Ancient Kingdom of Kurunegala (කුරුණෑගල)

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Kurunegala, the capital of the North Western province, has a historical name-Hasthishilapura (elephant rock city). It was the royal capital of Sri Lanka and is full of legend, romance and history.

The entire province is a vast complex of ancient temples, rock cave shelters, forest monasteries and natural tanks which date back to the medieval kingdom of Anuradhapura. These destinations will keep you interested for at least a whole week.

The most awe-inspiring are the colossal Buddha statues and other figures of the Buddhist pantheon, such as the massive Sasseruwa Buddha statue and as remarkable are the Sylvan Forest monastery of Arankela and many more.

My main intention was to visit the less travelled historical places in the interior of Kurunegala district which were venerated by kings centuries ago and photograph them. Today some of these historical sites lie in the dense jungle without human presence and have been vandalized beyond recognition. I saw the pristine glory as well as the ruins of invaluable historical sites made of bricks and stones.

Arankele was my first destination. It is an ancient sylvan forest monastery in a beautiful serene setting. A large complex meditation hall, stone pathways, alms halls and rock caves lie in the forest which are used by the meditating monks of the monastery.

This is believed to have been the hermitage of the famed hermit-monk, Arahat Maliyadeva. Another rock close to Arankele is Yakdessagala, associated with the ancient legend almost 2500 years ago when Kuveni, the native queen of Vijaya, the first king of Sri Lanka, shouted her curses and leapt to her death when deserted by him for an Indian princess, as one story has it.

From Arankele I went on to visit Yapahuwa rock fortress. The rock which is 300 feet in height with a history dating back to the 13th century during the reign of King Buwanekabahu has a rock fortress. It rises abruptly from the plain located on the outskirts of Maho. Yapahuwa is the home for the Chinese-looking ‘Yapahuwa Lion’ stone sculptures which is reproduced in the country’s Rs. 10 currency note.

Yapahuwa is also famous for its ancient stone ruins. This most remarkable masterpiece remains on an ornamental stairway that leads to the royal palace.

Passing Galgamuwa, I reached another sleepy village unique in character, Bodhigara at Nilakgama, the only one now existing, of a type of ancient shrine, a double platformed building. On the upper platform stood the Bodhi tree. Conserved, small and exquisite, the Nilakgama stands as a tribute to Sinhalese stone carvings.

When I proceeded another few kilometres to a place known as Sasseruwa temple, situated majestically on a rocky mountain in elephant-infested Meegalewa, on the boundary of the Mahaweli system-H, overlooking the mighty reservoir Kalawewa, I saw an impressive 40-foot-high Buddha statue carved out of a single rock, resembling the more famous statue at Aukana.

The ancient cave temple of Kebellalena reached by a rock flight of steps, is believed to contain priceless paintings while its famous devale dedicated to the god Suniyam is located on a rocky hill amidst the coconut cultivation in the outskirts of Wariyapola. Another ancient temple I found close to Wariyaploa has an ancient building of a library used by Buddhist monks to protect valuable books.

In Ehatuwewa off Galgamuwa, I visited another ancient rock cave temple called Dewagiri Viharaya which is a repository of ancient mural art. The rock shrine of the temple comprises wall paintings belonging to the Kandyan period.

Some paintings in the cave are faded due to the lighting of oil lamps. Not far away from this temple, is the typical farming village in Ehatuwewa where the prosperity of agriculture prevails. When I entered the village, I saw a straw-thatched small hut in front of some houses.

The paddy is stored in them. In the past, these huts were used by most of the farmers. But unfortunately today, these huts are fast diminishing among the farming community in the area.

by Mahil Wijesinghe
Sunday Observer, 21 January 2007

Also See

Map of Kurunegala

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