Ramayana trail back on track at cost to Sri Lankan history and Buddhist belief
Posted on July 22nd, 2016

Dr. P. G. Punchihewa Courtesy The Island


It has been reported in Indian and local media that “in a move to develop infrastructure at the sites that form a part of the Ramayana circuit, the Indian Central government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Sri Lankan government, which says both the neighbouring nations will work jointly to promote mutual tourism interests.

Sources in the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) said the Lankans have offered 4-5 destinations to be included in the Ramayana circuit, to complete the religious trail.

These destinations would be Ravana’s palaces – Ashok Vatika, Hanuman’s entry point that is called ‘Nagadeepa’, ‘Donara’ where god king Ram first attacked Ravana, and Yudagannawa – the main battle ground which now stands as a wildlife sanctuary, among others.

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The MoU was inked on June 3 this year, in which it was agreed that Indian tourists visiting the Ram tourism circuit in Sri Lanka will be facilitated by the Lankan government.

The groundwork for establishing an MoU on the Ramayana trail was laid when India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj led a ministerial delegation to Colombo in February this year, for the 9th session of the India – Sri Lanka Joint Commission, which she co-chaired with Sri Lankan foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera.” (‘Daily News’ 14 June 2016)

There have been previous attempt to introduce the mythical story of Ramayana in to the Sri Lankan history, but had been rejected again and again. Budugunalankaraya written in the 15th century scoffed at the myth of Rama and Hanuman.

(It is said that Rama had to build a bridge as he could not cross the ocean over which a monkey jumped. Can this happen to a powerful god of this world?)

 

It is clear that Ramayana story is based on mythology, whereas the history of Sri Lanka is based on historical records.

There have been more recent attempts too, to bring in this cult in the guise of promoting tourism. At a seminar convened by the Sri Lanka Royal Asiatic Society (SLRAS) sometime back too, this was discussed and the Ramayana theory rejected.

Promoting tourism at the expense of Sri Lankan history is something that cannot be condoned. For example, according to the MoU signed, Nagadeepa, one of the holiest places for Buddhists which was visited by the Buddha is the place Rama is supposed to have landed! This contradicts the Ramayana myth itself, where the monkey bridge over the shoals at Sethu between Talaimannar and Dhanuskodi was said to have built for the monkey army and Rama to cross.

Another site Yudaganawa, where Gamunu and Tissa fought, is mentioned in the distortion of history, as the venue of Rama and Ravana’s main battle ground. It also says that Yudanganawa now stands as a wildlife sanctuary. I presume Donara referred in the MoU must be to Dondra, unless it is an unspecified site not known to Sri Lankans

Surprisingly, according to the MoU, the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Affairs has offered these sites to promote Indian tourism. The Ministry of Tourism which also overlooks Christianity should have been sensitive to repercussions in the country which could be caused by these distortions.

Former Ambassador Bandu Silva had this to say: “Buddhist pilgrimage has been taking place to sites in India and Nepal for centuries without any encouragement from the Indian government. To tie up these pilgrimage sites which are under state control or private control is to camouflage the real objective of India wanting to build a new series of Rama-Sita temples here. The bottom line is India has no interest in Buddhism as providing the identity of Sri Lanka but would want to convert this land’s identity to one based on Indian mythology and religion; while resurrecting Indian Buddhist heritage sites as ‘Dollar earners.’

I wonder whether the project has received the approval of the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Ministry of Cultural Affairs.

Dr. P. G. Punchihewa

One Response to “Ramayana trail back on track at cost to Sri Lankan history and Buddhist belief”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dr Punchihewa is quite right – the Ramayana is a great allegorical tale to illustrate the eternal battle of Mind vs Heart. Guru Rama did probably truly exist and the beautiful story was spun around him to tell ordinary people in a simple way a complex spiritual story.

    Please do not entangle Lanka in further religious bindings to controversial INDIA at this point in time. Let us step back and have a relative peace first in a world full of socio-economic turmoil.

    Another point – Buddhism is often called purified Hinduism. The Four Yogas, especially Raj Yoga of Hinduism, are similar to Buddhism.

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