Tissamaharama Rajamaha Viharaya – තිස්සමහාරාම විහාරය

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Tissamaharama Rajamaha Viharaya built by regional king Mahanaga in the 3rd century BC
Tissamaharama Rajamaha Viharaya built by regional king Mahanaga in the 3rd century BC

In the city of Tissamamarama, there are 4 ancient stupas belonging to the Anuradhapura Era ara lying in a row. These are

  1. Sandagiri Stupa
  2. Tissamaharama Stupa
  3. Yatala Vehera &
  4. Menik Vehera

Out of these, the most worshiped and the largest is the Tissamaharama Stupa & according to ancient chronicles this stupa has been built by King Kavantissa who ruled Ruhuna in the 1st century BC. But there is also a belief that this stupa was initially built by regional King Mahanaga in the 3rd century BC and King Kavantissa probably enlarged the shrine.

Mahanaga is a brother of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC ). History states that that when Mahanaga was inspecting the construction of Walas Reservoir (වලස් වැව), the queen of Devanampiyatissa send him a bowl of Mangos with the top most one poisoned. Her intention was to kill Mahanaga to ensure the throne to her son after Devanampiyatissa. At that time the son was with his uncle at the tank and child ate the poisoned mango and died on the spot. Fearing reprisal he took his pregnant wife and escaped to Ruhuna where he built up his own regional kingdom surrounding Magama area.

According to chronicles this stupa has been enlarged by king Ilanaga  (38-44) renovated by king Voharika Tissa (214-236) and again renovated by king Vijayabahu (1070-1110).

The more recent restoration work of this stupa had begun in 1858 due to the efforts of Wepathaira Sumana Thera, who rediscovered Thissmaharama Vihara after making a pilgrimage to the area. He built a hut in the visinity of the stupa and started living there to supervise the restoration works by him self. It took 16 years to complete the renovation work of the Garbhaya, semi spherical part of the stupa which is 86 feet in height. But Wepathaira Sumana Thera could not complete the restoration of Thissmaharama stupa in his lifetime and after the death of Wepathaira Sumana Thera in 1873, Walpita Medhankara Thero, a monastic brother of Wepathaira Sumana Thera took over the renovation works. By 1895 Walpita Medhankara Thero managed to complete the restoration of Hatharaskotwa of the stupa and enshrined relics in it. The pinnacle of the stupa was ceremoniously placed in 1900 and work was finally completed in 1915.

It is said that an ill samanera called “Gauthama” in the Seelapassa Pirivena passed away and was conceived in to Queen Viharamahadevi in this location who later became the great king Dutugemunu. It is also believed that Dutugemunu was born on this area.

The relic enshrined in this stupa is a subject of debate. According to popular belief the fontal bone relic ( ලලාඨ ධාතු ) of Buddha was temporally enshrined in this stupa but later it was enshrined in the Seruwila Mangala Maha Chethiya . But a recent discovery of a pillar inscription in Kirinda, that the left tooth relic of Buddha (වම් යටි හකු දලදා ව) is enshrined in this stupa. Irrespective of the relics enshrined, Tissamaharama stupa lies on the ground that Buddha himself visited with 500 Arhats during his 3rd visit to Sri Lanka. This site lies on the 8th position of the Solosmasthana (The Sixteen Buddhist Sacred Sites hollowed by Buddha) in Sri Lanka.

Tissamaharama Stupa is the largest stupa in the Southern region of the country with a height of 156 feet and 550 feet in circumference.

Also See

  • Solosmasthana – The Sixteen Buddhist Sacred Sites hollowed by Buddha

Map of Tissamaharama Raja maha Viharaya

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Travel Directions to Tissamaharama Raja maha Viharaya

Route 01 from Colombo to Tissamaharama Raja maha Viharaya

Route 02 from Colombo to Tissamaharama Raja maha Viharaya

Though : Southern Expressway – Galle – Matara – Hambantota
distance :270 km
Travel time : 5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Awissawella – Ratnapura – Udawalawe – Thanamalwila
distance : 225 km
Travel time : 4.5 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps

Tissamaharama Rajamaha Viharaya

Primary Source : www.gamingamata.gov.lk

The “Tissamaharama Chaitiya” becomes the oldest cenotaph of the civilisation and culture of southern Sri Lanka from the reign of long Kavantissa who left an indelible impression on the Buddhist philosophy of ancient Sri Lanka .

Historians have revealed that the southern empire was commenced with the reign of King “Mahanaga” from 307 B.C. to 267 B.C. followed by king Yatalatissa and Prince Gothabaya, his son. However, it is King Kavantissa who is considered as the pioneer architect of the development of the propagation of Buddhism through the construction Tissamaharamaya along with 362 other chaitiyas which includes: Seruwila and Mahiyangana as well. Certain philosophers deduce that King Kavantissa is destined to be the father of Maithri Buddha in a future birth.

The “Tissamaharama Vansa” which is a chronicle which provides a detailed description of the chaitiya specifies that it was the site which had a presence of 12,000 Arahats that king Kavantissa decided to build the Tissamaharama Chaitiya. Around 500 Arahats have engaged in “Pala Samawatha” during the arrival of Lord Buddha. Therefore, Tissamaharamaya was to be the counterpart of the Anuradhapura chaitiya’s in the South.

The chief incumbent of the Tissamaharama Sandagiri Chaitiya Hakmana Pannaloka Thera states that according to the chronicles, around 12,000 Arahats have lived in the Tissa area during the life and times of King Kavantissa who deposited the forehead relic (Lalata Dhatu) of the Buddha and in addition, four tooth relics in Tissa Chaitiya. Another similar venue where such an occurrence took place was the “Situlpawwa Chaitiya which is in close proximity to the Tissa Chaitiya.

The chronicles have also revealed that King Kavantissa had sought the blessings of Arahat Gothama in constructing Tissa Chaitiya and erected it on a square platform.

There are four main chaitiyas in the Tissamaharama complex. They are “Tissa Chaitiya” (which has taken the pride of place among the four) the “Yatala Vehera, “Sandagiri Vehera and the “Menik Vehera. The Tissa Vehera is located South East of the Tissa Wewa while Menik Vehera and the Yatala Vehera are near the lake on the Western Tank. Historians also debate that the present Yatala Vehera could be the de facto Tissa Chaitiya which the one referred to as the Tissa Chaitiya is the Naga Vehera and the Menik Vehera as the older Tissa Maha Vehera while others opine that the present Yatala Vehera is the older Tissa Maha vehera.

Despite divergent opinions on the Tissamaharama Chaitiya‘s existence, there has been on firm evidence of the present chaitiya not being the one as constructed by King Kavantissa in 2nd century BC. This is further justified by the rock inscriptions on the rock named “Etha-bendi Gala”.

Historians deduce that the superiority of a chaitiya lies in the nature of relics deposited in it. Even the stanzas have been prepared accordingly. The Buddhist belief until recent times have been that the forehead relic (“Lalata Dhathu”) has been placed in the Tissa Chaitiya, while the “Dhathu Vansa” states that the “Lalata Dhatu” has been deposited in the Seruwila Chaitiya in Trincomalee. However, the strong belief that the Lord Buddha’s forehead relic being placed in the Tissa Vehera is strongly due to a sentiment published in a devotional song two centuries ago.

A rock inscription which denoted an important piece of history was discovered by investigations officer of the Department of Archaeology 1960. The inscription goes on to state that King Kavantissa had deposited a tooth relic of Lord Buddha in the Tissa Chaitiya as well. The inscription explains in detail that the relic has been off the Buddha’s lower jaw and this had been around four centuries prior to the visit of Princess Hemamala and Dhantha Kumaru with the other tooth relics which were deposited in theAnuradhapura era. A further pillar inscription in this regard also states that another pillar inscription pertaining to Arahat Mahinda also exists belonging to 10 th century A.D. The inscription which is of a three dimensional nature, has on its first side, 27 lines which are one foot five inches in length. The second side inscriptions are not at all clear which consists of 6 lines. It is believed that the third had been maliciously destructed.

The rock inscriptions found in the 1960s have indicated that King Kavantissa has constructed 36 mini chaitiyas prior to the Tissamaharama Chaitiya and therefore the name “Tissamaharamaya” arises from “Tisa-Ram-Rad-Maha Vehera” which provides weight age to the digits 36.

A series of four rock inscriptions and pillar inscriptions have been fond within this complex venue of Buddhist worship according to historical values.

The Tissamaharama – Kirinde inscription states thus: “Sidhani Aparimitha Lokehi Buddha, Samenithi athama Parama Dulabhe, Saraghetha Pathe Anuthara Sathe, Maha Sarane Lokha vathe budha Nama Sayabhu…” of which the translation means, “There is no equal being to Lord Buddha in this world. It is very difficult or impossible to see the enlightened. The Lord Buddha provides the divine sight to all beings….

The pillar inscription at Akuregoda between Sandagiri Vehera and the Akuregoda village lies another pillar inscription which is constructed in brick of 30 feet in height and nine feet in thickness which gives a detailed description of King Naga’s pursuit of absolving from craving.

It says “Sidham Yagedha Mase Baye Namang Saga Vadamane, Nama Michadittika jana Avathaye…” when translated means, “Fear is caused by craving. Isn’t craving a source of disillusionment. Cannot humans be extricated from both fear and craving? This is the pillar constructed by me, King Naga who has taken refuge in the Buddha to destroy human craving“.

However, the plaque inscription at the Tissamaharamaya Chaitiya, which is now in the Colombo Museum , states that a king named “Buddhadasa Shripala Mahanama Jettatissa” is described as giving alms to Buddhist monks. The translation of it means “I am hereby inscribing that I am providing 5000 robes to the Bhikkus at Magama Raja Maha Vihara, 4000 robes b the Tissa Chaitiya. I, as King Buddhadasa Shripala Mahanama Abayatissa, am following the directions of our king Chula….”

A further pillar inscription near the Sandagiri Vehera on the right of the Tissa Chaitiya states that King Vasanga had donated large sums of money to the monks living at the Tissamaharama Chaitiya so that they could purchase oil to light the lamp in the phoya-geya. It also states that the great grandson of King Tissa and son of King Abhaya – Prince Gamini had sold some of the paddy fields belonging to Royalty and gifted the funds to the priests to light the oil lamp at the uposthagaraya (chapter house)


There had been series of renovations done to the stupa during the last century by a group of private persons through devotion (without any assistance from the Government) These restoration works were done even prior to the restoration works of the Ruwanveliseya.

However, even if what was added at the time of the restoration a centenary ago was completely evacuated then the brick work of them chaitiya would have surfaced totally.

Operational details stand at that point for the moment despite the chaitiya deteriorating fast. Restoration works have to be effected very fast, he added. The Director – General of the Department of Archaeology Dr. Siran Daraniyagala said “During early 19th century, a British Expert by the name of Henry Parker had illustrated the Tissamaharama Stupa in extremely dilapidated conditions and around 1850, a restoration society commenced the restoration works and completed them by the turn of the century.

Accordingly, what one sees today is a restored chaitiya, concealing the ancient stupa within it.

The first cracks of the chaitiya appeared in the 1960s and they started expanding dramatically in the 1990s. The State Engineer Corporation, on the invitation of the Department of Archaeology commenced monitoring the cracks. Over the last few years, the cracks continued to expand.

The State Engineering Corporation’s view in collaboration with the Civil Engineering Department of the University of Peradeniya, after analysing the engineering aspects of cracking was that the stability of the stupa had been irrevocably affected. So, now a situation had arisen now and remedial action had to be taken, Dr. Deraniyagala asserted.

The Modernized Monument of Magama

Daily News

The Maha Aramaya and the Mahacetiya in Magama in the deep South of Ruhunu Rata was built by King Kavantissa’s father of the heroic king Dutugemunu and his younger brother Saddhatissa.

When the Thuparama and other Buddhist monasteries had been built in the Rajarata, many a similar Vihararama and Dagaba were built in Magama in the capital of Ruhuna. However, the first ruler to have begun the construction of sacred places of Buddhist worship in Ruhuna was Mahanaga.

He is credited with the Sandagiri Seya, the Yatala Cetiya, Velipiti Viharaya, Kudorapavu Vihara and the Menik Dagaba. However, Henry Parker, an irrigation officer of the British Administration in his ‘Archaeology of Tissamaharama – Report on Archaeological discoveries at Tissamaharama, 1884,” opines the Yatala Cetiya to have been built by Yatthalakatissa, the son of Mahanaga and the Maharamaya at Tissa to have been built by Mahanaga.

With the spread of the message of the Buddha and the establishment of the order of Bhikkhus by Arhat Mahinda and the Order of Bhikkunis by Arhat Theri Sanghamitta – both historic events – with the patronage and sponsorship of the king, court and commoner alike followed an earnest and devoted endeavour to spread the new message of peace and harmony and the simple way of life with intense activity in building construction.

The credit for this inaugural monumental venture goes to one family – the Royal family of King Devanampiyatissa in Rajarata and his brother Mahanaga at Ruhunu Rata. They led and their successors followed.

Tissamaharama – like all other Dagabas and Viharas – was repaired, reconstructed, restored and further developed by successive kings.

The Sinhala Buddhist kings were benevolent rulers who not only had their Purohitas (advisors) but they also were learned and intelligent and were themselves visionaries who could not be fooled by unscrupulous advisors.

Besides, during the Sinhala kings, there were neither archaeological departments nor Cultural Triangle projects.

The ancient rulers knew that Dagabas and Bodhigharas, monasteries and meditation kutis were built for the benefit of the laity and the Sangha.

Those must continue to be maintained as they flourished as centres of daily worship in order that the country should march forward in peace, progress and prosperity, so that the ruler and the ruled may live righteously. And successive rulers embarked on repairing and causing improvements of the monuments put up by their predecessors.

Had it not been so, the ancient and medieval monuments would have been reduced to piles of bricks and mounds of rubble. From such ancient times as the second century after the Common Era (165 A.C.E.) according to inscriptional evidence, King Kanitthatissa repaired the Maharama.

King Ilanaga enlarged the Maha Vihara to the extent of a hundred lengths of his unstrung bow (600 feet in length).

The Mahavamsa mentions that King Voharaka Tissa “caused improvements to be made with paid labour to Mahagama and Mahanaga Viharas and Dagabas.”

King Dappula II king at Magama (690 ACE) had “caused the Dagaba of Runa to be rebuilt” state the Rajavaliya.

King Mahinda III who ruled from 997 to 1013 “repaired the Mahavihara and refers to the Uda Tissa monastery”.

Up to the end of the 13th century kings like Parakramabahu I, Nissankamalla and Pandita Parakramabahu had in some way or other shown devoted interest in the edifices of Ruhuna including the great tanks built by the Ruhuna rulers.

During the time of Kalinga Nagha the invader and his successors who ruled the country for a number of years, invaders were settled at Magama.

The tanks falling into disrepair, the religious centres, the majestic monasteries and Dagabas and Bodhigharas abandoned, and Sangha-laity deserting the abodes, none was there to prevent the jungle enveloping these place of Buddhist worship.

Tissamaharama also faced the same fate. Nearly 100 years ago, the edifice was restored by a local committee and the people rejoiced that Tissamaharamaya had come into being once again as a centre of homage with olden-day serenity.

The re-construction faced no problem whatsoever until a few years ago when cracks began to appear in the dome of the Dagaba.

Certain schools of thought adduce two reasons for the present situation – one a remote cause and the other the immediate cause. The remote cause is water seepage and the immediate cause being the transportation of heavy rock stones along the road in front of the dagaba for the construction of the Kirinda harbor, resulting in the cracking of the dagaba.

After a series of tests, the Archaeological Department entrusted the job of preventing further cracks of the dagaba to Mechanical Engineering Unit of the State Engineering Corporation.

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