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Buddhist monasteries towards urbanism in southern Sri Lanka Prishanta Gunawardhana


For their sheer size and number, architectural remains of Buddhist monasteries figure among the foremost areas of archaeological research in Sri Lanka. Their historical and archaeological importance apart, these structural remains are equally important for considering the cultural history of the island. The relationship between rulers, laymen and the Buddhist monks along with the environment, says the author, were the key factors in developing the ideologies for the monastic organizations from their very inception.

With a theoretical analysis of the Buddhist monasteries towards urbanism in southern Sri Lanka: from the Protohistoric period to the Polonnarwa period, this study tries to show how Magama was not just a major city of Buddhist monasteries, but also the chief urban centre of political rulers of the Sri Lanka. The pre-polity and primary urban form surfaced in Magama from the 9th century BC onwards – with the possible emergence of village-based settlements, agriculture and megalithic burial sites.

It is worth noting that a considerable urban form, political structure, agricultural development and the commercial guild, long-distance foreign trade in the KO system might have emerged during the Protohistoric and Early Historic periods. The situation from the pre-polity and pre-urban form changed due to climactic development of the international trade from 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD. This resulted in the emergence of mature urban form, along with monasteries.

The book is largely an attempt to reconstruct the social reality of the Buddhist monasteries during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods in Magama — the southern kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka. Even if the study is mainly confined to the monastic architecture, it also proposes to investigate the specific spatial manipulation of Buddhist monasteries within the context of trade in the urban form. Concludingly, the author assumes that Magama – having been linked to good political rulers, Buddhist monasteries and trade — might have become a magnificent urban city during the period. Dr Prishanta Gunawardhana is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.


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