Ancient Hospital – Polonnaruwa


Ancient Sri Lanka, an island rich in cultural and historical tapestry, presents a fascinating chapter in medieval medicine. The ancient hospital in Polonnaruwa, attributed to the renowned King Parakramabahu I, is a testament to the advanced state of healthcare and surgical practices during his reign from 1153 to 1186 A.D. King Parakramabahu I, a visionary in healthcare, spearheaded the construction of numerous hospitals, with the Polonnaruwa complex being a prime example. This hospital, nestled within the historical precincts of the Alahana Pirivena, marks a significant epoch in the 12th century, reflecting the king's dedication to public health and welfare.

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Delving into the historical context, this hospital is not merely a structure but a symbol of a golden era in Sri Lankan history where medicine and compassion intertwined under royal patronage. The archaeological excavations conducted in 1982–1983 played a pivotal role in confirming the site as an ancient hospital. The discovery of surgical and medical instruments, such as probes, forceps, and scalpels, paints a vivid picture of the complex medical practices of the era.

Many unearthed artifacts, now showcased in the Colombo National Museum, serve as tangible links to the past, offering insights into the sophisticated medical knowledge and practices in ancient Sri Lanka. Measuring 25.75 m x 16.65 m, the hospital's design mirrors the 9th-century Mihintale Hospital. It's divided into living quarters and treatment areas, each meticulously designed for specific medical functions. The living quarters, organized around a central courtyard and surrounded by cells, provided a serene recovery environment. The inclusion of a shrine further emphasizes the holistic approach to healing.

The stone medicinal trough, a monolithic structure resembling a sarcophagus and shaped like a human figure, is a unique feature of the hospital. Measuring 1.95 m in length, it was used for immersing patients in medicinal oil, showcasing an innovative approach to treatment.  The ancient hospital in Polonnaruwa provides a rare glimpse into the sophisticated medical practices of ancient Sri Lanka. Its design, structure and the artifacts unearthed speak volumes about the ingenuity and skill prevalent in the medieval era.

This hospital is not just a relic of the past but a beacon of ancient wisdom and knowledge in medicine. It symbolizes the height of Sri Lankan civilization in healthcare and is a source of inspiration and pride.


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