Explore Nature, History and Culture at Yapahuwa

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By Ama H.Vanniarachchy

Due to the pandemic, travelling was heavily restricted. Many have not travelled for almost two years. But things are changing now and people are once again travelling.

Among the many travel-worthy places in this little island paradise, Yapahuwa is a place that can satisfy the thirst of the history-freak and of the nature-lover. This wonderful place is full of adventures, mysteries and is blessed with natural beauty. 

Yapahuwa is known for its magnificent stairway, exquisite stone carvings, and the adventurous climb to the summit of the rock and finally the picturesque view on the summit. This mesmerising view is worth all the effort that you take to climb up. 

Located in the Kurunegala District, Yapahuwa is a 90-metre-high rock boulder.  

What to see there

Yapahuwa is known as the fourth capital city of Sri Lanka. It was first built as a fortress during the 13th Century by a warrior named Subha. After that, it was made the capital city of Sri Lanka by king Buwanekabahu I (1272 – 1273) in 1272. Although this place lasted to be the capital only for less than three decades, the place continued to thrive as a city; hence the rich art and architectural legacy we witness today was created. 

The magnificent stairway

Yapahuwa will surely make you feel as if you are climbing a Mayan pyramid in Central America. It is not only the architecture but also the mysterious eeriness of the surrounding that reminds you of the ancient Mayan landscape. 

While you climb up the steep set of stairs tired and thirsty, the petrified lions will keep staring at you. They are storytellers; but, only for those who are willing to listen. The magnificent lions, mythical gajasinghe, dancing damsels, and rhythmic drummers will reveal to you a tale lost in time.

The exquisitely designed stairway is the most striking feature of this place. This leads you to the summit of the rock. Yapahuwa lions are famous and known globally for their magnificent appearance and exquisite craftsmanship. These lions are recreated as souvenirs, and are famous as the gigantic lion paws at Sigiriya. 

There are more beautiful carvings at this stairway that will keep the adventurous traveller entertained. The dancers, drummers, and the beautiful damsels, along with the mythical dragon faces and gajasinghe will definitely wash away the tiredness caused by climbing up the mighty stairway.

The many carvings here display similar characteristics of South and Southeast Asian characteristics. At a glance, the stairway might remind us of Khmer architecture. 

The many carvings here, notably the female figures, remind us of the carvings at temples in South India. 

Cave temple of Yapahuwa

There is an old cave temple before ascending the summit of the rock. This temple is also known as the Yapahuwa Raja Maha Viharaya. Its antiquity can be dated back to the Kandyan period based on the wall paintings and the statues. 

This temple is somewhat like a miniature art gallery. Although the wall paintings and sculptures do not display classical art styles, they are beautiful and a treat for the eye as well as to the mind. 

Bangalapitiya Monastery Complex

Close to the rock is situated a large monastic complex that needed to be thoroughly examined by archaeologists. There are ruins of many ancient buildings here including ruined stupas, ponds, and many other structures. 

There is a beautiful building that is referred to as a Bodhigara by locals, but whether it was actually a Bodhigara or not is debatable. The building has beautiful carvings and a Buddha Statue. 

If you walk around at the foot of the rock you will find many ruined building foundations in the vicinity which are not yet identified. 

Temple of the Tooth Relic or the royal palace?

The magnificent stairway leads you towards another ruined building. What you can see here is only the base of a building including passages, entrances, and separate rooms. Although the public refers to this building as the Temple of the Tooth relic, archaeologists say that there is no evidence to confirm this was the Temple of the Tooth Relic. 

On the summit of the rock…

The summit is approximately five acres large, and 32 buildings have been identified there including many ponds. There can be seen ruins of an ancient Buddhist Stupa, built on the highest location on the summit. This small brick stupa is believed to have been constructed during the Kandyan period. 

Today one can see ruins of the palace building and of a brick structure with stone pillars. There can be seen halls, corridors, and rooms. Art historians say that the plan of this palace is similar to that at Polonnaruwa (Waijanthapasadaya), the palace at Panduwasnuwara, and the one at Anuradhapura (Vijayabahu’s Palace). 

The view one can enjoy on the summit is mesmerising. The best time to be here is early in the morning or evenings to be intoxicated by the magical performances of the sun god and the sky god during the sunrise and the sunset. 

We shall ascend the summit of Yapahuwa or Subha Pabbata, where the heroic Sinhalese warrior Subha once resided. Historians say that Subha Pabbata was also called the Sundara-giri pabbata and that term gradually evolved into Yahapawwa and then into Yapahuwa.

Yapahuwa was then the capital city of Buwanekabahu I and then of Buwanekabahu II. Short-lived as the capital city of Sri Lanka yet, continues to awestruck the world with its beauty and grandeur.