Kurunegala was the capital of Sri Lanka during the reigns of the Sinhalese kings Bhuvanekabahu II (1293–1302) and Parakramabahu IV (1302-26); however, little of the city’s 13th- and 14th-century splendour survives. If you’re travelling from the Cultural Triangle’s tranquil countryside, the modern city’s bustling streets and constant bustle may come as a shock.


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Hectic and bewildering Kurenegala is the capital of the Northwest Province and a major commercial hub, as the largest city between Anuradhapura and Colombo. You may have to switch buses in this town because it serves as a hub for routes connecting Colombo, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy, and Anuradhapura. Kurunegala isn’t particularly interesting on its own, but it makes a good home base for seeing the many attractions in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle to the southwest.

Kurunegala is not typically included in vacation packages to Sri Lanka, although it is a popular rest stop for visitors making the lengthy journey from Colombo to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Kurunegala, another ancient city in Sri Lanka, is home to several fascinating sites, like the Ridi Vihara.

Kurunegala was the capital of Sri Lanka during the reigns of the Sinhalese kings Bhuvanekabahu II (1293–1302) and Parakramabahu IV (1302-26); however, little of the city’s 13th- and 14th-century splendour survives. If you’re travelling from the Cultural Triangle’s tranquil countryside, the modern city’s bustling streets and constant bustle may come as a shock.

Other than its charming stone clock tower and war memorial from 1922, the town’s main attractions are the massive exposed rock formations that encircle the town and give it an oddly lunar atmosphere, and the windy Kurunegala Tank, located to the north of the town. Legend has it that these stony artefacts are what’s left of a bizarre menagerie of huge animals like tortoises, eels, and elephants that were about to drain the lake empty before a demonic entity that dwelled in the waters turned them to stone.

Located just above town, the massive Buddha statue atop Etagala (Elephant Rock) is well worth the couple hours it takes to walk up or take a tuktuk up to it.

What to see in Kurunegala?

The Yapahuwa and Panduwas Nuwara abandoned villages, the interesting Arankele forest monastery, and the spectacular Padeniya and Ridi Vihara temples, relics of the Kandyan era, may all be found in the infrequently visited area north of Kurunegala. Independent travellers can easily spend a day seeing both cities, whether starting in Kurunegala and ending in Anuradhapura or vice versa. (If you wish to save money by not renting a car for the entire trip to Anuradhapura, have someone drop you off at Daladagama, where you may catch a bus to your destination.)


Yapahuwa Castle is located 45 kilometres north of Kurunegala, just off the Kurunegala-Anuradhapura travel route. Elevated by about 100 m above the surrounding plains, it was constructed around a massive boulder of granite. One of the Sinhalese capitals that fell at the end of that empire in the thirteenth century was Yapahuwa, which Bhuvanekabahu I founded (1272–84). As a defence against South Indian invasions, he moved the capital here from Polonnaruwa. He also brought the tooth relic with him. Unfortunately, the move had no noticeable effect. After the Pandyan dynasty’s armies conquered Yapahuwa in 1284, they brought the Tooth Relic to the city of Madurai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Yapahuwa was taken and then abandoned, becoming a haven for hermits and monks, while Kurunegala was declared the new capital.

Panduwan Nuwara

The ruins of one of Sri Lanka’s ancient cities, Panduwas Nuwara, may be found halfway between the cities of Kurunegala and Chilaw in the country’s infrequently visited countryside. It is generally agreed that the city has existed since the inception of Sinhala civilization; its name, “Town of Panduwas,” comes from the mythological figure King Panduvasudeva. Like most of the early history of the area, the borders between reality and myth are unclear, if not completely muddled, yet it is said to have been the home of the legendary Ektem Maligaya.

Most of the structures were built during the reign of King Parakramabahu I, a courageous king who made this area his capital before conquering neighbouring Polonnaruwa. King Parakramabahu is credited with amazing feats at Polonnaruwa, but many people think his city at Panduwas Nuwara was a dry run. Even if the individual remnants of the city are not as noteworthy as they once were, the place evokes a sense of lost grandeur reminiscent of Ozymandias. The sheer size of the site is impressive.

The fortress

The abandoned city covers a wide area, measured in square kilometres. With a single entrance facing east and high walls and a dried-up moat protecting it, the citadel is in the middle. The most important structure to have been destroyed is the two-story royal palace located within the citadel; it faces the entryway and was designed to replicate Parakramabahu’s palace in Polonnaruwa. Although not much is left, you can still make out the pillar bases that once supported the wooden castle. A table with an inscription sits at the top of the stairs on the left, commemorating the entrance of the raucous Nissankamalla for a dance performance. A water channel leading to a well-like cesspit is all that’s left of a sophisticated mediaeval toilet that once stood to the right of this terrace. The mounds of many ancient structures remain disguised beneath the woodland regions that still surround the castle, despite the fact that a few tiny, nicely repaired ruins of older buildings surround the palace.

Ruins of Buddhist monasteries

The huge ruins of three monasteries lie to the south of the citadel. One can find the remains of a temple with just the Buddha’s feet still in tact, a bo tree enclosure (bodhigara), and a dagoba built of broken brick around 200 metres to the south. To the south are two more ruined dagobas and more monastic buildings. Another monastery features a Tamil inscription on its entrance.

The third, and maybe most impressive, of the three is located about 250 metres to the south. A large stupa on a massive elevated square foundation is opposite a smaller vatadage (on a circular base) in the ruins of a bodhigara with high walls.

A fourth, much more modern, and operational monastery can be found even further south. An outdated wooden pavilion from the Kandyan era presides over the monastery’s main structure, known as a tampita. Modern, multicoloured architecture surrounds the tampita.

Ektam Maligawa

The most mysterious and alluring part of Panduwas Nuwara is not far from the contemporary monastery. The small round building’s foundations are right in the center of the sizable circular depression, which has some walls surrounding it. This structure is unique on the island. It is said that the king was placed at the centre of a circular space representing the universe, and that these are the legendary remains of Ektem Maligaya. A more likely historical explanation, however, is that this was the site where supporters of Parakramabahu swore allegiance.

The Panduwas Nuwara Museum

Ten minutes spent in the tiny Panduwas Nuwara Museum, which displays antiquities from the site, are well spent before leaving the compound. Notable items include a mirror made from a rare polished stone and a miniature metal sculpture of Parakramabahu that has a striking resemblance to the famous monarch figure at Polonnaruwa’s Potgul Vihara.


As the daughter of the mythical King Panduvasudeva, Unmadachitra (which roughly translates to “she whose beauty drives men mad”) was one of the most alluring femme fatales of ancient Sri Lanka. As a young girl, she overheard a prophecy that foretold her son would murder his uncles and then take over as king. To stop this from happening, Panduvasudeva had Unmadachitra locked up in the round, windowless Ektem Maligaya. Unmadachitra, however, did not spend any time in falling in love with one specific Digha-Gamini, an eligible young prince, as do most young princesses held hostage in vast towers. They quickly wed and produced a kid they called Pandukabhaya before being driven into hiding. Pandukabhaya finally came out to his uncles when he was an adult. After then, everyone was executed save for Anuradha, who had refused to fight his questionable nephew. After naming his new city after Anuradha, Pandukabhaya chose the name Anuradhapura.

Ridi Vihara

The cave temple of Ridi Vihara can be found roughly 20 miles northeast of Kurunegala, in the midst of beautiful undulating farmland. If you have access to your own mode of transportation, it’s definitely worth looking into. Known as the “Silver Temple,” Ridi Vihara is built by the legendary King Dutugemunu. Dutugemunu built the enormous Ruvanvalisaya dagoba in Anuradhapura after finding a rich vein of silver ore in Ridi Vihara. To show his gratitude, the king built a shrine close to the silver vein.

The temple ofVarakha Valandu Vihara

The little Varakha can be found to the left of the main entrance, beyond some newer monastic buildings and a stunning old bo tree. Valandu Vihara, often known as the “Jackfruit Temple,” is a modest building perched on a rocky outcrop. Built as a Hindu temple in the eleventh century and later turned into a Buddhist temple, the structure has kept its signature South Indian appearance with huge, rectangular columns supporting a seemingly sturdy stone roof.

The Peaceful Sanctuary of Pahala Vihara

After passing the Varakha Valandu Vihara, you’ll see a massive rock outcropping that looks like the hood of a cobra; this is where the main temple is located. The temple is split in two sections. The ancient Pahala Vihara (Lower Temple) resembles a cave cut into the side of a cliff. A beautiful ivory carving of five women guards the entrance, and inside, several enormous statues stand solemnly in the low lighting. To the left of the entrance, there is a big Buddha statue that appears to be asleep. In front of it is a platform covered in inlaid blue and white Flemish tiles, said to have been a gift from a Dutch envoy to the Kandyan court. Tiles in this sacred Buddhist shrine subtly try to proselytise Christians by depicting biblical themes and Dutch rural surroundings. One of the weathered statues at the far end of the temple is widely considered to depict an eroded image of Dutugemunu.

Uda Vihara

The steps leading up to the Upper Temple, or Uda Vihara, which the Kandyan emperor Kirti Sri Rajasinha built in the eighteenth century, are to the right of the Pahala Vihara. The main room has a spectacular image of a seated Buddha against a crowded background (the black figures are Vishnus), and the exterior entry stairs have a superb moonstone with elephant-shaped balustrades on either side. Take note of the doorway hidden behind it, which leads to the tiny shrine with the odd painting of nine women organised like an elephant. There is a dagoba outside, almost hidden by another rock outcropping.

A hundred or so steps, some carved directly into the bare rock, lead back to the monastery’s gate and culminate at a small but recently renovated dagoba with breathtaking vistas.

Arankele Monastery

Arankele, a remote forest hermitage some 25 kilometres north of Kurunegala on a jungle-covered mountainside, is one of the most fascinating and rarely-visited locations in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Although most of Arankele has yet to be explored, it was inhabited as early as the third century BC. The majority of the current landmarks were constructed between the sixth and ninth centuries. There is still a pamsukulika monastic group living at the monastery at the property’s rear, where they maintain a solitary, contemplative lifestyle.

The Buddha’s monastic ruins

The beautiful Jantaghara, whose name means “hot water bath” and may be a monastery hospital like the one at Mihintale, can be seen just before the site’s entrance. A beautiful antique stone bathing tank rests atop sturdy rectangular walls.

The primary abbey

The massive remains of the primary monastery can be found just past the entrance. It’s hard to believe that ancient Sinhalese engineers and craftsmen moved and shaped such enormous boulders. They are well-known for the superior craftsmanship that went into their construction and for the enormous stone slabs that were used. The large moat that surrounds the beautiful chapter house, one of the most prominent buildings here, serves to keep the area’s air temperature from rising too high. There are a number of steps leading down to a sizable pond. The monastery’s main welcome hall is located nearby; it has a floor made up of just four massive granite slabs, a stone lavatory that is both ornate and luxurious, and a small, once-covered meditation promenade that is unique in all of Sri Lanka. The columns that once held up the roof are still visible from their footings, but the roof itself has disappeared.

Meditation Promenade

Beyond the main monastery at Arankele begins the wonderful major meditation promenade. There are a few tiny flights of stairs interspersed along the straight, long stone route. Wild and dry tropical flora contrast with its mathematical precision. After walking about 250 metres, you come to a minor “roundabout” in the path. The general opinion is that it was constructed to prevent meditating monks from tripping over each other, even though it was probably just a rest space with a long-gone roof. The main monk’s dwelling’s remnants can be found nearby. Some of these structures include the partially fallen pillars that once supported an outdoor meditation platform, the ruins of a vast hall, and the obligatory loo.

After around 250 metres, the meditation path reaches a small cave shrine tucked away in the shadow of a rocky crag. This section of the ruins dates back to the third century BC and is thus the oldest. The apertures where the projecting canopies were fastened are still there, as is the original drip ledge. Inside are two smaller meditation rooms, one of which features a Buddha shrine.

Once inside the contemporary monastery, the path continues along a long, covered hallway to the back entrance.

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