Uniqueness of ancient Yapahuwa | Sunday Observer

Uniqueness of ancient Yapahuwa

11 July, 2021

Yapahuwa is in the Kurunegala District of the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is nearly three kilometres east of Maho. The earlier glory of this ancient citadel can be found at one of the caves. This is seen from a short record in Brahmi script. The Brahmi language was in use from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD.

Yapahuwa gained prominence after the first half of the 13th century AC, especially after the Kalinga Magha devastated the capital Polonnaruva. Kalinga Magha ruled from 1214 to 1235. Earlier Yapahuwa was known as Subha-Pabbata meaning auspicious mountain.

According to history during the reign of Vijayabahu 1V (1271-1273AC) the place was called Sundarapabbata. According to historical evidence, King Vijayabahu 1V commanded his younger brother Bhuvanekabahu to settle there with his strong army to prevent the South Indian invasion. Despite his heavy guard, the attack came from another direction led by Chandrabhanu in cooperation with his Pandya and Chola allies. Yet numerous historical records reveal that Yapahuwa had a long history.

Fortress of the Sinhalese

In the 16th century, the Portuguese referred to Yapahuwa as the fortress of the Sinhalese. The first serious study of Yapahuwa was done by John Bailey in 1850. In 1864 he published an article on Yapahuwa. On May 5, 1877 an architect from Anuradhapura mentioned Yapahuwa to the Governor W.H. Gregory by indicating that more attention should be paid to it.

Again after 15 years, the Royal Asiatic Society published two articles written by F.H. Modder and J. Harward under the title ‘Note on the Fortifications of Yapahuwa’. Yapahuwa is a stone structure. There is a staircase flanked and decorated by two stone-made lions with an attractive porch set against the famed Yapahuwa rock. Still, it is considered one of the finest ancient archaeological constructions of Sri Lanka during the post-Polonnaruwa period.

The Archaeological Department commenced operations in 1911. The first Commissioner of Archaeological Department H.C. Bell took great interest to protect the constructions from destruction.

Today Yapahuwa provides ample evidence for carved ancient dance sculptures of Sri Lanka. Excellent carved sculptures are seen all over the place. Beautiful dance figures are carved in Yapahuwa. The carved figures including dancing girls, lions, swans and elephants are seen at Yapahuwa.

It also provides an opportunity to compare the dance figures with the poses of Indian classical dances especially with the dancing figures of Chidambaram temple and stone carving sculptures. And with Chola architectural sculptures. After the Pallava period in Tamil Nadu, the Cholas ruled the country. During the period of Chola regime and in succeeding periods in Tamil Nadu, dance and many other fine arts flourished along with Hinduism. Such evidence could still be traced from numerous existing exhibits.

The living tradition of dance could be seen in the form of ancient sculptures and traditional architectural reliefs. The dancing figures depict numerous dance poses. The carved figures not only depict the dance poses but also numerous instrumental accompaniments for dance.

The dancing figures are closely linked to South Indian classical dance form Bharatha Natyam. It implies that during that period the dances took place with instrumental music. And it provides an opportunity for us to assume that dancing carved figures reveal some scenes of dance processions.

The staircase can be divided into three sections. At the third level, beautiful slender female figures are seen.

Windows to excellent architecture

Beautifully carved dancing figures are seen at the staircase. Even Kirti Mukha (head of a mythical creature and a pair of Gaja Sinha are seen there). The base of the porch area is decorated with beautiful female and male dancing figures. The stairway leading to the porch is well preserved. At both sides exquisite craftwork windows were seen. Such excellent windows are not seen elsewhere in Lankan archaeological sites.

The stone window in the West was removed a few years back and it is said that it was brought down to the Colombo Museum. The other was a small fragment window which was taken to one of the Yapahuwa temples. However, there is no doubt that it was further modified according to the native Sinhalese architecture style by local craftsmen.

The window was fitted into a thick outer frame. Within the moulded window, 45 cut circles were crafted. These cut circles were joined with one another. Within the circles a variety of figure works was crafted with meticulous care. Different dance figures of dancers were seen. Most of these dance figures are seen in typical Bharatha Natya Arimandi Isthana position.

All the dance poses are seen with a proper and perfect geometrical format position. The centre of this window circle carries a lotus figure. At the sides of the centre lotus circle four wheels are seen with eight strokes and some circles are decorated with dancing figures.

Hence for the dance research, Yapahuwa provides a great deal of information for researchers.