The small fishing village of Kirinda is blessed with a pretty beach, spectacular views and a charming history, yet it is bypassed by most visitors. There is a rocky outcrop from which can be obtained some magnificent views of the desolate coast with its long stretch of sand dunes and the ocean beyond. On a clear day the lighthouse on the Great Basses Reef appears like a needle in the far distance. That’s not all, for if you reverse your gaze you can see Tissamaharama in detail, especially the glistening dome of the Tissamaharama Dagoba.
With such an atmosphere, Kirinda is the appropriate setting of one of those popular legends that constitute early Sri Lankan history, the legend of Queen Viharamaha Devi A well known story handed down from the 2nd century BC tells of a tsunami that flooded Kelaniya, on what is now the outskirts of modern day Colombo near Wattala. In the legend, King Kelanitissa boiled a Buddhist monk alive in oil because he suspected him of trying to pass a love letter from his brother to the Queen. Both his ministers and subjects were horrified. Furthermore, so the legend goes, the gods were annoyed and caused the ocean to flood the land. Overcome with remorse, the King decided to atone for his sacrilegious act by making a sacrifice that would impress on his people the sincerity of his repentance as well as appease the gods.
Accordingly he built a boat of gold, provisioned it with enough supplies for one person for a month – and placed his eldest daughter in it and sent it out to sea. The young princess finally reached shore at Kirinda in the southern part of the country, then known as Ruhuna. The local ruler, King Kavantissa, married the brave princess and continued a dynasty that ruled a prosperous Ruhuna for many years.
The Queen, named Viharamaha Devi after her landing location in Kirinda, is recognised as a great heroine of Sri Lanka and she became the mother of perhaps the best known of the island’s kings, Dutugemunnu. King Dutugemunnu ruled Sri Lanka from 161 to 137 BC and is seen as the liberator of the Sinhalese people, uniting the nation for the first time under one king and bringing security and prosperity to its people after defeating the Tamil king Elara.
The popularity of this romantic legend makes Kirinda a focal point for pilgrims. They come specifically to the rocky outcrop – a group of boulders piled up in bizarre fashion – to see a modern statue of Viharamaha Devi and make offerings at a dagoba built on the ruins of an ancient one erected to commemorate the safe conclusion of the princess’ voyage. Kavantissa’s royal coat of arms – featuring the sun and the moon – were carved on a boulder nearby to mark the landing place.