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Ancient Royal Palaces in Sri Lanka

Ancient Royal Palaces in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, there are Ruins of Ancient Royal Palaces (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ පුරාණ රාජකීය මාළිගා) in major and regional cities where kings and regional rulers lived (The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007). These ruins mainly belong to four periods of Sri Lankan history, namely; Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya and Kandy. Palaces in the Citadel of Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, and Tissamaharama belong to the Anuradhapura Period while the Vijayabahu Palace at Anuradhapura, the Parakramabahu and Nissankamalla palaces at Polonnaruwa and the palaces at Galabedda and Panduwasnuwara belong to the Polonnaruwa Period (The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007). There are also palace remains in Yapahuwa and Dambadeniya belonging to the Dambadeniya Period and in Kandy, Meda Mahanuwara and Hanguranketha belonging to the Kandyan Period (The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007).

Although the tradition says that the royal palaces in Sri Lanka can be dated back to the Protohistoric Period, there is no reliable evidence to prove it. It is believed that Vijaya, the first traditional ruler of Sri Lanka, constructed the first royal building in the country in the 6th century B.C. (Amarasinghe, 1996). According to the chronicle Mahavamsa, the first royal buildings were constructed during the reign of King Pandukabhaya in the 4th century B.C. but this is also considered a legend as there is no conclusive evidence or other primary sources (Amarasinghe, 1996). The first fairly reliable literary information regarding a royal place in Sri Lanka is the Mahavamsa reference to the palace of King Devanampiyatissa (247-207 B.C.) built in the 3rd century B.C. (Amarasinghe, 1996).

Palaces of Anuradhapura Period (377 B.C.-1017 A.D.)
Ruined palace buildings belonging to the Anuradhapura Period have been identified at only a few places in the country such as Sigiriya, Citadel of Anuradhapura and Tissamaharama (The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007). However, Kaduruvela-Vijithapura, Paranagampitiya-Badalattali, Padaviya, Vahalkada, and Alahera are considered some urban sites probably containing the remains of ancient palace buildings (Bandaranayake, 1990).

The 5th-century palace remains on the summit of the Sigiriya rock are the earliest surviving palace in Sri Lanka and one of the earliest and most well-preserved ancient palaces in Asia (Bandaranayake, 1990). The ruins of the palace in the Citadel of Anuradhapura are presently known as Dalada-ge (the Temple of the Tooth Relic). Bandaranayake believes that it was a secular/palace building of the Anuradhapura kings during the very last phase of the Anuradhapura Period (Bandaranayake, 1990).

Palaces of Polonnaruwa Period (1017-1232 A.D.)
The ruins of the royal palaces of the Polonnaruwa Period are found at Panduwasnuwara (Palace of Parakramabahu), Anuradhapura (Palace of Vijayabahu), Polonnaruwa (palaces of Parakramabahu and Nissankamalla) and Galabedda [(Palace of Sugala) Prematileke, 1990]. Of them, the Anuradhapura palace was built by King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) to celebrate his royal consecration.

The Polonnaruwa palace of Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) which is known as Vijayotpaya was construction as magnificent as Sigiriya (Amarasinghe, 1996). According to the chronicle Culavamsa, it was a seven-storied edifice furnished with one thousand chambers. The remains of two small summer palaces probably belonging to the Vijayotpaya can be seen in the middle of the Parakrama Samudra reservoir (Amarasinghe, 1996).

Palaces of Dambadeniya Period (1232-1341 A.D.)
The ruined buildings at Dambadeniya and Yapahuwa have been identified as palaces of the Dambadeniya Period with the help of related ruins and legends associated with the sites (Amarasinghe, 1996).

Palaces of Kandyan Period (1597-1815 A.D.)
The palaces at Kandy, Meda Mahanuwara and Hanguranketha belong to the Kandyan Period. Of them, the palace at Hanguranketha was built by King Rajasinha II (1635-1687 A.D.) after having fled the capital city of Kandy in the face of a court rebellion (Amarasinghe, 1996).

Palace buildings
Considerations were given to several factors by kings when building their palaces. Personal security, aesthetic effect and other individual needs and requirements were some main factors considered by them (Amarasinghe, 1996). It is apparent that some architectural theories in Kautilya's Arthasastra were utilized in the design and construction of royal palaces (Amarasinghe, 1996).

A significant feature in the design and layout of royal palaces in Sri Lanka is their incorporation within urban centres or cities (Amarasinghe, 1996). The palaces were mostly storeyed buildings and they had been given the central position of the city. A clear demarcation was there between an inner and outer city. Some kings fortified their palaces like castles or fortresses and some built them insecure natural locations such as Giri durga, Vana durga and Panka durga (Amarasinghe, 1996).

Usually, a royal palace building consists of several distinct parts or sections. The main building constructed for the sole usage of the king is referred to as the king's palace or pavilion (Amarasinghe, 1996). The spaces associated with the private life of the king, such as bed chambers, halls, lavatories, bathrooms and pleasure pavilions were included in this part (Amarasinghe, 1996). Other buildings such as storerooms, bedrooms, halls, lavatories, fireplaces, pavilions and ponds were constructed around the central palace for the usage of the royal palace. The edifice called the Temple of the Tooth, the shrine reserved for the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha was usually built close to the royal palace building as it was considered the ultimate symbol of the king's status and majesty (Amarasinghe, 1996).

Although there were a large number of kings throughout Sri Lankan history, only a few palace buildings remain today (Amarasinghe, 1996). It is due to the reason that the palaces were most probably built of perishable materials such as wood or destroyed by enemies during the battles and conflicts (Amarasinghe, 1996).

1) Amarasinghe, M., 1996. Ancient Royal Palaces in Sri Lanka. A dissertation submitted to the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka for the Master of Philosophy Examination. pp.iii-x.
2) Bandaranayake, S., 1990. The architecture of the Anuradhapura period 543 B.C.-800 A.D. Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief). Archaeological Department centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series: Volume III: Architecture. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). p.14.
3) Prematileke, L., 1990. The architecture of the Polonnaruwa period 800-1200 A.D. Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief). Archaeological Department centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series: Volume III: Architecture. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). p.41.
4) The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007. 2nd ed. Survey Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-9059-04-1. p.105.

This page was last updated on 12 January 2023

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