Kirinda, Sri Lanka

Table of Contents


Our next destination was southern Sri Lanka city of Kirinda, after we had visited the creamy white Tissamaharama Chaitya. It was a warm day in the drought-stricken Southern region, and the rays of the late morning sun penetrated through the jagged boulders of Kirinda. We could see the brownish terrain all around us, everywhere we looked. Close to the Yala National Park entrance, we observed a herd of cattle wandering around in search of water. When we visited the South last month, things were worse.

The tale of King Kelanitissa

Looking through the Mahavamsa chronicle, we learn that sad events tarnished the chronicles of the 2nd century BC, under the reign of King Kelanitissa of Kelaniya. The king was informed that his brother, Prince Ayy Uttika, and his queen had a romantic relationship. One of the bhikkhu’s attendants at the royal household was aiding in the propagation of the extramarital affair.

Misdeed and wrath of nature

A love letter that the bhikkhu was carrying and intended to give to the queen was left on the ground to catch the queen’s attention as he was leaving the royal palace. The monarch was startled to see the handwritten note when, upon hearing a rustling sound, he turned around.

In a fit of pyrotechnic wrath, the monarch erupted and ordered the murder of the bhikkhu and the offender by placing them in a boiling cauldron to be tossed into the sea. After this horrible deed, the sea gods were so incensed over the bhikkhu’s terrible death that they sent a massive tidal surge that overflowed the country.

Sacrifice of Kings daughter

The king was uneasy as violent tidal surges engulfed the area because of the mayhem that the sea and winds had caused. He sent his one and only lovely daughter as a sacrifice to the sea as a sign of penitence, hoping that the sea gods would be appeased. The princess, who was unmatched in beauty, was placed on a golden boat with an inscription stating that the occupant was Devi, the daughter of King Kelanitissa, who had been offered as a sacrifice to the sea.

The golden boat that had been abandoned together with its fair princess came ashore in a location known as Dovera, which is close to modern-day Kirinda (off Tissamaharama). When the fishermen noticed the princess and the boat drifting closer to the shore, they alerted King Kavantissa of Mahagama. Now, the wise and righteous monarch intervened quickly to save the princess. The monarch, who arrived at the location with a group of royal ministers, gave the fishermen instructions to carry the boat containing the princess to a secure landing.

As soon as the stunning princess touched down, the monarch gave her a royal handshake and led her in a raucous welcome procession to the king’s capital, Mahagama. She became his unrivalled queen. She was appropriately dubbed Vihara Maha Devi, since the location of Princess Devi’s landing had been a monastery known as Lanka Vihara. An inscription written in Brahmi indicates that this cave monastery dates back to the first century BC.

Marriage ceremony

On the promontory above the Kirinda Sea, the king had constructed a Chaitya as a memorial to the event. This has been beautifully restored, revealing all of its majesty and holiness. The regal union of King Kavantissa and Vihar Maha Devi is laced with mythology.

Magul Maha Viharay

According to the story, King Kavantissa and Princess Devi were married at Magul Maha Viharay, which is located in Yala National Park. These rock cave Viharas were constructed in the style of monasteries, Dagabas, and Buddha statues as a way to celebrate their magnificent wedding.

This group of rock cave hermitages features drip-ledges at the top, and above these drip-ledges are engraved Brahmi inscriptions from the Kavantissa and Dutugemunu administrations of Ruhunu Rata, which date to the second and third centuries BC.

A recently restored Dagaba, rock lakes, and a reclining Buddha statue are further archaeologically significant remnants. There are many standing stone pillars and a set of rock-cut steps on the surface of the outcrop. Up until recently, there was a group of Bhikkhunies living in the cave.

Legend has it that the two of them got married at Lahugala Magul Maha Vihara in the Eastern Province, and a temple was constructed to honour the momentous occasion. In Lahugala, there is a stone edifice known as Magul Poruwa that is still visible today.

The same story, told in folklore, is told here about King Kavantissa and Vihara Maha Devi’s marriage and subsequent construction of the Vihara and other buildings. Another theory holds that the Dagaba and other structures were erected near Pottuvil in the Eastern Province to honour the site of Princess Vihara Maha Devi’s seashore landing.

Another legend claims that Vihara Maha Devi landed at the ancient port of Mahagama, the estuary of the Kirindi Oya.

Actions in history

At Kirinda Vihara, when one ascends the stone steps etched on the outcrop from King Kavantissa’s legendary days, one is ascending the steps of history wrapped in this hallowed location, which one might retell step by step as one steps on the etched steps in the rock. With a view of the turbulent ocean and the serene Kirinda Bay (now Fisheries Harbour), which was recently rebuilt with Japanese assistance and protected by a sizable group of boulders, there is still a creamy white Dagaba, constructed on the ruins of the original Dagaba, to honour the momentous occasion of the princess’s boat being cast ashore.

The true wonder of Kirinda is found when you travel to the little but stunning Dagoba—the way it ends at the sea. The Dagaba, the statue of Queen Vihara Maha Devi, and the shrine dedicated to the god Kataragama are perched atop enormous rock rocks that protrude into the Indian Ocean. As you approach the peak, the phrase “Muhuda Bili Ganee” (the sea claims sacrifices here) is painted in enormous characters on the pile of rocks. The sea roars and churns below, sending shivers down the spines of pilgrims and compelling even the most sceptic to accept this as fact.

Visiting Kiringa

Kirinda is not packed into most Sri Lanka trip packages. Main reason being its remote location in southern Sri Lanka. However, the tporuist, who visit Yala antional park have a better chance of visitng Kirinda temple. Yala national park is just few hundreds meters away from Kirinda. However, the travellers need to drive about 1 km extra from the Yala antional park in order to reach Kirinda.