Though Tissamaharama is now known more for its huge dagoba and as a gateway to the southern National Parks and the holy town of Kataragama, it was for centuries known as Mahagama, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Ruhunu. The fortunes of the Raja Rata monarchy in the north waned with each foreign invasion but Ruhunu held sway as the bastion of the southern Sinhala kings. Two of them became the greatest Sinhala heroes in the history of the island, Dutugemunu and Vijayabahu I, with a thousand years between them. It was King Kavantissa, Dutugemunu’s father, who built the massive white temple with its monastic centre, on the banks of the beautiful Tissa Wewa. He also built the Sandagiri Wehera close to the main dagoba.
The oldest dagoba is however the Yatala Wehera built 2300 years ago by Yatala Tissa, the brother of King Devanampiya Tissa. Yatala Tissa fled from an assassination attempt by his sister-in-law in Anuradhapura and was given refuge here so that his wife could give birth. In gratitude, he swore to build a temple nearby once he established his kingdom. There is an interesting archaeological museum behind the dagoba. Most Yala safaris start out from Tissamaharama. It is easy to hire vehicles and guides from here as there are plenty of hopefuls touting their services. An alternative is to arrange a tour through one of the several larger hotels in the area.
About a kilometre form the Thissa Dagoba, recent excavations at Akurugoda has revealed the ancient town had a street system to conform to the four cardinal directions and the size of the citadel was second only to Anuradhapura. The streets have had pavements and seem to have had a zoning system.
Yatala Dagabo (Stupa) and Museum
Now completely restored, the openings reveal the various phases of construction to the visitors. Many artefacts found around the Kingdom of Ruhuna are displayed at the site museum. Among them are the ornate toilet stone and beautiful statues of Buddha, heads of Buddha and pedestals.
About 24Km from Thissa, situated with in the Yala Park is Situlpahuwa monastic complex. According to the ancient chronicles this has been a centre of Buddhist meditation and one of the largest housing up to 12000 monks. There are many drip edge caves some with donator inscriptions. Few dozens of pillars at Maha Situlpahuwa is considered remains of a preaching hall.
Yala National park
About 35 Km from Thissamaharama is the country’s largest and most visited national park the Yala National Park. There are numerous kinds of animals wander around the park including elephants peacocks and the leopards. During the pre-Christian era this area has been a centre of Buddhism with numerous monasteries. More than 50 inscriptions have been found which dates from 2nd to 1st century BC