On the Ponniyin Trail: Here are the five places that tread the path of the Cholas in Sri Lanka

The Chola dynasty— one of the longest-ruling dynasties in world history—has once again caught the public imagination. Filmmaker Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan I, or PS1, which is based on Tamil literature’s most-visited text by Kalki Krishnamurthy, brings to life Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka’s stupas, lush forests and lotus-filled ponds. As a Ponniyin fan, though, you don’t need to restrict the exploration of the royal history to Tamil Nadu. Here is a definitive guide to the places in Sri Lanka, which find mentioned in the novel and the film.

Mention in PS: Nainativu or Naga theevu is where Vandhiyathevan, enduring a storm, is dropped off by boat girl Poonguzhali from India’s Kodikkarai, before he finds his way into mainland Sri Lanka. This speck of an island off the northern fringes of Jaffna—known as Nainativu or Nagadeepa—gets its name from its folklore inhabitants, the Naga people. Built right on the shores of the Indian Ocean, the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple and its vibrant sculptures from the Hindu pantheon that adorn the premises are a major draw.

The temple, built in the Dravidian Hindu architectural style, is dedicated to Goddess Nagapooshani or Bhuvaneshwari, and her consort Shiva, known here as Nayinaar. While in Nainativu, also visit the nearby Nagadeepa Buddha Vihara, a serene place with stupas and Buddha statues. Apparently, Lord Buddha pacified a fight here between clans inhabiting the island.
How to reach: Take a ferry ride from Kayts Island

Dambulla

Mention in PS: In this marketplace, with a huge dagoba (a dome-shaped memorial said to contain Buddha’s relics) in the backdrop, Vandhiyathevan bumps into Azhwarkkadiyaan Nambi.

Head to Dambulla, located in Sri Lanka’s Central Province, for the country’s largest vegetable and fruit market. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is also famous for its Rangiri Dambulla Cave temple complex perched on a hillock.

This temple is a must-visit for its five shrines enclosing over 1,500 stunning mural paintings, 153 Buddha and bodhisattva idols, and statues of Hindu gods. Make a short detour to visit the Golden Buddha temple, a recent addition, at the foothills of the rock caves.

How to reach: It is around 156 km from Colombo and 63 km from Anuradhapura

Mannar

Mention in PS: It is through the lush forests of Mathottam that Vandhiyathevan finds his way to the camp of Rajaraja I, stationed midway between Dambulla and Anuradhapura.

The island at the eastern end of Adam’s Bridge, a chain of shoals off the northwestern coast, is a nature nerd’s delight. It’s the only place in the island nation where you will not only find free-running feral horses but also the giant Baobab trees of African origin—the island has about 30 such, compared to roughly 20 on the main island.

Dating back 600 years, the Baobab in Pallimunai is perhaps Sri Lanka’s oldest and maybe most impressive Baobab tree. The other major attractions are the Mannar bird sanctuary and Giant Tank’s wildlife sanctuary.

How to reach: It is well connected from Jaffna and Colombo through public transport

Anuradhapura

Mention in PS: King Mihindu V or Mahinda the fifth is shown ruling the Kingdom of Anuradhapura

Don’t rush it when in Anuradhapura; rather, indulge in slow travel. Once a seat of royal power, the Sacred City of Anuradhapura—also a UNESCO world heritage centre—oozes old-world charm.

Among the sights not to be missed are the umpteen dagobas, ancient sculptures and stupas, and age-old water tanks that dot vast forested areas. The Sacred Bo Tree or Sri Maha Bodhi, rooted within the grounds of the Mahamevna Uyana, which is the oldest recorded sacred tree in Buddhist history, is a major draw.

Marvel at the architectural ingenuity of the Jetavanaramaya Stupa built in the third century, which, at 400 feet, was the tallest stupa in the ancient world. Built using 93.3 million bricks, the structure is still the largest, with a base area of 2,508,000 sqft. You can also visit Sri Lanka’s oldest stupa, Thuparama, built in the second century BC.

How to reach: It is 200 km from Colombo

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Sigiriya

Mention in PS: Although Sigiriya isn’t shown in the film version, it finds a detailed mention in the book. The poster child of Sri Lanka tourism, the UNESCO world heritage site will awe you with the architectural brilliance of its interconnected water networks.

Then there is the rock fortress of Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock or Lion Mountain, which served as King Kashyapa’s capital in the fifth century. Delicately beautiful frescoes atop the rock are said to be inspired by Ajanta paintings, while the enormous lion rock has locals connecting it to Ravana’s palace.

How to reach: It is around 15km, north of Dambulla