Moonstones at Abhayagiri Panchavasa

Sandakada Pahana I
The two most exquisitely carved Sandakada Pahana (moonstones) in Sri Lanka is found in two monastic residential complexes (Panchavasa) located adjacent to each other in the premises of Abhayagiriya Monastery Complex in Anuradhapura District. 

Sandakada Pahana is an elaborately carved semi-circular stone slab, usually placed at the bottom of staircases and entrances. It is considered a unique feature of the Sinhalese architecture of ancient Sri Lanka.

Sandakada Pahana I
Mahasen's Palace
The first Sandakada Pahana (moonstone) is found at the foot of the steps leading to the centre building of the monastic residential complex which is commonly identified by many as the Mahasen's Palace or Mahasen Maligawa (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004). Although it is called a palace, archaeologists have identified this as a monastic residential complex (a Panchavasa) which is also known as Pirivena, Prasada or Arama. It consists of a principal residential unit with four small associated residential units at the four corners, water closets and urinals. The Sandakada Pahana at this complex has been dated by scholars to the period between 7-8 centuries A.D.

Sandakada Pahana II
Sandakada Pahana II
The second Sandakada Pahana is also found at the foot of the steps leading to the main building of the monastic residential complex which is incorrectly identified as the Queen's Palace or Biso Maligawa (Wikramagamage, 2004). According to the view of Prof. Senarath Paranavitana, this is the most exquisite artistic creation of a moonstone found in the country.

Scholars have given many interpretations to the carvings appearing on the moonstones (Wikramagamage, 2004). As explained by Prof. Senarath Paranavitana, the most outer ring of the moonstone that containing a stripe of Palapethi represents the world in the flames of desire (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004). The next stripe containing the figures of four animals; elephant, lion, bull, and horse, symbolizes the four states of life; birth, ageing, illness and death (Jayasuriya, 2016). The thick creeper in the next ring represents craving and the line of swans in the next inner ring symbolizes purification or differentiating the good and evil (Wikramagamage, 2004). After that is another stripe showing a small and less-thick creeper which indicates the diminishing of craving. The half lotus in the most inner part of the stone represents Nirvana or the supreme bliss. However, this interpretation by Paranavitana has been rejected by certain other scholars (Wikramagamage, 2004).

Queen's Palace Queen's Palace .
1) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. p.26.
2) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.104-105.

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This page was last updated on 25 April 2022
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