The lost city of Yapahuwa
The capital of ancient Sri Lanka, Yapahuwa has been long forgotten.
One has only to take a look at a ten-rupee note and see a goggle-eyed
and open-mouthed stone-sculpted lion in its majestic pose. People don't
bother to pay a visit to Yapahuwa because it is on a winding B-route
from Kurunegala towards Anuradhapura. Finding the place can be a
formidable task as faded signboards of the Archaeological Department
along the way are your only hope to get to this lost city.
According to historical records King Buvanekabahu I who ruled from
1272 to 1284 is said to have moved the capital to Yapahuwa from
Polonnaruwa as the latter was considered vulnerable to external attacks.
The King would have considered Yapahuwa most suitable as the capital
because of its impressive citadel rock, made of granite, on a raised
platform towering about 100 metres.
It seemed somewhat like Sigiriya with its steep steps and difficult
accessibility. The King took the famous Tooth Relic with him to protect
it but it could not be kept there for long.
The South Indian Pandyan dynasty overcame the King's most difficult
defence strategies, stole the Tooth Relic and took it to Madurai in
Tamil Nadu. Parakramabahu the III visited Madurai retrieved the Tooth
Relic and installed it at Polonnaruwa and thereafter it was enshrined in
Today, mostly hermits, bhikkhus and the occasional traveller visit
One may question as to why people aren't interested in Yapahuwa
anymore. For the average traveller, guides help the visitors climb the
The panoramic view half-way between the rock and the intricately
stone-carved art reveal the laborious task of our forefathers. Statues
of elephants, makara thoranas (dragon arches), dancing dwarfs, gods and
goddesses including a pair of the ten rupee note lion captivate the
The carving of the traditional Kandyan drum at the location is Sri
Lanka's oldest pictorial record of the famed perahera instrument.
Soon, you notice that it's not just the bhikkhus who have made
Yapahuwa their haven but curious torque monkeys who greet you as you
ascend the rock.
At the top of the flight of steps, you visualise a somewhat ruined
epi-centre where the Tooth Relic was actually kept.
If you are the adventurous kind and love to explore, a ten-minute
scramble up the rock will take you up the tree-roots and green vines. A
rusty iron rail has been added to make it easier for travellers to reach
the top. the panoramic view encompasses a breath-taking view of
Kurunegala's villages, winding roads where vehicles travel and people
seem like crawling ants.
The base of the rock shows what would have been the King's palace
with its stone remains. Higher up there is a plebian bricked, mossy
dagoba overlooking a quaint lily pond. On your descent there are a few
scattered remains of the lost city which would perhaps have been the
capital in the days of yore.
A moat shows another defence mechanism to protect the city and the
forest reveals a peaceful place of solitude for bhikkhus to meditate.
Some statues in the museum are made in Kandyan and Indian tradition.
Some remnants of Maya-like and Arabian influenced sculptures suggest
that there would have been trade with Sri Lanka and these gifts are
testament of partnerships entered into centuries ago.
There is also a cave temple of wooden Buddha statues behind the
Caretaker Asanka said that tourists and domestic travellers can visit
this place between 8.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.
A tourist ticket is priced at Rs.200. "A donation can also be offered
as we are building a sanghawasa for the Yapahuwa Rajamaha Vihara", he
Ven. Meegama Seelarathana Thera who oversees the Yapahuwa ruins said
that when one goes to the temple one needs to go barefoot. The
Sanghawasa built centuries ago is in a dilapidated state. He hoped that
more travellers would visit as it is a historical site. A visit to
Yapahuwa is an inspiring experience and the trip is definitely worth a