Tissamaharama is often used as a stepping stone to other destinations, such as Yala National Park. However, it is truly a destination in its own. Tissa, short for Tissamaharama, has more history and archaeological ruins than many other Sri Lankan towns. Two things immediately catch the eye: a huge expanse of water, the Tissa Wewa, and a bright white dagoba, the Maharama Wehare. Tissa was a stronghold for the southern kings of Ruhuna and both the tank and the dagoba are remnants of its earliest kings. While the north waned with foreign invasion, the Kingdom of Ruhuna remained a strong base for the southern kings.
There are several important dagoba’s in Tissa, the most imposing being the Tissamaharama Wehera meaning ‘Great Temple’. The Tissamaharama Wehare is brilliant white in colour and stands a soaring 55m high with a circumference of approximately 165m. It is attributed to King Kawantissa who ruled Ruhuna in the 2nd Century BC, and was the largest dagoba in the island at that time. This temple has been fully restored and at its pinnacle stands a spike covered in gold which was rescued from the sand by local Buddhists.. Legend has it that Buddha visited Tissamaharama on his third visit to the island and that a sacred tooth relic and a forehead bone relic are enshrined in this dagoba. As such it is considered one of 16 places in Sri Lanka that are sacred to Buddhists.
Not far away is the much smaller but very interesting Sandagiri Dagoba together with the remains of a monastery complex, believed to have been built around two thousand years ago. It has altars at the four cardinal points and on the north side a remarkable piece of stone carving, perfectly cut and beautifully polished, can be found.
The oldest dagoba in Tissa, the Yatala Wehera is attributed to King Yatala Tissa. It was built some 2,300 hundred years ago and was restored to its former glory in the 1980’s. The façade is off-white, carved out in places to expose the original brickwork of the dagoba. In the courtyard around the dagoba is a statue of Avalokitesvara and an ancient toilet used in the adjacent monastery is found nearby. However, most remarkably, this dagoba is surrounded by what is probably Sri Lanka’s oldest elephant wall. Near this historic site, a small, modern museum contains a collection of some of the most important findings from Ruhuna.
Tissa Wewa Tank
The Tissa Wewa is the largest and oldest of four artificial tanks (man made reservoirs) in the area and was constructed in the 3rd Century BC by King Yatala Tissa, the founder of the Ruhuna Kingdom. Today, with its remarkable bird life, it provides the scenic backdrop to the town. Water from the Tissa Wewa and the other tanks is used to irrigate the paddy fields near Tissa keeping the surroundings lush and green year round. Especially at dawn and sunset, the Tissa Wewa, part of the WirawilaBird Sanctuary is a great place to see a variety of water-bird life. During the weekends the tanks are a place for Sri Lankans to wash and swim.
Lastly, there is the extensively restored Menik Dagoba, which is part of the Menik Raja Maha Vihara. Some experts say that if extensive excavations were undertaken in the surroundings of Tissamaharama, a cultural and archaeological wealth would be uncovered to rival the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.