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Sandakada pahana, also known as Moon-stone, is a unique feature of the Sinhalese architecture of ancient Sri Lanka.[1] [2] [3] It is an elaborately carved semi-circular stone slab, usually placed at the bottom of staircases and entrances. First seen in the latter stage of the Anuradhapura period, the sandakada pahana evolved through the Polonnaruwa, Gampola and Kandy period. According to historians, the sandakada pahana symbolises the cycle of Saṃsāra in Buddhism.


Known in Sinhalese as sandakada pahana, it is roughly translated into English as moonstone. The name is based on its shape and design.[2] The ancient chronicle Mahavamsa and Pali literature such as the Samantapasadika refer to the sandakada pahana as patika.[4]

Anuradhapura period[edit]

A sandakada pahana of the Anuradhapura period

The first sandakada pahanas were created during the latter stage of the ancient Anuradhapura Kingdom. They were only placed at entrances to Buddhist temples during this period.[5]

The carvings of the semi circular stone slab were the same in every sandakada pahana. A half lotus was carved in the centre, which was enclosed by several concentric bands. The first band from the half lotus is decorated with a procession of swans, followed by a band with an intricate foliage design known as liyavel. The third band has carvings of four animals; elephants, lions, horses, and bulls. These four animals follow each other in a procession symbolizing the four stages in life: growth, energy, power and forbearance. The fourth and outermost band contains a carving of flames.[5]

Polonnaruwa period[edit]

The design of the sandakada pahana of the Polonnaruwa period differs largely from that of the Anuradhapura period. The single band that was used to depict the four animals was removed, and processions of the elephant, lion and horse were depicted in separate bands. The most significant change is the removal of the bull from the sandakada pahana.[6] The Anuradhapura tradition of placing sandakada pahanas only at entrances to Buddhist temples also changed, and they are found at the entrances of other buildings belonging to the Polonnaruwa period as well.[5]

The sandakada pahana at the entrance to the Polonnaruwa Vatadage. Note the absence of the bull and lion.

An invasion by Rajendra I in 1017 AD brought a large part of the country under the control of the Chola empire.[7][8] The country was under Chola rule until 1055 AD,[9] and the Sri Lankan culture was heavily influenced by South Indian customs and traditions, including the Hindu religion.[10] Historians believe that the reason for the removal of the bull from the sandakada pahana was because of its connection with Hinduism. The bull, the vehicle of the god Shiva, is a venerated animal in Hinduism, and therefore was removed from the sandakada pahana since it was a place where people tread upon.[6] The lion has also been omitted from some sandakada pahanas.[11] The best specimen of the sandakada pahanas of the Polonnaruwa period is at the northern entrance of the Polonnaruwa Vatadage.[12]

Kandy and Gampola periods[edit]

A sandakada pahana of the Kandy period at the Degaldoruwa temple.

By the time of the Gampola and Kandy Kingdoms, the design of the sandakada pahana had changed drastically. The concentric bands were no longer there, and the shape of the once semi circular stone slab had become almost triangular. A lotus was carved in the middle of the stone slab, which was surrounded by an elaborate pattern of liyavel.[13]


Historians believe that the carvings of the sandakada pahana symbolise a religious meaning. The widely accepted interpretation is that of historian Senarath Paranavithana. According to Paranavitana, the sandakada pahana symbolises the cycle of Saṃsāra. The liyavel symbolise worldly desires (Taṇhā) and the lotus depicts the final achievement of Nirvana.[14] The elephant, bull, lion and horse depict birth, decay, disease and death respectively, while the swans symbolise the distinction between good and bad.[2]


  1. ^ "The northern provinces - Henry Cave - Google Books". Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Gaveshaka (2004-05-02). "Tradition continues: Moonstones in Polonnaruwa". Sunday Times. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  3. ^ "Sinhalese Monastic Architecture: The Viharas of Anuradhapura - Senake Bandaranayake - Google Books". Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  4. ^ "Buddhist Art". The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon. Retrieved 2009-08-09. 
  5. ^ a b c Siriweera (2004), p. 288
  6. ^ a b Siriweera (2004), p. 289
  7. ^ Siriweera (2004), p. 45
  8. ^ Wijesooriya (2006), p. 114
  9. ^ Prematilleke and Karunaratne (2004), p. 6
  10. ^ Siriweera (2004), p. 47
  11. ^ Sarachchandra (1977), p. 129
  12. ^ Prematilleke and Karunaratne (2004), p. 10
  13. ^ Diganwela (1998), p. 11
  14. ^ Diganwela (1998), p. 12


  • Siriweera, W. I. (2004). History of Sri Lanka. Dayawansa Jayakodi & Company. ISBN 955-551-257-4. 
  • Wijesooriya, S. (2006). A Concise Sinhala Mahavamsa. Participatory Development Forum. ISBN 955-9140-31-0. 
  • Prematilleke, P. L.; Karunaratne, L. K. (2004). Polonnaruwa - The Silver Capital of Sri Lanka. ISBN 955-613-111-6. 
  • Sarachchandra, B. S. (1977). අපේ සංස්කෘතික උරුමය (Cultural Heritage) (in Sinhala). Silva, V. P. 
  • Diganwela, T. (1998). කලා ඉතිහාසය (History of Art) (in Sinhala). Wasana Publishers. 
  • Bandaranayake, Senake (1974). Sinhalese monastic architecture : the viháras of Anurádhapura. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-03992-9. 

External links[edit]

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The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka
Sat, 03 May 2014 12:41:39 -0700

The veteran singer Sunil Edirisinghe's 'Sandakada Pahana' , Musical Concert organised by the Welfare Society of the Wijeya Newspapers Company PLC will be held from 6.30 pm on May 11 at the auditorium of the National Youth Coucil in Maharagama.
Scoop.co.nz (press release)
Tue, 16 Jul 2013 20:07:09 -0700

During the last few weeks the Sandakada pahanas (Moonstones) in a couple of churches in Kalutara District came under attack from Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist militant organisation led by Buddhist monks. They claimed that Sandakada pahana (Moonstone) ...
Sri Lanka Guardian
Tue, 16 Jul 2013 01:08:37 -0700

They claimed that Sandakada pahana (Moonstone) is a Buddhist symbol found at the entrance to Buddhist temples, and therefore should not adorn the foot of any Catholic statues or church doorsteps. The Catholic priest humbly accepted the claim of the ...
Sunday Observer
Sat, 12 Jan 2013 11:41:15 -0800

A carved granite temple step (Sandakada Pahana) similar to those found in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka will be sold in Bonhams Indian and Islamic sale in London on April 23. This magnificent work of art featuring a cow and other ...
The Island.lk (subscription)
Wed, 02 Jul 2014 13:03:45 -0700

A. There are monks in the area who belong to certain extremist organisations. One of them objected to a moonstone (sandakada pahana) that had been added as a decorative motif in a Catholic church. From the time of Father Earnest Poruthota, the Catholic ...

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka
Sat, 03 May 2014 12:41:15 -0700

'Sandakada Pahana' by Sunil Edirisinghe · DJ Ruki from Chicago spins at the Sky Lounge · Priyantha returns with 'Adaraneeya Kathawak' · 'Captain America' comes to Liberty Lite · 'This is not a gun' comes to Lumbini · Award winning 'Hunuwataye Kathawa' ...

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka
Sat, 03 May 2014 12:41:39 -0700

Featuring the Marvel Comics character Captain America one of the latest Hollywood box office hits 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' is now being screened at 4.15 pm and 7 pm shows at Liberty Lite Colombo. Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, ...
Updated News
Tue, 22 Jan 2013 10:19:59 -0800

The auctioneer Bonhams says the carved granite step is a Sandakada Pahana – or moonstone – similar to those found in temples dating from Sri Lanka's Anuradhapura period (c400BC-1000AD). Sri Lanka's director of archaeology says it is unclear if it is ...

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