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Thivanka Image House

A unique vestige of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom in the 12th Century AC, the Thivanka Image House or the ‘Thivanka Pilimage’ is a treasure trove of stone artistry that has gone through the rigours of time, but has re-emerged as a major archaeological monument of the kingdom that thrived during the era. Boasting of intricate carvings, murals and paintings of religious tales, the monument is just one of the places that house a unique statue of Lord Buddha, making it all the more significant and enticing for the history buff.

Best Known For

  • The Thivanka Image House is famed for being an exemplary masterpiece of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, complete with intricate carvings, paintings and murals of the ‘Jataka Tales’ (The past lives of the Buddha).
  • Coupled with its stark resemblance to the caves of Ellora in India and the mountains of Petra in Jordan, the archaeological site exudes a feeling that it is connected to other similar monuments around the world.

Interesting Facts

  • The origins of the image house have been traced back to the Polonnaruwa period of the 12th Century AC, during the reign of King Parakramabahu the Great.
  • Upon completion of the image house, it is said that the monument housed a great many intricate statues of the Lord Buddha and many other Bodhisatva (monks who have attained Buddhahood).
  • However, due to the Dravidian invaders of South India, the image house underwent a perilous time; being vandalised by the occupying invaders.
  • Although experiencing such atrocities, the monument survived and was rediscovered during the late 1800s and underwent a period of restoration.
  • Presently, the entrance of the image house still showcases its original features of its ‘Mura Gal’ (guard stones) and ‘Korawak Gal’ (ornate stones by the side of the steps that depicts a dragon-like animal).
  • What makes this monument a unique one, is the main Buddha statue that lies within the building.
  • Although in ruins, it is still possible to discern the posture and way it was sculptured.
  • Believed to have been around 8-metres tall when it was intact, the statue now stands at 6.6-metres.
  • The statue depicts the Lord Buddha standing on a lotus pedestal like many other statues, however it differs in terms of posture.
  • Here the Buddha’s right knee, waist and shoulder are bent, thus the reason as to why the place is called ‘Thivanka’ (3 bends).
  • Another intriguing feature of the ‘Pilimage’ (image house) is the disproportionality of its large exterior and small interior.
  • This is attributed to the fact that its 12-feet thick walls were made to support the weight of the building, thus the reason as to why the inside of the monument is quite cramped up.
  • Regardless of being subjected to the rigours of time, the image still proves to be one of the more important archaeological monuments in the country, as the frescoes here are believed to be the only existing ones from the Polonnaruwa period.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • The unique attraction in Polonnaruwa can be visited throughout the year, however, the ideal time to visit the ancient monument is during the morning hours, as the peaceful ambience of the surroundings can really be felt and can easily be explored, as crowds are less.
  • Please keep in mind that this is an ancient and sacred place, therefore it is imperative that you are dressed accordingly.
  • Do note that photography inside the ancient structure is not allowed, as this structure proves to be just one of the few that contain untarnished collection of paintings from the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.
  • Of course, you can take snaps of the exterior of the building and its surroundings though.
  • Please adhere to the rules and regulations set forth by the authorities, therefore refrain from bringing any polythene or plastic and please do not do anything that would deface the carvings.
  • Remember to bring plenty of water and some snacks too, just in case it gets too hot.

Polonnaruwa is filled with great treasures of the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka and the Thivanka Image House is just one of many that epitomises the thriving civilisations that dwelled before us.

Title image by: Tourism Board

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