The desolate courtyard of the Abhayagiriya, in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. In the 1st century BC, Vattagamini Abhaya, who had ascended the throne of Anuradhapura as King Valagamba was defeated by an Indian Chola invasion. As the king fled the capital, the chief priest of a nearby Jain monastery taunted him, saying “The great black Sinhalese king is fleeing.” Fourteen years later, King Valagamba counterattacked and recaptured the city. Remembering his insult, Valagamba executed the Jain priest and razed his monastery to the ground, building a massive stupa over it. The second part of Vattagamini Abhaya’s name means “fearless”, or “have no fear”, and Valagamba used it in naming the new stupa and its neighbouring Buddhist monastery. He combined Abhaya with Giri, the latter being, according to varying accounts, either the Jain priest’s name, or that of his monastery. Either way, the new stupa was named the Abhayagiriya; “Fearless Giri”, the priest who dared to taunt a king.
The Abhayagiri Dagaba measures 74.6m to the tip of its broken spire, making it the third tallest dagaba in Sri Lanka, though it might have once been as tall as 100m, one of the tallest structures in the ancient world.
Both photographs were taken on assignment for Serendib, the inflight magazine of SriLankan Airlines. My story, The First Kingdom of Lanka, ran in the February 2017 issue.