Wandering just a couple of kilometres towards Pottuvil from the surfing town of Arugum Bay, hidden under the post 2006 tsunami encroaching sand and regenerating trees, I made an exciting find! Muhudu Maha Viharaya Viharaya, a momument to Sri Lanka’s most venerated Princess! This devastating tsunami which caused so much loss of life and damage also uncovered previously unknown structures of this ancient site.
A tsunami also features in Princess Devi’s story which took place 2000 years ago. Princess Devi was the very much cherished daughter of the King of Kelaniya from the present day Colombo area. An often told version tells that a Buddhhist monk had an love affair with one of his wives which so enraged him that he had the monk boiled alive in oil. This evil act causing the death of a Buddhist monk so enraged the gods that they sent a mighty wave which submerged the Kingdom of Kelaniya, causing great destruction and terrifying the King’s people. The sages then declared that this bad luck could only be stopped by the King sacrificing his most cherished daughter to the sea. The King was not at all happy at this revelation however Princess Devi insisted that she be so offered as an appeasement to the terrible gods so as to save her father and to ensure the safety of his country. Sadly the King had a golden boat prepared for her and her entourage and she was cast out to sea which immediately sea became calm and the flood waters receeded from the land. All was not well for the KIng, however, because not only did he grieve for his daughter but he also had to endue the wrath of his people for causing the tsunami and then the loss of their favourite Princess.
Of course there is a happy ending for Princess Devi! Some time later fishermen hauling their catch on the beach at Arugum Bay looked up and were surprised to see a regal, golden boat drifting to the shore! A boy was hurriedly sent to advise their King, King Kavan Tissa of Ruhuna. When he saw her beauty and learned of her selfless loyalty to her father and the people of the Kingdom of Kelaniya, he made her his chief consort.
So, Viharamaha Devi, herself a heroine became mother to two heroic sons. Dutugemmunu became King of Lanka, fighting off King Elara and building the dagaba, Ruwanwelisaya, at Anuradhapura. He reigned from 161 BC to 137 BC and was succeeded by his brother Saddhatissa after he had disowned his son, who, believing him to be a coward rather than a negotiator for peace, sent him women’s jewellery.
The temple, partially buried by sand, has a three metre Buddha statue faced by two smaller ones. Legend has it that the smaller ones are King Kavan Tissa and Viharamaha Devi although academics believe that they are two Bodhisattvas – compassionate enlightened beings who forsook nirvana to remain human and help others in their human lives.