For most Sri Lanka travellers Tissamaharama is the perfect starting point for safaris in the surrounding national parks of Yala and Bundala and Lunugamvehera, some also enjoy birdwatching in the close-by Wirawila sanctionary. But Tissa - as its name is commonly shortened - is also an attraction in itself. Tissamaharama is the ancient Mahagama, which was the capital of the southern principality known as Rohana in the Pali chronicles. It was the hometown of the Sinhalese national hero Dutugemunu (Dutthagamani in Pali). Due to its historical significance, Tissamaharama alias Mahagama is sometimes called the "Anuradhapura of the south". Four major dagobas survive from the early centuries of Buddhism on the island. The best restored one - from a scientifical point of view - is called Sandagiri Dagoba. A small archaeological museum is attached to it. Two other dagobas are much larger, actually the largest of the entire Southern Province of Sri Lanka. However, the Tissa and Yattala stupas are restored as white domes in a more modern style.
The photos shown above are taken in the complex of the Sandagiri Dagoba (stupa) of the ancient city of Mahagama, now known as Tissamaharama alias Tissa. This is only one of 4 archaeological sites in Tissa. To learn more about the history of Tissa and its places of interest for heritage round tours, please click here...
The Magul Maha Vihara, also spelt Maghul Maha Viharaya, is an ancient monastic complex situtated close to the small Lahugala-Kitulana National Park in the hinterland of Arugam Bay. Among the remnants of the Anuradhapura period, Magul Maha Vihara is one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the southeast of Sri Lanka. ‘Magul’ means ‘wedding’ in Sinhala. The platform in the southwestern corner of the rectangular monastic complex is believed to be the location where the wedding of King Kavan Tissa from the southern kingdom of Rohana and Princess Viharamahadevi from Kelaniya near Colombo took place in the 2nd century BC. She will become the mother of Dutthagamani alias Dutugemunu, the most famous king of Sinhalese history. According to legend told in the Mahavamsa, Viharamaha Devi volunteered to sacrifice herself to the sea in order to appease the gods who punished her father’s kingdom by sending a tsunami. But the princess was safely carried in a golden vessel over the ocean, landing at a place near the Muhudu Maha Viharaya in Pottuvil (others say in Kirinda in the Southern Province), where the encounter between the local king and the beautiful princess took place. The marriage is said to have been celebrated in Lahugala on the platform now called Magul Maduwa or Magul Poruwa. It‘s namegiving to the entire ancient complex.
Actually, the buildings are not from the pre-Christian centuries but about one millennium younger, roughly from the late Anuradhapura period. An important stone inscription at the archaeological site dates to an even later period (14th century). The layout of the monastic complex is regular and follows a pattern called „Pabbata Vihara“, which became quite common in the Culturl triangle during the 7th and 8th century, but Magul Maha Vihara is one of the few examples of this systematically arranged monastic compounds in southern Sri Lanka.
A rectangular paraket wall in north-south direction surrounds the entire complex, which covers an extent of around 10,000 acres. The four major buildings of a monastery are arranged symmetrically in the four corners of the premises. Besides the chapter hall, which serves for the higher ceremonies of the monks, these edifices are dedicated to objects also venerated by lay persons (pilgrims and other guests of the monastery). These objects of veneration are a stupa, a Buddha statue inside a hall called image house (Pathimagara), and a platform for tree worship (Bodhigara). Most likely, the platform now called wedding terrace was the Bodhigara of the ancient monastery now called Magul Maha Vihara.
The moonstone (Sandakada Pahana) of the Magul Maha Vihara in Lahugala is of special interest for lovers of ancient Sinhala-Buddhist art. It’s the largest ancient moonstone with intricate carvings in the southern half of the the island. In fact, there are only very few carved moonstones in southern Sri Lanka. Hence, the moonstone of the Magul Maha Vihara is the best instance of this typical and classical sujet of Sri Lankan art, which is without equally elaborate paragons in India. There is one feature that can be seen nowhere else than in the Magul Maha Vihara. Elephant carvings are very common on classical Sri Lankan moonstones. But only in the Magul Maha Vihara the elephants are depicted with riders. Mahouts can usually not be seen on stone carvings from the Anuradhapura period and not on any other moonstone in the entire world.
This belongs to the mid Anuradhapura period. Being one of the more attractive features of an edifice, the moonstone underwent development on a number of occasions and evolved into an exquisite artwork of delicate carvings by the mid Anuradhapura period. From among the carvings on the moonstone the tender leaf of the Ironwood tree, lotus petal motif, lotus flowers, animal figures etc. took a prominent place. However the moonstone in Magul Maha Vihara is unique among the moonstones found from numerous places in Sri Lanka. The design of a mahout riding the elephant depicted in this moonstone is an eminent feature. It is our duty to protext national archaeological heritage for the sake of present and future generations.
The above text in italic letters is cited from the signboard of Sri Lanka's Archaeological Department,
which is placed near the moonstone of the Madul Maha Vihara in Lahugala.
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka,