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Nissanka Latha Mandapaya

In the legendary city of Polonnaruwa stands the Nissanka Latha Mandapaya, a pillared stone structure steeped in historical significance. Dating back to royal reign around the early 1100s, the structure is one of many monuments that can still be seen today, as a timeless testament to ancient regal reign engraved into Sri Lankan history. Here, the ‘Mandapaya’ is a mark of King Nissanka Latha Mandapaya’s time on the island and is located at the Western end of the ‘Dalada Maluva’, an area in Polonnaruwa that contains the oldest and most sacred monuments of all.

Best Known For

  • Built by King Nissanka Malla and named after him, the monument once served as a recitation house for Buddhist chanting (pirith).
  • The ‘Mandapaya’ is open on all four sides and acts as a shield for its visitors from the sun.
  • An elevated stone platform lined with eight granite columns and enclosed by a stone wall. What sets it apart from like structures scattered across the country is its unique column carvings - the crown is carved into the shape of a blooming lotus bud while the rest of the column is carved to depict the lotus’s stem. An added distinctive feature - the towering columns are curved in 3 places and are said to perfectly embody ancient Sri Lankan architecture.

Interesting Facts

  • The site is believed by some to be the ‘King’s Court’ of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.
  • The Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha was purportedly housed in the ‘Dalada Maluwa’, where the structure is currently located, in the Polonnaruwa period.
  • ‘Mandapayas’, in the 20th century, were marked as recitation platforms on which remembrance ceremonies for those laid to rest were conducted.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The structure is best visited with a guide - informative plaques at the site provide directions on where to go and what to see. The directions are given in Sinhala and English therefore those not fluent in either of the languages may find this hard to decipher. A learned guide may narrate the site’s history as well, taking you back to ancient times.
  • Polonnaruwa is known for being the ancient capital. While you’re there, make sure to visit the surrounding ruins as well. From the Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu to the king’s swimming pool and the Sacred Quadrangle, a number of legendary monuments await.
  • Make your travel plans in advance, before the holiday season as the crowds tend to flock during this time.
  • The site is not closed off from the mid-day heat - exploring the monuments in all their historic glory may take awhile and may leave you exposed to the sun. Carry along water and sunscreen and perhaps headwear of sorts to keep you feeling refreshed.
  • There may not be many restaurants and shops in the vicinity of the site so make sure to pack a few snacks to tuck into along the way.
  • The best time to visit the site may be from July to October or November which is when the weather will be more clearer.

If a walk through monuments that hark back to the medieval times of Sri Lanka is what you’re looking for, the ‘Nissanka Latha Mandapaya’ along with its nearby ruins, is what you should immerse yourself in. From the strikingly uncommon carvings on its integral columns that offer a peek of ancient Sri Lankan craftsmanship to the tales of history associated with the site, the structure is indeed a wonderful means of revisiting Sri Lankan history in all its glorious wonder.

Title image by: Jehan Gamalathge

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