Yapahuwa Rock (Fire Rock) Fortress
Midway between Kurunagala & Anuradhapura
lies the magnificent citadel of Yapahuwa built around a huge granite
rock rising abruptly almost a hundred meters above the surrounding
lowlands. Yapahuwa was one of the ephemeral capitals of medieval Sri
Similar in concept to The Lion Rock citadel (Sigiriya), Yapahuwa is a
huge rock fortress located on a very pleasant shaded site. The fort
palace & town were built sheltering on the south side of the crag,
protected by two ramparts & a moat. The ramparts form a rough
semicircle, the ends of which join the foot of the high steep-sided
The outer fortification
The outer fortification consists of an earthen rampart about 20 feet
high & half a mile long on which a brick wall once stood. A moat with
three causeways across it to the three gates ran around this rampart.
The inner fortification
The inner fortification consists of a stone wall averaging 12 feet in
height & about 500 yards long with a moat outside it & with two gates.
The homes of the ordinary people would have been between the outer &
inner walls while king's palace, administrative buildings & of course
then Temple of the Tooth were within the inner wall.
The outstanding ruin, the ornamental stone stairway
The site's outstanding ruin is the marvelous ornamental stone stairway,
which climbs with Maya-like steepness up to the palace. The stairway
originally comprised of the three flights of stone stairs. The lowest one has disappeared & been
replaced by modern cement stairs. Its top flight is a riot of decoration
of high quality craftsmanship. Statues of elephants, makara torans (dragon arches), dwarfs, goddesses &
pair of goggle-eyed stone lions (one appears on the nation's ten-rupee
note) flank the stairs, which are topped by a finely carved doorway & windows. Panels around the
base & sides of each window are embellished with stone carvings of
dancers & musicians, one playing a Kandyan drum-the oldest pictorial record of Sri Lanka's most
famous musical instrument.
Finally at the top of the stairway is the impressive & harmoniously
conceived doorway that once led into the Temple of the Tooth. There's
very little to see now except a couple of brick foundations & a few pillars. However the view from
hereon is wonderful: the flat plains far below dotted with huge, saw-toothed mountains.
There's a small museum just to the right of the site, set in one of a
pair of gorgeous Kandyan-style wooden beams separated by a quaint bell
tower. Exhibits include some fine stone windows from the top of the
stairway, intricately latticed in quasi-Arabian style. One of the window
frames is now exhibited in the Colombo Museum.
Behind the museum is a fascinating cave temple (restored in 1886) that
contains some 13th century frescoes. The reposition of images across a
geometric grid also appears in ancient Buddhist sites in India, such as
Ajanta, inland from Mumbai, & Alchi in Ladakh. Also in the temple are
wooden Buddha images &, interestingly, one image made of bronze.
Travails of The Sacred Tooth Relic while at Yapahuwa
In 1272, King Bhuvenakabahu transferred the capital to Yapahuwa from
Polonnaruwa in the face of marauding Dravidian invasions from South
India, bringing the Sacred Tooth Relic with him. The move proved to be
of little avail. Following the death of King Bhuvenakabahu in 1284, the
Pandyans of South India invaded Lanka once again, and succeeded in
capturing Sacred Tooth Relic too. Following its capture, Yapahuwa was
largely abandoned & inhabited by Buddhist monks & religious ascetics.
The capital was moved to Kurunagala.
While an envoy was being sent to India by Emperor Kublai Khan of China,
with an offer to exchange the Tooth of Relic for a fabulous treasure,
King Parakrambahu the third of Lanka himself at the Pandyan court in
South India retrieved the Sacred Tooth Relic by means of negotiations in
1288. King Parakarbahu returned to Lanka with
The Sacred Tooth Relic of
Buddha to the immense relief & great rejoicing of the Sinhalese. The
relic was enshrined in a newly built temple at the new capital of Kurunagala.
The Chinese connection
During the brief period in which Yapahuwa was the capital of Lanka, it
had close connections with China. Among the evidence are finest Chinese
ceramics, a large number
of celadon pottery parts, 1310 Chinese coins including the 12 Chinese
coins found during the excavations by H. C. P. Bell, the first
archeological commissioner of Ceylon
Some strong evidence of pre-historic settlement is gathered from six
acres of flat land on the Yapahuwa rock. It has pre-historic (from 1000
BC to 500 BC) or early historic human settlements & it is the earliest
such urban settlement be found on a rock.
on photo to enlarge