RAMAYANA AND SRI LANKA Part 3
Posted on June 4th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Ramayana legend did not catch on in Sri Lanka the way did in South East Asia. Unlike in south East Asia, Ramayana tradition was not allowed to take root here, said Bandu de Silva. In Buddhism there was no place for myths like Ramayana.  Buddhism abhorred anything which did not stand scrutiny, he said.

 Dasaratha Jataka has Dasaratha, Rama, Sita and Lakshman as the main characters, but the story is completely different. Also, not a single manuscript of Ramayana is found among the many Sanskrit texts preserved in Sinhalese tradition, concluded Bandu.

Vini Vitharana observed that the Sinhala and Pali sources of Sri Lanka contain nothing that corroborates the Ramayana story. R.A.L.H. Gunawardana said that in the medieval period, Ramayana and Mahabharata were denounced by the monks as useless works which should be ignored. Several of the Buddhist texts stated that the study of the Ramayana and Mahabaratha was a waste of time.

Tissa Kariyawasam read a paper titled Ramayana in Sinhala Literature” at the symposium on the Ramayana Trail   organized by Royal Asiatic Society, Colombo in 2010.  He said, inter alia, there is a fleeting reference in Culavamsa to ‘as Sita loved Rama’   and ‘going forth to combat like Rama’. Kumaradasa, writing in the 7 century,    versified Rama- Sita story into Janakiharana. But Buddhagosha rejected the     Mahabharata and Ramayana as frivolous stories and this approach continued till end of 15 century, said Tissa.

In the reign of Parakrama bahu VI (1412- 1467), however, the Vedas, Puranas and the two Maha kavyas, Mahabharatha and Ramayana were studied at Vijayaba Pirivena under   Sri Rahula. But this was challenged.  Vidagama Maitreya, a contemporary of Sri Rahula was very critical of the Ramayana. He pointed out, inter alia, that while the monkey could swim across to Lanka, Rama needed a bridge.  Sri Rahula’s Kavyasekera compares princess Lokanatha to Sita. His sandesa poems refer to Rama, Ravana, Sita and Vibhishana. Selalihini Sandesa refers to a   Vibhishana devale   and speaks of a conversation in an ambalama regarding Rama-Sita stories. 

Ramayana, however, features in the folklore of the Udarata kingdom. C. E. Godakumbura   presented a paper titled ‘Ramayana in Sri Lanka and Lanka of the Ramayana” at the international Ramayana seminar, New Delhi, 1975. In this paper he said that there is an abundance of folklore in Ceylon connected with the story of Rama and Sita. Some of these explain place names, some point to special geographical features, other the lay of the land, the positions of hills, nooks and bend in rivers, the color of the soil and various curiosities. All this is folklore and nothing archeologically probable or tested historically, ‘concluded Godakumbura.  

Sena Thoradeniya (2010) said that in his home village Udurawana, a village in Patha Dumbara, there is a legend that the village goes as far back as Ravana. Udurawana is the name given to the place where Ravana fell facing the sky in his battle with Rama and the adjoining Yatiravana, along the present Kandy-Wattegama road is where Ravana fell facing the earth. There is a rock named Athobanagala where imprint of Ravana’s palm is still visible on the hard rock, Ravana had rested his hand there   while shooting deer. A tributary from Knuckles flowing along Yatirawana is named Ravana oya.

Folk poetry of the Udarata period ‘made a fuss of Ravana,’ said Tissa Kariyawasam. The Ramayana also influenced the Udarata rituals of the 18th and 19th century, such as Kohomba Kankariya. Ravana is supposed to have invented a string music instrument.

The indigenous medicine practitioners of Sri Lanka believe in the existence of King Ravana, said a media report. Ravana was a great physician credited with authorship of five books on medicine, one of which is available even today. The technique of using underground metal ash process and fermentation” belongs to the period of Ravana.

 A ballet titled ‘Maha Ravana’ was presented in Colombo in May 2008 by the Sarasavi Dehena Experimental Theatre School. The choreographer, Pabalu Wijewardana, who comes from the Mihiripenna dancing tradition, said that Sri Lanka lacked a truly iconic figure and he wished to project Ravana as an icon.  He had researched into the story of Ravana. He says Ravana was not a demon, but a wise king, who ruled over a vast South Asian kingdom which included Sri Lanka. The flying machine may have been a real one.

Present day writers say that neither Hanuman nor Sita ever came here and there was no Ravana either. They have pointed out that Sita Eliya in Nuwara Eliya district has nothing to do with the Rama and Sita story. ‘Sita’ is derived from ‘seethala’, which means cold.

However, in the 1990s Sri Lanka decided to embrace the Ramayana. A search for Ravana sites in the Nuwara Eliya and Uva districts started.  Rev. Harry Haas (1925-2002) a Christian priest from the Netherlands, who was living in Bandarawela, was very active in finding these sites. Sri Lanka was full of Ravana and Sita sites which needed discovering, Haas said.  The image of King Ravana was a universal one which appealed to the west as well as the east. Haas was the patron of a Ravana Centre set up in Uva.

In 1997 work commenced on a Hanuman temple complex at Wavendon, Ramboda, Nuwara Eliya with assistance from Tamilnadu government. The complex consisted of a huge 16 foot granite statue of Hanuman,  a spiritual centre, library and auditorium. This project was initiated by Gurudev Swami Chimayananda, who purchased 10 acres for the purpose. Minister S. Thondaman donated 5 more acres and provided a motorable road from the main Nuwara Eliya road to the temple site. This temple site, it is claimed, was close to the Asoka vana where Sita was kept captive and Hanuman found her.

The construction of the Hanuman temple was done by the Sri Lanka Army. There were large crowds at the first anniversary, of this temple, in 2002 with thousands of devotees drawn mainly from the plantation sector. The procession went with the statue of Holy Hanuman to Sita Amman Temple at Seetha eliya, where Hindu poojas were held.

In the 1999,   a newSita Amman kovil was   completed at Seetha Eliya in Nuwara Eliya. The original kovil was a small unpretentious structure. Derrick Schokman recalled ‘the Sita Amman Temple in Nuwara Eliya was simple temple when I first saw it. Now is it an ornate Hindu kovil with images of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman.’ The new kovil had its kumbhabisheka pooja in January 2008. There was a full page announcement in the newspapers, with messages from President and Ministers.

The Seetha Amman Temple in Nuwara Eliya was the only temple in the world dedicated to the Sita in the Ramayana, said supporters.    Although there are many Rama and Hanuman kovils in India, there is no kovil dedicated to Sita. This is the only place where Sita came alone. In all the other places Sita is associated with Rama. North Indians worship Rama and they are keen on developing the Sita Kovil with our support,”   said Radhakrishnan, Chairman of Board of Trustees of the temple.

“The estimated cost of building the temple is around Rs. four million. We have collected the funds through public donations. Tills are also placed outside the temple for collections. The Manoj Mody foundation of India gave about Rs.200, 000 for the renovation, he said in 1999.

“In January, 1999 we had a Festival of Unity organized by the Manoj Mody foundation of India, Radhakrishnan said. About 800 devotees came to Nuwara Eliya for a 10-day bajan programme. About 500 local devotees also joined in. They occupied all the hotels in the area and attended the poojas daily at the temple. Since space was insufficient, a tent was put up at the Buddhist temple nearby, to accommodate the crowd.

Environmental organizations and Buddhist organizations had staged a massive protest, before the festival was held. The people had feared that the 800 devotees expected, were from South India, although they were in fact mostly from North India where there is a strong following for Rama. The Buddhist organizations set down various conditions for holding the ceremony. These were adhered to and the ceremony was held peacefully,” Radhakrishnan said.

The Seetha Eliya Temple became the subject of a controversy in 1999 when the Ministry of Tourism mooted a proposal for the development of Seetha Eliya as a Holy City. It was proposed to vest 35 acres of land surrounding the temple in the Tourist Board and develop it as a sacred area similar to Anuradhapura and Kataragama.

It was suggested that Asoka Vanam, the forest where Sita was held captive is on the mountain, some distance away from the Seetha Amman temple. Behind the temple is a stream. Water flows over a basin like depression carved in the rock. It is said that Sita came through a tunnel to this stream to bathe. There were protests from environmentalists and the people in the area and the move for the Holy City was halted.

Bandu de Silva commented on this move. The government is trying to create a Hindu complex on the lines of the Cultural triangle, he said. Tourist Development Authority is promoting the idea of strong Ramayana tradition in the island. The Tourist Board first tried to develop the area behind the Hanuman temple. Now there is a move to expand the Hanuman Temple, taking in a tea kiosk built on a road reservation for use by laborers.

However, the Seetha Amman kovil has certainly achieved its purpose. It is now an accepted part of the tourist circuit and   strengthens the notion of a virile Hindu culture in Sri Lanka. Many tourists who visit the Hakgala Gardens, stopover to see the temple, since it is en-route from Nuwara Eliya to Hakgala. An average of 1500 local tourists and 1000 foreign tourists stopped by the temple in 1999 alone. During Thai Pongal, in January many devotees from the tea estates nearby visit the kovil to perform poojas said the media.

P Ramanujan, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism stated in 2006    that they were planning to set up a Ramayana Trail for tourists to encourage Indian tourists.  In 2007 S. Kalaiselvam, Director General of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority said in a statement to Press Trust of India   that the Sri Lanka government had decided to develop the sites associated with the Ramayana. They were being restored and maintained. There was no archaeological confirmation for any of them, certainly, but these sites were not imaginary and have existed since time immemorial.

 A Ramayana Trail  Committee was set up, consisting of N.Kiriella, Chairman, Dr Suriya Gunasekera an authority on Sri Lankan pre history. Dr Subash Chawla an authority on International Ramayana,  B.M.U.D Basnayake Additional Secretary Ministry of Tourism and  S. Kalaiselvam Director General, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

In 2009 50 sites related to the ‘Ramayana trail’  were selected by Sri Lanka Tourism for  the Ramayana Trail.   Of these  50 , 12 are sites with archeological evidence, the rest are based on unwavering faith and traditional beliefs, said Kailselvam. There is no need to re –establish  the authenticity of the sites. People in the areas relate to the Ramayana. A dedicated team from Sri Lanka tourist agencies are handling the promotion of the Ramayana sites. Books were published to support the Ramayana trail, notably ‘Ramayana and Historical Ravana’, edited by Kiriella.

The Ramayana tourist trail includes Ravana’s palaces and dairy farm, also temples dedicated to Sita which had been built in a later period. The trail also included a pond which is believed to have come into existence through Sita’s tears. This pond never dries up even in the worst drought.

The Tourist Ministry had identified five   airports where Ravana parked his fleet of pushpak vimanas, the mythological aircraft used by him to abduct Sita. The Ministry thinks that Ravana’s flying machine may have landed at Weragantota,about 10 kilometres from Mahiyangana. Sita was then taken to Gurulupota, now known as Sita kotuwa.  This is 10 kilometres from Mahiyangana on Kandy road. There is the runway of Ravana’s aircraft, the aircraft landing place, aircraft repair centre in Gurulupotha. Sita was thereafter housed in a cave at Sita Eliya, Nuwara Eliya. Ravana cave at Ella, served as a quick means of transport through the hills for Ravana.

It was decided that the Ravana-Rama battle took place at Yudhaganapitiya in Matale and that Ravana was making his battle plans at Lakgala just before he was killed. It was also decided that Rama started his attack on Ravana at Dondra and the main battle was at Yudaganawa. After killing Ravana, Rama performed penance at Muneswaram in Chilaw. Hanuman had entered Lanka at Nagadeepa.He dropped the Dronagiri Mountain brought from the Himalayas on Rumassala. Rama fired the Brahmastra at   Ravana in Dunuwila. Sita is said to have performed Agni puja to prove her  purity at Devurumpola. 

Other sites were added on thereafter, Ashok vatika in Nuwara Eliya, Vessagiriya cave, and Isurumuniya lovers in Anuradhapura ,the cobra foot cave in Sigiriya,  the statue near Parakrama Samudra,   the  Hanumana kovil at Saranankara Road, Colombo 5, Gurullupotha jungle in Hasalaka,   Ravana Caves in Ella area,  the hot wells and Ussangoda  are  included in the Ramayana trail. According to folklore Ravana’s body is buried in a location in Welimada, reported the media.

The great basses ( Maha Ravana kotuwa) and Little basses ( Kuda Ravana Kotuwa) are a long line of coral and rock just below the surface of water in the southern sea. They are located not far from Kirinda beach or Rummassala in Galle. King Ravana is said to have established   his Lankapura ‘on the reefs.

The Ramayana trail was described at length in the Sunday Observer of  23.8.2009 . Sri Lanka Tourist Development authority has developed an itinerary that shows the Ramayana spots in Sri Lanka  the Observer said. there are over 50 Ramayana sites in Sri Lanka.  These were described.

the jungles in gurullupotha in Hasalaka is the place were Lankapura was, It is now called seetha kotuwa. The jungle on top of Ramboda along the Kandy Nuwara Eliya road is believed to be the route along which Ravana took seethe to ashoka vana. Ussangoda was the airport for Ravana. The tunnels from Bandarawela past Ella to Ravana cave, were the way Ravana went thorugh the hills, they were his secret passages.  These tunnels are manmade and not natural formations. Existing tunnel opening are situate at Isthripura, Senapitiya in Halagala, Ramboda, Labookelle, Wariyapola and Seetha kotuwa, continued this report merrily.

Dunuwila is where Rama shot and killed   Ravana,  said the report.  Hanuman, dropped lifesaving herbs on Rumassala, Dolu kanda in Hiripitya, Ritigala, Thailaddi in Mannar and Kachchativu. Divurumpola 15 miles from seethe Eliya on Nuwara Eliya –Welimada road, is the place where seeth performed Agni pariksha. This is a popular place of worship among the locals in the areas. The courts of law in Sri Lanka permits and accepts the swearing done at this temple when settling disputes.  There is also Munneswaram, where Rama received the blessing of Shiva. Ravana constructed the hotwells.  the soil of the ancient battle fields is red in colour.  Some areas look scorched after Hamunan set fire to them, ended the report. ( continued)

3 Responses to “RAMAYANA AND SRI LANKA Part 3”

  1. Christie Says:

    It is all beliefs; billions of Hindus believe purity of Sita while millions of like me believe Sita ran away with Rama and had a good time.

  2. Christie Says:

    Correction:

    It is all beliefs; billions of Hindus believe purity of Sita while millions of like me believe Sita ran away with Rawana and had a good time.

  3. Ratanapala Says:

    Probably the same way how Virgin Mary was made pregnant by the “Holy Spirit”!

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