By Arundathie Abeysinghe
An ancient fortress and capital built in 1301, approximately 145 km. from Colombo, Yapahuwa is a rock rising to a height of 90 metres.There are many traces of ancient battle defences, but the biggest showpiece is its ornamental stairway. The steps of this stairway are narrow and need to be manoeuvered sideways. According to historians this may be a form of defence as the steps can neither be ascended or descended hastily. Thus it paved the way for those at the top to arm themselves against an enemy onslaught.
At the top of the stairway is a large stone doorway flanked by thick walls and two exquisitely carved windows. During early excavations one window was found in fragments while the other called the Sivumeduru Kawuluwa (perforated palace window) is well preserved. At present it is in the archaeological museum situated at the entrance to the rock fortress. This marvellous piece of work is a slab of stone four feet seven inches thick, while the mouldings within are three inches in thickness. It's surface is punctured with 45 circles through which light once entered the hall.
Yapahuwa is also home to the singular Chinese-looking 'Yapahuwa lion' stone sculpture, the likeness of which is reproduced in the Rs. 10 currency note.
Historians compare Yapahuwa rock with Sigiriya but Yapahuwa was built on a much smaller scale. The Yapahuwa rock and its surrounding area became the capital of Sri Lanka for a short period in the 13 th century. According to chronicles King Bhuvanekabahu I (1273-1284) built his palace on this rock rising loftily on the outskirts of Kurunegala.
The land at the base to the South is fortified with two moats and ramparts.
A cave temple was built for monks at the apex. In this enclosure there are remains of a number of buildings. The Sacred Tooth Relic was also brought from Dambadeniya and was kept in the special chamber.
The first archaeological excavation at Yapahuwa was carried out by H.C.P. Bell, the first Archaeological Commissioner in Sri Lanka (1810 - 1811). A special monument had been discovered during that time. According to the reports magnificent types of palace entrances were found by H.C.P. Bell during his excavations.
During the recent excavations carried out by Dr. Senarath Dissanayake, Yapahuwa has had pre-historic (from 1,000 B.C. to 500 B.C.) or early historic (from 500 B.C. to 200 A.D.) human settlements and it was the earliest settlement to be found on a rock. According to available evidence it had been a more urban settlement than a rural one.
The latest archaeological excavations at Yapahuwa reveal that the kingdom had close diplomatic relations with China during the 13th century.
Early excavations reveal that several Chinese ceramics were found which were among the finest ceramics found in the country.
A large number of celadon pottery parts and a large number of Chinese coins too were found. During H.C.P. Bell's excavations he had also found 12 Chinese coins.
The history surrounding Yapahuwa is fascinating. Yapahuwa was first occupied by the Chief Subha to defend it against South Indian forces penetrating Southwards.
Thus the rock was named after Subha; Subhapabbata in Pali and Yapahuwa in Sinhala. A South Indian ruler Arya Chakravarthi stormed the citadel of Yapahuwa paving the way for shifting the capital to another site. This fortress capital of the Sinhalese kings when abandoned was inhabited by Buddhist monks and religious ascetics.
The relics were carried away from the temple to South India by the Pandyans and then recovered in 1288 A.D. by Parakramabahu III (1287 - 1293) who temporarily placed them in safety in Polonnaruwa. The Pandyans left Yapahuwa but in the mid 16th century, the Portuguese marched in. They demolished most of the buildings and Yapahuwa was in ruins.
A special note of thanks is due to former Principal, Yapahuwa Maha Vidyalaya W. Abeysinghe for his guidance throughout the tour.
How to get to Yapahuwa: Colombo - Kurunegala - Puttlam road - Padeniya junction - Daladagama junction - Maho town - Morogallagama road - Yapahuwa.
(Sunday Observer, February 24, 2006)