About Polonnaruwa Council Chamber
Polonnaruwa, in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Polonnaruwa Council Chamber history
The city of Polonnaruwa was established by the Chola dynasty as their new capital in the 10th century. The Chola Dynasty was a Tamil empire of southern India and one of the world’s longest-ruling dynasties, who undertook destruction of the Buddhist civilisation in northern Sri Lanka. Chola ruled ended in 1070, after which Polonnaruwa was captured by King Vijayabahu I.
Under the 1153-1186 rule of Vijayabahu’s grandson, Parakramabahu the Great, trade and agriculture flourished. Irrigation systems were constructed that continue to serve the paddy fields nearby, and the kingdom was self-sufficient. The Council Chamber, the Raja Sabhawa in Sinhala, is located in front of the royal palace and was built for Parakramabahu as a meeting place for his ministers.
The Council chamber was built 75 feet long and 33 feet wide, and was designed in three tiers: the first lower level was decorated with elephants, the second with lions. The stone chamber’s pillars were decorated with carvings designed to impress, supporting a roof made of wood and clay tiles, and surrounding a throne where the king was seated. The acoustics were so good the king could hear his ministers from across the chamber.
The chamber’s steps were also decorated with two moon-stones, a unique feature of ancient Sinhalese architecture, symbolising the cycle of the endless Buddhist life cycle and emphasising Sri Lanka’s Buddhist identity after Polonnaruwa’s period of Chola rule.
Polonnaruwa Council Chamber today
The ancient Polonnaruwa Council Chamber stands testimony to the enduring presence of Sri Lanka’s early architecture. The fantastic condition of the ruins allows you to walk on the chamber’s main level among the remaining 48 pillars, bringing to life the ancient site’s grandiose design. Take a moment to stop and admire the large ornately carved lions at the top of the steps.
At the ruin, there is also a board in English showing a plan of the chambers. Be sure to hold onto your hat though, as the site is constantly visited by the local population of toque macaques.
Getting to Polonnaruwa Council Chamber
These ancient ruins are situated within the new town of Polonnaruwa, so you can reach the Council Chambers on foot from the Clock Tower bus stop, route 48, 450m away. The chamber is also located off the A11, and there is plenty of parking in the nearby town.