Muhudu Maha Vihara: Where history and mystery still lie buried-By Yomal Senerath-Yapa
From Pottuvil, one heads to Panama to reach the Muhudu Maha Vihara, through the East coast roads that abound with goats, the occasional scuttling mongoose and the dry zone breeziness.
The Muhudu Maha Vihara takes you unawares. After 10 kilometres you will reach this land of sand dunes – vast, desolate white sand hills by the sea, brightened here and there by green beach growth. Muhudu Maha Vihara is said to be the ancient temple built by King Kavantissa in the 2nd Century BC to commemorate his consort Vihara Maha Devi, the heroine of the Mahavamsa and the mother of Dutugemunu, landing in this beach in Digamadulla after she was cast out into the seas to appease an ‘irate’ ocean – a curse of the gods – from the Kelaniya kingdom (deemed to be an early tsunami).
While most of the Muhudu Maha Vihara still lies buried, a few relics remain above.
The quiet, ruined image house, clearly from the Anuradhapura period in a green glade is home to three life-sized rock carved figures; their features faded by time. A Buddha statue seems to be in colloquy with a regally adorned pair adorned with jewellery.
Bodhisattvas or royal personages? The first, religious explanation seems prudent to the historian given the vihara was later in the day a Mahayanist centre, but appealing it is to the visiting pilgrim to envisage the likeness of some royals of the House of Ruhuna – one of them maybe King Kavantissa, the shrewd monarch who married Vihara Maha Devi?
Lying about are many vestiges of a palace once hundreds of acres vast now sleeping beneath the beach, the palmyrah-clustered scrub and thicker jungle, but also beneath the sea. For evidence shows that the sea has claimed much of the original monastery built in the 2nd Century BC.
When, for instance, the sea receded briefly prior to the 2004 tsunami, some have given accounts of a gigantic reclining Buddha momentarily revealed on the seabed.
Faraway by the beach you see a new stupa – a great white bubble looming above the thundering breakers of the Indian Ocean.
After paying homage to the past, you walk to the stupa (built recently by donors) and meander to the white beach (or ‘wadi’, given the dunes). Here you watch the sun sink down to a dimming ocean. From there to a grove of cool dark Casuarina and you are back in the car park by night’s fall.
A visit to the Muhudu Maha Vihara is to refresh your soul with ancient legend, history and mystery.