Vahalkadas (guard stones) stand at the four ordinal points, decorated with the usual dwarf, elephant and lotus friezes, while an unusually large number of brick image houses, some of which still contain Buddhas, stand around the base of the dagoba. An inscription to the left of the entrance pathway describes how Nissankamalla oversaw work on the building, testifying to his religious devotion and the spiritual merit he presumably expected to gain from the building’s construction — whether the forced labourers who were obliged to raise this gargantuan edifice shared the king’s sense of religious idealism is not recorded.
1) Built. Although perhaps started under ruler Parakramabahu I (1153-1186), it is largely the work of his successor, Nissanka Malla (1187-1196). It was his greatest single building project.
2) Location. Between the Quadrangle and the Alahana Parivena monastery, at the center of the old city.
Layout and appearance
Polonnaruwa’s largest stupa. Its dimensions — 61 meters/too feet in height (from the platform) and 57 meters/187 feet in diameter — make it the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest on the island.
Traditional organization. It follows the basic Anuradhapura layout for colossal stupas, set in place over a thousand years before its construction: visitors enter via stairways on the cardinal points; they then cross through a sand court on route to another set of stairs that brings them to the stone terrace on which the stupa sits.
Secondary shrines attest to greater role for Buddha image. As at the Kiri Vehera stupa, in addition the shrines (vahalkadas) on the cardinal points (dark blue highlights in Fig. luL ), Rankot Vihara has smaller secondary shrines flanking them (light blue highlights in Fig. ioc ). The addition of incremental shrines is a distinctive feature of Polonnaruwa stupas, rarely seen in Anuradhapura. It attests to a greater role for the Buddha image in Polonnaruwa’s stupa-associated ritual.
Chattra spire. Consistent with standard Sri Lankan practice, the chattra spire is shaped as an inverted cone with tightly-bunched umbrellas.
Harmika. The harmika, with carved decoration that makes it appear as a wooden fence (evocative of the structure’s original real-life function as a fence around the burial site of the Buddha), has lotus flower medallions on the cardinal points.
Directional deities. Eight standing directional deities — positioned between the top of the harmika and the bottom of the chattra spire — are clearly visible from the four sets of stairs
Shrines on cardinal points
In stark contrast with the restored shrines of Kiri Vehera stupa, those of Rankot Vihara have only their bases intact; the brick superstructures that housed the actual Buddha images have been lost . Although the decoration on the bases is heavily worn, you can still make out dancing dwarfs and elephants lining the stringcourses.
It is worth noting that the bases of shrines in Polonnaruwa hold significantly less elaborate decoration than those of stupas in Anuradhapura. This could be attributable to the fact that image worship had largely shifted to dedicated structures (image houses) in Polonnaruwa, rather than being confined to stupa-attached shrines, as it was in Anuradhapura when the largest stupas were constructed. Since the dedicated image houses held an abundance of first-rate decoration, there was no longer the same focus on stupa-attached shrines.