From the 4th century BC until the beginning of the 11th century AD, Anuradhapura (in Sri Lanka) was one of the most stable and wealthy centres of power in South Asia. Theravada Buddhism was introduced during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (circa 250-210 BC) who was converted to the faith by Ashoka’s son, Mahinda. An extensive building programme during his reign included the construction of monasteries, stupas and temple-shrines.
A royal monastery of particular importance founded at that time was the Mahavihara at which in the 5th century AD the Theravada doctrines were systematised by the Indian monk Asvaghosa. The Theravada doctrines followed in much of South East Asia from the 11th century onwards are predominantly based on those emanating form this monastery.
As in ancient India,eight sites were established in Anuradhapura for the purpose of pilgrimage: Mahabodhi (where a branch of the bodhi tree from Bodhgaya was planted), Ruvanvelisaya (founded in the 2nd century BC), Thuparamaya (the oldest stupa, built in the 3rd century BC), Lovamahapaya, Abhayagiri, Jetavana (at 120 metres high, the largest stupa); Mirisaveti and Lankarama.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy was built as part of the royal palace complex to enshrine the tooth of the Buddha. A symbolic representation of the living Buddha and greatly venerated by Buddhists, it was thought that possession of this holy relic was closely associated with the power of the Sinhalese kings.