Tissamaharamaya - the modernised monument of Magama: by Nemsiri Mutukumara (Daily News)

The Maha Aramaya and the Mahacetiya in Magama in the deep South of Ruhunu Rata was built by King Kavantissa's father of the heroic king Dutugemunu and his younger brother Saddhatissa.

When the Thuparama and other Buddhist monasteries had been built in the Rajarata, many a similar vihararama and dagaba were built in Magama in the capital of Ruhuna. However, the first ruler to have begun the construction of sacred places of Buddhist worship in Ruhuna was Mahanaga.

He is credited with the Sandagiri Seya, the Yatala Cetiya, Velipiti Viharaya, Kudorapavu Vihara and the Menik dagaba. However, Henry Parker, an irrigation officer of the British Administration in his 'Archaeology of Tissamaharama - Report on Archaeological discoveries at Tissamaharama, 1884," opines the Yatala Cetiya to have been built by Yatthalaka Tissa, the son of Mahanaga and the Maharamaya at Tissa to have been built by Mahanaga.

With the spread of the message of the Buddha and the establishment of the order of Bhikkhus by Arhat Mahinda and the Order of Bhikkunis by Arhat Theri Sanghamitta - both historic events - with the patronage and sponsorship of the king, court and commoner alike, followed an earnest and devoted endeavour to spread the new message of peace and harmony and the simple way of life with intense activity in building construction.

The credit for this inaugural monumental venture goes to one family - the Royal family of King Devanampiyatissa in Rajarata and his brother Mahanaga at Ruhunu Rata. They led and their successors followed.

The Tissamaharama - like all other dagabas and viharas - was repaired, reconstructed, restored and further developed by successive kings.

The Sinhala Buddhist kings were benevolent rulers who not only had their purohitas (advisors) but they also were learned and intelligent and were themselves visionaries who could not be fooled by unscrupulous advisors. Besides, during the Sinhala kings, there were neither archaeological departments nor cultural triangle projects.

The ancient rulers knew that dagabas and Bodhigharas, monasteries and meditation kutis were built for the benefit of the laity and the sangha. Those must continue to be maintained as they flourished centres of daily worship in order that the country should march forward in peace, progress and prosperity, so that the ruler and the ruled may live righteously. And successive rulers embarked on repairing and causing improvements of the monuments Hut up by their predecessors.

Had it not been so, the ancient and medieval monuments would have been reduced to piles of bricks and mounds of rubble. From such ancient times as the second century after the Common Era (165 A.C.E.) according to inscriptional evidence, King Kanitthatissa repaired the Maharama.

King Ilanaga enlarged the Maha Vihara to the extent of a hundred lengths of his unstrung bow (600 feet in length)

The Mahavamsa mentions that King Voharaka Tissa "caused improvements to be made with paid labour to Mahagama and Mahanaga viharas and dagabas."

King Dappula II king at Magama (690 ACE) had "caused the dagaba of Runa to be rebuilt" state the Rajavaliya.

King Mahinda III who ruled from 997 to 1013 "repaired the Mahavihara and refers to the Uda Tissa monastery".

Up to the end of the 13th century kings like Parakrama Bahu I, Nissanka Malla and Pandita Parakrama Bahu had in some way or other shown devoted interest in the edifices of Ruhuna including the great veva's built by the Ruhuna rulers.

During the time of Kalinga Nagha the invader and his successors who ruled the country for a number of years, invaders were settled at Magama.

The tanks falling into disrepair, the religions centres, the majestic monasteries and dagabas and Bodhigharas abandoned, and sangha laity deserting the abodes, none were there to prevent the jungle enveloping these place of Buddhist worship.

Tissamaharama also faced the same fate. Nearly a hundred years ago, the edifice was restored by a local committee and the people rejoiced that Tissamaharamaya had come into being once again as a centre of homage with olden-day serenity.

The re-construction faced no problem whatsoever until a few years ago when cracks began to appear in the dome of the dagaba.

Certain schools of thought adduce two reasons for the present situation - one a remote cause and the other the immediate cause.

The remote cause is water seepage and the immediate cause being the transportation of heavy rock stones along the road in front of the dagaba for the construction of the Kirinda harbour, resulting in the cracking of the dagaba.

After series of tests, the Archaeological Department entrusted the job of preventing further cracks of the dagaba to Mechanical Engineering Unit of the State Engineering Corporation. The SEC's Engineer, Gemunu Silva expertly handled the job and saw to the safety of the 2200 year old dagaba - the pride of Ruhunu Rata.

Last month, I had the privilege of visiting the sacred dagaba once again - my third visit to the cite.

I recollect my first visit to Tissamaharama 30 year ago.

The serene, spiritual satisfaction I enjoyed walking round the dagaba still fresh in my mind, is indescribable.

My second visit was when the Sarvodaya Sramadana Sangamaya - sponsored Peace Walk from the Irivehera, Kataragama to the North, came to Tissamaharamaya for lunch and rest.

The Walk, however, had to be terminated at Tissamaharamaya on the orders of the J. R. Jayawardene government.

During the discussions and negotiations demanding the continuation of the walk, I enjoyed to my hearts content paying homage to the dagaba and meditating created on the sacred soil sanctified by the visit of the Buddha.

The Dagaba and the Tissamaharama Vihara complex provided all the spiritual satisfaction of the devotees and the disciplined men, sans external trappings of decorations and outward show.

Alas on the third visit with the Archaeological Advisory Committee, the sanctity and serenity hoped for were not there any more.

The large compound bore a carnival atmosphere haphazard building coming up at all odd places - in front of the sacred dagaba and adjacent to the monument.

Vendors had their say within the compound selling fruits and vegetables.

The dagaba-maluva is paved with marble which is quite unnecessary.

One section of the maluva was covered with overgrown grass, plastic covers were strewn here and there.

A statue of the "Buddha" has been erected causing deep resentment in the pious people. It is a gross insult to the Supremely Enlightened One.

If anybody needs to erect any further structures for the benefit of the upasaka-upasika community, let such structures be put up elsewhere and certainly not in the dagaba-maluva.

There is plenty of land to accommodate the community on poya days and nights without crowding them into the maluva which should provide complete freedom of access to the people to pay homage and engage in meditation.

Now that Engineer Gemunu Silva of the SEC has given the assurance, Tissamaharama dagaba will flourish for a further 100 years without further cracking up.

Authorities concerned in protecting such monuments have to take positive steps to prevent heavily loaded trucks and containers from plying on the roadway in front of the Dagaba.

Modernisation is a good thing but desecration in its name is to be condemned. Such Maha blunders have taken place at the Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi premises in Buddha Gaya. The Indian Buddhists as well as Hindus are lamenting over it. The Archaeological Survey of India is furious over the misdeed of the men of the MahaBodhi.