The citadel of Kandyan kingdom is a plateau surrounded by mountains. During the colonial era, people called this area as kanda in Sinhala. Which means mountain. Foreigners in pronouncing this word called it as “Kandy” and thereafter, in English the area is named as Kandy.
In Sinhala, Kandy is named as MahaNuwara. Which means “The Citadel”.
Also since the reign of Sinhala kings, the area is named as “Senkadagala”. There are 3 legends, which says how kandy got the name “Senkadagala”.
Once the area was thickly covered with forest and one day, a man entered the forest in order to gather some cane. On his way he met an elephant and started to run for his life. While the elephant followed him. The man saw a rock and decided to climb it. To avoid the elephant.at the moment the man touched the rock, the elephant started to run back. As if it was terrified of something. The man was amazed by this. While he was sitting there, he saw a deer is chased by a tiger and when the deer reached the rock, the tiger ran back. The same thing happened to the Mugatiya, who chased a snake. The surprised man started his way home. When he met a Thapasaya, the man told him his story and the Tapasaya said that his name is Senkanda, that he knows about this power of the rock and that he lives in a cave near that rock.
Later on, the man got to know that the king Wickaramabahu of Gampola is searching for a place to build his citadel, and he informed the king about the victorious rock. The king visited the thapasaya,built his kingdom and named as Senkadaya, after the name of the thapasaya.
Another legend tells that, the chief adigar Nissanka Alakeswara of Kandy successfully defeated a battle with the troops of the king Arya Chakrawarthi of Jaffna at Kandy. This battle was lead by the chief adigar, according to the orders of the God Natha. Since, the troops of the king Arya chakrawarthi is divided or defeated by the chief adigar at Kandy, the name “Sena Kanda” (Army divided) later turned as “senkandagala”.
Also a legend on king Wickaramabahu reveals that during his reign, there was a shrine at Hantana Mountain devoted to the god Eashwara, who is also named as “Chenkatath”. King Wickramabahu, who was lacking for a land to build his citadel, was informed by venerable Rathanapala who was living at a cave in Hantana mountain, that there’s a victorious land in Hantana. The king, build the Kingdom and named it as “Chenkatan Nuwara” after the god Eashwara. Later the name was pronounced as “Senkanda Nuwara.”