Yapahuwa - Kingdom of Ancient Sri Lanka

Strong, dry breezes ruffle the quiet serenity of the temperate country side. Wild grass thrust through pleasantly undulating ground while a lone lizard revels in brilliant sunshine, poised on one of many ancient stone ruins. Overhead looms the Yapahuwa rock, 300-foot isolated fortified wonder with a history dating back to the 13th Century. In that era, Yapahuwa was Sri Lanka’s seat of governance and home to the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Today it is one of the country’s most unique and important sites of historic interest containing abundant traces of ancient battlements and remnants of king Buvenekabahu’s (1273-1284 AD) kingdom.

Yapahuwa was one of the ephemeral capitals of medieval Sri Lanka. The citadel of Yapahuwa lying midway between Kurunagala and Anuradhapura was built around a huge granite rock rising abruptly almost a hundred meters above the surrounding lowlands. In 1272, King Bhuvenakabahu transferred the capital from Polonnaruwa to Yapahuwa in the face of Dravidian invasions from South India, bringing the Sacred Tooth Relic with him. Following the death of King Bhuvenakabahu in 1284, the Pandyans of South India invaded Sri Lanka once again, and succeeded in capturing Sacred Tooth Relic. Following its capture, Yapahuwa was largely abandoned and inhabited by Buddhist monks and religious ascetics.

The rock fortress complex of Yapahuwa is situated in the Wayamba province of Sri Lanka about 4 km southeast of the town and railway station of Maho, midway between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura. The original name of this Buddhist Heritage site is Yapawwa though now often called as Yapahuwa which is a kind of distortion of its genuine etymological sense.

Its most remarkable masterwork remains an ornamental stairway that conducted the royal palace. Surrounding vistas of breathtaking beauty enriches the climb to the top; rambling jungle, rolling hills and sunbathed rocks combine to create a picture-perfect tableau. Yapahuwa is in the Pahala-visi-deka Korale, Wanni Hatpattu, of the Northwestern Province. Situated on the outskirts of Kurunegala, it is just three miles from the Maho railway station. For those choosing the rail option, hop off at the Maho station and either use the bus service that shuttles back and forth or, if adventurous enough, trek through the scenic countryside.

The right footwear and a sun-hat are recommended for the entire expedition. The Yapahuwa rock rises abruptly from the plains on its southern and eastern faces, terraces retained by walls permit access to the summit. The king had enclosed the city with a towering wall and a moat, protecting the palace within. A cave temple was built for monks at the apex. It still contains statues of the Buddha and paintings of the Kandyan period.

Unlike Sigiriya, however, the palace was not constructed at the summit of the 91-metre flat-topped crag but on a lower level. Meanwhile, evidence suggests that the settlement on the rock was more urban than rural.

Yapahuwa served as the capital of Sri Lanka in the latter part of the 13th century (1273–1284). Built on a huge, 90 meter high rock boulder in the style of the Sigiriya rock fortress, Yapahuwa was a palace and military stronghold against foreign invaders.

The palace and fortress were built by King Buvanekabahu I (1272–1284) in the year 1273. Many traces of ancient battle defenses can still be seen, while an ornamental stairway is its biggest showpiece. On top of the rock are the remains of a stupa, a Bodhi tree enclosure, and a rock shelter/cave used by Buddhist monks, indicating that earlier this site was used as a Buddhist monastery, like many boulders and hills in the area. There are several caves at the base of the rock. In one of them there is a shrine with Buddha images. One cave has a Brahmi script inscription. At the southern base of the rock there is a fortification with two moats and ramparts. In this enclosure there are the remains of a number of buildings including a Buddhist shrine. There is also a Buddhist temple called Yapawwa Rajamaha Vihara built during the Kandyan period.

The Tooth Relic was brought from Dambadeniya and kept in the Tooth Temple built for the purpose at the top of the third staircase. The relics were carried away from the temple here to South India by the Pandyas, and then recovered in 1288 by Parakkramabahu III (1287–1293), who temporarily placed them in safety at Polonnaruwa.

Yapahuwa was one of the ephemeral capitals of medieval Sri Lanka. The citadel of Yapahuwa lying midway between Anuradhapura and Kurunegala was built around a huge granite rock rising abruptly almost a hundred meters above the surrounding lowlands.

In 1272, King Bhuvenakabahu transferred the capital from Polonnaruwa to Yapahuwa in the face of Dravidian invasions from South India, bringing the Sacred Tooth Relic with him. Following the death of King Bhuvenakabahu in 1284, the Pandyans of South India invaded Sri Lanka once again, and succeeded in capturing Sacred Tooth Relic. Following its capture, Yapahuwa was largely abandoned and inhabited by Buddhist monks and religious ascetics.

Yapahuwa has more than one attraction to offer the visitor. Placed as it is in a relatively isolated corner of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, it offers an encounter with the country’s abundant past minus the teeming crowds regular ‘touristy’ atmosphere. Lulled by the secluded calm of the warm, welcoming countryside, one can truly lose oneself in meandering fantasies of a glorious past.¬¬

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