Yatala Vehera Dagoba – Tissamaharama


Yatala Vehera Dagoba, Tissamaharama is believed to have been built by regional king Mahanaga in the 3rd century BC on the territories where his queen returned a son. This stupa has been recognised as Mani Chethiya and Yattalaya in various historical documents.
Mahanaga is the brother of King Devanampiyathissa (250-210 BC ). History states that when Mahanaga was inspecting the construction of Walas Reservoir, the queen of Devanampiyathissa sent him a bowl of Mangos with the topmost one poisoned. She intended to eliminate Mahanaga to secure the authority to her son after Devanampiyathissa. At that period, the son was with his relative at the tank, and the son had the poisoned mango and expired on the spot. Faltering revenge, he took his pregnant partner and left to Ruhuna, building up his local kingdom encompassing the Magama region.

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1. The Birth of Yatala Vehera

1.1 The Origin of Yatala Vehera

Yatala Vehera is believed to have been constructed on the grounds where King Mahanaga's queen gave birth to their son. Historical documents and inscriptions refer to this stupa as Mani Chethiya, Yattalaya, and even Dalada Dagoba. It is said that Mahanaga's brother, King Devanampiyathissa, reigned over Sri Lanka during this period (250-210 BC).

1.2 A Treacherous Plot

According to historical accounts, while Mahanaga was inspecting the construction of Walas Reservoir, the queen of Devanampiyathissa sent him a bowl of mangoes. Unfortunately, the topmost mango in the bowl was poisoned. The queen's sinister motive was to eliminate Mahanaga, ensuring the throne for her own son after Devanampiyathissa's reign. Tragically, Mahanaga's son, who was with his uncle near the reservoir, consumed the poisoned fruit and perished instantly.

1.3 Escape to Ruhuna

Fearful of retaliation, Mahanaga fled to the region of Ruhuna with his pregnant wife. He sought refuge there and established his own regional kingdom around the Magama area.

2. The Splendor of Yatala Vehera

2.1 The Enigma of the Stupa

Yatala Vehera's grandeur is accentuated by the presence of a massive granite pinnacle (known as "gala chathraya") found on its grounds. The sheer size of this pinnacle has led some to speculate that the stupa was much larger than what remains today. Although the exact contents of the stupa remain unknown, numerous relic caskets have been unearthed from its premises.

2.2 The Restoration Efforts

In 1883 AD, the extensive restoration of Yatala Vehera commenced. The restoration process spanned over a century, with meticulous attention to detail. Today, visitors can witness the different phases of construction through a small opening thoughtfully incorporated during the restoration.

2.3 The Ancient Elephant Wall

Surrounding the stupa is what is believed to be the oldest Elephant Wall in Sri Lanka. This awe-inspiring architectural element showcases the rich history and skilled craftsmanship of ancient Sri Lankan artisans.

3. The Mysteries Within Yatala Vehera

3.1 Preserved Image Houses

Yatala Vehera encompasses the ruins of several image houses that have been carefully preserved. Among them, one notable image house contains two larger-than-life Buddha statues intricately carved from rock. Tragically, the head of one statue has been broken and now lies at its feet. Another image house was designated for a magnificent Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva image, symbolizing the convergence of Mahayana Buddhism and Sri Lankan culture.

3.2 The Enduring Presence of Avalokeshwara Bodhisattva

Within the grounds of Yatala Vehera stands a statue of Avalokeshwara Bodhisattva, embodying the harmonious blend of Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada doctrine within the Sri Lankan context.

3.3 The Remarkable Asanaghara

Adjacent to the new Sanghawasa of Yatala Vehera lies one of the largest stone-carved Asanas, accompanied by remnants of an Asanaghara structure. Archaeological excavations carried out in 1961 unveiled the dimensions of the Asanaghara building, measuring 66x68 feet.

3.4 The Oldest Buddhist Architectural Elements

Scholars regard the Bodhighara, Chethiyaghara (Vatadage), and Asanaghara as the three oldest Buddhist architectural elements in Sri Lanka. While the Chethiyaghara and Bodhighara are widely mentioned in ancient Buddhist literature, the Asanaghara receives lesser attention. However, references to the Asanaghara can be found in ancient Attakathas and chronicles like the Mahavamsa and Deepavamsa.

3.5 The Symbolic Significance of Asanas

Archaeological evidence suggests that the use of seats, such as the Asana, dates back to the 3rd century BC to the 9th century AD. These seats gained popularity alongside the creation of Buddha statues in Sri Lanka, representing a shift towards symbolizing the Buddha through sculptures rather than solely using symbolic footprints (siripathulgala). Yatala Vehera houses one of the largest Asanas, providing insight into this ancient practice.

Yatala Vehera stands as a testament to Sri Lanka's rich historical and cultural heritage. The stupa's fascinating history, coupled with its remarkable architectural elements and preserved relics, captivates visitors from around the world. Exploring Yatala Vehera offers a unique glimpse into the ancient past and leaves one in awe of the skill, devotion, and artistic expression of those who came before us.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Is Yatala Vehera accessible to the public?
    • Yes, Yatala Vehera is open to the public and welcomes visitors throughout the year.
  2. Are there any entry fees for visiting Yatala Vehera?
    • Yes, a nominal entry fee is charged for visitors to support the maintenance and preservation of the site.
  3. Is there any specific dress code to follow when visiting Yatala Vehera?
    • It is advisable to dress modestly and respectfully when visiting religious sites in Sri Lanka.
  4. Are there any guided tours available at Yatala Vehera?
    • Yes, guided tours are available at the site, providing visitors with insightful information about its history and significance.
  5. Can photography be done at Yatala Vehera?
    • Yes, photography is generally allowed at Yatala Vehera, but it is advisable to check with the authorities regarding any specific restrictions.



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