Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara: Ancient Temple Steeped in History
Text and Pix by Vindya Amaranayake
The rustic town of Tissamaharama in the Hambantota District of Sri Lanka's deep south is a famous stopover among travellers heading to the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya - about 20 km north-east and the Yala National Park - about 20km south-east.
The town's main attraction is the centuries old ancient temple, Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara.
According to Buddhist lore, this temple is one of the 16 locations in Sri Lanka where the Buddha had visited during his three visits to the country. Legend says that the Budhda spent some time in meditation there with 500 arhats.
According to Mahavamsa the temple was built by King Kavantssa, who ruled the Kingdom of Ruhuna in the 2nd century BCE.
The Department of Archaeology says Tissamaharama monastery was recognised as a pre-eminent Buddhist educational centre of the Southern Sri Lanka from the 3rd century BCE to the 11th century CE, and it is one of the four major Buddhist monasteries established in Sri Lanka, after the arrival of Arhant Mahinda.
The plaque erected next to the Tissamaharama stupa states the bubble-shaped chaitya is 186ft in height and has a circumference of 550ft, making it the largest stupa in the south of the country. It is believed that Buddha's forehead bone relic and the left tooth relic had been interred therein.
On one side of the ancient temple is the famous Tissa wewa and a few metres away is the Yoda Lake, which makes cool winds to breeze across the temple grounds, giving a much-needed respite from the blazing sun, even in the middle of the day.