Bricks must have fallen from the sky in an endless stream to make this dagoba. I couldn’t believe that humans built it.
90 million bricks, a structure almost as large as the Pyramids of Giza, yet nobody has ever heard of it. This was Jetavanaramaya, just one of Anuradhapura’s monolithic dagobas. By sheer size alone, it’s one of the most impressive sites I’ve ever seen.
When the British saw it, the Governor noted that it contained enough bricks to build a three-metre high wall between London and Edinburgh. A sad reminder of the splendid kingdom that once existed here, the people who made it would end up as slaves in British-run tea plantations.
Anuradhapura had been the capital of Sri Lanka’s first kingdom. Today, it’s a dirty provincial town with a sprawling archaeological complex, reminiscent of Ayutthaya and Angkor Wat. Scattered around its grounds are giant dagobas and ruined palaces, sacred bathing pools and ancient moonstones.
Home to religious relics like the world’s oldest living human-planted tree, Anuradhapura attracts scores of Buddhist pilgrims. Everywhere I went I saw old women in white, raucous schoolkids offering prayers under the hostile sun.
Anuradhapura’s heat was unbearable and it claimed a victim — Jason returned to the hostel due to a severe chafing accident. My camera’s thermometer read 39 degrees, and I was tempted to leave, but the desire to explore was too great. Hidden amongst the jungle were massive pools, ruined shrines worn smooth by a millennium.
Later in the day I returned to Jetavanaramaya to circumnavigate this sacred site. Buddhist custom asks that you remove your footwear at religious sites. Guiltily I’d decided to keep my jandals on, not wishing to burn my feet on the scorching bricks.
I was therefore embarrassed when three monks approached, singing prayers and walking serenely in bare feet. They asked me where I was from, just a nosy New Zealand tourist disrespecting their religious customs. Our conversation was interrupted though as a troop of monkeys sprinted past. Ignoring the “no climbing” signs, they raced up the dagoba, screeching and hollering as they went.
Buddhism’s temple had become the monkey’s playground, and we watched as one brazen male pissed down the dagoba’s side, the moisture evaporating as it hit the bricks. I suppressed a chuckle as the monks muttered to themselves in Sinhalese. There’s always that one family member who can’t control themself.