Thuparama

Thuparamaaya, an exceptionally large and well-preserved gedige (stone image house) thought to date back to the reign of Vijayabahu I.The inner shrine preserves its vaulted brick roof, the only such structure to have survived at Polonnaruwa, as well as exceptionally thick, plaster-covered brick walls whose massive dimensions keep the interior pleasantly cool — the walls are so thick that the architects were actually able to construct a staircase inside them (it's just through the door on the left), though it's usually locked.

The shrine contains eight beautiful old standing and seated crystalline limestone Buddhas, which sparkle magically when illuminated. The exterior walls are decorated with the South Indian-style niches, and the heavily recessed and elaborately decorated window frames which can be found on a number of buildings across the city. The buildings original name is unknown; it was confusingly christened the Thuparama (“The Stupa”) by the pioneering British archaeologist H.C.P. Bell, though it isn’t a dagoba at all.

 

Background

1) Built. Under ruler Parakramabahu I (1153-1186). Although it carries the deceptive name Thuparama (meaning stupa), it is an image house.
2) Location. The southwest corner of the Quadrangle, in the heart of the old city. (Toggle map above)

 

Exterior Appearance

Gedige type. Like Polonnaruwa’s other leading image houses, Lankatilanka and Tivanka, Thuparama adheres to the gedige type, that is, it is made entirely from brick; this differs from most other Sri Lankan religious buildings that had wooden superstructures.
Single floor on massive platform. Thuparama consists of a tall single floor on a massive
platform base lined with lion guardians.
Unique feature intact roof. What makes Thuparama unique is that its roof remains in‑
tact. From outside, you can see that a prominent square chamber rises over the interior sanc‑
tum; it encloses a corbelled brick vault.
Small decorative shrines. Miniature shrines occupy the edges of the mandapa’s roof (executed fully in the round) and the spaces between pilasters on the exterior walls (in relief). They house deity images, likely directional guardians (dikpalas). The shrines — often featuring elaborate multi-domed arrangements — appear to borrow directly from south Indian Hindu temple precedent, perhaps a carry-over from the Chola occupation.
Circumambulation corridor on roof. The position of the roofs circumambulation corridor around the sanctum is also visible. Unlike later image halls, there is no circumambulation corridor inside the sanctum.

 

Layout and appearance

Thuparama – Layout

Although it differs from the Atadage and Hatadage tooth relic shrines profiled earlier in terms of its all-brick superstructure, it follows the same basic layout, with a few distinctive features.

Mandapa and sanctum. Thuparama has the simplest layout of the three gedige image houses in Polonnaruwa. Visitors enter the east-facing structure through a rectangular mandapa hall that affords access to a larger square sanctum.
Second entrance. A consistent feature of Sri Lankan image halls, a secondary entrance oc‑
cupies the right wall of the mandapa.
Corbelled brick vault. As mentioned earlier, the original roof — a corbelled brick vault — remains in near-perfect condition. Note the tremendous thickness of the walls, required to support the significantly heavier brick superstructure..
Buddha image destroyed. The brick-built seated Buddha image to which the building was dedicated has been entirely destroyed; only its square platform remains.
Roof circumambulation. Visitors ascended a stairway on the south side of the mandapa to the roof, where they could circumambulate the Buddha in the sanctum.

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