BUDDHIST VIHARAS AND EELAM Part 21E
Posted on July 7th, 2024

KAMALIKA PIERIS

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.

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

Fifty (50) sites related to the ‘Ramayana trail’ were selected by Sri Lanka Tourism in 2009   for the Ramayana Trail.  Out of these 50 sites, 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.

Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau stated in a press release in 2018 that in Sri Lanka, the popular belief was that the Ramayana story is a true account of what took place. This belief has been supported by research, analysis and reasoning.

Sri Lanka has identified over 50 sites in and around its territory but due to accessibility issues, only around 20 sites are currently being recommended for visitors. Sri Lanka is working towards identifying many other locations and also making these locations accessible to visitors. It has been estimated that a travel period of around 9 to 14 days will be required to visit all 20 sites, the press release said.

The Tourist Ministry had identified five   airports where Ravana parked his fleet of pushpak vimanas. Ussangoda was one. The Ministry thinks that Ravana’s flying machine may have landed at Weragantota,about 10 kilometres from Mahiyangana. There is the runway of Ravana’s aircraft, the aircraft landing place, and an aircraft repair centre in Gurulupotha.

Sita was then taken to Gurulupota, now known as Sita kotuwa.  This is 10 kilometres from Mahiyangana on Kandy road. Sita was thereafter housed in a cave at Sita Eliya, Nuwara Eliya. The jungle on top of Ramboda along the Kandy Nuwara Eliya road is believed to be the route along which Ravana took Sita to Ashoka Vana.

Sita is said to have performed Agni pariksha to prove her purity at Divurumpola, which is 15 miles from Sita Eliya on Nuwara Eliya –Weligama road. 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.  In 2010 it was stated that a Ramayana research centre will be set up at Divurumpola.

It was decided that the Ravana-Rama battle took place at Yudhaganapitiya in Matale and that Ravana was making his battle plans at Lakegala just before he was killed. Rama fired the Brahmastra at   Ravana in Dunuwila. Rama started his attack on Ravana at Dondra and the main battle was at Yudaganawa.  After killing Ravana, Rama performed penance at Munneswaram in Chilaw.

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.

There are the Ravana Caves in Ella area. The tunnels from Bandarawela past Ella to Ravana cave, were the way Ravana went through the hills, they were his secret passages.  These tunnels are manmade and not natural formations. Existing tunnel opening are situated at Isthripura, Senapitiya in Halagala, Ramboda, Labookelle, Wariyapola and Seetha kotuwa.

Hanuman had entered Lanka at Nagadeepa.He dropped the Dronagiri Mountain brought from the Himalayas on Rumassala. He also visited Ritigala, Dolu kanda in Hiripitya, Kachchativu and Thailaddi in Mannar.

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.

Other sites were added on thereafter. Ashok vatika in Nuwara Eliya, Vessagiriya cave and Isurumuniya lovers in Anuradhapura ,the cobra hood cave in Sigiriya,  the statue near Parakrama Samudra,   the  Hanuman kovil at Saranankara Road, Colombo 5,  and  the hot wells  constructed by Ravana were  included in the Ramayana trail. There is also Munneswaram, where Rama received the blessing of Shiva. According to folklore Ravana’s body is buried in a location in Welimada.

Sri Lanka planned to use the Ramayana trail extensively in India to promote visits by Indian tourists.  A team commissioned by Zee TV had toured Sri Lanka in 2007, to find places connected to Ramayana. They went to Sita Eliya where there were statues of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and Hanuman. They said that these statues had been there for 5000 years. They said that close to Sita Eliya they had seen a mountain which looked like Hanuman.

It was reported in 2008 that the Ramayana tourist package is gaining popularity in India. it is a 7 day package includes visits to at least 10 temples in south and central Sri Lanka. The 12 day package covers at least 54 sites identified by the Tourist Board.

Hindustan Times stated that the Ramayana trail was a hit with Indian tourists. Batches of 50 to 120 visitors had already toured these sites. The tours were from one to three weeks duration and contained a maximum of 25 locations spread across central and western Sri Lanka.   About 500 passengers had used 350 Ramayana packages.

Middle aged and elderly persons in India liked the package.  Several swamis from North India have visited with 50 visitors each. One swami was planning to bring      400 of his students to go on the trail.  School principals are bringing Indian  students as Ramayana is a part of the curriculum in India.   

Authorities said in 2009 that Indians are coming to get a glimpse of these historical sights.3500 visitors have come in from 2005 onwards. In 2009 approximately 5000 pilgrims were going to visit form India for Ramayana trail. In January alone some 1000 pilgrims are expected.

In 2010, it was reported that 14 high profile ministers from India with a group of 150 pilgrims arrived here on an 8 day Ramayana trails, to see locations where king Ravana had kept Sita Devi. .  This is the first  time that an Indian VVIP group is in Sri Lanka on a pilgrimage of the Ramayana trail. There was a special reception and bhajan at Hotel Taj Samudra for them. In 2015 Sri Lanka had re-launched the Ramayana trail from Bangalore.

In 2017, Yahapalana government reported that Sri Lanka is preparing to be part of the Ramayana circuit of India. The Indian government is identifying places connected with the Ramayana. Sri Lanka has already identified 71 locations across the island nation for inclusion in the circuit  and has appointed a committee to identify more places. We look at Sri Lanka and all south Indian states as one unique unit, housing the maximum Ramayana spots,”   said  John Amaratunga, Tourism Development Minister. 

In 2018 it was reported that Indian and Sri Lankan governments have entered into an agreement to boost the Ramayana trail. This trail was lately gaining momentum with a number of operators offering travel plans. There have been 206,337 Indian visitors to Sri Lanka up to June this year and it is believed that about one per cent of the traffic would be visiting the country solely as pilgrims on the Ramayana trail, reported the media.

Indians are puzzled over the popularity of the Ramayana trail. Ravana is held in high contempt by the large majority of Indian populace, said Kuldeep Kumar. Ravana is hated in India said Bandu de Silva. To a Hindu, Rama is a living hero and Ravana is a villain.

Effigies of Ravana, placed on maps of Sri Lanka, are burnt each year in India during the Ramayana celebrations.  In October 2010   NDTV celebrations, in Delhi, two large effigies of Ravana and Vibhishana were carried in by revellers and placed before the Prime Minister. A bow and arrow was given to Prime Minister who shot an arrow at Ravana. The effigies were then stoned and set on fire.

In 2012 media reported that Ruchir Sharma, a leading Indian business man visiting Sri Lanka, said ‘I was surprised to see Tamils in Trincomalee working to attract Indian tourists to the Ravana trail. Locals say that as long as the Ravana trail is drawing tourists, the rest don’t matter. (Continued)

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