a complex which once served as a women’s order. There are only few ruins of nuns‘ monasteries from the ancient Sinhalese civilization. Lankarama in the south of Anuradhapura’s large Abhayagiri complex could have been another one. The ruins to the north are called Ashokarama. Remarkably, a statue of a seated Buddha is still in situ, a rare sight in Sri Lanka’s ruins. At the entrance of this former image house there is one of the few large Anuradhapura moonstones.
Another hidden temple complex in ruins is the Vijayarama, further northwest. There is not much to see, but it’s alluring because the ancient site is overgrown by the jungle. The small stupa in the centre contained copper plates from the late Anuradhapura period. The inscriptions were Gathas praising the tantric goddess Tara. Tantrism is a form of Buddhism usually not practiced in Sri Lanka.
A quite arcadian site in northern Anuradhapura is a stone bridge, built of blocks up to 3 m in length. Though having the appearance of a megalithic monument, they are from the historical Anuradhapura period. Such stonebridges were safe to be passed by elephants. The stone bridge in Anuradhapura north was one of the largest in Sri Lanka, but only half of the structure has survived.
The Magul Maha Vihara, also spelt Maghul Maha Viharaya, is an ancient monastic complex situtated close to the small Lahugala-Kitulana National Park in the hinterland of Arugam Bay. Among the remnants of the Anuradhapura period, Magul Maha Vihara is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the southeast of Sri Lanka. ‘Magul’ means ‘wedding’ in Sinhala. The platform in the southwestern corner of the rectangular monastic complex is believed to be the location where the wedding of King Kavan Tissa from the southern kingdom of Rohana and Princess Viharamahadevi from Kelaniya near Colombo took place in the 2nd century BC. She will become the mother of Dutthagamani alias Dutugemunu, the most famous king of Sinhalese history. According to legend told in the Mahavamsa, Viharamaha Devi volunteered to sacrifice herself to the sea in order to appease the gods who punished her father’s kingdom by sending a tsunami. But the princess was safely carried in a golden vessel over the ocean, landing at a place near the Muhudu Maha Viharaya in Pottuvil (others say in Kirinda in the Southern Province), where the encounter between the local king and the beautiful princess took place. The marriage is said to have been celebrated in Lahugala on the platform now called Magul Maduwa or Magul Poruwa. It‘s namegiving to the entire ancient complex.
Actually, the buildings are not from the pre-Christian centuries but about one millennium younger, roughly from the late Anuradhapura period. An important stone inscription at the archaeological site dates to an even later period (14th century). The layout of the monastic complex is regular and follows a pattern called „Pabbata Vihara“, which became quite common in the Culturl triangle during the 7th and 8th century, but Magul Maha Vihara is one of the few examples of this systematically arranged monastic compounds in southern Sri Lanka.
A rectangular paraket wall in north-south direction surrounds the entire complex, which covers an extent of around 10,000 acres. The four major buildings of a monastery are arranged symmetrically in the four corners of the premises. Besides the chapter hall, which serves for the higher ceremonies of the monks, these edifices are dedicated to objects also venerated by lay persons (pilgrims and other guests of the monastery). These objects of veneration are a stupa, a Buddha statue inside a hall called image house (Pathimagara), and a platform for tree worship (Bodhigara). Most likely, the platform now called wedding terrace was the Bodhigara of the ancient monastery now called Magul Maha Vihara.
The moonstone (Sandakada Pahana) of the Magul Maha Vihara in Lahugala is of special interest for lovers of ancient Sinhala-Buddhist art. It’s the largest ancient moonstone with intricate carvings in the southern half of the the island. In fact, there are only very few carved moonstones in southern Sri Lanka. Hence, the moonstone of the Magul Maha Vihara is the best instance of this typical and classical sujet of Sri Lankan art, which is without equally elaborate paragons in India. There is one feature that can be seen nowhere else than in the Magul Maha Vihara. Elephant carvings are very common on classical Sri Lankan moonstones. But only in the Magul Maha Vihara the elephants are depicted with riders. Mahouts can usually not be seen on stone carvings from the Anuradhapura period and not on any other moonstone in the entire world.
This belongs to the mid Anuradhapura period. Being one of the more attractive features of an edifice, the moonstone underwent development on a number of occasions and evolved into an exquisite artwork of delicate carvings by the mid Anuradhapura period. From among the carvings on the moonstone the tender leaf of the Ironwood tree, lotus petal motif, lotus flowers, animal figures etc. took a prominent place. However the moonstone in Magul Maha Vihara is unique among the moonstones found from numerous places in Sri Lanka. The design of a mahout riding the elephant depicted in this moonstone is an eminent feature. It is our duty to protext national archaeological heritage for the sake of present and future generations.
The above text in italic letters is cited from the signboard of Sri Lanka's Archaeological Department,
which is placed near the moonstone of the Madul Maha Vihara in Lahugala.
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka