The holy city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, is an unlikely place to be the setting for a fantastical story of UFOs and otherworldly happenings.
Locally known as Rajarata (Land of the Kings), the UNESCO World Heritage Site was the first kingdom established on the island (in 377 BC) and is at the heart of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist culture.
Today, it is one of the most visited places nationally, attracting devout pilgrims from all over the country to its ancient Buddhist temples and giant dome-shaped stupas (monuments).
But this holy city is also home to something far more curious. Here, in Ranmasu Uyana (Golden Fish Park), a 16-hectare old urban park surrounded by three Buddhist temples, is an inscription that is supposed to be a map to unlock the secrets of the Universe.
Measuring about 1.8m in diameter, the Sakwala Chakraya (which translates to “Cycle of the Universe”) is etched into the surface of a rock among the park’s protected ruins. The front facade can only be seen at ground level.
In fact, four seats are carved into the flat rock surface in front of the dashboard, providing the ideal viewing area. Both the inscription and the seats, which are also of mysterious origin, have intrigued historians, archaeologists and academics for more than a century.
“Ranmasu Uyana has been used for a long time in history,” says Raj Somadeva, senior professor of archeology at Kelaniya University in Sri Lanka.
“The second major phase of development seems to have started in the 7th century AD During this period, several new buildings were added to the layout of the previous garden. anything related to him is not mentioned in any of the historical records, which were meticulously kept by Buddhist monks.”
Although little is known about the panel and its purpose, the iconography is incompatible with other inscriptions from the Anuradhapura period (3-10 centuries CE). The center of the diagram is formed by seven concentric circles divided by parallel vertical and horizontal lines. Rectangular compartments contain small crossed circles.
To the uninitiated eye, there are figures that resemble umbrellas or bow and arrow, a kite, wavy lines and cylindrical shapes. An outer ring represents marine animals: fish, turtles, seahorses.
When compared to other sculptures from the same period, such as the Sandakada Pahana, which depicts vines, swans and a lotus flower, all typical elements of Buddhist iconography, the panel has no religious context — that is, it has no obvious explanation of why this one.
This left him totally open to online speculation. Before the advent of the internet, the graphic attracted little attention in Sri Lanka. It is believed to have survived here, hidden at the edge of a rock, after the fall of the Anuradhapura kingdom; nothing remarkable compared to its breathtaking surroundings, like the so-called twin lakes and bathing pavilions that would have been used by kings.
In fact, if the aliens made it to Earth around here, they couldn’t have chosen a better location — the sacred temple area, shrouded in dense tropical jungle, is mostly uninhabited and protected by the authorities.
The first scholar to notice the archaeological importance of the inscription was HCP Bell, a British civil servant appointed as Commissioner of Archeology from Ceylon (formerly Sri Lanka’s name).
Bell included a description of the panel in his 1911 report to the ruler of Ceylon, in which he concluded that: “This ancient ‘world map’, perhaps the oldest in existence, is of extraordinary interest. Its presence…witnesses the antiquity of astronomical knowledge still sought in some of the Buddhist monasteries of Ceylon.”
Although the diagram does not resemble a map in the modern sense, Bell wrote that it represents “an old-time cosmographic map illustrating with the most naive simplicity Buddhist notions of the universe.”
He interpreted the circles, symbols, and marine life in the chart, based on his knowledge of Buddhism on the island, as the Earth, the seas, outer space, and the Universe.
While discussions around the application have for many years been confined primarily to academic circles due to its historically important location, the explosion of photo sharing on social media in recent years has placed mystery in the global spotlight.
Eagle-eyed tourists noted parallels between the panel at Anuradhapura and similar historical sites in other countries that are considered by some to be stargates—ancient portals through which humans could enter the Universe.
Their theory is that the inscription contains the secret code to open the portal. Conspiracy theorists noted that the “stargate” of Anuradhapura had shapes and symbols almost identical to those found at Abu Ghurab, Egypt, and the Hayu Marka Gate, Peru.
The most striking similarity, they said, when speculation around Sri Lanka’s stargate was at its height, is its proximity to water.
The nearby Tissa Weva reservoir, built in 300 BC, was released as conclusive evidence, as Abu Ghurab and The Gate of Hayu Marka were also built near the water, which, according to stargate theory, allowed extraterrestrials process gold from Earth’s water.
This theory was further fueled by the panel’s proximity to Danigala Mountain, also known as Alien Mountain, in the nearby holy city of Polonnaruwa. Danigala, which is deep in the jungle and popular with trail lovers, has a unique circular shape and a completely flat top.
This led internet detectives to conclude that the mountain must have been used, in the past, for UFO landings. Interestingly, according to Sri Abeywickrama, a local tour guide, “locals believe that Alien Mountain attracts more shooting stars, thunder and lightning above it than anywhere else.”
However, according to Somadeva, “there is little archaeologically to suggest that it is a stargate.”
Instead, he believes a more sensible conclusion is for the panel to be an ancient map of the world, as suggested by Bell, because this explanation has a religious and cosmological context that is logical, given the period and place in time.
According to Somadeva, “from at least 250 BC, the Sinhalese had a clear idea of objects in the sky and outer space.” “In the earliest Brahmi inscriptions, found in Sri Lanka, there are several names referring to stars and specific concepts related to astronomy.”
“One of the inscriptions at Kirinda, a historical and religious site on the south coast of Sri Lanka, contains the phrase ‘aparimita loka datuya’, which means ‘infinite universe.’ Which suggests that the person who recorded it had a very good knowledge of the nature of the universe in which he lived.”
However, Shereen Almendra, a professor of landscaping at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, offers a different and more earthly perspective. “I think Sakwala Chakraya is a blueprint for a complex project similar to the huge stupas that were being built at the time,” she says. “I tend to believe it’s a plant for Sigiriya.”
Sigiriya is one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic ancient attractions, a 5th century BC rock fortress filled with running water, landscaped gardens and various rooms. It is just half an hour from Anuradhapura, in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, which is made up of three important ancient cities: Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy.
“Given that the carved seats at the front of the dashboard look slightly toward each other, it makes me think it was a place for discussion — an old architectural office, if you will,” she says. “If the seats were built for religious purposes, like meditation, they would be straight.”
According to Somadeva, the biggest challenge in identifying the graph’s function has been the lack of evidence to correctly date it. Although Ranmasu Uyana and other parks and stupas in Anuradhapura are mentioned in chronicles and inscriptions dating back to 250 BC, the Sakwala Chakraya is not described in any historical record.
“Certainly there would have been a practical use for this diagram, but it’s a big challenge to figure out what it might have been when we can’t date it correctly,” he says. As such, it seems that Sri Lanka’s enigmatic “stargate” remains shrouded in mystery—with its purpose and meaning still lost in time.
The newly acquired cult status among science fiction enthusiasts, however, finally gave the panel the audience’s deserved attention. Thanks to their enthusiasm and the power of social media, the Sakwala Chakraya has finally emerged from the shadows of the great Anuradhapura to shine on its own.
Read the original version of this article (in English) on the website BBC Travel.
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