Posted on July 6th, 2024


The Ramayana legend did not catch on in Sri Lanka the way   it did in South East Asia. Unlike in south East Asia, Ramayana tradition was not allowed to take root here, said historian Bandu de Silva.

Not a single manuscript of Ramayana is found among the many Sanskrit texts preserved in Sinhalese tradition. Dasaratha Jataka has Dasaratha, Rama, Sita and Lakshman as the main characters, but the story is completely different.  In Buddhism there was no place for myths like Ramayana.  Buddhism abhorred anything which did not stand scrutiny, Bandu said.

Vini Vitharana observed in his book, Sri Lanka the geographical vision” said that the Sinhala and Pali sources of Sri Lanka contain nothing that corroborates the Ramayana story.

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 that the Sinhala and Pali sources of Sri Lanka contain nothing that corroborates the Ramayana story. Ramayana legend had not caught on in Sri Lanka.

Kariyawasam said that Buddhagosha rejected the     Mahabharata and Ramayana as frivolous stories. There is a fleering reference in Culavamsa to ‘as Sita loved Rama’   and ‘going forth to combat like Rama. Kumaradasa, 7th century,    versified Rama Sita story into Janakiharana. But in Janakiharana, and earlier creations like Ratnavali, Kathasarit sagara and KavyaMimamsa, Sri Lanka is referred to as Sinhaladvipa.  This approach continued till 15 century, said Kariyawasam.

In the reign of Parakrama bahu VI (1412- 1467), there is some interest in Ramayana. It was taught at Vijayaba Pirivena by Ven. Sri Rahula. 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. 

The Vedas, Puranas and the two Maha kavyas, Mahabharatha and Ramayana were studied at Vijayaba Pirivena under Sri Rahula. But this was challenged. Ven. 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.

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.

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 .

Tissa Kariyawasam  supported this view. 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. In the Kohomba yak Kankariya, sections like Kuvani asna, Sihaba asna, malaraja uppatiya, vadi dane, Kohomba halle show the influence of Ramayana. “Randunu alattiya”  uses as subject matter the breaking of the mighty celestial bow by Rama.

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.

The indigenous medicine practitioners of Sri Lanka believe in the existence of King Ravana, said a media report.(2009) 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. Ravana is supposed to have invented a string music instrument, added this media report.[1] 

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. ( continued)

[1]  Island Leisure land. 6.4.09 p 1.

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