The school is referred as Maliyadeva College in Sri Lanka or simply as Maliyadeva. Local newspapers also refer to it as Maliyadeva Boys' College whilst past and present students of Maliyadeva are called "Devans". The school was named Maliyadeva College after Arahant Maliyadeva, the last Arahath thero who had high psychic powers (Abigngnalabhi: in Sinhala:අභිඥ්ඥාලාභී) of Buddhist history. Although there are several schools, specially in this part of the island that have adapted the name Maliyadeva, none have links to Maliyadeva College other than the Maliyadeva Balika Vidyalaya, which was separated from the previously mixed Maliyadeva College as a separate institution for girls in 1946.
In June 1888 a new school with one student was opened at a place in Bodhiraja Mawatha near the present Central Bus Stand in Kurunegala, pioneered by Semenaries A. Bamunu-Arachchige, a young Maha-Vidane who had been put in charge of four villages by Maha-Mudaliyar Bandaranaike and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott with the assistance of local donors, Hulugalle, Adikaram and Mudaliyar Attygala. The school was named Kurunegala Buddhist Institution.
The school was managed by the Buddhist Theosophical Society. The first manager of the school was Bamunu-Arachchige Semenaries who had been elected by the Maha-Mudaliyar himself and Sir Olcott. Maha-Vidane Semenaries was still young at the time of his promotion so the Society decided to hire Sir Olcott to help and teach him to run the school.
By 1908, the number of students has risen to one hundred still under the leadership of Maha-Vidane Semenaries. In 1909 the school was moved to new premises at a Buddhist Temple Ethkanda Viharaya along the Kandy - Kurunegala main road. This was decided by Mudaliyar Bandaranaike and Maha Vidane Semenaries.
In 1922, the management was changed from the Buddhist Theosophical Society to the YMBA and Dr. H.K.T. Zilva became the new manager.
The school was still governed by B.A Semenaries and being a Maha-Vidane, had the power to change anything if given permission by the Mudaliyar of the Province. In late 1927, Maha-Vidane Semenaries changed the school's name to Maliyadeva College.B.A. Semenaries retired from governing the school in 1931 and after forty-three years as Maha-Vidane he gave the position to Bandaranike's son, the future Prime-Minister of Ceylon. Before leaving, Maha-Vidane Semeneries appointed U.B. Wanninayaka (Who later became a politician and Government Minister) as the Principal in 1930 and abolished the manager system. Sir Olcott died in 1907. Maha-Vidane Semenaries died in June 1945.
In 1934, a batch of students from the Maliyadeva College appeared for the SSC Examination (equivalent to current GCE) for the first time.
By 1936, the premises at Ethkanda Viharaya was not big enough. Former governor Maha-Vidane Semenaries and Mudaliyar Bandaranaike, who was on his last term, gave the order for the school to be moved to its current location along the Negombo- Kurunegala road. The land was owned by Madawala Disawa and bought by H.K.T. De Zilva.
P. De S. Kularatne was appointed as the manager in 1941. He changed the status of the school into a mixed school.
Due to the second world war, the school buildings and land were taken over by the Army in 1942. The school had to be shifted back to its previous location at Ethkanda Viharaya. The number of students had increased to over three hundred and sixty.
The Primary section of the school was moved to a new location along Colombo - Kurunegala road in 1944. This later became the Maliyadeva Girls' College.
In 1946 the school was handed back to the YMBA by the Army. Only the boys were moved back and Maliyadeva Girls' College began functioning as a separate school. In the same year the Maliyadeva College became a Government assisted school. The number of students had increased to 800.
In 1949 the school was upgraded to the status of a Grade 1 school. University Entrance (Arts) and SSC (equivalent to current GCE) Science classes were commenced. D.B. Dissanayaka was appointed as the Vice-Principal during this year.
In 1951, students appeared for the University Entrance (Arts) and SSC (Science) Examinations for the first time. T.B.H. Abeysinghe was the first student to enter the University from Maliyadeva College. Later Abeysinghe rose to the position of Professor of History.
University Entrance (Science) classes were commenced in 1953. Wanigasekara was the first graduate science teacher appointed to the school. In 1955 A.P.K. Thilakarathna was first student who pass the SSC (Science) Examinations for the first time.
According to the Education Policy of the incumbent government, the status of the school changed from Government Assisted school to a Government school in 1961 during the take over of all assisted schools. The YMBA handed the school over to the Ministry of Education.
Maliyadeva had won the all-island awards in oriental music and orchestra competitions for many years consecutively. 1979 saw an end of an era as D.B. Dissanayake retired after serving the school fourteen years as the principal. By 1985, the number of students had risen to 3000. The school was upgraded to the status of a "National School" by the Ministry of Education under the reorganization of schools.
The school Buddhist Association was established in 1961. Before that, an association called Buddhist Kathakodhaya Association was commenced with the leadership of Ven. Ibbagala Rajamaha Viharadhipathi Nakaththe Anandha Thera and U.B. Wanninayake. After that, the school became the headquarters of Buddhists in this area. Therefore, Regional Buddhist Association was commenced with the leadership of Maliyadeva College Buddhist Association. The first shrine was built in 1939.
Today Buddhist Association is the base of ethics and religious activities in school. All students are members of the association. It organizes religious activities throughout the year, such as annual Katina Pinkama, annual Parithrana Dharmadeshanawa, annual Sangagatha Dakshinawa, Pirith Pinkam and Buddhist Pageants.
Facilities include two play grounds (one with a specially made cricket turf), a swimming pool, a basketball court, two children's parks (For the primary section), two computer labs each with more than 75 computers, a medical center (in which all the medicine and treatments are given free of charge for the students), a dental center, a saloon, a two storied shrine (in which a monk lives all the 365 days of the year), a gymnasium, a library, botanical, zoological, physical and chemical labs, a hostel, two canteens, a co-operative shop, and 2 buses.
The college crest is one of the identities of Maliyadeva College. It is designed with meaningful symbols. Every student wears a uniform with the badge stitched on their pocket:The shield shape of the college crest emphasizes the power and the courage of the school,
On a symmetrically twined ribbon of maroon color the name of the college is carved,
The tusker in the middle represents Athugalpura or Kurunegala, the city where the college is located,
The three lotus flowers symbolize the Triple Gem,
The seven petals in each flower stand for Sath Koralaya, which is what the area was called during the monarchical era,
On top of the shield there is written Vidya Bhushanam Purusha Bhushanam, written in "Sanskrit" caged. This is the motto of Maliyadeva College, which means Knowledge is the Jewel of the Man.
The students are divided into four houses according to their admission numbers. The house names are derived from the past kings of Sri Lanka. – Thissa
In honour of King Devanam Piya Tissa – Gemunu
In honour of King Dutugemunu – Parakrama
In honour of King Parakramabahu – Rajasingha
In honour of King Rajasinghe
The houses compete in games to win the inter-house games.
Battle of the Rocks (Deva - Ana Big Match), the annual cricket encounter is a sporting event played between two schools in North Western province of Sri Lanka.
The cricket match is played between (Maliyadeva College and St. Anne's College annually at the Welagedara Stadium, Kurunegala. The match is played over two days. The two-day match is followed by a one-day match between the two sides which started in 1992.
The encounter has a long history. However, in certain years, it was not played due to various reasons. 2013 marked the 30th two-day encounter and 18th limited overs versions, of Battle of the Rocks.
On the historic day, Saturday the 13th of July 1936, the most Rev. Nakette Ananda had succeeded in gathering a few old boys of the school for the first time to initiate the Old Boys Association. At a meeting held on the same day, under the chairmanship of the principal Mr, U.B. Wanninayake, a decision had been taken to build a “Sanghawasaya” for the school. Rev. Nakatte Ananda had been elected as the patron, and Mr. Wanninayake as the president of the association of the very first meeting of the few old boys. The other officials elected at this meeting has been Mr, H.W.Gunasekara as secretary and Mr. E.S. Balasuriya as treasurer. Since that date, a president is elected by members at each annual general meeting.