Located 93 km northeast of Colombo, Kurunegala is a commercial town as well as a transport hub connecting a number of main cities in Sri Lanka such as Negombo, Colombo, Anuradhapura, Puttalam and Kandy. Kurunegala remained the royal capital of Sri Lanka for about 50 years during 13th and 14th centuries. Though not a main tourist destination, suburban towns and villages of Kurunegala offer many heritage and cultural attractions.
At a glance
-Area : 11 km2
-Population : Approx 30,000
-Distance : 93 km northeast of Colombo (2-hr drive)
-Province : Northwestern Province
-Climate : Hot and humid throughout the year, max temperature 35oC in April, rainy from May to August and from October to January.
110 kms from Colombo, Ridi Vihara is located in Ridigama, a small village 20 kms northeast of Kurunegala town. This temple is believed to be built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BCE, as a monument to the place where he found a silver (Ridi) ore mine which was used to finance the building of the gigantic Ruwanweli Seya in Anuradhapura.
This area was part of the Kandyan Kingdom during European occupation and King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha has made major renovations on this temple. Therefore most of the paintings and statues seen today belong to the Kandyan Era. On the way to the main cave is a curious image house built entirely of stone. This is said to be the cave where the Indragupta Maha Thero consumed the Jak fruit offered by a merchant. Inside this image house is a seated Buddha statue and all the walls have Buddhist paintings belonging to the Kandyan period.
The design of this building strangely resembles a Devale. There is also a hallway to enter the shrine similar to Devale Design. The 8-stone pillars holding the main roof of the hallway have carvings of female dancers which are not generally found in the Buddha image houses. Therefore it could be that this building was built during a period where the Hindu beliefs were strongly present in the country such as the Polonnaruwa or Kandyan period.
Passing this image house you would enter an entrance hall of the main Vihara complex. Here you would see a massive arms bowl which is said to have been used for Buddha Puja in the ancient times.
The Maha Vihara is located inside a spacious rock cave and contains a 9 metre recumbent Buddha image and the original gold plated Buddha Image donated by King Dutugemunu. At the feet of recumbent Buddha image is a statue of Ananda Thero, a statue of a Maitree Bodhisattva and then statues of some deities
Entrance to the Uda Vihara is through a side door in the Maha Vihara. Here you will pass a protected door frame decorated with ivory carvings. Door frames decorated with ivory are an extremely rare feature for ancient buildings. This door has been subject to vandalism and the lower parts of the ivory are now missing. At the top centre of the decorations is what looks like a vase but closer inspection reveals it a carving of 5 females interwoven together. Besides this is a carving of 2 lions. Around these are fragments of the ivory designs covering the rest of the frame.
At the end of the cave, outside the shrine room, there is a painting of "Navanari Kunjaraya", the figures of nine women arranged in such a way to create the image of an elephant. Inside the temple are stupas. One beside a cave behind the Uda Maluwa and the other is on an altogether separate hill called "Sarasum Gala".
The Citadel of Yapahuwa
Lying midway between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura, the citadel of Yapahuwa was built by King Buvanekabahu I during 13th century. This magnificent rock fortress rises up to about 100 metres from the surrounding plain and is complemented with a steep ornamental staircase.
Remains of a stupa, a Bodhi tree enclosure, and a rock cave believed to be used by Buddhist monks can be seen atop the rock. The base of the rock is comprised of several caves in one of which is a shrine with Buddha images. One cave bears a Brahmi script inscription. A fortification with two moats and bulwarks is visible at the southern base of the rock.
Located on the Kurunegala-Kandy Road, 150 metres away from the Kurunegala city, Etkanda Vihara is essentially a monastery where the five hundred and fifty birth tales of Buddha was translated to Sinhala during the reign of Parakramabahu IV. The original Ola leaf version of this great work can still seen well-preserved at this monastery.
Padeniya Vihara lies at Padeniya 25 km northwest of Kurunegala. This Kandyan-style Buddhist temple records its inception with the planting of a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi of Anuradhapura at this place during the reign of King Devanapiyatissa. The main shrine is supported by 28 magnificent carved pillars and its door has been elaborately decorated. The Vihara has an ancient clay image house, a library and a preaching hall.
Hattikuchchi Vihara, located in a picturesque setting at Galgamuwa, is an ancient temple of great historical and archaeological value. According to historians, this is believed to be the temple where King Sirisanga Bo, a righteous king, donated his head cut off to a pheasant. A large number ruins including a circular relic house, a chapter house, an image house, an alms hall, dagobas, and 16 ponds can be seen spread over a 300-acre area.