An Ancient Temple and a Man-Made Tank. Mahiyangana Sri Lanka

Steeped in history and home to one of Sri Lanka’s 16 sacred places (solosmasthana), Mahiyanagana, once a sleepy town, is now a bustling city. I am passing through Mahiyangana en route to Nuwaragala in Maha Oya.

One of the focal points of this city is the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Temple, which plays a significant role in the history of Buddhism in this country. On a Duruthu Full Moon Poya day in January, and nine months after attaining enlightenment, Buddha visited Mahiyanagana (1 BE. or 528 BC), his first visit to this island nation.

According to the Mahavamsa, Sivuhelaya (Sri Lanka) was inhabited by Sivu-Helayos and the Yakkha (demon worshippers) and Naga (snake worshippers) clans were living in Mahiyangana at the time. It says in order to settle an altercation between the two clans, the Buddha held a discussion on the Dhamma with them. A Yakkha chieftain named Saman (who is now regarded as a deity) attained Sotapanna – the first stage in liberation after listening to the Buddha’s discourse and requested a token from the Buddha that they could worship in his absence. The Buddha gave him a handful of hair from his head, which was later enshrined by Saman in a small stupa, 10 feet (3.0 m) in height. This was the first stupa to be built in Sri Lanka during the life time of the Buddha.

After the parinirvana of the Buddha, an Arhant named Sarabhu brought the Buddha’s left shoulder bone, which had been recovered from the funeral pyre. This relic was also enshrined here and the Stupa was raised to a height of 18 feet (5.5 m). Since then several kings renovated and rebuilt this Stupa. King Dutugamunu raised it to a height of 120 feet and rulers such as Voharikatissa, Sena II, Vijayabahu I and Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe have maintained the temple during their reigns.

Today, there is a special ceremony and the temple is lit up like a radiant queen. The light rain does not dampen the mood of the hundreds of devotees sitting cross-legged on the temple grounds, listening attentively to a sermon broadcast via a loudspeaker, the thousands of lights dripping from the temple’s façade, the walkways adorned with flowers and oil lamps, and the full moon lighting up the rest of the mountains around.

Also popular in Mahiyangana is the massive Sorabora Wewa. Dating back to 102 BC during the reign of Kind Dutugemunu, it is believed to have been built by Bulatha, a giant of a man. The 1440 acres of water stretches as far as the eye can see and the surrounding area is peaceful and quiet this evening.

Sluice gate

This tank is famous for its amazing ancient sluice gate made out of natural rock. This is one of the earliest tanks to be built and the only such sluice gate to be found in Sri Lanka.

The story goes that Bulatha, a villager from Kiripattiya, Ududumbara joined the King’s army when he was warring with Elara. King Dutugemunu ordered Bulatha to collect treacle from Meemure, betel from Kevulgama, arecanut from Puwakpitiya and milk from his own village, Kiripattiya.

Bulatha had to travel far through mountainous areas to collect these items including the Kosgolla mountain pass which linked Ududumbara and Minipe. During his travels, he saw a river flowing through a low land that lay between two mountains and decided to build a tank by damming the river which could be used to irrigate the paddy fields.

After each daily trip to the Royal Palace he worked on the embankment across two hills single handedly. According to legend, Bulatha was so strong that he had to use a mammoty that was ten times larger than the normal mammoty and that the basket he used to remove earth was equally large.

Twice daily Bulatha’s wife brought him his food while he was working on the dam. She had to travel through the dangerous Kosgolla pass and when she saw the hundreds of devotees going to worship at the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Temple she decided to build a flight of steps over this path to make it easier for the pilgrims. It is said that she had the strength of 20 women and that she built a few stone steps at a time daily.

After the completion of the dam and tank Bulatha invited King Dutugamunu to see his work and formally declare open the dam and tank. This was on the day that the King opened the renovated Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya. The King was amazed that Bulatha had singlehandedly accomplished this massive task to help the surrounding villages. It was at this moment that the King realised that Bulatha was a giant. Some say that the King was very happy with Bulatha’s great feat and put his royal cape on him, made him a general in the King’s army and presented him a village named Udathwewa.

However, there is another version to this story. Apparently, the King, jealous of Bulatha’s mighty deed, had him secretly beheaded and thrown into the very tank that he built. Bulatha’s blood is supposed to have made the water murky or unclear. And that is how the tank got its name – secret = sora and murky = bora.

I just love stories like this!

The suspension bridge leads to a rock that offers another incredible vista of the tank.

But now, the sky is darkening and the clouds are heavy with impending rain, so I had better head back to the Mahiyangana New Rest House, which I have to say is very clean, comfortable and the staff is so courteous.

There are so many more places to explore in this area, but now it is time to move on.

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