Possessing a history that goes back to the 3rd century AC, the towering Jetavanaramaya, is considered to be the largest stupa in Sri Lanka and the world. Believed to enshrine a relic of the Lord Buddha, the unique clay brick structure is one of the more sacred Buddhist monasteries in the world, as it is believed to be a place where the Lord Buddha himself visited during his 3 visits to Sri Lanka. Once completely covered in foliage and hardly discernible, the Jetavanaramaya stupa has undergone a major restoration process undertaken by the Government of Sri Lanka, bringing out its ancient grandeur where many a history buff can walk about and understand the ancient tales pouring out of its walls.

Best Known For

  • The Jetavanaramaya is without doubt famed for being a major monument to Sri Lanka and a sacred site to the Buddhist World, as its walls talk of the enlightened teachings of Lord Buddha and the turbulent times of the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka, caused by the many invasions by the South Indian Chola Empire, threatening the very existence of this peaceful religion. Therefore, making it ideal for the traveller, yearning to understand Sri Lanka’s unique culture and heritage.
  • Moreover, the entire complex is one of serene natural bliss. Surrounded by lush green foliage and trees, the historical Jetavanaramaya is perfect for the weary traveler, to just take a break from a hectic schedule of travel, as the complex’s natural vibes make it perfect for meditation and relaxation.

Interesting Facts

  • The Jetavanaramaya Stupa has history that goes all the way back to the 3rd century AC, during the reign of King Mahasena and has quite an intriguing backstory.
  • The structure’s origins starts from the time of King Mahasena, who was a follower of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition (1 of the 2 major branches of Buddhism), when he attempted to make the country neglect the Theravada tradition with the help of a Mahayana Buddhist monk, Sanghamitta.
  • Previously, Theravada Buddhism was the main tradition practiced by majority of the populace, while a considerable minority practiced the Mahayana tradition.
  • King Mahasena, brainwashed by Sanghamitta, undermined the Theravada majority by making many followers divert attention away from the ‘Mahaviharaya’ (the main temple for Theravada Buddhism in Anuradhapura).
  • This resulted in the migration of many Theravada monks towards the Kingdom of Ruhuna in the South, thus allowing the Mahaviharaya to be exposed to destruction at the hands of the king.
  • The destruction of the Mahaviharaya resulted in the building of the Jetawanaramaya Stupa, by using the salvaged material of the previous temple, which was fully gearing it towards the propagation of Mahayana Buddhism in the country.
  • Although successful in the initial stages, the populace eventually rebelled against such tyranny, thus the reason, as to why the king eventually succumbed to the pressure and rebuilt the Mahaviharaya, paving the way for the peaceful coexistence of the 2 traditions.
  • However, its history does not stop there, as the stupa was subject to tyranny from the Indian Chola Empire, as a result, it was extensively destroyed and looted in the 11th century AC.
  • However, the stupa was restored during the Polonnaruwa period, during the reign of King Parakramabahu in the 12th century AC, albeit not to its original grandeur.
  • After the fall of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, the stupa was neglected completely and almost forgotten, allowing nature to take over the structure, making it unrecognisable.
  • However, more recently, the government of the country has painstakingly restored the structure and still proves to be one of the more colossal ancient structures of the country and the world.
  • Today, the colossal stupa towers at a height of 71 metres and possesses a base area of 233,000 square metres, making it the tallest stupa in the world, rivalling even the likes of the ancient Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
  • What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that the monument is believed to have been built by using more than 90 million baked bricks, enough to make a 3 metre high wall from London to Edinburgh.
  • Moreover, the structure is also considered to be one of the Atamasthana (a series of locations in Sri Lanka where the Buddha had visited during his three visits to the country) and contains a part of sash or belt tied by the Buddha, making many a Buddhist pilgrim flock to the stupa and pay homage to the relic.
  • Due to its rustic surroundings, the Jetavanaramaya is a great place for meditation and for just finding that spiritual side too.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The ancient stupa is open daily for visitation, therefore it is easily accessible to many a traveller.
  • If you are willing to brave through some crowds, then the weekends are the best time to visit the stupa, as many of pilgrims garbed in white clothing come to the sacred site and perform rituals. Therefore, making the experience all the more better.
  • Do keep in mind that it is an important place of worship and revered throughout the Buddhist World, therefore it is imperative that you dress accordingly and give adequate space for the many pilgrims and devotees who perform rituals.
  • Conduct oneself with due respect as this is a sacred and historical site.
  • Although located in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka, there is no entrance fee, making it possible for all to easily access and experience the ancient grandeur of the stupa.
  • Please adhere to the rules and regulations set forth by the authorities and do not pollute the surroundings of the monument.
  • Do bring your camera along, but be considerate about the pilgrims and devotees who come and perform their rituals.

In conclusion, when in the Cultural Triangle and looking for the more unique attractions in Anuradhapura, the Jetavanaramaya should be high on that list, as it is a treasure trove of Sri Lankan and Buddhist history, along with being a place of serenity and peace.

Title image by: Tourism Board

Location info



April - September

Guided Tour


Culture and Heritage

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