stepping on the sandakada pahana (moonstone) at srilanka

moonstone at the bodhi temple
moonstone at the bodhi temple

i visited sri lanka last year and that is the first time i came across a sandakada pahana or moonstone in english.

this is a semi-circular stone that is seen at the entrance of the temples at anuradhapuram and polonnaruwa.

buddhism flourished during the anuradhapuram. this is when the moonstone was supposed to have developed the most and become the most elaborate with intricate carvings. prior to that it was a square slab of stone.

carved in stone, the moonstone embodies the teachings of buddhism.

at anuradhapuram, there are 5 concentric semi-circles in a moonstone. the first small semi-circle has a lotus engraved – which is said to stand for nirvana. the next band has swans which stands for the ability to distinguish positive or good from negative or bad, given the swan’s ability to separate milk from water. the third row has a band of intricate foliage that stands for the intricate network of desires that chase us through our lives. the third band has animals carved on it – elephants, lions, horses and bulls which stand for birth, decay, disease and death. and the outermost band has flames carved which represent the never-ending pain in this cycle of life. the meanings are supposed to be wildly debated across sri lanka.

stepping on the moonstone at anuradhapuram

during the polonnaruwa dynasty, the moonstone continued to be placed in front of temples. though the influence of the ruling hindu kings was clearly seen in the changes that took place… the bull was a sacred animal for the hindus, and was removed as one couldn’t step on them. the lion moved out as it was the animal of the sinhalese race. both these animals were carved onto the balustrades…

moonstone at pollonnaruwa
at pollonnaruwa, the animals are reduced!

post the anuradhapuram and pollonnaruwa dynasties, the moonstone gradually changed in form, the animals seemed to move onto different things… and then the meaning of it was probably forgotten! it was never to be seen in such glory again!

it was just a simple stone. placed at the entrance of every place of worship and as each person stepped on it, and was reminded of his life, his purpose and his future. this stone carried the weight of a religion on its shoulders, just one tiny semi-circular slab!

5 thoughts on “stepping on the sandakada pahana (moonstone) at srilanka

  1. Bhavani,

    I like the treatment here in this essay.
    Just one thought crossed my mind as I read about the moonstone.

    I think it will be more effective if you get to the inner arc – the lotus – at the end.
    For Nirvana and Satori happens only at the end, one does n’t start off with it.

    Just a thought


  2. The photo captioned “stepping on the moonstone at anuradhapuram” is very well done! I like the way it is framed, and it is a nice way to showcase the various plants and animals radiating out of the center. The black and white suits it too. I enjoyed learning more about the history of moonstones and Buddhism – thank you!


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