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 Anagarika Dharmapala and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott with the assistance of local donors; Messrs. Hulugalle, Adikaram and Mudaliyar Attygala. This school was named as "Kurunegala Buddhist Institution".
The school was managed by the "Buddhist Theosophical Society". The first manager of the school was Mr A.M Abeygunaratna who was also a Notary Public.
By 1908, the number of students has risen to one hundred. In 1909 the school was moved to a new premises at a Buddhist Temple Ethkanda Viharaya along the Kandy - Kurunegala main road.
In 1922, the management was changed from the Buddhist Theosophical Society to the Y.M.B.A. and Dr H.K.T Zilva became the new manager.
In 1927 the name of the school was changed to its present name as "Maliyadeva College". In the same year, the Students' Hostel was opened with fifteen boarding students.
Mr U.B Wanninayaka (who later became a politician and government Minister) was appointed as the Principal in 1930.
In 1934, a batch of students from the Maliyadeva College appeared for the S.S.C Examination (equivalent to current G.C.E O/L) for the first time. Mr E.S Balasooriya was the first student to pass this examination.
By 1936, the number of students has increased to a level that the premises at Ethkanda Viharaya was not big enough. So the school was moved to its current location along the Negombo- Kurunegala road. The land was owned by Madawala Disawa and bought by Mr H.K.T de Zilva.
Mr P de S Kularatne was appointed as the manager in 1941. He changed the status of the school in to a mixed school.
Due to the ongoing second world war, the school buildings and land was 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 by this period.
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 Y.M.B.A by the Army. Only the boys were moved back. Maliyadeva Girls' College commenced functioning as a separate school. In the same year the Maliyadeva college became a government assisted school. By this time, the number of students had increased to 800.
In 1949, the school was upgraded to the status of a "Grade 1 school in the island.University Entrance (Arts) and S.S.C (equivalent to current G.C.E O/L)Science classes were commenced. Mr D.B Dissanayaka was appointed as the Vice-Principal during this year.
In 1951, students appeared for the University Entrance (Arts) and S.S.C (Science) Examinations for the first time. Mr T.B.H Abeysinghe was the first student to enter the University from Maliyadeva College. Later Mr Abeysinghe rose to the position of Professor of History.
University Entrance (Science) classes were commenced in 1953. Mr Wanigasekara was the first graduate science teacher appointed to the school.In 1955 Mr.A.P.K.Thilakarathna was first student who pass the S.S.C(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 Y.M.B.A willingly handed the school over to the Ministry of Education.
From 1961 to 1980 , the Maliyadeva College developed to become the most popular educational institution in the North-West region and one of the finest schools in the whole country. It developed a well structured curricular and extra-curricular programs and sports including Cricket, Rugby, Hockey, Basket ball, Badminton, Wrestling, Cadeting and Scouting.
In the field of aesthetics Maliyadeva had won the All Island awards in oriental music and orchestra competitions for many years consecutively. During this period, the service given to the school by Mr Dayapala as the Music teacher was tremendous.
1979 saw an end of an era as Mr D.B Dissanayake retired after serving the school fourteen years as the principal.
By 1985, the number of students had risen to Three Thousand. The school was upgraded to the status of a "National School" by the Ministry of Education under the reorganization of schools.