Anuradhapura (Hindi: अनुराधापुर, Sinhalese: අනුරාධපුරය ; Tamil: அனுராதபுரம்) is a major city in Sri Lanka. It is the capital city of North Central Province, Sri Lanka and the capital of Anuradhapura District. Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization. It was the third capital of the Kingdom of Rajarata, following the kingdoms of Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara. The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the center of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries.
Prince Vijaya (543–505 BCE), son of king Sihabahu of Sinhapura in the country of Lala, was a first recorded King of Sri Lanka, mentioned in Mahavamsa. Vijaya and his followers, seven hundred men came to Lanka after being expelled from the country of Lala. 
Mahavansa/Chapter 7 tells that ....In Lanka, they displaced the island's original inhabitants Yakkhas, established a kingdom and became ancestors of the modern Sinhalas people. Vijaya founded the city of Tambapanni. Here and there did Vijaya's ministers found villages. Anuradhagama was built by a man of that name near the Kadamba river; the chaplain Upatissa built Upatissagama on the bank of the Qambhira river, to the north of Anuradhagama Three other ministers built, each for himself, Ujjeni, Uruvela, and the city of Vijita.
Mahavansa/Chapter 7 tells that ....The ministers, for consecrating Vijaya, sent people, entrusted with many precious gifts, jewels, pearls, and so forth, to the city of Madhura, to woo the daughter of the Pandu king for their lord, and they also (sent to woo) the daughters of others for the ministers and retainers. The king sent his daughter (to Lanka) he, and also daughters of others for the ministers (of Vijaya). Then king Vijaya consecrated the daughter of the Pandu king with solemn ceremony as his queen.
Mahavansa/Chapter 8 writes ... The great king Vijaya, being in the last year of his life sent a letter to his brother Sumitta to handover his Kingdom. Within a short time after Vijaya had sent the letter he passed away. When he was dead the ministers ruled, dwelling in Upatissagama while they awaited the coming of the prince. After the death of king Vijaya and before the coming of the prince was our island of Lanka kingless for a year.
In Sihapura, after the death of king Sihabahu, his son Sumitta was king; he had three Sons by the daughter of the Madda (Madra) king. Sumitta being old he sent his youngest son Panduvasudeva to Lanka. Panduvasudeva took with him thirty-two sons of ministers and embarked (with them) in the disguise of mendicant monks. The ministers entrusted Panduvasudeva with the sovereignty of Lanka. He made Bhaddakaccana, youngest daughter of Sakka Pandu as his consort. Sakka Pandu for seeing the destruction of Shakyas took his followers with him and went to another tract of land on the further side of the Ganges and founded a city there and ruled there as king.
Mahavansa/Chapter 9 writes.... When the princess Bhaddakaccana came to Lanka her brothers also, except one, urged by their mother, departed thither. When on arriving they had visited the ruler of Lanka, Panduvasudeva and their youngest sister too and had lamented with her, they, hospitably received by the king and having the king's leave, went about the island of Lanka and took up their abode wheresoever it pleased them.
The place where Rama settled is called Ramagona, the settlements of Uruvela and Anurädha (are called) by their names, and the settlements of Vijita, Dighayu, and Rohaijia are named Vijitagama, Dighayu, and Rohana. Anuradha built a tank and when he had built a palace to the south of this, he took up his abode there. Afterwards the great king Panduvasudeva consecrated his eldest son Abhaya as vice regent.
Foundation of Anuradhapura:
Mahavansa/Chapter 10 writes....When Pandukabhaya was left victor in battle, he went thence to the dwelling-place of his great-uncle Anuradha. The great-uncle handed over his palace to him and built himself a dwelling elsewhere; but he dwelt in his house. When he had inquired of a soothsayer who was versed in the knowledge of (fitting) sites, he founded the capital, even near that village. Since it had served as dwelling to two Anuradhas, it was called Anuradhapura, and also because it was founded under the constellation Anuradha.
Because his mother and he himself had been befriended by him, he did not slay the king Abhaya, his eldest uncle,
He handed over the government to Abhaya, his eldest uncle, for the night-time: he became the `Nagaraguttika' (Guardian of the City). From that time onward there were nagaraguttikas in the capital. His father-in-law also, Girikandasiva, he did not slay but handed over to this uncle the district of Girikanda. He had the pond' deepened and abundantly filled with water, and since he had taken water therefrom, when victories (for his consecration), they called it Jayavapi. He settled the Yakkha Kalavela on the east side of the city, the Yakkha Cittaraja at the lower end of the Abhayatank. The slave-woman who had helped him in time past and was re-born of a Yakkhini, the thankful (king) settled at the south gate of the City. Within the royal precincth he housed the yakkhini in the form of a mare. Year by year he had sacrificial offerings made to them and to other (Yakkhas); but on festival-days he sat with Cittaraja beside him on a seat of equal height, and having gods and men to dance before him, the king took his pleasure, in joyous and merry wise.
He laid out four suburbs as well as the Abhaya-tank, the common cemetery, the place of execution, and the chapel of the Queens of the West, the banyan-tree of Vessavana and the Palmyra-palm of the Demon of Maladies, the ground set apart for the Yonas and the house of the Great Sacrifice; all these he laid out near the west gate.
A hermitage was made for many ascetics; eastward of that same cemetery, the ruler built a house for the Nigantha Jotiya. In that same region dwelt the nigantha named Gin and many ascetics of various heretical sects. And there the lord of the land built also a chapel for the nigantha Kumbhanda; it was named after him. On the further side of Jotiya's house and on this side of the Gamani tank he likewise built a monastery for wandering medicament monks, and a dwelling for the ajivakas and a residence for the brahmans, and in this place and that he built a lying-in shelter and a hall for those recovering from sickness.
Ten years after his consecration did Pandukabhaya the over the whole of the island of Lanka. With Kalavela and Cittaraja, who were visible (in bodily form) the prince enjoyed his good fortune, he who had Yakkhas and bhütas for friends. Between the king Pandukabhaya and Abhaya were seventeen years without a king.
It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
It is believed that from the fourth century BC until the beginning of the 11th century AD it was the capital of the Sinhalese. During this period it remained one of the most stable and durable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia. The ancient city, considered sacred to the Buddhist world, is today surrounded by monasteries covering an area of over sixteen square miles.
It is believed that King Pandukabhaya made it his capital in the 4th century BC, and that he also laid out the town and its suburbs according to a well-organized plan. He constructed a reservoir named Abhayavapi. He established shrines for yakkhas such as Kalawela and Cittaraja. He housed the Yaksini-Cetiya in the form of a mare within the royal precincts, and offerings were made to all these demi-gods every year. He chose the sites for the cemetery and for the place of execution, the Chapel of the Western Queen, the Pacchimarajini, the Vessavana Banyan Tree, the Palm of the Vyadhadeva, the Yona Quarter and the House of the Great Sacrifice. The slaves or Candalas were assigned their duties, and a village was set apart for them. They build dwellings for Niganthas, for wandering ascetics and for Ajivakas and Brahmanas. He established, the village boundaries. The tradition that King Pandukabhaya made Anuradhapura the capital city of Sri Lanka as early as the 4th century BC had been very important.
The administrative and sanitary arrangements made for the city and the shrines he provided indicate that over the years, the city developed according to an original master plan. His son, Mutasiva, succeeded to the throne. During his reign of sixty years, he maintained Anuradhapura as his capital and further laid out the Mahameghavana Garden which was to play an important role in the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was in the period of his successor, his son Devanampiya Tissa, that Buddhism was first introduced to this island 236 years after the passing away of the Buddha. Emperor Ashoka of India was a contemporary of Devanampiya Tissa.
Mahinda was the son of Emperor Ashoka of India. Ashoka embraced Buddhism after he was inspired by a very small monk named Nigrodha. The king, who was in great misery after seeing the loss of life caused by his waging wars to expand his empire, was struck by the peaceful countenance of such a young monk. Meeting this young monk made a turning point in his life and he thereafter, renounced wars. He was determined to spread the message of peace, to neutralize the effects from the damages caused by him through his warfare. As a result, both his son and daughter were ordained as Buddha disciples, and became enlightened as Arahats. In his quest to spread the message of peace instead of war, he sent his son Mahinda, to the island of Lanka, which was also known as “Sinhalé”. According to Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, Thera Mahinda came to Sri Lanka from India on the full moon day of the month of Poson (June) and met King Devanampiyatissa and the people, and preached the doctrine.
Historically this period is believed to extend from 250 to 210 BC. This is the point at which a kingship began and a civilization developed based on one of the most significant religions of South Asia, Buddhism.
With the introduction of Buddhism, the city gained more prominence and the great building era began. The Mahavansa states that King Kutakannatissa built the first city wall to a height of seven cubits with a moat in front of the wall. This fortification was further enlarged by raising the wall a further 11 cubits to 18 cubits by King Vasabha. The king also added fortified gatehouses at the entrances of which the ruins can be seen to date. The Mahavamsa also states that soothsayers and architects were consulted in the construction.
During the late Anuradhapura period, the royal family and nobility of Sri Lanka strongly supported Buddhism. As such, they frequently commissioned works of art and donated these items to Buddhist temples. In return, the temple and local Buddhist community supported the king's rule. Art works featuring depictions of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion, became increasing popular.
The city's popularity grew both as a ritual centre and as the administrative centre, a large population was attracted to the city for permanent settlement. Thus the living facilities were improved to accommodate the expanding population. King Vasabha constructed many ponds which were fed by a network of subterranean channels which were constructed to supply water to the city. The Tissa and Abhayavapi tanks were built, the Nuwara weva was built and the Malwatu Oya was dammed to build the Nachchaduwa wewa which was 4,408 acres in size.
Parks were also provided in the city. The Ranmasu Uyana below the bund of Tissavapi or Tissa weva was one such, but it was strictly reserved for the members of the royal family. Health care and education were two other aspects to which the authorities paid attention. There were several hospitals in the city.
In the 4th century King Upatissa II provided quarters and homes for the crippled and the blind. King Buddhadasa (337-365 AD), himself a physician of great repute, appointed a physician to be in charge of every ten villages. For the maintenance of these physicians, one tenth of the income from the fields was set apart. He also set up refuges for the sick in every village. Physicians were also appointed to look after the animals. Kassapa V (914-923 AD) founded a hospital close to the southern gate of Anuradhapura. General Sena in the 10th century is believed to have built a hospital close to the ceremonial street (Managala Veediya). The history of medical care began early, for in the 4th century BC King Pandukhabaya, in the course of sanitizing the town constructed a hospital. A large workforce was entrusted with the task of keeping the city clean.
Large lakes were also constructed by the city's rulers to irrigate paddy lands and also to supply water to the city. Nuwara wewa and Tissa wewa are among the best known lakes in the city.
Anuradhapura attained its highest magnificence about the commencement of the common era. The city had some of the most complex irrigation systems of the ancient world, situated in the dry zone of the country the administration built many tanks to irrigate the land. Most of these tanks still survive.
- Mahavansa/Chapter 6
- Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.