Religion & culture

Tissamaharama named after the man-made reservoir Tissa Wewa, is one of the most pleasant towns in the southern coast and is home to many remarkable bird life and 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 raised 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.

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.

Tissa Wewa

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. 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, and is enshrined with sacred tooth relic & forehead bone relic of Buddha.

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. 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. You will also witness a small cluster of pillars you pass en route is all that remains of the Galkanumandiya, thought to be some kind of monastic building.