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Yapahuwa can be reached by the A28 main motor road as well as by the northern Railway line. Yapahuwa is 5 km east of the Maho railway station.
Located in Kurunegala, belonging to the North Western Province of Sri Lanka, the Yapahuwa ancient fortress rises to a height of 90 m above the surrounding plains. Built by King Buwanekabahu the First, as the capital of Sri Lanka in 1301, today, the Royal residence, the Temple of Tooth Relic, the battle defenses are in ruins.
The ruined walls of Yapahuwa form a rough semicircle. The ends join the foot of the high steepsided rocky granite outcrop. The outer fortification, an earthen rampart which extends to about a mile is about 20 feet in height. Over the rampart are the ruins of a brick wall that was erected to protect the interiors. Around the rampart was a moat. Access to the fortress was by means of the three gates that were connected to three causeways. Within this rampart was an inner fortification: a stone wall, 12 feet in height and about 500 yards long with a moat outside it and with two gates.
The homes of the ordinary people would have been between the outer and inner walls while the king’s palace, administrative buildings and of course the Temple of the Tooth was within the inner wall.
The Stone stairway originally comprised of three flights of stone stairs, one above the other. However the lower one has disappeared and has been replaced by cement steps. The walls on either side of the stairway form pavilions in each of which is a graceful female figure. Above these sculptures are sculptures of stylized goggle-eyed lions.
The balustrades above these consist of heads of lions which have been transformed into Elephants with their trunks extended. Beautiful rock carvings of jubilant musicians, dancers and drummers decorate the last staircase and the porch above them.
Finally at the top of the stairway, the pilgrim will reach the impressive and harmoniously conceived doorway that once led into the Temple of the Tooth. Passing through the door, you will see directly in front of you the foundations of the temple. The rough path to the top of the rock is to the left. It is a steep climb but well worth the effort. The terrace on top contains some unidentifiable remains and a modern dagoba. The view, however, is a sufficient reward for the strenuous climb.
As stated above, the rough path to the top of the rock is a steep climb. At the top of the hill are caves which were inhabited by ascetic monks for centuries before Yapahuwa became the capital of Sri Lanka.
In one of the caves at the base of rock 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.
Following the decline of the Polonnaruwa kingdom, the capital of Sri Lanka was shifted to Yapahuwa by King Buwanekabahu the First. The palladium of the Sinhalese Buddhist nation, the sacred tooth relic of Buddha was enshrined within the newly built temple at Yapahuwa. However Yapahuwa too once again fell to the marauding Dravidian invaders from Southern India. After the death of Buwanekabahu the First, the Pandayan marauders invaded the island once again, pillaged the kingdom of Yapahuwa and carried the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha to the Pandayan Kingdom.
The successor to Buwanekabahu the First, King Parakkramabahu the Third (1287–1293) having visited the Pandayan court in Southern India in 1288, secured the Sacred Tooth Relic, the palladium of the nation once again, to the great relief of the Sinhalese.
A new museum situated at the entrance to the rock fortress, contains a modest collection of antiquities which were found in and around Yapahuwa. The museum houses a collection of excavated relics found in the area and among them is a hoard of ancient Chinese coins and artefacts that testify to a once flourishing trade between the kingdom of Yapahuwa and China.