The lost city of Yapahuwa

Published on January 30, 2011   ·   No Comments

by Nilma DOLE

The capital of ancient Sri Lanka, Yapahuwa has been long forgotten. One has only to take a look at a ten-rupee note and see a goggle-eyed and open-mouthed stone-sculpted lion in its majestic pose. People don’t bother to pay a visit to Yapahuwa because it is on a winding B-route from Kurunegala towards Anuradhapura. Finding the place can be a formidable task as faded signboards of the Archaeological Department along the way are your only hope to get to this lost city.

According to historical records King Buvanekabahu I who ruled from 1272 to 1284 is said to have moved the capital to Yapahuwa from Polonnaruwa as the latter was considered vulnerable to external attacks. The King would have considered Yapahuwa most suitable as the capital because of its impressive citadel rock, made of granite, on a raised platform towering about 100 metres.

It seemed somewhat like Sigiriya with its steep steps and difficult accessibility. The King took the famous Tooth Relic with him to protect it but it could not be kept there for long.

The South Indian Pandyan dynasty overcame the King’s most difficult defence strategies, stole the Tooth Relic and took it to Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Parakramabahu the III visited Madurai retrieved the Tooth Relic and installed it at Polonnaruwa and thereafter it was enshrined in Kandy.

Today, mostly hermits, bhikkhus and the occasional traveller visit Yapahuwa.

One may question as to why people aren’t interested in Yapahuwa anymore. For the average traveller, guides help the visitors climb the stupendous steps.

The panoramic view half-way between the rock and the intricately stone-carved art reveal the laborious task of our forefathers. Statues of elephants, makara thoranas (dragon arches), dancing dwarfs, gods and goddesses including a pair of the ten rupee note lion captivate the weary visitor.

The carving of the traditional Kandyan drum at the location is Sri Lanka’s oldest pictorial record of the famed perahera instrument.

Soon, you notice that it’s not just the bhikkhus who have made Yapahuwa their haven but curious torque monkeys who greet you as you ascend the rock.

At the top of the flight of steps, you visualise a somewhat ruined epi-centre where the Tooth Relic was actually kept.

If you are the adventurous kind and love to explore, a ten-minute scramble up the rock will take you up the tree-roots and green vines. A rusty iron rail has been added to make it easier for travellers to reach the top. the panoramic view encompasses a breath-taking view of Kurunegala’s villages, winding roads where vehicles travel and people seem like crawling ants.

The base of the rock shows what would have been the King’s palace with its stone remains. Higher up there is a plebian bricked, mossy dagoba overlooking a quaint lily pond. On your descent there are a few scattered remains of the lost city which would perhaps have been the capital in the days of yore.

A moat shows another defence mechanism to protect the city and the forest reveals a peaceful place of solitude for bhikkhus to meditate.

Some statues in the museum are made in Kandyan and Indian tradition. Some remnants of Maya-like and Arabian influenced sculptures suggest that there would have been trade with Sri Lanka and these gifts are testament of partnerships entered into centuries ago.

There is also a cave temple of wooden Buddha statues behind the museum.

Caretaker Asanka said that tourists and domestic travellers can visit this place between 8.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.

A tourist ticket is priced at Rs.200. “A donation can also be offered as we are building a sanghawasa for the Yapahuwa Rajamaha Vihara”, he said.

Ven. Meegama Seelarathana Thera who oversees the Yapahuwa ruins said that when one goes to the temple one needs to go barefoot. The Sanghawasa built centuries ago is in a dilapidated state. He hoped that more travellers would visit as it is a historical site. A visit to Yapahuwa is an inspiring experience and the trip is definitely worth a lifetime.

Sunday Observer

Read more: http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2011/01/30/spe25.asp

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