Tissamaharamaya - the modernised monument of Magama
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 harbour, 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.
The writer was an Associate Editor of the CDN.