The Polonnaruwa period marks the zenith of Sinhalese power. Never has the island been more united and centralized than under Polonnaruwa’s great King Parakrambahu I. (1153-86). The very beginning of the Polonnaruwa period was marked by the successfull struggle against the Chola dynasty, these powerful southindian Tamil Hindu rulers had integrated the island of Sri Lanka into their maritime empire. It was a decision of the Cholas to replace Anuradhapura by Polonnaruwa. So the latter became the new administrative centre of the island. Many Tamils settled in the Polonnaruwa area during the Chola period.
So what happened to those Tamil settlers after the final victory of Sinhalese rulers? You may be surprised to learn that they were integrated into the new Sinhalese kingdom and held in high esteem. The royal guard protecting the sacred tooth relic in Polonnaruwa was purely Tamil and Hindu. Out of respect for Hindu traditions, the Polonnaruwa moonstones show only three of the four Buddhist animals, but now the bull, known from Anradhapura moonstones, is not depicted any more, in order to prevent that anone touches the holy cow of Hindus with his feet.
Hinduism is present in the ruins of Polonnaruwa till the present day. Five Hindu temples can be seen inside and outside the archaeological park. Shiva Devale No. 2 is from the Chola period, it has never been destroyed by Buddhist rulers. Other Hindu shrines were newly erected under Sinhalese rule. Shiva Devale No. 1 is one of the latest buildings of the Polonnaruwa period, it's from the 13th century, when the Pandyan rulers of South India became increasingly powerful and started to interfere in Sri Lanka.
One of the best-known rock statues of Sri Lanka most probably depicts a Hindu Rishi, namely the namegiving saint of Polonnaruwa, who is an important figure in Hindu mythology. Read more about the role of Hinduism in Polonnaruwa in the following two citations of a Ramayana Tours website:
"Polonnaruwa was Sri Lanka's capital from the 11th till the 13.th century. Most temples are Buddhist, but more Hindu traditions were integrated in Polonnaruwa than in the earlier capital Anuradhapura, because a significant Tamil minority continued to live in this capital after the period of Chola rule in Sri Lanka. One small temple in the South-Indian Chola style is called Shiva Devale No.2, supposedly it is the only significant edifice remaining from the times of Chola occupation. Shiva Devale No.1 is one or two centuries younger, thus it was erected under Buddhist Sinhalese rule for Hindu worship of the Tamil minority. There are some more Hindu shrines for other Hindu gods in the Polonnaruwa excavation area, but mostly in ruins."
Situated in the southern outskirts of the medieval Sri Lankan capital Polonnaruwa there is a famous rock-cut sculpture of excellent quality. Its correct interpretation is still under discussion. Most Sinhalese regard it as a portrait of Polonnaruwa's historically most important king Parakramabahu. But the sacred thread running from the left shoulder across the body as well as the Ola leaf book carried in the hands are typical for Brahmin scholars. Some suggest the sculpture to depict Rishi Kapila or Rishi Agastya. But most probably it is Rishi Pulastya, called Pulatthi in Pali or Pulasthi by locals. He is the name-giving patron of this city Polonnaruwa which during ancient times was called Pulatthinagara. Pulastya was the grandfather of Lanka's king Ravana.
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