Posted on July 7th, 2024


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 Roman Catholic   priest from the Netherlands, who had settled in Bandarawela  in 1983, was very active in looking for 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. The hunt for Ravana in Sri Lanka had started in the 1990s and the initial focus was on the hill country.

 Soon interest moved to locating Ramayana temples elsewhere in the island. Those engaged in the Ramayana project, pounced on selected locations which they said were linked to the Ramayana and quickly built large temples at the locations.

The first such temple to be built was, predictably, a temple devoted to Sita. The project proposal aimed at preserving Seetha Eliya as a place of legendary importance and creating a new place of worship and religious importance for Hindu devotees. “This temple was not well known. We have to make it famous,” said the trustees of the temple.

There were two other motives, to establish a link between Seetha Eliya and Ayodhaya in India. Thirdly, to attract Indian tourists. The idea for a pilgrim centre at Seetha Eliya was first suggested by an Indian team that came on a familiarization tour of Sri Lanka in 1997.

A newSita Amman kovil was   completed at Seetha Eliya in Nuwara Eliya in 1999. The original kovil was a small unpretentious structure.  A coin dated to 1894 was found when the old building was demolished, indicating that this kovil was built in British times.

The construction of the new Sita temple started in 1998. The estimated cost of building the temple was 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 gave about Rs.200,000 for the renovation. They plan to come in August for the opening of the new kovil, bringing with them four new statues made in Jaipur at a cost of Rs.500,000, said the authorities.

 At the construction site, a team of ten experienced Indian temple construction workers led by G. Ravishankar worked on the new kovil and the many statues that adorn it. They were assisted by local laborers. The Indian workers are in Sri Lanka on a two year visa. “Minister Thondaman is very supportive,” Ravishankar said.

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. 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 Seetha Amman Temple in Nuwara Eliya was the only temple in the world dedicated to the Sita in the Ramayana, said devotees. 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 Sita  temple.

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.

It was hoped to use land behind the temple, upstream and downstream, belonging to the Forest Department as well as some acres from private properties across the road for a vehicle park. This land was to be acquired and vested with the Tourist Board initially for development purposes and then transferred to the Trust, when the project was in full operation. 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, taking in a tea kiosk built on a road reservation for use by laborers.

However, the Seetha Amman kovil has certainly achieved its purpose, said the media. 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. During Thai Pongal, in January many devotees from the tea estates nearby visit the kovil to perform poojas, concluded the media.

The Tourist Board estimated that around 200,000 Indian tourists and 100,000 Sri Lankan tourists visiting Nuwara Eliya for an average of two nights would inject a minimum of a billion rupees to the Nuwara Eliya economy. Many tourists who visit the Hakgala Gardens, stopover to see the temple, since it is en-route from Nuwara Eliya to Hakgala. At present, (1999) an average of 1500 local tourists and 1000 foreign tourists stop by the temple each year.

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.

Sri Hanuman Temple was constructed  at Ramboda, on a tea estate, at Wavendon Ramboda Hill, by Chinmaya Mission of India. This village is considered the place where Sri Hanuman set foot in his search for Sita. Chinmaya mission purchased a plot of 10 acres and built this temple. The consecration ceremony took place in 2001.

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. Former Army Commander General Rohan Daluwatte said the Army got involved in the construction of the kovil, together with the people of Nuwara Eliya, because they felt it would promote better understanding between the Sinhalese and Tamils. He also said it was a gesture of goodwill towards the Tamils in the area, who had helped build a Buddha statue.

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.

Zee TV said in 2007 the Chinmaya statue of Hanuman was a copy of the mountain, except that it was in a vertical position. They reported that hundreds come every day to worship there. They also spotted black rocks which looked like monkeys with black lips and ears. The Zee  team also saw Rummassala which was brought here by Hanuman. It contains trees only found in the Himalayas.  There is a statue of Hanuman there as well. But they reported that the public only came to Sita Eliya to   picnic and that few knew about Rama or Ravana. (Continued)

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