Unawatuna is a historic town that juxtaposes the traditional with the modern, a destination for devotees and part-goers alike.
The town's vibrant party scene together with its beautiful stretch of beach draws people from around the world. The name Unawatuna, which literally means "fell down", has its roots in the Ramayana. Legend says Unawatuna was formed out of a piece of the Himalayas dropped by the monkey warrior Hanuman on his return from a quest to fetch medicinal herbs to save the life of Lakshman. Legend also says a banished Indian Prince was shipwrecked and the Goddess of Earth, Manimekalai, taking pity created a rocky shelf for him to save his life and that subsequently he headed to Unawatuna. The story goes that he lived in Unawatuna and helped the people in various ways. Over the years he has been venerated and worshiped, and the Kovil on the west end point of the bay, which has a history of over a thousand years, is believed to be the abode of this deity. In later years, the Swethamalee Dagoba was built on the hillock abutting the Devalaya, to which thousands of pilgrims gather every Esala full moon Poya day to offer pujas. Fisher folk in the area are known to save and offer part of their earnings called "Goda kotasa" to the Dagoba, seeking protection.
Referred to by Sri Lanka’s colonizers as Buona Vista, Rumassala Mountain, has been the subject of many a legend. It is mentioned in the Ramayana as the home of the beautiful queen Sita, who was hidden in the jungle nearby. Legend has it that the monkey messenger Hanuman, who was sent to fetch a medicinal plant for a wounded soldier, being unable to find it, he returned with the Himalayan mountains on which it was said to have grown. However, he’s said to have dropped a portion at Unawatuna ('here it fell') on his flight back, which in turn had formed this mountain, where many medicinal plants still grow.
There is also supposed to be a major magnetic anomaly near Unawatuna, which Arthur C. Clarke attributed to a meteorite strike, as satellites are said to lose their orbits with unusual frequency overhead.
The Portuguese, who had a terrible reputation in the country as looters and pillagers, would often give false light signals from atop Rumassala to lure unsuspecting Arab trading ships straight onto the rocks.