Ancient City of Yapahuwa | Sundara Pabbata of Subha

The Yapahuwa fortress was originally built by Subha, a military chief, to protect that part of the country from Kalinga Magha in the 13th century AD.
Ancient City of Yapahuwa
Yapahuwa Archaeological Site (Sinhala: යාපහුව පුරාවිද්‍යා ස්ථානය; Tamil: யாப்பகூவா) is situated in Kurunegala District, Sri Lanka. It is considered one of the major tourist sites in the country consisting of a large number of ancient monuments ranging from the Anuradhapura Period to the Dambadeniya Period. The monuments are found scattered on and around Yapahuwa rock rising 236 m (774.27 ft.) above mean sea level. The site is well-known among the people for its rock fortress and magnificently carved rock staircase.

Yapahuwa Buddhist monastery
Yapahuwa Buddhist monastery
There is a Buddhist monastery at the Yapahuwa Rock. It was established in the early Christian centuries long before the construction of the Yapahuwa fortress by Subha (Nicholas, 1963). Large-sized bricks containing the earliest type of Brahmi letters as mason's mark have been found on the top part of the rock and also a few Early Brahmi Inscriptions of the 1st century A.D. have been found on a rock near a cave with drip-ledges at the foot of the rock (Paranavitana, 2001). They reveal the donation of tanks to the Buddhist monks who were living in the monastery at Yapahuwa (Dias, 1991; Paranavitana, 2001). However, there is no evidence of its being occupied by monks since the 2nd century A.D., till the 13th century (Fernando, 1990).
Period: 1st century A.D.       Script: Old Sinhala       Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: (1) Bamaha-nakaraka-vavi sagike (2) Coribevire-vavi sagike
Translation: (1) The tank of Bamaha town (was given) to Sangha. (2) The tank Corabevire (was given) to Sangha.
Notes: This inscription represents the end of the period of cave inscriptions when tanks were donated to individual monasteries.
Citation: Dias, 1991. p.3.
Of these inscriptions, one has the name "Yapawa" which according to scholars, could be the earliest form of the present name Yapahuwa (Paranavitana, 2001). Also, the name of this site is found in the ancient Buddhist text Bodhivamsa (Anuradha & Kumari, 2015).

The Yapahuwa fortress
The fortress at Yapahuwa was originally built by General Subha, a Sinhala chieftain, to protect that part of the country from the Kalinga invader Magha (1210-1230 A.D.) who was ruling the Polonnaruwa Kingdom (Fernando, 1990; Modder, 1893). As recorded in chronicles, Subha built the fortress on Yapahuwa rock (ancient names: Subhapabbata, Sundarapabbata, Subhacala, Subhagiripura) and successfully prevented the invader and his hordes from entering his territory (Modder, 1893; Nicholas, 1963). Meanwhile, some of the chieftains in the Ruhunu and Maya countries also had built strongholds in various places in the country (Ray, 1960). Bhuwanekabahu, the prince (Adipada) of Rohana had his stronghold at Govindahela and a military leader called Samkha had his one at Minipe (Ray, 1960). However, these chieftains had no cooperation among themselves to fight against Magha (Dias et al., 2016; Ray, 1960)

Later, King Vijayabahu IV (1270-1272 A.D.) of Dambadeniya, during his reign, improved this old fortification and stationed his younger brother there (de Silva, 1990; Modder, 1893; Nicholas, 1963). Chandrabanu (Sri Dhammaraja of Tambralinga), the Javaka invader who encamped at Yapahuwa with his army was defeated by princes Vijayabahu IV and his cousin Virabahu in about 1262 (Modder, 1893; Nicholas, 1963; Ray, 1960).

Capital of Dambadeniya Kingdom
The fortress was further improved into a great city by King Buwanekabahu I (1272-1284 A.D.) who later transferred his capital from Dambadeniya to Yapahuwa (de Silva, 1990; Nicholas, 1963). However, after the death of Buwanekabahu I in 1284, the South Indian Pandyans invaded Yapahuwa and looted all the royal treasures including the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. After this invasion, Yapahuwa was abandoned (Nicholas, 1963).

However, the Tooth Relic of the Buddha was recovered again by King Parakramabahu III (1287-1293 A.D.) through negotiations with Pandyans (Hocart, 1931).

Yapahuwa rock & ruins
Yapahuwa rock
Yapahuwa is a huge isolated boulder of elliptical shape about 300 ft. high (Harward, 1896). Its sides are dangerously steep but can be ascended on its southeast face. The present Buddhist monastery is found at the foot of the rock.
Present ruins of the fortress capital of Buwanekabahu I preserve its walls and moat and the sculptured stone works of staircases and buildings (de Silva, 1990; Nicholas, 1963). The plan of the Yapahuwa fortification is roughly semicircular and three ramparts (inner, outer, and outer earthen), and one broad moat with three causeways across it provided a defence to the fort. As the first line of defence, there was a low earthen dyke around the moat (de Silva, 1990).
The diameter of the area covered by the inner rampart is 200 m while the outer rampart is about 450 m (de Silva, 1990; Harward, 1896). The height of the inner rampart is 8-10 ft. and the area enclosed by this wall formed the precincts of the royal palace and the temples attached to it (Harward, 1896). The outer earthen ramparts were over 800 m in length and an average of 7 m in height (de Silva, 1990). Three entrances on the southern, east and west provided access to the fort. The ruins of permanent buildings are seen only within the inner city surrounded by a retaining wall of dressed slabs of granite. However, the remains of bricks, pottery pieces and tiles are found in places outside the inner city (Anuradha & Kumari, 2015).

An archaeological reserve
The land plot named Yapahuwa Puravidya Sthanaya (F.V.P. 1888 15 A, 15B,11A, 18 [A.C.1292, Ac 1293,1294]) situated in Maligama, Game-Yapahuwa village is an archaeological reserve, declared by a government Gazette notification published on 29 March 1935.
1) Anuradha, R.K.S.; Kumari, A.S., 2015. Pauranika Sthana Saha Smaraka: Kurunegala Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). ISBN: 955-9159-37-2. pp.95-97.
2) de Silva, N., 1990. Sri Lankan architecture during the period 1200-1500 A.D. Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief). Archaeological Department centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series: Volume III: Architecture. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). p.76.
3) Dias, M., 1991. Epigraphical notes (Nos 1 -18). Colombo: Department of Archaeology. pp.1,3.
4) Dias, M.; Koralage, S.B.; Asanga, K., 2016. The archaeological heritage of Jaffna peninsula. Department of Archaeology. Colombo. pp.178-179.
5) Fernando, W.B.M., 1990. History of the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka 1930-1950. Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief). Archaeological Department centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series: Volume I: History of the Department of Archaeology. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). pp.104-105.
6) Harward, J., 1896. Note on the fortifications of Yapahuwa. The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 14(47), pp.237-239.
7) Hocart, A.M. ed., 1931. Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon IV: The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Messrs. Luzac & Co. pp.1-.
8) Modder, F.H., 1893. Ancient cities and temples in the Kurunegala District: Yapahuwa. The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 13(44), pp.97-114.
9) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.95.
10) Paranavitana, S., 2001 (Edited by Dias, M.). Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. II. Part II. Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka. pp.287-288.
11) Ray, H.C. (Editor in chief), 1960. History of Ceylon: Vol. I: Part II. Ceylon University Press. Colombo. pp.613,628.
12) The government Gazette notification. 29 March 1935. 

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This page was last updated on 3 December 2023

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