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Handagiriya - The Forgotten Kingdom



The Forgotten Kingdom known as ‘Handagiriya’, also called ‘Sandagana Nuwara’, is where one of the intermediate kingdoms of King Walagamaba is believed to have been situated. This kingdom also has a few other local names as well, such as ‘Chandana Gama’, ‘Thamba Gama’, ‘Thambalagama’, ‘Khanthiya Janapdaya’, ‘Anda Guweriya’ and ‘Sandagiri Rata’ to name a few.

The area is currently named ‘Sandagiriya’ because when the moon (‘sanda’ means ‘moon’ and ‘giri’ means ‘huge rock’ in the local language) rises over the mountain range that surrounds the area, the rays bounce back and display a magnificent reflection of the moon on the shiny rock face of the mountain. The area is surrounded with rock cliffs and mountains, hence the name.

Another popular theory explaining how the area got its present name is that Indian sandalwood trees, Santalum album (‘sudu sandun’ in the local language) and Red Sandalwood, Pterocarpus santalinus (‘rathu sandun’ in the local language), are abundantly found in the area even to this day. Pali or Magadhan is a Prakrit language native to the Indian subcontinent and was frequently used in Sri Lanka during ancient times. The word for sandalwood is ‘chandana’, which translates to ‘sandun’ in the local language. The name ‘Handagiriya’ is believed to have been derived from the word ‘Sandungiriya’.

Location and the Area

The area is currently a rural one and has not been abused by urbanization: Nature still rules in its full glory. Handagiriya is located in the Sabaragamuwa Province of the Rathnapura District. The natural beauty of the landscape is still preserved.

The area is covered in dense forest and surrounded by majestic mountains. The ‘Katupath Oya’ (‘oya’ is the local word for a ‘small river’), meanders through this serene landscape. From the north, you can witness the mountain range of the Mahawalathenna plateau and the valley of the Walawe River lies to the south.

Since the area is still not subjected to a proper archaeological research, many of its historical treasures still lie underground. This Forgotten Kingdom, concealing so much of the past, is said to have faced so many threats and invasions and has been abandoned and again inhabited by its people. The remains of these civilizations can still be found in and around the paddy fields lying around the area.

Ancient ‘Handagiriya’, Its Kings, Queens and Places of Interest

There is plenty of evidence to prove that Handagiriya was inhabited even in the prehistoric era.  There are clues of Homo sapiens balangodensis (Balangoda Man) having lived and thrived in the area along the Walawe River valley. Remains of tools and hunting apparatus made from stone and animal bones have also been found here along with the skeletons. Places like ‘Udu Piyan Gallena’ (a large natural cave) and ‘Bellanbedipallassa’ in which these artefacts and bones were discovered are in close proximity to this Forgotten Kingdom.

The Forgotten Kingdom commands its place into a very brief, but important period of our 2,500 year long history. This is one of the places where King Walagambahu settled during his 14 years of gathering and preparing an army to recapture his own Anuradhapura Kingdom from the invaders during 103 BC to 89 BC. Other kings and queens that are associated with the place are King Vijayabahu I, Prince Siri Wallabha and Queen Sugala. They are also believed to have ruled this area at certain times of the Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura era.  The remains of the palaces of these royal inhabitants are still found around the area.

Even though this was a transit kingdom, its significance is clearly established as the Sacred Tooth Relic, the symbol of the divine right to rule the country, was housed here. The remains of the old ‘Dalada Maligawa’ are still seen here. Almost 120 stone pillars adorned with beautiful stone carvings still stand tall. Also reminiscent of the main building are four sub-buildings, stone stairways, Moonstone (‘Sandakada Pahana’) adorned with carvings, Guardstones (‘Muragala’) and stone Buddha statues.

One of the eight saplings acquired from the ‘Sri Maha Bodiya’, the sacred Bo Tree situated in Anuradhapura, is also planted here and still stands tall to this day. The presence of these sacred items shows that Handagiriya was an important and a significant transit kingdom in the past. Handagiriya was also under the rule of Portuguese, Dutch and the British as well.

Even to this day, the farmers working in their paddy fields find arrowheads, clay pots, bricks and remainders of old stone statues. It is said that in the past, they had found jewellery of silver and gold, and iron and brass statues and plates. Some of these have been safely handed over to the Government authorities and can now be seen in the Colombo National Museum.

This Forgotten Kingdom with its glorious past, hidden among the beautiful Walawe River valley, is really worth visiting.

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A H A S - P O K U N A   

In the Sinhalese language (spoken in Sri Lanka), “Ahas” means “Sky” and “Pokuna” means “Pond” or “Pool”. Ahaspokuna is so named in reference to the lake here, high up in the hills, that is only fed by rain water. A former settlement that sprung up on its shores was subsequently also named “Ahaspokuna”. Today, the jungle tide has washed over where people once lived and the camp provides a wilderness retreat for those in search of something different.
Ahaspokuna by Eco Team


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