Kurunegala is the capital of the North Western Province. It is about 116 km from Colombo and 60 km from Kandy. From 1299 to 1230 Kurunegala was a capital city, selected by Parakrama Bahu IV as the seat of his government when the Tamils gained control of the Polonnaruwa area. The town was visited by Marco Polo.
Kurunegala is strikingly situated at the foot of a series of enormous rocks, steep and curiously shaped, to which appropriate names and legends have become attached. Kurunegala is known for its vast rocky outcrops which appear like various animals. Towering more than 300 m above the town is Ethagala, the Elephant Rock; others are known as the Tortoise, the Goat and the Crocodile. Near the town is a beautiful lake. Visitors staying at the rest-house may feel tempted to climb some of the hills in the early morning.
Some 20 km north-east is the Ridi Vihara or Silver Monastery , perched on a rock and reached by a flight of 200 steps from the road. It is supposed to have been founded by King Datta Gamundi about 100 BC in thanksgiving for a vein of silver discovered here. The present buildings date from the time of the great 18th century ruler Kirti Sri, who restored the monastery. The library contains ancient works (olas) written on the leaves of the talipot palm.
51 km north of Kurunegala (4 km east of Maho) is Yapahuwa. In 1273 the king of Polonnaruwa fled into the forest and established a temporary capital at Yapahuwa, the Good Mountain, where he built a Temple of the Tooth. Twelve years later, however, the Tamils raided the town, plundered it and carried off the precious Tooth to India. In order to recover the sacred relic King Parakrama Bahu III went to submit voluntarily to the Pandya king and become his vassal.
On the north-west is the Maligawa Ancient Ruins which gives a glimpse of the past glory of the Kurunegala. Here are remains of a moat palace and monasteries from 12th century.
Kurunegala Clock Tower is located in the city proper and serves as a landmark of the city. This tower was built in 1922 in honour to the officers and soldiers who fought valiantly in the World War I. In 1945 this tower serves as In Memoriam for the soldiers who died in the World War II.
A royal residence in 13th century Yapahuwa was able to preserve some interesting remains. Located at Kurunegala, North Western Province of Sri Lanka, this ancient fortress is rising to a height of 90 m. Built by King Buwanekabahu I as the capital of Sri Lanka in 1301, here can find traces of ancient battle defenses.
The Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth was enclosed within a fortified precinct, with a ditch or moat which can still be seen. Although the sculpture includes bas-reliefs with traditional Buddhist themes (makaras), the general effect is that of a Dravidian temple. Near the temple are a number of caves which have been adapted for religious use, with rather poor modern decoration. The steep flight of steps that leads up to a palace, are decorated with the heads of spirits, makaras and lions. The makaras (monsters, half lion and half crocodile) are common theme in Hoysala art (Mysore, l2th l3th c.); the lions suggest Far Eastern influence. At the top of the steps is a frieze depicting a magnificent procession in honour of the Tooth, with dancers, musicians, an acrobat and women carrying fly whisks. Note a window hewn from a slab of stone, a finely wrought tracery with figures of dwarfs, dancing girls, lions, wild geese and mythical monsters. It is a little surprising to find in this Buddhist shrine a figure of Gala Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess Lakshmi flanked by two elephants spraying water on to the lotus flowers which she holds. This may be a relic of the cult of some great fertility goddess and its associated erotic symbolism, or it may merely be a reflection of Hindu influence: at any rate it bears witness to the tranquil tolerance of Sinhalese Buddhism. Other decorative elements are the figures of monsters spewing out warriors from their mouths and the bevelled pillars commonly found in Sri Lanka, here curiously terminated by capitals with something of an Egyptian effect. In general the profusion of ornament is more reminiscent of India than of Sri Lanka.
From the palace and temple a steep path leads up to terrace on which there are some unidentifiable remains and a modern dagaba. The view, however, is sufficient reward for the strenuous climb.
From Yapahuwa a road runs north-east (42 km) to the village and railway station of Kalawewa, at the north end of a large dam. The tank formed by the dam is surrounded by forests in which there grows a white-flowered liana known as kala or kalawel. The first dam was built by Dhatu Sena about 480 AD, and was restored by Parakrama Bahu I in the 12th century and again by the British authorities in the 19th century. In the depths of the forest, some 3 km from the tank, is the great masterpiece of Ceylonese sculpture, the Buddha of Avukana, a magnificent statue of the Buddha blessing his followers, 12 m high, hewn from the granite, it is thought in the reign of Dhatu Sena. (It is advisable to get a guide at the village or the station).
The Buddha can also be reached from Anuradhapura (48 km), leaving on the Kandy road and taking a side road on the right 5 km beyond Maradankadawela. All the local guides know the way.