Tissamaharama which was called Magama was one of the most important cities of the ancient Kingdom of Rohana. History records that King Mahanaga who built this Kingdom propagated Buddhism throughout the region and brought about a religious resurgence especially in the heart of Tissamaharama, which was known as the “Silapassa Pirivena”, home to about 12,000 monks who resided in the viharas of this city. Tissamaharama consists of four viharas namely Tissamaharama, Yattala, Menik and Sandagiri Seya.
Tissamaharama Vihara takes pride of place among all the Buddhist places of worship in Ruhuna. Mahawamsa states that it was built by King Kawantissa. It is believed that the relic of the forehead of the Lord Buddha is enshrined in this vihara. Furthermore in excavations carried out in the Hambantota district in 1960, the Kirinda rock inscription which was found, inscribes that the left tooth of Lord Buddha was enshrined in this vihara and also that it was built by King Kawantissa. This is believed to have been .set up by Mahinda Epa IV. This vihara is referred to as “Mahagama Raja Vehera” in one of the inscriptions of King Mahanama (406-28 A.D) and as “Maha Vehera” in Ketagamuwa Inscription of Dappula I (659 A.D).
Tissamaharama, is one of the two Maha viharas of Sri Lanka. The other being at Anuradhapura has also just like it been sanctified by a visit of Lord Buddha. The Dhatuwamsa says that Lord Buddha came to Tissamaharama on his third visit to this Island. It also mentions that he attained a state of tranquility (samadhi) at the site of this dagoba long before it was built. It is also at this shrine that Dutugemunu (161-137 B.C) offered flowers before launching his campaign to unify the island. Furthermore he selected five hundred of the strongest monks from the Pirivena and embarked to the battlefield.
This was the main centre of religion and culture in the ancient kingdom of Rohana. Ancient literary works record that thousands of bhikhus resided here. “Sumanagala Vilasinee” mentions that bhikkus who were well versed in Pali commentaries had assembled here to recite them. “Manoratha Purana” says Maha Siva Thera who lived here was the chief teacher (pradhana acharya) of the communities of Monks. According to the ‘Papagnna Padaniya two great preachers by the names of Dhammadinna and Maliyadeva had lived in this vihara.
Tissamaharama is also the most popular place of pilgrimage in Ruhuna, where Buddhists from all over the country gather to worship. It is also one of the 16 most sacred places of worship in Sri Lanka.