Insider's Guide to Kurunegala

Insider’s Guide to Kurunegala

Kurunegala is located 116 meters above the sea level and it is surrounded by eight rocks. Six of these rocks suppose to carry the shape of 6 different animals and those rocks are named after 6 animals such as elephant rock, tortoise rock, eel rock etc. The largest rock is called Elephant rock “Etha gala” and rising up to 325 meters above sea level. The city was named as Elephant rock “Ethugalpura “ during the kings time.

Kurunegala is a bustling city in the north-central province, which is often unnoticed by the travellers, because, Kurunegala is not a top-notch holiday destination in the country. People, who travel to holiday destinations in east, south-east, north and north-east of Sri Lanka from Colombo, should go through this attractive city.

Most Sri Lanka multi-day tours start in Colombo and head on to cultural triangle attractions like Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa or Trincomalee, therefore, most travellers, who book these multi-day Sri Lanka trips come across Kurunegala on their trip. Usually, the journey from Colombo to cultural triangle takes around 4 hours and therefore, most travellers make a little break in Kurunegala, which sits halfway down the track. Some tourist groups make a pause at Kurunegala for a drink, breakfast or lunch.

One distinct character of Kurunegala is the beautiful rock formation along the borders of the eastern flank of the city. This beautiful rock formation definitely has provided the security for the city against invading armies in past.

Kurunegala was one of the many capitals in the history of Sri Lanka and it is an important historical city on the island. Starting from Anuradhapura, the kings of Sri Lanka and queens changed the capital city of the island on many occasions, mostly due to the South-Indian invasions. Polonnaruwa, Yapahuwa, Dambadeniya, Panduwasnuwara, Kurunegala, Gampola, Sitawaka, Kandy considered being important places among the capitals in the past.

History of Kurunegala

Kurunegala was the fifth capital of the island during the 13th-14th centuries. Its function as the capital of the island remained only for 50 years.  King Parakrama Bahu III transformed the area into a beautiful city after ascending the throne in 1287 and he was in the throne till 1293.

After the demise of King Parakramabahu III, the kingship was taken over by King Kings Buvanekabahu II (1293–1302) and King Parakramabahu IV (1302–1326). King Buwaneka Bahu III was the last king of the ancient Sri Lanka who ruled the country from Kurunegala during the period of 1326 to 1335. The king Vijayabahu V, who ascended the throne in 1335 has opted Dambadeniya and Yapahuwa over Kurunegala as the capital city of the country.

Still, the city holds an important place in the island of Sri Lanka, today it is one of the most important cities for the economy of the country. It is the biggest city between Colombo and Anuradhapura and it is the capital of North-Western province.

Products coming from Kurunegala

Today Kurunegala is an important paddy and coconut producer in the island and main lively hood of the people in the region is paddy and other forms of agricultural products. Unlike cultural triangle, where the temples are concentrated in the sacred area, a large number of Buddhist temple and shrines are scattered over a large terrain here, making it difficult to visit all the places within a short period of time.

Perhaps, it might be the reason, why most of the sacred places in Kurunegala been neglected by the visitors. The city was even given the most important sacred act of preserving the Tooth relic. Unfortunately nothing much of the former royal city was discovered in Kurunegala other than several stone pillars. Former European colonizers did not have any desire to conserve the historical city and they turned the whole area into huge coconut plantations by burying the historical city.

Kurunegala is surrounded by the thriving Coconut plantations and it adds a large number of coconuts for the industry. Even though the city is one of the very busy places in the region, Kurunegala has some of the prettiest countrysides. There are several temples and archaeological sites in Kurunegala with historical value.

Arankele is a 6th-century Buddhist cave temple and which was inhabited by many monks, the hermitage is only 24km north of the city. Ridiyagama vihara is another Buddhist temple with historical value in Kurunegala and just 18 km from the city. Archaeological excavators have discovered an important silver ore on the site, during the excavations. There are three important places with ancient rock fortresses close to Kurunegala they are Panduwasnuwara, Dambadeniya and Yapahuwa.

Activities for tourists

The unique landscape of Kurunegala provides many interesting off the beaten tracks for adventure lovers. The trekker’s guide to Sri Lanka has identified a sixteen-kilometre tracking path and seven hours hiking sites close to the Kurunegala.

Kimbulana Oya Tank, the manmade lake is dating back to 3rd century AD considered as one of the most scenic places on the island. Upon climbing the Etha-gala one can have a wonderful view of flat plateau rich with paddy fields and wonderful coconut trees, surrounded by lakes and the blue-and-brown mesmeric hills of the knuckles range.

Places to go in Kurunegala

The city has a rich historical background and crowned as the capital of Sri Lanka in the past. Today Kurunegala is an important city and contribute immensely to the island’s economy. Below are some of the interesting tourist attractions located within easy reach of Kurunegala city. Perhaps you can ask your Sri Lanka tour operators to add these places to your Sri Lanka road trip if time permits you to visit them.

Ridi Vihara Kurunegala

About 20 km away from the Kurunegala is the Ridi Vihara, on a granite monolith. The devotees need to climb the rock-cut staircase to reach the temple, which comprised of 200 steps.  According to the historical information it was built by King Dutugemunu in the 1st century BC, as a gratitude for the Monks. But the present temple is dating back to the 18th century; the temple was reconstructed by King Kirti Sri Raja Sinha as it was in very bad conditions after negligence, for several centuries.

Ridi Vihara, the most popular Buddhist temple in Kurunegala can be described as a must visited place in Kurunegala. It has a very valuable collection of paintings and exquisite wood and ivory carvings. These arts and crafts are believed to be originated in different periods in the past. These are some of the priceless artworks accomplished by artisans of one of the most advanced cultures (Sinhala Buddhist culture), which flourished on par with other great cultures such as Roman and Greek in the past.

Kurunegala Lake

Kurunegala Lake can be described as the lifeblood of the people of Kurunegala. It is supplying the water for agriculture while enhancing the natural beauty of the city. The lake occupies a large portion of the city and located in the centre of the town. Kurunegala Lake is given a facelift during the last several years. Today it has a very beautiful, clean and well maintained green surrounding. It makes a beautiful sight over the city in the days when the lake is full of freshwater after the rain. The modern promenade around the lake provides a very tempting atmosphere for an evening walk.


Arankele is an archaeological site amidst the thick vegetation with a large number of ruins situated about 23 km from the Kurunegala. The site can be reached via Ibbagamuwa, where the narrow road towards left, in the direction of Kumbukwewa, leads you to the site.  It was inhabited by as early as 1st century BC. Thick vegetation dominated by ironwood trees. There are a number of meditation paths at the site along with several stone pillars. These are the evidence of the Buddhist temple existed here centuries before. The Buddhist temple believed to be originated in the 6th Century BC.

Sri Vijaya Sundarama Raja Maha Vihara

The Buddhist temple, Sri Vijaya Sundarama Raja Maha Vihara, is originated during 13th century BC. The temple is located in a rocky area large part of the temple protected by the natural rock. The Dagoba of the temple is in a very different shape than the most dagobas found on the island. Once it was protected by a rectangular roof. Another noteworthy element of the temple is the guard stone, which is built at the foot of the staircase and leads to the image house.

The guard stones show the scenes from the Jataka stories. On the left side is the Buddha statue in meditation posture in the middle, over the Buddha statue and below the statue are scenes depicting fighting. The devotees need to pass a porch before entering the image house. The porch is predominantly in the Kandyan style; the roof mainly consists of wood and decorated with elegant wood carvings.

There is a large number of wall paintings on both sides of the wall on the upper floor of the image house. The paintings of the outer wall had not completed due to an undisclosed reason.  There is a big reclining Buddha statue in the modern image house of the temple.   A footpath that begins in front of the modern image house goes through the paddy fields and ended in front of huge granite rock. Once the citadel was occupying the summit of the rock.


Dambadeniya is one of the capital cities of ancient Sri Lanka. It was the capital of the island during the troubled period, in which Chola conquered Polonnaruwa and occupied the city. Vijayabahu 3rd the legitimate king of the country (1232-1236 AD), was residing in Dambadeniya. Once the country was liberated from the south Indian invaders, the city lost its importance as the capital city and most of the constructions were neglected. Today, there is no noteworthy evidence to prove the grandeur of the ancient royal city.

The Hattikuchcha Vihara

How to get there

The temple is located in Mahalgalkadawala near Galgamuwa in the district of Kurunegala. The site is conveniently located on the main road. One needs to turn to the sub road upon reaching the 45th milepost on the Anuradhapura Kurunegala road. The site which is called “Rajanaganaya” or the ground of the King at present located after about 4 miles along the sub-road.

Present situation

Hattikuchcha historical Buddhist temple is a popular religious site in the district of Kurunegala. The Buddhist temple is spreading over 28 acres of land. Elegantly constructed Vatadage is the main attraction of the temple. The Vatadage, unlike other Vatadages that have circular bases Hattikuchcha Vatadage is built on a rectangular base. The site is comprised of an image house, a cave with a damaged Buddha statue remains of a Bodhi-Gara and the Vatadage. There are several granite caves with drip edges and Brahmi inscription can be witnessed in two them.

A monolith in magnitude size is called elephant rock while it seems like an elephant.  It is believed that the rock had been the origin of the temple (Hattikuchcha), Hatthi=Elephant and Kuchcha= abdominal area. One can have a beautiful aerial view over the historical site from the summit of the nearby hillock.

Historical background

According to the historical evidence Hattikuchcha Buddhist temple had been a monastery complex in the early days. It had been inhabited by a large number of monks and the place had been a meditation centre. There are some notes on the site in “Visuddi-Maga” that was written by popular scholar-monk Buddhagosha. By considering the description archaeologists believe that monk had been to the site. It was considered a perfect place for Kasina Bawana.

According to the Waharakada stone inscription there had been people at the Buddhist temple to help voluntarily. They had been in the temple throughout the bad period of life. The so-called bad period was decided by the astrologers. Some other people are referring these people like slaves. But it is evident that there had not been slaves in a Buddhist temple. According to scholars site of the temple had been the place where Sirisangabo lived as a hermit.

It is believed that he removed his head from the body and donated at this Buddhist temple. Afterwards, the body of Sirisangabo rolled down the rock and stopped at the place where the present Vatadage is built. According to the inscription, monks had been meditating in the site from 1st Century Ad to 9th Century AD. The temple is referred to as Haththi-Kuchcha-Viharaya in the inscription.

There are some other important sites near the Haththi Kuchcha Vihara. Padeniya temple is a historical Buddhist temple with beautifully carved wood carvings. Yapahuwa also located near this temple had been a capital of the country in the past. The main attraction of Yapahuwa is the fortress dating back to 13th Century AD. Rasvehera Buddha statue and the Aukana Buddha statue can be easily reached from the location of Haththikuchcha Vihara.

Attractions on Kurunegala-Puttalam road

Monaragala Raja Maha Vihara

At the Gonagama junction on the Monaragala-Puttalam main road is the sub-street that leads to the village Siyabalangamuwa. It is about 3 km from the main road to Siyabalangamuwa and Monaragala temple is to be found in the village. The temple is built on a rock, which seems like a peacock due to this reason the temple is called Monaragala.

The Temple is believed to be built by the last king of Sri Lanka (Kirti Sri Rajasinghe). But, there are hardly any pieces of evidence to prove that, because most of the ancient constructions are removed as the temple was renovated in the past.

Edandawela tampita Vihara

This temple is also located on the same sub-street as Monaragala Raj Maha Vihara. The temple is beautifully located in a very beautiful surrounding. There are several patches of forests, rice fields, mountains and escapements around the temple. Edandawela tampita Vihara believed to be built during the Kandyan period and Valuable paintings of the temple show the characters Kandyan period.

Ambawela Rahatgala Vihara

Hinagaspitiya road is to be found at the Pellandeniya junction on the Kurunegala-Puttalam main road.  One can reach the village of Demataluwa on this sub-road, where the Ambawela Rahtgala Vihara is situated. The Bo-tree of Ambawelais mentioned in the Sinhala Bodhi Vansaya.

The Bo-tree of Ambanwela Temple is the 40th mentioned tree in the Sinhala Bodhi Vansaya. Unlike most other Bo-trees this Bo-tree is not popular among the people of the country. Ambawela Rahatgala Vihara is located several kilometres from the Bo-tree. The stupa is located several kilometres from the Temple and the Bo-tree.

Kaballalena Rajamaha Vihara

The temple is located about 3.5 from Wariyapola on the Wariyapola-Kumbukgete road. The temple is picturesquely located on the giant rock allowing visitors to have a picturesque view over the surrounding area. Flight of steps with 180 steps leads to the summit of the rock. The rock cave temple accommodates several caves and drip ledges done by the ancient engineers are still can be seen.

These drip ledges are some of the oldest engineering works of the ancient engineers, in order to prevent the caves from getting wet during the rain. The temple is comprised of five caves. A giant reclining Buddha statue can be seen in the first cave.

A dagoba about 15 feet in height located in another cave in the temple.  Several beautiful painting in the inner wall of the caves is depicting some stories of the life of Buddha. A Devala, which is dedicated to gods, can be seen in one of the caves. A giant Bo-tree believed to be planted by King Walagambahu is also can be seen in the temple.

Padeniya Purana Raja Maha Vihara

This ancient temple is located at Padeniya junction on the Kurunegala-Puttalam road. Wooden pillars used in the construction of the temple are beautifully carved with intricating designs. These wood carvings show some similarities with the Embekke wood carvings. The paintings of the temple are believed to be undertaken during the Kandyan period.

Halabe Raja Maha Vihara

This historical temple is believed to be constructed in the 2nd century BC by King Devanampiyatissa. The temple is picturesquely located next to the Halabe tank in Nikaweratiya. One needs to take the Ratnayake road at the Kanuketiya junction on the Kurunegala-Puttalam main road and the temple is located about four kilometres from the main road.