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Jetavanaramaya, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

What is a Buddhist Stupa?

In my opinion Jetavanaramaya Stupa is the most wonderful and charming place in Anuradhapura. This mesmerizing building makes you doubt the conception that human is the top of the pyramid. Any human with his average 1.70 m can't even dare to be the top. It was afterwards, when I started reading about this dagoba, and my complexes retreated. According to different sources Jetavanaramaya dagoba is nearly record-breaking in different "nominations". At the moment of its construction Jetavanaramaya was the 3rd highest building (122 m) in the world after the pyramids of Khufu (the Great Pyramid) and Khafre in Giza. However despite its former titles and after many reconstructions its height is 70 m now. 93.3 million bricks were used during the construction. The depth of the foundation is 12 m. The dagoba itself covered an area of 3 hectares, and the territory of the whole complex, where 10 000 monks dwelled - 5.6 hectares. Among this variety of numbers only one, a very important one is missing: there is no certain date of construction: it is only certain that the construction began during the reign of king Mahasena (ruled in 275-301) and was completed during the reign of his son, Maghavanna I. Thus, the construction is most likely to refer to III-IV centuries A.D.

Jetavanaramaya is significant for one more fact: it symbolizes the hostility between two monk orders – Theravada (orthodox) and Mahayana (heterodox). The hostility between them was so severe that king prohibited providing the Theravada monks living in Mahavihara monastery with means and food. Soon their monastery was abandoned and everything that remained there was robbed by pillagers. Soon the king regretted for his deeds and ordered to reconstruct the monastery and bring monks back there.

According to the legend piece of Buddha's sash is kept here. However no data is available concerning when it appeared here and how.

Taking into account the period when the dagoba was built, the used technologies are amazing. The gaps between bricks were filled with earth; the ideal elliptic form of the building made it possible to construct such a big structure. When making the foundation the cracks were filled with stones, and elephants beetled bedding with their legs. The bricks used in this dagoba show the significant level of Sri Lankan architecture achievements: they consisted 60% of sand and 35% of clay, thus they could handle great weights. After the end of the construction the building was covered with lime plaster. The plaster also contained seashells, sugar syrup, egg whites, coconut juice, oil, resin, sand, clay, pebbles. The plaster protected the roof from the water, insects and plant intrusions. Now after another reconstruction the dagoba hasn't been covered with the plaster yet, which makes it very different from the others.

In 1860 "colonial secretary" of Ceylon James Emerson Tennent wrote in his diary, that there were enough bricks in the dagoba to build a 3 m high and 25 cm thick wall from Edinburgh to London (650km).

Sacred city of Anuradhapura, along with it's historical monuments, is listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

By Sona Gasparian,

Photos by Narek Bakhtamyan


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