Gonawatta Ancient Caves in Kandy (මහනුවර ගෝණවත්ත ලෙන්)

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Although the Kandy was made the capital of Sri Lanka from the 15th century, Gonawatta provides proof that these impregnable hills of Sri Lanka was very much part of the ancient Buddhist civilisation even before the time of Christ.

Gonawatta inscription is found at the temple near the Gonawatta Ferry where villagers crossed Mahaweli River is believed to belong to 2nd century BC. The ancient name of the place is Wisaltota, and the Wisal Nuwara has on the Dumbara side of Mahaweli River.

Lawrie, who was the District Judge of Kandy between 1873 and 1892 describes the temple and the cave as it was over a century ago as follows;

Close by the road, opposite the toll station is a large Bo Tree and a vihare, a new pansala, and a vihare partially rebuilt. The new vihare consists of two chambers : that under the rock is intended as the vihare; the other the incumbent Rambukwelle Unnanse intends for a Saman Devale.

A sitting image of Buddha, formerly placed under the overhanging rock is in the pansala.; the rock under which the image stood is painted to imitate cloth. Offerings are made at the bo-tree. Some yards higher up is a dagoba 60 ft. in circumference on the ground and about 30 fr. high. The upper square base of the umbrella is comparatively modern, and its weight has thrust out the sides of mason work. The dagoba is of stone, or atleast coated with stone.

In the pansala garden, on the steep hillside above the road, are cave of a very ancient settlement of Buddhists. There are several caves with Katara, an on the face of the one not far above the dagoba is a Nagara inscription, which has been deciphered by Mr. Nevill,, c.c.s., to be a grant to the priesthood by Gamini, the son of …… , detailing a pedigree of several generations. The inscription is probably 2nd century before Christ. (see Gurudeniya) . The cave commands a charming view across the Mahaweli Ganga to Pallekele estate and most distance range of hills.

This old temple was submerged under the Mahaweli project. The place named Sammukha Cetiya has been identified with the spot where queen Viharamaha Devi is said to have met her uncle Prince Uttiya living in the Katupulu Nuwara at that time (Abeyawardhana, 2004).


  1. Abeyawardhana, H. A. P. (2004) Heritage of Kandurata: Major Natural, Cultural, and Historic Sites. Kandy: Kandurata Development Bank, in association with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.
  2. Lawrie, A.C. (1896) A Gazetteer of the Central Province of Ceylon (excluding Walapane) Vol 1 (2 vols). Colombo: George J.A. Skeen, Government Printer.

Also See

Map of Gonawatta Ancient Caves in Kandy

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Driving Directions to Gonawatta Ancient Caves in Kandy

Kandy can be reached from Colombo on the old Colombo – Kandy road (option 1) which is scenic but heavy in traffic specially on Fridays and Sundays. However the new Central Expressway (option 2) has opened up a new route which is longer but less cumbersome.

Route 1 from Colombo to KandyRoute 2 from Colombo to Kandy
Through : Kadawata – Warakapola – Ambepussa – Mawanella
Distance :120 km
Travel time : 3.45 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala
Distance :150 km
Travel time : 3.20 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Route From Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
Through : Walapane – Raja Mawatha
Distance :100 km
Travel time : 3.0 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Route from Kandy to Gonawatta Ancient Caves
Though : Tennekumura
Distance : 12 km
Travel time : 30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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