Abhayagiriya Museum – Anuradhapura
The Abhayagiriya Museum was established within the ancient monastery complex of Abhayagiriya in Anuradhapura. It was opened for a public exhibition on 13th June 1992. The museum, designed in the old Panchavasa monastery plan, was developed by the Central Cultural Fund under economic aid from China. The Abhayagiriya Museum is classified as ‘Mahatissa-Faxian Cultural Complex’ to commemorate Ven. Kupikkala Mahatissa, the first chief administrator of the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara, and Ven. Fa-Xian, the Chinese Buddhist monk who studied Buddhism at the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara from 411 to 412 AD. It centres against the Abhayagiriya archaeological complex.
The primary purpose of this museum is to manifest through artefacts recovered from Abhayagiriya that Sri Lanka was a prosperous country that flourished through international relations and a country where arts and technology harmonized remarkably.
The museum takes its name from the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara, a renowned Buddhist monastery that flourished from the 1st century BC to the 11th century AD. It was an important center of learning and spirituality during ancient times. The Abhayagiri Maha Vihara attracted scholars, monks, and pilgrims from various parts of the world, contributing to the development of international relations and the harmonization of arts and technology.
Construction and Design
The Abhayagiriya Museum was constructed based on the ancient Panchavasa monastery plan. The Central Cultural Fund undertook the construction project with financial aid from the People's Republic of China. The museum's design pays homage to Ven. Kupikkala Mahatissa, the first incumbent of the Abhayagiri Maha Vihara, and Ven. Fa-Xian, the Chinese Buddhist monk who studied Buddhism at the monastery from 411 to 412 AD. This cultural complex, named 'Mahatissa-Faxian Cultural Complex,' stands as a testament to their contributions.
Purpose of the Museum
The primary purpose of the Abhayagiriya Museum is to showcase the artifacts recovered from Abhayagiriya, emphasizing Sri Lanka's prosperous history and its cultural exchange with other nations. Through these artifacts, the museum highlights various aspects of ancient life, including metallurgy, writing, religious customs, sculpture and art, ancient architecture, art techniques, hygiene, environmental conservation methods, hydrological technology, monastic administration, and time management.
Exhibits and Artefacts
The museum boasts a diverse range of exhibits that provide a wealth of information about the ancient Abhayagiri Vihara. Visitors can explore the following categories of artifacts:
The collection of copper objects includes ancient tools, utensils, ornaments, and decorative items. These artifacts showcase the skilled craftsmanship and metallurgical techniques prevalent during that time.
The iron objects on display represent the advancements in ironworking and the practical applications of iron in ancient Sri Lanka. Visitors can observe tools, weapons, and iron household items.
Limestone statues exhibited at the museum exemplify the artistic talent of ancient sculptors. These statues depict various deities, monks, and other figures, providing insights into religious and cultural practices.
Reliquaries hold religious relics and are significant artifacts within Buddhism. The museum displays a remarkable collection of reliquaries, reflecting the religious devotion and reverence of the ancient inhabitants.
Bronze Buddha statues
The bronze Buddha statues showcase the artistic expression and religious significance associated with Buddhism. These statues are revered as objects of veneration and spiritual contemplation.
Mahaya Buddhist artefacts
The museum features a collection of Mahaya Buddhist artifacts, which include manuscripts, scriptures, and other items related to the teachings and practices of Mahayana Buddhism.
Samadhi Buddha statues
Samadhi Buddha statues depict the Buddha in a meditative state, symbolizing tranquility and inner peace. These statues inspire reflection and serve as reminders of the core principles of Buddhism.
Standing Buddha statues
The standing Buddha statues highlight the iconography and symbolism of the Buddha's various postures. These statues convey different meanings and teachings associated with the Buddha's life and teachings.
Samadhi Buddha statues from Mahavihara
The Samadhi Buddha statues from Mahavihara, another ancient monastery in Anuradhapura, are exhibited at the Abhayagiriya Museum. These statues further enrich the collection and provide a comparative perspective.
Chinese porcelains found at the archaeological site demonstrate the trading connections between Sri Lanka and China. These delicate and ornate ceramics serve as evidence of the cultural exchange between the two countries.
Gold and silver objects
The museum showcases a variety of gold and silver objects, including jewelry, ornaments, and ceremonial items. These artifacts exemplify the skill of ancient goldsmiths and the use of precious metals in religious and social contexts.
Beads and artefacts made of minerals
The collection of beads and artifacts made of minerals showcases the ancient craftsmanship and the use of natural materials in jewelry making and decorative arts.
Eight auspicious objects
The eight auspicious objects, significant in Buddhism, represent good fortune and spiritual blessings. These objects are prominently displayed, and their symbolism is explained to visitors.
Ancient coins discovered at Abhayagiriya are displayed to highlight the monetary system and economic activities prevalent during that time. These coins provide insights into trade and commerce in ancient Sri Lanka.
Limestone objects, such as carvings and decorative elements, showcase the architectural and artistic techniques employed in ancient Sri Lankan structures.
Gallery of the Museum
The Abhayagiriya Museum features an inner gallery and an outer gallery. The inner gallery houses the more delicate and valuable artifacts, providing a serene and controlled environment for their preservation. The outer gallery allows visitors to explore the exhibits in a spacious and accessible setting, encouraging a deeper engagement with the historical artifacts.
The museum is open to visitors throughout the week, from Monday to Sunday. The opening hours are as follows:
- Monday to Friday: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
- Saturday and Sunday: 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM
The Abhayagiriya Museum offers various visitor facilities to enhance the overall experience. These include:
- Information desk: Visitors can obtain maps, brochures, and assistance from the helpful staff at the information desk.
- Rest areas: The museum provides designated areas where visitors can rest and relax during their visit.
- Cafeteria: A cafeteria is available for visitors to enjoy refreshments and snacks.
- Gift shop: A gift shop offers a selection of souvenirs and cultural items for visitors to purchase and take home as mementos.
In addition to exploring the exhibits, visitors can participate in various activities to enrich their understanding of ancient Sri Lankan culture. These activities may include:
- Guided tours: Knowledgeable guides lead tours through the museum, providing detailed explanations and historical context.
- Workshops: The museum occasionally hosts workshops where visitors can learn traditional crafts and art techniques.
- Educational programs: Schools and educational institutions can arrange special visits and educational programs to learn about the rich history of Abhayagiriya.
Museum Entrance Fee
To support the maintenance and preservation of the museum, an entrance fee is charged for visitors. The fee varies depending on age and residency status. Detailed information about the entrance fees can be obtained from the museum's official website or at the entrance counter.
- Can photography be done inside the museum?
- Yes, photography is allowed inside the museum for personal use. However, flash photography and tripods are not permitted.
- Are audio guides available for visitors?
- Yes, audio guides are available for rent at the information desk. They provide detailed explanations and commentary on the exhibits.
- Is the museum wheelchair accessible?
- Yes, the museum is wheelchair accessible. It has ramps and elevators to facilitate the movement of visitors with mobility challenges.
- Are there any age restrictions for visiting the museum?
- No, the museum welcomes visitors of all ages. It offers a unique learning experience for both children and adults.
- Are there any restrictions on touching the artifacts?
- For the preservation of the artifacts, visitors are not allowed to touch them. Please admire the exhibits from a respectful distance.