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Located some 270km south of Colombo, Tissamaharama is a remote township that can be reached via A2 main road through Galle and Hambanthota. Whereas it’s known mainly as the gateway to the Yala National Park, ‘Tissamaharama’ or ‘Tissa’, as it’s fondly called, is an important cultural and natural attraction in its own right.
Among the major attractions in Tissamaharamaare two ancient reservoirs and three ancient stupas; the Santagiri or Sandagiri dagoba, the largest stupa is located in the heart of the vast expanse of lush paddy fields which bounds the town from the Northern side.
Tissamaharama, also known by the name of Mahagama in the ancient era was founded by Prince Mahanaga, brother of King Devanampiyatissa in the third century BC. The settlement gained prominence during the reign of King Kavantissa, father of King Dutugamunu. It was during this period that Tissamaharama’s three stupas and two ancient irrigation reservoirs were built. The chronicles claim that around 12,000 Arahats (Buddhist monks who had attained the third-highest state of enlightenment) had lived in Tissamaharama and its surroundings during the era of King Kavantissa.
Tissa Wewa Reservoir in Tissamaharama
Just a kilometre north of the Tissamaharama town is the vast expanse of waters called Tissa wewa. The shore of the tank nearest to the town of Tissamaharama is regularly crowded with villagers and tourists. A massive tree-lined embankment bounds the southern shore of the reservoir. To the East of the far end of the Tissa wewa reservoir is another man-made tank called Debera Wewa. Both reservoirs provide ample refuge for birdlife.
Santagiri or Sandagiri Dagaba in Tissamaharama
Sandagiri Stupa was built by the regional ruler Prince Mahanaga in the third century B.C. Sandagiri Stupa is 55m in height and 165m in circumference. According to the chronicles, King Kavantissa had deposited the forehead relic of the Buddha in the Sandagiri stupa. Historical chronicles also reveal that Buddha, in his third visit to Sri Lanka, arrived at Tissamaharama and hence the ancient settlement is considered to count among the sixteen sacred locations of the island.
Yatala Dagoba in Tissamaharama
A short walk along the road from the southwest corner of Tissa weva is the Yatala dagoba and about half a kilometre further down is the Menik Dagoba. The small cluster of pillars located in the midway are the relics of an ancient Buddhist monastery called Galkanumandiya. Yatala Dagoba that has been identified as Mani Chethiya and Yattalaya in numerous historical documents was built by Prince Mahanaga in the 3rd century BC.