The Sunday TimesPlus

22nd September 1996



Many places in Sri Lanka are associated with the Indian epic

Road to Ramayana

By Sirancee Gunawardene

There are many places in Sri Lanka associated with the Indian epic poem Ramayana. The Ramayana was written in Sanskrit about 2000 years before the commencement of dynastic history of Sri Lanka which is calculated with the coming of Vijaya in 544 BC. It tells us of places far back in history in pre- Vijayan times.

The emotionally charged legend of Rama and Sita, the much loved Indian Princess and her abduction by Ravana, the Rakshasa king of Lanka, is well known. When Ravana abducted Sita it led to a war, which somewhat resembled the Trojan-Greek war, which was fought over Helen of Troy. It is said that in this pre-Vijayan period King Ravana ruled over the indigenous people of Sri Lanka, the Naga and Yakshas.

It is also noteworthy that 200 million years ago, geologically Sri Lanka was linked with India, Madagascar, Australia and Antarctica, in a land mass known as Gondwana.

The earth's surface before seismic earthquakes, ocean currents, winds and drifts changed the land forms into different countries, was one land mass. During the geological changes, sections of the land mass were propelled in different directions and formed continents and countries. South India drifted northward and the Himalayan mountains emerged from the sea with the gigantic up thrust. Sri Lanka separated into a land mass known as Lanka Dvipa (Island of Lanka), and part of the land submerged into the sea. According to the Ramayana epic this took place because of the misdeeds of Ravana, but this seismic happening is confirmed by modern science.

The stretch of coast on the North West, North and South of Mannar could easily be reached from India, as is quite evident today. The Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar and the buried city of Kundiramalai were used from pre-Vijaya times by nomadic bands of people. This is probably the route taken by Hanuman who rescued Sita, after Ravana had crossed over to India and disrupted the idyllic romance of Rama and Sita in a sylvan forest glade in the Himalayas. It is also the tip of Mannar referred to as Adam's Bridge, the causeway which consisted of the coral reefs and shifting sand dunes which Rama used to bring his huge army. He is said to have stopped at the shrine dedicated to Shiva or Iswara before going to battle. When the causeway which Hanuman undertook to finish in a month was being built, it is said thousand of squirrels came to help him. They rolled on the sandy ground and shook off the sand on the bridge and effectively filled the crevices and gaps in the causeway. Rama in appreciation stroked them and conferred the dark stripes on their body.

Down the southern coast coming on to Galle is another interesting place associated with the Rama and Sita legend. It is a mountain called Rhumassala Kanda. From the top of this mountain you get a panoramic view of the Galle harbour and its environs. On a clear day you could even see Adam's Peak, Sri Pada.

Rhumassala Kanda seems strangely out of place when you look at the rest of the landscape. According to legend when Lakshman, the brother of Rama was injured in battle, Rama is said to have sent his faithful emissary Hanuman to the Himalayan Mountain to get a medicinal herb to cure him. Hanuman however forgot the name of the herb and so tore off a huge chunk of the Himalayan Mountain which was well known for medicinal herbs. The chunk of mountain terrain he later dropped and this is reported to be Rhumassala Kanda. Rhumassala Kanda has a wide variety of medicinal plants.

Ravana, the Rakshasa king who reigned in Sri Lanka had his capital in Ravana Kotte, which can be identifed as part of the Southern Bases on the south eastern coast. Here, he is said to have had a strange fortress with battlements where he held the beautiful Sita prisoner. She remained here unbending and upright. Now waves cover this area, but a part of the fortress could be seen form time to time.

Later, Ravana took Sita from Ravana Kotte for greater security to the smallest plateau of Nuwara Eliya and to a locality known as Asoka Aramaya a pleasure garden which had beautiful scenery and dense of forest surrounding it. Asoka trees flowered there. Sita Eliya on the outskirts of Nuwara Eliya is associated with Sita. Hanuman also came here looking for Sita.

When Rama's army was approaching, Ravana again moved Sita to a dense forested area. In Uva, at the base of a mountain crag 4500 feet above sea level is the Ravana Ella cave. Ella is 7 miles from Bandarawela and is a beautiful place to visit. At the base of a precipitous ravine is the Ella gap which you can see if you go to the Ella Rest House. This is the famous cave where Ravana hid Sita. There is thick jungle here and wild and unspoiled mountain wilderness.

The picturesque Ravana Ella falls is a little distance away. It is one of the wildest looking water falls. The water falls in torrents down the Ella gorge and cascades down a forest glade. Sita is said to have roamed around in captivity in this area and bathed in a pool within a rock by the swirling waters of the Ravana Falls.

Ravana's place is said to have been at Maligawa Tenna, near Welimada. It is now a paddy field but ancient stone work, brick and granite slabs have been found here.

The epic battle would have taken place in upper Uva on the mountain side. This area throbs with the majesty of the wilderness and some point to dents on the boulders where Rama's firearms struck.

The place where Rama stopped before leaving Sri Lanka with Sita is a temple on a dune known as Ganakamadhana Hill, where there was a gold lingam said to have been donated by him.

These are interesting places to visit when conditions are more peaceful.

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