Beguiling Mahiyanganaya | Sunday Observer

Beguiling Mahiyanganaya

25 April, 2021
Ulhitiya-Ratkinda reservoir
Ulhitiya-Ratkinda reservoir

Mahiyanganaya, located in the Badulla district in Uva Province, is not ideal tourist destination. Yet, it has many historical and religiously important places of interest that are worth visiting. Though the area predominately known for Veddah or Adhivasi population, an indigenous group of people believed to be the original inhabitants of the island, Mahiyanganaya also has a strong Buddhist heritage.

Mahiyanganaya, also known as Bintenna, which means flat land, is located eastwards of the steep eastern falls of the central hills. The relative flatness of the area can be seen while driving from Kandy to Padiyatalawa across Hunnasgiriya, through the famous 18 hairpin bends.

During our visit to Dambana, an ancestral village of the Veddah community, we came across some interesting places around Mahiyanganaya, the most significant topographical feature being the mighty Mahaweli Ganga, which rises from Hortan Plains and drops down to the Hortan plateau.

The River gathers its strength from the many streams and rivulets down the mountains. From Minipe, the river flows into the plains beside the historic Mahiyangana Chaitiya which was on the bank of the Mahaweli Ganga in Mahiyanganaya.

We drove across the bridge over the Mahaweli Ganga. While the clouds were heavy with impending rain, the water of the river had receded significantly. Our next stop was at the Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara, one of the Solosmasthana important to Buddhist in the country.

The temple is said to be located at the site that the Gautama Buddha first visited the island. The Buddha had arrived in Sri Lanka to mediate a dispute between the Yaksha and Naga tribes. God Sumana Saman who had listened to the sermon of the Buddha, requested an object for worship, for which the Buddha had provided a lock of hair.

It is said that a collarbone plucked from the Buddha’s funeral pyre was later added to an expanded dagaba together with the hair relic. Successive rulers, including King Dutugemunu in the 2nd Century BC and up to the present day, have improved upon the dagaba, covering it with layer after layer like a lily bulb, until it reached its present impressive proportions.

The entire Mahaweli plain was irrigated in ancient times by the waters of the Mahaweli Ganga, which flows across Mahiyanganaya. A part of the North Central Province called System-C, under the Mahaweli Project, has already been supplied with Mahaweli waters. Some 71,000 acres around Mahiyanganaya have been made available for paddy cultivation. The majority of the people in this fertile area are engaged in agriculture, with paddy cultivation being the main economic activity.

To the North of Mahiyanganaya lies a placid man-made reservoir called Sorabora Wewa, considered a marvelous engineering masterpiece built during the reign of King Dutugemunu by the Veddah clan chief Bulatha.

The reservoir was created by damming up a small tributary of the Mahaweli Ganga. Visitors can get a guided tour Sorabora Wewa in a traditional canoe, if they are up for the adventure. Mahiyanganaya is among the most important places of veneration for the Buddhists.

Another Buddhist place worth visiting around Mahiyanganaya is a serene forest hermitage in a rocky outcrop called the Mawaragala forest hermitage. It lies in the vicinity of Dambana, 20 kilometres away from Mahiyanganaya on the Padiyatalawa road.

The hermitage is haven to a group of bhikkhus who practise meditation and spend a monastic life there. Children from Adhivasi families have also been ordained as Buddhist Samaneras. For food, they gather Pindapatha every day.

The land of Bintenna to the South East of Kandy was once a mighty forest with an abundance of wildlife. To the Adhivasis who made this land their home, the jungles near Dambana provided the traditional hunting ground. Under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project in 1980, the Adhivasi people were evacuated from their ancestral villages and given new settlements in Hennanigala. But still, there are a few places in and around Dambana, where the Adhivasi people make their living in a traditional manner.

At a Warige Gedara, the museum of Adhivasi, contains rare colour and black and white photographs of Veddhas and instruments they used to display for the visitors who come to see the life of the Adhivasi people in Dambana. The nearby reservoir of Ulhitiya- Ratkinda was constructed under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project in Hennanigala, where most of the Adhivasi community has been given new settlements.

The trans-basin canal has conveyed Mahaweli waters to the Ulhitiya reservoir and then to the Maduru Oya reservoir.

This reservoir benefits the Adhivasi settlers in Hennanigala, providing them a new lease of life in the agriculture and fishing industry.

There is much to see and do in Mahiyanganaya in the Uva province. Today, Mahiyanganaya has become a popular place of Buddhist worship with devotees making it a regular spot in their pilgrimage.