Kirinda, Sri Lanka

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After visiting the milky white Tissamaharama Chaitya, we moved on to the southern Sri Lankan city of Kirinda. The late morning sun penetrated the jagged stones of Kirinda on a warm day in the drought-stricken southern area. We could see the brownish terrain all around us, any which way we turned. We saw a herd of cattle meandering about near the Yala National Park entrance, looking for water. Things were even worse when we visited the South last month.

King Kelanitissa’s Story

Looking through the Mahavamsa chronicle, we learn that tragic occurrences tainted the 2nd century BC records under the reign of King Kelanitissa of Kelaniya. The monarch was informed that his brother, Prince Ayy Uttika, and his queen were having an affair. One of the bhikkhu’s royal household attendants was assisting in the spread of the adulterous affair.

Nature’s vengeance and misdeeds

A love letter that the bhikkhu was carrying and meant to offer to the queen was left on the ground to draw the queen’s attention as he walked out of the royal palace. When the monarch turned back after hearing a rustling sound, he was startled to read the scribbled note.

The monarch burst into a fit of pyrotechnic rage and ordered the murder of the bhikkhu and the culprit by placing them in a boiling cauldron to be hurled into the sea. The sea gods were so enraged by the bhikkhu’s horrific demise that they issued a gigantic tidal surge that swamped the country.

The King’s Daughter’s Sacrifice

The area experienced strong tidal surges as a result of the mayhem the sea and winds had caused. The king was concerned. He sacrificed his only lovely daughter to the sea as a show of penitence, believing that the sea gods would be appeased. The incomparable beauty of the princess was placed on a golden boat with an inscription indicating that the occupant was Devi, King Kelanitissa’s daughter, who had been offered as a sacrifice to the sea.

The abandoned golden boat and its fair princess washed up on the shores of Dovera, which is close to modern-day Kirinda (off Tissamaharama). When the fishermen observed the princess and the boat drifting closer to the beach, they informed Mahagama’s King Kavantissa. The wise and moral monarch promptly intervened to save the princess. The monarch, who arrived at the scene with a group of royal ministers, directed the fishermen to bring the boat carrying the princess to a safe landing.

The monarch greeted the lovely princess with a royal handshake and led her in a loud welcome procession to the king’s capital, Mahagama. She rose to become his peerless queen. Vihara Maha Devi was fittingly named after the place of Princess Devi’s landing, a monastery known as Lanka Vihara. According to an inscription written in Brahmi, this cave monastery dates back to the first century BC.

Wedding ceremony

As a tribute to the event, the king built a Chaitya on the promontory above the Kirinda Sea. This has been carefully restored, displaying its true majesty and holiness. The royal marriage of King Kavantissa and Vihar Maha Devi is steeped in mythology.

Maha Viharay Magul

According to legend, King Kavantissa and Princess Devi married at Magul Maha Viharay in Yala National Park. As a way to commemorate their wonderful wedding, these rock cave Viharas were built in the shape of monasteries, Dagabas, and Buddha statues.

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

Another archaeologically significant remains is a recently restored Dagaba, rock lakes, and a reclining Buddha figure. On the surface of the outcrop, there are numerous standing stone pillars and a series of rock-cut steps. Until recently, a group of Bhikkhunies lived in the cave.

According to legend, they wed at Lahugala Magul Maha Vihara in the Eastern Province, and a temple was built to commemorate the occasion. There is a stone building known as Magul Poruwa in Lahugala that is still visible today.

The same legendary account of King Kavantissa and Vihara Maha Devi’s marriage and subsequent construction of the Vihara and other buildings is told here. Another version is that the Dagaba and other monuments were built near Pottuvil in the Eastern Province to commemorate the location of Princess Vihara Maha Devi’s seaside landing.

According to another tradition, Vihara Maha Devi landed at the ancient port of Mahagama, the estuary of the Kirindi Oya.

Historic events

When one ascends the stone steps carved on the outcrop from King Kavantissa’s fabled days at Kirinda Vihara, one is ascending the steps of history wrapped in this sacred spot, which one can retell step by step as one climbs on the etched steps in the rock. There is still a creamy white Dagaba, constructed on the ruins of the original Dagaba, 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, to commemorate the momentous occasion of the princess’s boat being cast ashore.

The actual wonder of Kirinda can be found when visiting the little but gorgeous Dagoba—the way it finishes at the sea. The Dagaba, Queen Vihara Maha Devi’s statue, and the shrine devoted to the god Kataragama are positioned atop massive rock outcrops protruding into the Indian Ocean. The word “Muhuda Bili Ganee” (the sea claims sacrifices here) is painted in large characters on the pile of rocks as you reach the peak. The sea below roars and churns, sending shivers down pilgrims’ spines and convincing even the most sceptical to accept this as fact.

Visit Kirinda

Most Sri Lanka vacation packages do not include Kirinda. The primary cause is its distant position in southern Sri Lanka. Tourists that visit Yala National Park, on the other hand, have a better chance of visiting Kirinda Temple. Kirinda lies only a few hundred metres from Yala National Park. However, in order to reach Kirinda, visitors must drive approximately 1 km beyond the Yala National Park.

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