Deep in the Lahugala Wildlife Sanctuary on the Siyambalanduwa – Pottuvil Road, lies the ruin of an ancient temple built in the 2nd century BC by King Kavan-Tissa. According to historical records, the temple was built on the exact location where the King married the Princess Vihara Maha Devi, the much beloved mother of the famous King Dutugamunu and King Sadda-Tissa.

According to legend, King Kelenie-Tissa from the western sub-kingdom of Maya Rata had been tricked into killing a holy man and had his body tossed into the ocean. The sea gods unhappy with the king for the murder unleashed a tsunami whose waves surged over the land killing many people. The king was advised to make a sacrifice of the most beautiful virgin in his kingdom to appease the gods. The damsel who was chosen happened to be his beautiful daughter Devi. The king was stricken with grief and refused, but the lovely Princess Devi bravely volunteered accepting her fate. After saying goodbye to her father she allowed herself to be strapped down in a golden boat and pushed out into the stormy ocean. The storm eventually ended after a few days and the boat was pushed by the tide to the nearby realm of Ruhunu.


The soldiers of King Kavan-Tissa who had been patrolling the shore were astonished by the arrival of the golden boat and by the beautiful maiden they found unconscious within. They carried the princess to the royal palace, where she finally opened her eyes. Dazzled by the opulence and grandeur of the King’s court, the princess assumed that her sacrifice had been accepted and that she was in heaven. King Kavan-Tissa, who was smitten by the beautiful princess, asked her to be his bride and they were married soon after.

On my way back from the east coast I visited the Magul Maha Vihare which has only recently been partially restored.  Leaving our vehicle by the side of the road we approached the temple by foot, joining pilgrims using a causeway to cross a lotus-filled reservoir surrounding the walled enclosure.

The entrance to the complex is through a solidly built stone wall about 3-4 feet in height that surrounded the entire area. The vihare which is in an attractive and peaceful forest setting,  covered a very large area. It has the ruins of a royal palace, a Buddhist monastery, a bomaluwa (enclosure of the sacred tree), stupas, ponds and the statue of a headless limestone Buddha. The foundation of the ‘magul maduwa’ where the kings wedding ceremony took place can still be seen in the premises.


Children dressed in white played among the ruins of the vihare.  Walking around the enclosure we came across a moonstone which had been excavated from the ground. It was roughly 3-feet wide and 6-feet long with three half-circles of elephants, serpentine forest creepers and a row of lotus petals carved into it. The elephants, some with mahouts on their back was unique and it is said to be the only one of its kind in the entire country.


Amongst the ruins are rock pillars similar to the ones in Anuradhapura.  The ruins of an ancient stupa about 30 feet in height stood on a raised platform. Three rows of steps led up to the stupa on three sides with impressive guard stones (murugal) flanking the top of the stairs.  A bodhigara (bodhi tree shrine) with a rock inscription protected by an iron railing stood close to it. The ruins of a chapter house and a raised platform with carved monkeys around its base could be seen in the enclosure.

There are reputed to be ancient caves in the jungles around this temple where Buddhist monks still go to attain a higher status of life through meditation. The Magul Maha Vihara is thought to have housed some 12,000 monks and occupied ten thousand acres so there still seems a lot left to be discovered in this wonderful place chronicled by myths and legends of a bygone era.