Kurunegala, Sri Lanka

The windy Kurunegala Tank, which is to the north of the town, as well as the town’s sizable exposed rock formations that cast an unsettling lunar atmosphere around it, are what set it apart most. Additionally, the town features a picturesque stone clock tower and a war memorial from 1922 that observes the bustling central area in silence. As

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The Kurunegala

Frequent and frustrating As the largest city between Anuradhapura and Colombo, Kurenegala serves as the commercial and political capital of the Northwest Province. Considering that the town is situated at a significant intersection of the bus routes that link Colombo, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy, and Anuradhapura, it is possible that bus changes will be necessary. While Kurunegala does not merit a visit in and of itself, it serves as a practical launching point for discovering the variety of attractions in the southwest region of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle.

While not typically incorporated into Sri Lanka tour itineraries, Kurunegala serves as a popular destination for tourists seeking a place to pause during their several-hour journey from Colombo to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. In addition to Ridi Vihara, the historical city of Kurunegala is home to numerous other intriguing and historically significant sites in Sri Lanka.

While little is known about it, during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, when it was the capital of the Sinhalese rulers Bhuvanekabahu II (1293–1302) and Parakramabahu IV (1302–26), Kurunegala briefly rose to prominence in Sri Lankan history. One will be surprised to find the bustling metropolis and unstable atmosphere of the modern town upon leaving the serene Cultural Triangle hinterland.

The windy Kurunegala Tank, which is to the north of the town, as well as the town’s sizable exposed rock formations that cast an unsettling lunar atmosphere around it, are what set it apart most. Additionally, the town features a picturesque stone clock tower and a war memorial from 1922 that observes the bustling central area in silence. As per the unavoidable legend, these are the indistinguishable remnants of an enigmatic collection of monstrous creatures—including elephants, tortoises, and eels—that were on the verge of depleting the lake when they were transformed to stone by a malevolent entity that resided in the waters.

A few hours of walking or taking a tuktuk to the enormous Buddha statue atop Etagala (Elephant Rock), situated just above the city and offering breathtaking views, is well worth the effort.

About Kurunegala

An uncommon assemblage of attractions can be found in the region north of Kurunegala; these include the deserted villages of Yapahuwa and Panduwas Nuwara, the enthralling forest monastery of Arankele, and the magnificent Kandyan-era Padeniya and Ridi Vihara temples. Those who are venturing out independently may allocate an entire day to explore each of these locations while returning from Anuradhapura from Kurunegala, or vice versa. (To optimise cost-effectiveness by avoiding car rental expenses en route to Anuradhapura, request a drop-off at Daladagama, from which bus transportation is convenient.)

Yapahuwa

The magnificent Yapahuwa castle is situated 45 kilometres north of Kurunegala, just off the Anuradhapura road. It is constructed atop the surrounding plains at an elevation of about one hundred metres and is encircled by a sizable granite monolith. Bhuvanekabahu I (1272–84), one of the erratic rulers who emerged during the Sinhalese collapse in the thirteenth century, founded Yapahuwa. Taking the Tooth Relic with him, he relocated the capital from the less fortuitous Polonnaruwa to this location in response to repeated incursions from South India. The course of action, however, proved to be ineffective. The warriors of the Pandyan dynasty transported the Tooth Relic to Madurai, Tamil Nadu, after capturing Yapahuwa in 1284. Following its conquest, Yapahuwa was largely deserted and reclaimed by priests and hermits, and Kurunegala was proclaimed the new capital.

Panduwas Nuwara

Located in the seldom-visited countryside halfway between Kurunegala and Chilaw, the historical city of Panduwas Nuwara, one of the nation’s earliest, can be found. The origin of the city’s name, “Town of Panduwas,” is the mythological Panduvasudeva; furthermore, the city is believed to have existed since the stone age of Sinhala civilization. It is also said to have been the domicile of the legendary Ektem Maligaya; however, as with the majority of the region’s early history, the distinction between fact and fiction is hazy, if not entirely obscured.

The majority of the relics trace back to the reign of the valiant monarch Parakramabahu I, who founded his capital in this location before capturing Polonnaruwa. There is a prevailing belief among some individuals that Parakramabahu utilised Panduwas Nuwara as a proving ground prior to his stupendous exploits at Polonnaruwa. The site exudes an aura of diminished magnificence reminiscent of Ozymandias, despite the fact that the city’s individual relics are no longer as remarkable as they once were. The site is undeniably magnificent in its entirety.

The fortress

The ruinous metropolis encompasses an area of several square kilometres. The citadel, situated in the centre, features a solitary entrance that faces eastward and is enclosed by fortified walls and a desiccated canal. The principal ruin is the royal palace, consisting of two levels, situated within the citadel. It is oriented towards the entrance and bears resemblance to the royal house of Parakramabahu at Polonnaruwa. Although not much remains, the footings for the pillars that once sustained the defunct timber palace structure are still visible. In remembrance of the lively Nissankamalla’s attendance at a dance performance, a table bearing an inscription is positioned atop the leftmost flight of stairs. Situated to the rear right of this terrace are the remnants of an intelligent mediaeval latrine, which formerly comprised a well-like cesspit and a water conduit. Although the palace is encircled by a few tastefully restored ruins of earlier structures, the castle itself is still predominantly engulfed in forested areas. Some of the old structures are still hidden under the mounds.

The monastic structures

Three enormous ruins of monasteries border the citadel to the south. The initial structure, situated approximately 200 metres to the south, comprises a shattered masonry dagoba, a bo tree enclosure known as a bodhigara, and the sole surviving portion of a temple consisting of the Buddha’s feet. Located in the southern direction, there are two additional dilapidated dagobas and additional monastic structures. Additionally, another monastery’s entrance bears a Tamil inscription.

Located approximately 250 metres to the south, it is the third and arguably most prominent of the three. The area in question encompasses the remnants of a bodhigara with tall walls, a tampita (a shrine supported by pillars), and a stupa situated atop a circular vatadage. The stupa is elevated on a square foundation and faces a smaller vatadage.

Even further south is a fourth, considerably more contemporary monastery that is still operational. A deteriorating timber pavilion dating back to the Kandyan era serves as the entrance to the tampita, the principal structure of the monastery. A vibrant variety of contemporary structures surround the tampita.

Ektam Maligaya

A short distance from the modern monastery is the most mysterious and intriguing location in Panduwas Nuwara. It encompasses the foundations of the small circular structure precisely positioned in the middle of a large, circular, partially walled depression. There is nothing else on the island comparable to this structure. According to legend, the king’s position at the centre of a circular region symbolising the universe is precisely the renowned abode of Ektem Maligaya. A more plausible historical explanation, however, is that oaths of allegiance to Parakramabahu were administered at this location.

Museum Panduwas Nuwara

It is highly recommended that you dedicate ten minutes of your time prior to departing the complex to visit the Panduwas Nuwara Museum, a tiny facility that contains artefacts originating from the site. An exceptional showcase comprises a polished-stone mirror and a miniature metal sculpture depicting Parakramabahu, which is positioned in a manner that bears a remarkable resemblance to the renowned king figure found at the Potgul Vihara in Polonnaruwa.

Unmadachitra

Unmadachitra (loosely translated as “she whose beauty drives men insane”), the progeny of the renowned King Panduvasudeva, emerged as one of the most captivating femme fatales during the early years of Sri Lankan history. As a young child, she was informed of a prophecy that her son would ascend to the throne by murdering his relatives. In an effort to prevent this from occurring, Panduvasudeva imprisoned Unmadachitra in the windowless, circular Ektem Maligaya. However, Unmadachitra, similar to the majority of youthful princesses confined within formidable structures, wasted no time in developing a deep affection for Digha-Gamini, a young prince who was eligible. The youthful couple wed immediately and had a son named Pandukabhaya before the latter was compelled to hide. Upon reaching adulthood, Pandukabhaya directly confronted his uncles and revealed his true personality. All of them were subsequently executed, with the exception of Anuradha, who refused to engage in combat with his doubtful nephew. In remembrance of Anuradha, Pandukabhaya consequently named his new metropolis Anuradhapura.

The Ridi Vihara

Ridi Vihara is a cave sanctuary situated in picturesque pastureland, approximately 20 kilometres northeast of Kurunegala. Investigate whether you have access to your own conveyance; if not, reaching the location may prove challenging. Often referred to as the “Silver Temple,” Ridi Vihara is considered the creation of the legendary King Dutugemunu. Following the identification of a substantial silver ore deposit in Ridi Vihara, Dutugemunu proceeded to erect the colossal Ruvanvalisaya dagoba in Anuradhapura. As a public expression of gratitude, the monarch built a shrine in close proximity to the site where the silver vein was discovered.

Varakha Valandu Vihara

The minuscule Varakha is located to the left of the entrance compound, in the direction of modern monastery structures and an ancient bo tree of exquisite beauty. The “Jackfruit Temple,” also known as Valandu Vihara, is a picturesque edifice perched atop a minuscule rock outcrop. Built in the eleventh century, the structure, which was originally erected as a Hindu temple before undergoing a transformation into a Buddhist temple, retained its distinctive South Indian features, including sizable rectangular columns that supported what appeared to be a sturdy stone roof.

Pahala Vihara

Beneath the Varakha Valandu Vihara, beneath a large granite protrusion that is said to resemble the hood of a cobra, is the principal temple. The temple is a two-compartment structure. Beneath the rock, the ancient Pahala Vihara (Lower Temple) is constructed in the form of a cave. Adjacent to the front door is an exquisite ivory sculpture depicting five women, while within the dimly lit space are several colossal statues that are positioned with solemn expressions. A sizable Buddha in slumber is situated to the cave’s left. In front of it stands a pedestal adorned with blue-and-white Flemish tiles that was allegedly presented to the Kandyan court by a Dutch diplomat. The sanctified Buddhist shrine exhibits a nuanced endeavour at Christian proselytization via the tile designs, which portray biblical motifs and Dutch country settings. One of the deteriorated monuments located at the far end of the temple is thought to represent an eroded figure of Dutugemunu.

Uda Vihara

The steps leading up to the Upper Temple, also known as Uda Vihara, which the Kandyan emperor Kirti Sri Rajasinha built in the eighteenth century, are to the right of the Pahala Vihara. The external entrance stairs are adorned with elephant-shaped balustrades crafted from moonstone. Meanwhile, the main chamber showcases an exceptional painting of a seated Buddha set against a densely populated backdrop, with the black figures representing Vishnus. Also noteworthy is the entrance leading to the small shrine, which features an extraordinary painting depicting nine women arranged in the form of an elephant atop it. Externally, concealed beneath an additional protruding segment of granite, is a dagoba.

After returning to the monastery entrance via approximately one hundred steps, some of which are carved into the exposed rock, one arrives at a modest yet well-repaired dagoba that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.

Arankele Hermitage

The deserted forest hermitage of Arankele, located on a mountainside amidst dense vegetation and approximately 25 kilometres north of Kurunegala, is one of the most intriguing and rarely visited locations in the Cultural Triangle. While much remains to be explored in Arankele, evidence suggests that human habitation can be traced back to the third century BC. The majority of what is present-day dates to between the sixth and ninth centuries A.D. The monastery located at the rear of the property continues to house a community of pamsukulika priests who have committed their lives to solemnity and introspection.

The remnants of a Buddhist monastery

Take note of the magnificent Jantaghara, which translates to “hot water bath” and may have been a monastic infirmary comparable to the one at Mihintale, just prior to approaching the site’s entrance. Adorned with sturdy rectangular walls, a beautiful bathing tank made of ancient stone stands.

The principal monastic

Immediately beyond the entrance are the immense remnants of the primary monastery. The manner in which the early Sinhalese artisans and engineers managed to transport and manipulate such enormous boulders is almost incomprehensible. They have gained significant recognition for their exceptional artistry and the colossal stone slabs that were employed in their fabrication. A significant moat encircles the beautiful chapter house, which is among the most prominent structures in this area, for the purpose of cooling the air. A set of steps leads up to a sizable reservoir. In close proximity is the principal reception hall of the monastery, which is adorned with an ornate stone lavatory, a modest, once-covered meditation promenade, and four enormous granite slabs for flooring. It is also the only structure of its kind in Sri Lanka. Although the columns that once supported the roof remain visible on the footings, the roof itself has been completely removed for an extended period of time.

Approach to contemplation

Beyond the main monastery commences the magnificent principal meditation promenade of Arankele. It is a lengthy, straight stone path with a few brief flights of stairs interspersed within. It traverses untamed and parched tropical vegetation, which is in stark contrast to its mathematical precision. The path reaches a miniature “roundabout” after approximately 250 metres. Although it was probably solely a rest area with a long-destroyed roof, it is widely believed that it was constructed to prevent meditating monks from tripping over one another. The primary monk’s residence ruins are situated in close proximity. Included among these are the remnants of a capacious hall, an unavoidable lavatory, and a few partially collapsed pillars that once sustained a platform for outdoor meditation.

After about 250 metres, the meditation path terminates at a small cave sanctuary nested beneath a rock outcrop. The earliest portion of the remains, which dates to the third century BC, is located here. The drainage ledge and the apertures that were formerly secured for a projecting canopy remain intact. Inside, one can find a miniature Buddha shrine and two additional meditation chambers.

The route then enters the contemporary monastery, where a lengthy, covered corridor provides access to the rear entrance.