• Asirini Parakramawansha

A Hidden Kingdom

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

Today we walk through the swirling portal of a kaleidoscope into a world of emerald vegetation, intricately carved mountains, and sunsets that shine with gold leaf. Every step through the glittering, heated air reveals a new ruin or statue. It’s as if an entire kingdom of riches lies beneath us now, peeking through the lapis eyes of abandoned fountains. If you squint, you might catch a shimmering glimpse of the rulers of these buildings, despite their tombs lying on the other side of these broken pillars. How did this myriad of archaeology appear? And more importantly, what’s the story of its treasure filled ruins?

The sunlight here is certainly golden.. maybe that's not the only thing here that shines

Temples and Tombs

Once upon a time, these crumbling monuments were the pillars of one of the most advanced ancient civilisations in the world. The history of Polonnaruwa is mixed in myth and gold but tends to focus on the stories of three legendary kings- Vijayabahu, Parakramabahu and Nissankamalla- who built the country up from the devastation left after the previous Chola rule. But Polonnaruwa is more than just a testimony to long gone kings. It is a proud memory of nine-storey palaces, ancient scientific and medical developments and gigantic man-made tanks. Walking through the ruins of these palaces, you can almost imagine the bustle of people, royals, brahmans and hundreds of long lost citizens. After looking around a bit, I even found what was supposedly an ancient portal.

the portal has not been opened in several hundred years however I can’t help but notice that it looks slightly like the face of a kaleidoscope. Maybe this was an early prototype of our own mode of transportation?

The ruins seem to have grown straight out of the amber pages of treasured legends, but strangely enough, the locals say that this entire civilisation was lost for nearly five hundred years. I find it difficult to believe something so grand could truly be lost, so if we’re to find the truth we’ll have to twist back the decades and see for ourselves.

In the Jungle, the mighty jungle

If you’ve ever visited Sri Lanka you’re bound to have noticed the jungles. From the gigantic Sinha Raja to smaller jungles you can see as you drive down the highway. But back in the 1800s, there was far more jungle than not in the country. Take my hand as we flip back the years to these long gone days and find that where we were just walking among ruins, was a thick rainforest of gold tinted vines and teak pillars. If you’re lucky, you might spot one or two glimpses of stone in between explosions of vegetation and the occasional monkey.

there still are monkeys in Polonnaruwa and they are notorious for nicking the hats and food of tourists. Be sure to hold on to your kaleidoscopes. There’s no telling where a furry paw could appear to snatch your valuables!

Apparently, this place was unearthed (or more likely un-vined) by archaeologists in the Victorian era. But I've always wondered how they could have known to search here, in the middle of a jungle for a hidden city. Could something have called out to them from the tombs and temples? Someone still lingering from centuries past... But how did Polonnaruwa ever end up in such a state? Could it be a curse, a cleverly designed camouflage system, or maybe even a Wakanda-style shield? It just makes me wonder, if an entire city could be hidden for so long, what else could be peeking from out the rainforests of Sri Lanka? Or maybe even hiding between among the very stones beneath our feet?

Make sure to look under All the rocks!

Legend has it that when the old kings left, they didn't take all their riches with them. To make sure that their gold, jewels and other valuables weren't plundered by invaders, they used ingenious old time vaults. The professionals call them nidhanas. But really, they are just tiny fissures in stone faces that are stuffed with jewels, gold and other valuables. From the crack in a wall of a boulder temple, to the smallest cave atop the least remarkable hilltop, the entire region of Polonnaruwa is bursting at the seams with treasure. But what happens when the kings are gone long before they could ever retrieve their gold? The current consensus is, to put it lightly: finders keepers! Well I guess that means we have as much of a chance as any other explorer here. Quick, have your kaleidoscopes at the ready and bring a few shovels too. There's no telling where the next tutankahmun's tomb worth of treasure could be lurking...

A nidhana peeking out from beneath King Parakramabahu's Palace (As painted by yours truly)
What is that golden glow?- an illustration of my view through the kaleidoscope (as painted by yours truly)

Not so hidden anymore

After taking a last wander around this stone metropolis, I can't help but cling to that feeling of mystery and awe that emanates from all these lost carvings and tableaux. But after reading through some of the information plaques and discussing with some bizarre creatures called tour guides, I've been told that there was never any portal or force field and the nidhanas have already been discovered. In fact, they went so far as to say that the city was abandoned due to repeated invasions in the 13th century! Regardless of what the history books say, they can't disguise the hovering traces of history that are walking among us. So brave explorer, if you persist and look for it long enough, perhaps you too will find a nidhana or open a portal. And when you do, make sure to document your adventures as you enter a brave new world through the lens of a kaleidoscope.

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