Isurumuniya Temple – Anuradhapura Kingdom I

Isurumuniya Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Anuradhapura (the first Kingdom of Sri Lanka). Isurumuniya temple is world famous for its incredible stone carvings, such as ‘Isurumuniya Lovers’, the ‘Man and the Horse Head’ and the ‘Elephant Pond’.

Isurumuniya Temple

History of Isurumuniya Temple

According to history, Isurumuniya Temple has been built by King Devanam Piyatissa (the same king mentioned in this article) in between 250 – 210 BC. It is said that, this temple is built for the 500 monks who entered to Buddhism, following Arahath Mahinda Thero. The tank nearby, ‘Tissa Wewa’ is also built by King Devanam Piyatissa. After that, several kings have made additions to this temple and King Maha Kashyapa has renovated and developed this place very much.

With the passage of time, due to shifting the kingdoms, Anuradhapura area became abandoned. A lot of temples (including Isurumuniya Temple) and palaces got covered with forest. It is said that this place was re-discovered in the middle part of the 19th century. Today it has become a major attraction among both local and foreign travellers.

The Elephant Pond

Elephant Pond at Isurumuniya Temple

The first thing you will come across once you enter into Isurumuniya Temple is the Elephant Pond. It is made of stones. The most amazing thing about the pond is the carvings of elephants on the rock.

Elephant carving at Isurumuniya Temple

It looks like that this elephant is playing with the water in the pond. There are more elephants carved in the very rock.

Elephant Carving at Isurumuniya Temple

You can see a set elephants in the right hand side corner.

Stone Stairs and the Guard Stones

The shrine room is situated connected to a cave in the rock. To enter into the shrine room, you have to climb the stone stairs. On the sides of stairs there are ‘Guard Stones’ (made of stones, obviously).

Stone Staircase and Guard Stones

A Guard Stone at Isurumuniya Temple

You will find this kind of Guard Stones in almost all the ancient temples in Anuradhapura.

The Man and the Horse Head

The Man and the Horse Head

This is undoubtedly a masterpiece. See how detailed this is carved. This is carved on the same large rock, as the elephant carving, to a side of the shrine room. You can observe it closely at the top of stone stairs.

The shrine room must have been damaged over the time. So it has refurbished. There is a museum of archeological ruins in the temple premises. You will find a lot more other amazing carvings inside that.

Dwarf Carving at Isurumuniya Temple

Stone Seat

Stone Sculpture of Lion

Isurumuni Lovers

Isurumuni Lovers

This is a world famous carving of Isurumuniya Temple. It is also a highly detailed carving with facial expressions. This can be called as the center of attraction here.

There are several opinions about the man and the woman here. Mostly accepted idea is, these are ‘Saliya and Ashokamala’. To answer your question, Saliya is the grandson of King Devanam Piyatissa (above mentioned) and Ashokamala is Saliya’s wife. They are a symbol of love in the history. Saliya had even given up the crown for Ashokamala. Some say these two are a couple of Dwarfs.

Carving of Isurumuni Lovers considered to be originally placed in the nearby ‘Ranmasu Uyana’ (former royal park). Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit Ranmasu Uyana due to time limitation.

King’s Family Carving

King's family carving

This is another incredible stone carving you will find here. This is considered to be the moment when King Dutugemunu (son of Devanam Piyatissa) went to see his son Saliya, and his wife Ashokamala, to take them back to the palace, after Saliya left the palace. King Dutugemunu is a great king is Sri Lankan history. I will be talking about him in future articles.

I have shown only few of the archeological ruins here. There are a lot more at the museum. Now I will take you to the top of the rock, where the Stupa is situated.

Isurumuniya Stupa

There is a small stupa on the rock and it is re-constructed. The original stupa might not have been left when the place is re-discovered.

Stone Stairs to Stupa

This is the highest point of the rock. Something special seems to be placed here. It is damaged, but it seems like a carved footprint of Lord Buddha.

Elephant Pond at Isurumuniya Temple
This is how Elephant Pond is visible from the top.

Jethawanarama Stupa is also visible from here.

View of Jethawanaramaya Stupa from Isurumuniya

When coming back around the rock, you will see a ‘Bodhiya’ (Bo tree) covered with a stone platform.

Isurumuniya Bodhiya

Stone Punkalasa at Isurumuniya
Closeup of a Stone Punkalasa (Pukalasa is a round shaped container that symbolizes the prosperity.)

Click below to see the complete set of (larger) images of Isurumuniya Temple.

Image Gallery Banner

Seeing these stone carvings, it is hard to imagine how much skillful those people are. Almost all the things of the original construction here, is made of stones. As a Sri Lankan I felt really proud while seeing these things. Be noted that none of these carvings are done in the recent past, all of them belongs to Anuradhapura Kingdom era.

If you are hoping to visit the place ever, there are few instructions you need to follow. You are not allowed to enter into the temple with short garments (for both gents and ladies). You have to wear something long or take a cloth with you to wrap around you when you enter. Further, caps and hats are not allowed inside the temple. And obviously foot wares are not allowed inside, you know that. Actually, these things common in almost all the Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. I think there is nothing unfair with those rules, since these are very sacred places.

How to Reach…?

Check the map below for the exact location of Isurumuniya Temple.

If you visit the place, make sure to visit ‘Ranmasu Uyana’ also. And don’t forget to go to the ‘Tissa Wewa’.

Tissa Wewa
Tissa Wewa (The Stupa behind is Ruwanweli Maha Seya.)

So that’s about Isurumuniya Temple. Hope to bring a lot of ancient Buddhist temples in Anuradhapura to you in upcoming articles. If you have any doubt or if you need more information, feel free to leave a comment below. See you in the next article.

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