The centerpiece of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the Dalada Maluwa (the hall of the Tooth Relic), was a sacred precinct containing 12 magnificent buildings. Although there are numerous Vatadage across Sri Lanka, the Vatadage at Polonnaruwa is the most famous. As with many other Vatadage, it had a stupa in the centre with four Buddha images facing the cardinal directions.
The Vatadage, one of the oldest & most beautiful monuments in Polonnaruwa, is to our left as we enter the Dalada Maluwa. In spite of its modest proportions, the circular building with concentric terraces is a superbly planned & executed 12th century masterpiece. It was certainly intended to house the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha, which is now deposited at The Sacred Temple of Tooth in Kandy. Built by King Parakramabahu the great (1164-1196AD), it was later embellished by King Nissankamalla (1198-1206).
Outer structure, the first terrace
The entire outer structure with a diameter of 18m is a gorgeous riot of artistry, with almost every surface carved in a melee of decoration. The outer wall is decorated with friezes of lions & dwarfs, & topped by an abstract lotus design.
Upper structure, the second terrace
Four entrances to the upper terrace are adorned with magnificent stone carvings: moonstones flanked by Nagaraja (Cobra king) figures with seven hooded cobra head guard stones.
While the Nagaraja figures were believed to prevent evil spirits entering the premises, the moonstones- elaborate semi-circular welcome step stones carved in polished granite- represent the spiritual journey from samsara, the endless cycle of death & rebirth, to Nirvana, the ultimate escape from suffering. These were unique decorative features of Sinhalese architecture. The moonstone at the northern entrance is the finest in Polonnaruwa.
Central dagoba (stupa)
From the upper terrace, steps lead through four entrances, aligned in the cardinal directions & each presided over by a seated Buddha. In the center are the ruins of the small central brick stupa in which the Tooth Relic was enshrined during the glorious days of ancient capital, Polonnaruwa. In sharp contrast to the building, this innermost sanctum, the reason for the very existence of Vatadage itself, is virtually unadorned.
Lost to the Dravidian invaders
The building has lost the conical roof of three concentric circles, most of the dagoba (stupa) and one of its guard stones at the base of the steps among many other features & surrounding buildings to the marauding Dravidian invaders from South India.