Moonstone at Abhayagiriya

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Moonstones, also known as “Sandakada Pahana” are a unique element in Sri Lankan ancient architecture. Usually you can find moonstones at entrances or at the beginning of a staircase. Moonstones are bands of amazing carvings on semi-circular stone slabs, and it is said that they symbolise the sansara circle in Buddhism. The earliest moonstones are found in Anuradhapura, and were placed in the entrances of temples.

From the outer band, the sandakada pahana has carvings of flames which represent the never ending pains of life “dukka”.  Surrounded by the flames are a band of animal carvings which includes elephants, lions, horses and bulls. The four types of animals represent the four noble truths “Chathurarya Sathya” in Buddhism, Dukka, Samudaya, Nirodha, Magga. Surrounded by the band of animals are carvings of creepers, which represents various desires in life, which ends up as pains. Surrounded by the creepers are a band of swans. In Sinhalese mythology swans are capable of extracting milk when it is mixed with water, thus the swans symbolises one's capability of understanding the four noble truths. Surrounded by swans there is a carving of a half of a lotus, which represents the supreme bliss of enlightenment. 

In the Polonnaruwa era, a few major changes were introduced to the Sandakada Pahana. The band with animals were replaced with three bands and the cow was not used anymore due to the Hindu influences, and cow being a holy animal in Hinduism. And unlike in Anuradhapura, Sandakada Pahanas were used in other buildings than temples.