Hi guys, hope you are doing well. Today I am going to show you the best Moonstone (Sandakada Pahana) in Sri Lanka (or in the world). There are a lot of moonstones in ancient Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, especially in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (those two were the first two kingdoms of Sri Lanka). Among them, the best currently identified moonstone is situated in ‘Biso Maligaya’ in ruined Abhayagiri Monastery premises.
What is Moonstone?
First of all, do not confuse this with the ‘moonstone gem’. The word ‘moonstone’ is a roughly translated word from the Sinhalese word ‘Sandakada Pahana’. ‘Sanda’ means ‘moon’ and ‘kada’ means ‘a portion’ (a half in this scenario) and ‘pahana’ means ‘made of stone’. Hence, the word ‘Sandakada Pahana’ is translated to English as ‘Moonstone’.
Even though the moonstones are built very beautifully, smoothly and precisely, the sole purpose of them is to wipe the feet of people when entering Buddhist temples (placed at the bottom of the staircase). They were not there in very early Buddhist temples. It came to use in later stages. Then, in renovations and restorations, moonstones were placed in early Buddhist temples also. As an example Thuparamaya can be highlighted.
The very first type of moonstone is just a plain semi circular stone slab. Over the time it has developed and the one in Abhayagiri Vihara premises is the finest of them.
You can see in the above image that the moonstone is covered by a metal fence so no one can step on it.
A moonstone is very elaborative. There are several bands (varies from place to place) of it and they contain many details. Here in this particular moonstone, the first band is a half of a lotus. Next, you find a smaller intricate foliage design called ‘liyavel’ in Sinhalese. The next band is a line of swans, followed by a bigger intricate foliage design. In the next one you will find four types of animals, elephants, lions, horses, and bulls. The final band is a carving of flames.
There are several opinions about the meaning of each band and I’m not going in there. This arrangement can differ a little from one moonstone to another. But the basic anatomy is this. With the passage of time also, some changes have occurred in moonstones. As an example, the bull is removed from it in Polonnaruwa Kingdom era due to influences of Hindu religion.
The reason for that is a pretty interesting story. In Polonnaruwa era lots of kings married Hindu princesses from India. The bull is a sacred animal in Hindu religion. So when the kings take their queens to Buddhist temples, they were unhappy to enter into them because they had to step on the bull. Therefore the bull is gradually removed from the moonstone.
Other than the moonstone, there are some amazing stone carvings on the staircase. Let’s have a close look into them.
Those carvings are literally perfect. It is almost unimaginable how a that much small image can be carved into a stone with that much smoothness, neatness and precision containing that much details.
There are remains of several buildings around ‘Biso Maligaya’ where the moonstone situated.
How to Reach…?
If you ever visit Abhayagiri Stupa, you must visit this place also. There are only about 500m from Abhayagiri Stupa to this place. And there are many more archeological remains around. I will give you the exact location also.
So that is about the best moonstone in Sri Lanka. If you have anything to get clarified, feel free to leave a comment below. See you in the next article.