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Must Visit Locations

Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka

Tissamaharama is one of the most pleasant towns in the southern coast. The beautiful man-made tank (reservoir) in Tissa, Tissa Wewa with its remarkable bird life provides the scenic backdrop to the town. Tissa was the sanctuary in the deep south, where Sinhalese patriots fled to rally support against marauding Dravidian invaders from Southern India. Known by the name of Mahagama (great town), it was one of the principal settlements of the southern province of Ruhuna. Mahagama was founded in the third century BC by a brother of the King Devanam Piya Tissa of Anuradhapura, & later rose to prominence under King Kavantissa, father of the hero of the nation, King Dutugamunu of Ruhuna.

Modern Tissa is a bustling city with the main street lined with banks, shops & little cafes and kiosks. Refreshing breeze from the large reservoir sweeps the town. The town in turn is bounded by a beautiful expanse of paddy fields. In the midst of paddy fields stands most impressive of Tissa's dagobas (stupas). The combination of cluster of dagobas & two beautiful tanks lend Tissa a certain distinction & a sense of history making it in sharp contrast with the other towns of southern coast.

Tissa Wewa Rainwater reservior
North of the modern town lies the beautiful Tissa Wewa, an expansive artificial lake built by King Kavantissa in the 2nd century BC of the ancient southern kingdom of Ruhuna. The shore nearest the town is often busy with crowds of people bathing & flock of aquatic birds including bitterns, herons & egrets skimming across the waters. A beautiful walk leads along the massive bund (embankment) which encloses the lake's southern shore, shaded by a procession of majestic old trees.

Deberawewa Rainwater reservior
At the far end, a track leads to the smaller adjacent man-made lake of Deberawewa, another haven for birdlife, its surface prettily covered in water lilies.

Tissa Maha Dagoba (Tissa great stupa)
Most impressive is the restored Maha Stupa, built by King Kavantissa in the 3rd century BC located between Tissa town centre and the tank. It was the largest dagoba in the island at the time. Today, for Buddhist pilgrims, it is one of the sixteen most sacred sites (Solosmasthana) in the country. The dagoba has a circumference of 165m & stands 55.8m high, is enshrined with sacred tooth relic & forehead bone relic of Buddha.

Next to the dagoba is a statue of Queen Vihara Maha Devi, the heroine of the nation & mother of the hero of the nation, King Dutugamunu.

Sandagiri Dagoba
Nearby stands the Sandagiri Dagoba, together with the remains of a monastery complex. A walk around the dagoba provides us with an insight into the construction of the great dagobas. Santagiri (or Sandagiri) dagoba, too was built by Kavantissa in the second century BC & now restored to its original glory.

Yatala Dagoba
By the Tissa-Deberawewa road is Yatala Wehera, built 2300 years ago by King Yatalatissa with its surrounding wall of sculpted elephant heads & moat and large moonstone. There is also a large monolith with scorings on one face that are believed to have been made by chains used to tether royal elephants.

Menik dagoba
We continue down the road for a couple of hundred meters to reach the Menik dagoba.

Ruins of Galkanumandiya
The small cluster of pillars you pass en route is all that remains of the Galkanumandiya, thought to be some kind of monastic building.

Tissamaharama (Mahagama) of Sri Lanka Holidays in the eyes of then Colonial British Civil Servants in Ceylon (1815-1948)

I walked along channel that leads through the paddy fields towards the great Dagoba. This is a holy and a beautiful place, where man and nature are peace with one another. The fish in the channel come swimming optimistically towards the pilgrim as he looks down into the clear water: two fat kabaraoyas (iguanas) [1] replete with insects, lay basking and blinking in the mud, and took no more notice of me, than to put out their forked tongues once or twice as I passed: in the bushes beside the stream a whole colony of weaver birds were busy chattering and arguing over family matters around their pendent houses. Kindness to man and beast had been practiced here for many long generations: the birds were without fear, and some reparation to the iguana family for the cruelties practiced upon it in other parts and other days in Ceylon. Sir James Emerson Tennent (1804-1869): Natural History, Year 1861, London

It was somewhere about 220 B.C. that King Maha Naga, the brother of Devanampiyatissa, set men to work to build the Tissa Wewa at Tissamaharama. He constructed the bund, dammed up the Kirindi Oya and turned the water into the tank. For some mysterious reason the kingdom of Magama, or Tissamaharama, declined not long after Dutta Gamini [2] led his forces northwards to recapture Anuradhapura, and the tanks in the neighbourhood went back to the jungle. It was not until 1876 that the Tissa Wewa was restored and the jungle was beaten back. In 1890, 1500 acres were planted with rice below the bund of the Tissa Tank. Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming Two Happy Years in Ceylon, Year 1892, London

‘Ila Naga (first century A.D.) built the great dagoba at Tissamaharama, then known as the Naga Maha Vihara’ Humphrey William Codrington : History of Ceylon

William Orr, who visited it in 1800, describes it as a village of twenty inhabitants, with a Rest house, and ‘field of paddy ground, containing thirty-five ammonams, [3] watered by the River Keerindeoya, when in cultivation, but having lain waste for these last seven years, in consequence of the desertion of the greater part of the inhabitants, whose motive for emigration is ascribed to fear of wild beasts, which infest this part of the country to an incredible degree and increase in number as that of the inhabitants diminishes.’ A description of Ceylon: James Cordiner, Year 1807, London In 1802 Governor North made a visit to Tissamaharama, and the report of his journey says that ‘Mahagama is a considerable village, containing a good number of inhabitants, who cultivate paddy, but they complain that for seven years past they have had no crops, owing to failure of the rains.’ A description of Ceylon: James Cordiner, Year 1807, London

In 1834 Major Forbes narrates on Tissamaharama: ‘From Hambantota I turned inland on my way to the village of Wirawella, situated fifteen miles from Hambantota, and within two miles of the ruins of Ruhunu Magama; but, never calculating on any interruption in the immediate neighbourhood of so large and populous a village, I started before daylight. However, I had only just got clear of the last houses, when I suddenly found myself in the midst of a herd elephants that we could hear breaking and twisting off branches of trees in every direction around us. Haviing disengaged myself from the palanquin, I proceeded to the front with my large guns; and the whole party, in most compact order, with speed and silence, passed and silence, passed the herd without interruption; this was fortunate, for there was not sufficient light to have enabled me to take an accurate aim if any of the elephants had attempted to dispute our passage along the road.’ Major Forbes: Eleven Years in Ceylon, Year 1840, London

Yatalatissa dagoba is a mass of brick about seventy feet high; it is split near the center, and overgrown with trees and brushwood; the guide informed us that its great dilapidation was occasioned by the Portuguese, who had attempted to destroy it with gunpowder. It was built by Mahanama, B.C. 280. About a hundred stone pillars seven feet in height are scattered in groups around this temple, and are the remains of separate wihares, -Tissa-maha wihare and dagoba. The latter is even now upwards of one hundred feet in height, although no part of the spire or its base exists; it has a small opening at a considerable height, and fragments of steps leading towards the aperture are perceptible on the east side of the ruins. Two broken statues, which I suppose from their dress to be Kawantissa, the King who built this temple about B.C. 180, and his Queen, Wihare Dewi, were lying near the ruins. The small dagoba of Sanadagiri is the same date as Tissa wihare, and built in the usual Buddhist monumental form; like others, it is covered with shrubs and plants; even forest-trees find a hold for their roots in the ruins of its masonry, and draw nourishment sufficient to resist the withering blasts of the north-east monsoon Major Forbes: Eleven Years in Ceylon, 1840, London

[1] Cobra Guana guana (iguana), the Anglo-Indian name often given to monitor lizards
[2] King Dutu Gamunu, the Hero of the Nation (161-137 B.C), builder of Ruwanweliseya
[3] Amunas (Sinhala: amuna is 2.5 acres of land that yield 5 bushels of rice)

Wirawila Wewa (Wirawila rain water reservoir) Bird Sanctuary
Between the northern & southern turn-offs to Tissa, the Hambantota Wellawaya road runs on a causeway across the large Wirawila Wewa (Reservoir). The best time for bird watching is early morning.

Kirinda is a small but beautiful village on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, 10 km south of Tissa & close to Kataragama. It has a beautiful beach and a Buddhist shrine built on a huge round rock. The area is also close to the Great and Little Basses reefs which provide some of the most spectacular scuba diving in the country. Kirinda was used as a land base by Arthur C. Clarke's party when diving for the Great Basses wreck (Treasures of the Reef).

One of the most well-known attractions in Kirinda is the statue of Queen Vihara Maha Devi, the heroine of the nation & mother of the hero of the nation, King Dutugamunu. This is situated on the spot where she is said to have landed after being set adrift on the sea from Kelaniya.

History of Kirinda
In the 2nd century BC, King Kelanitissa reigned over the west of the island from his capital at Kelaniya. Having suspected a Buddhist bhikshu (monk) of being involved in an intrigue between the Queen and his brother, King Kelanitissa had the monk tipped into a cauldron of boiling oil to the untold horror of his subjects. The furious gods caused a tsunami.

It was prophesied that the kingdom could be saved only by way sacrificing a princess to the raging sea. The eldest daughter of the king, already reputed for her bravery, rose to the occasion to save her nation. Overcome with remorse, the king decided to atone for his sacrilegious act by making the sacrifice that would appease the gods. Accordingly he had a golden boat built, loaded it with one month's provisions for one & cast it adrift with his daughter. The boat carried an inscription that on board is no less than a princess. The boat was cast away onto the shores of Kirinda & the news was carried to the King Kavantissa, who reigned in Ruhuna. It was already prophesied, that if the king was ever to marry, it would only be a princess arriving over the seas.

The princess, named Queen Vihara Maha Devi, for her bravery, bore the king two sons who were to become heroes. The elder son King Dutugemunu (161 - 137BC) of Ruhuna became the greatest hero of Lanka by rescuing the nation from the marauding Dravidian invaders from south India. Viharamaha Devi herself is recognized as the heroine of our motherland. Following independenace, Victoria Park in Colombo is renamed Vihara Maha Devi Park after the heroine of the nation,

Ruhuna Yala National Park
Around 20km south east of Tissa lies the entrance to Ruhuna Yala national Park.

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Photo Gallery

click on photo to enlarge

Tissamaharama Overview

Tissa Wewa Reservior

Tissa Maha Dagoba

Yatala Dagoba

Ruins of Galkanumandiya

Views of Tissamaharama

View of Krinda Beach

Statue of Vihara Maha Devi

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