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 main city area is named as “Senkadagala”.
There are 3 legends, which says how kandy got the name “Senkadagala”.
Once hill country was thickly covered with forest. One day, a villager entered the forest to gather some cane. On his way, he encountered a wild elephant and it started to chase him. While running for his life. he saw a rock and climbed it to avoid the elephant.
At the moment villager touched that rock, wild elephant started to run back in a terrified manner. Villager was amazed by this. While sitting there, he saw a deer is chased by a tiger and when deer reached to rock, tiger ran back. Same thing happened to a Mongoose, who chased a snake.
After a while villager started his way home, and met a Ascetic [Thapasaya] whom introduced himseld as Senkanda. When he told his story to the Ascetic, he claimed to know about the supernatural state of that rock and said he lives in a cave closer to that rock.
Later on, this villager got to know that King Wickaramabahu of Gampola is searching for a place to build his citadel. and manged to inform the king about this victorious rock. King visited the Ascetic and built his kingdom closer to the rock. Citadel was then named as Senkadaya, after the name of the Ascetic.
Another legend tells that, the chief Adigar [Prime Minister] 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 chief adigar, by 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 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 God Eashwara. Later the name was pronounced as “Senkanda Nuwara.”