Ramayana Trail events in Sri Lanka
The Ramayana originally narrated by the poet Valmiki in Sanskrit is one of the most significant scriptures of India and held in high esteem in other Asian countries as well. In the course more than 2 millennia many versions were written in regional Indian and foreign languages, some of them becam classics as in the case of Tulsidas' Ramcharitamanas or Thailand's Ramakien. Variants were even reproduced in scriptures of Jains and Buddhists. In that long history of adaptations the Ramayana Trail story is one more variant, interested in identifying locations in Sri Lanka with Ramayana events, some of them told in the classic scriptures, others handed down orally within local traditions in Sri Lanka. Many names of Sri Lankan villages commemorate Sita, for example.
The Ramyana trail is a sequence of places said to be the stopovers and abodes of Sita during her captivity on Lanka, as well as locations of Hanuman's search for her, narrated in the Sundara Kanda (Sundar Kand), and Rama's fight for her liberation, according to the Yuddha Kanda, book 6 of the Ramayana. Sri Lanka nowadays is proud to be regarded as the setting of major events told in the Ramayana. The tourism development authorities and the Mumbai based Chinmaya mission promote more than 50 Ramayana sites. Here we present a list of many of these traditional or newly introduced places of adoration for Lord Rama and his faithful consort Sita Devi and his devoted helper Lord Hanumam, in chronological order.
According to many local traditions, Ravana is believed to have been a mighty prehistoric king of Lanka. As he was reigning altogether 10 kingdoms in different parts of the world at the same time he is usually depicted as having "10 heads" and therefore called "Dasis", as he had one head for each of his ten crowns.
The Ramayana tells: When Ravana's sister Surpanakha went to India she became enamored with the handsome prince Rama as soon as she saw him in his forest hermitage. But since Rama remained faithful to his wife Sita, he did not respond and asked Surpanakha to approach his younger brother Lakshmana who was still unmarried. Surpanakha, humiliated by this rejection and in anger and jealously, began to attack Sita. But Lakshmana intervened, protected Sita, and punished Surpanakha by cutting off her nose. Surpanakha outraged flew to Lanka to seek revenge with the help of her powerful brother Ravana. When Ravana asked his sister for the cause of her pain and wrath, Surpanakha answered that Sita, a lady of incomparable beauty, was the cause for it and she had tried to bring Sita as a mistress for Ravana. Ravana decided to take revenge for the insult Surpanakha had suffered, as well as to abduct that lovely Sita for himself.
Ravana, using a golden deer as a decoy, visited Sita, when she was left alone by Rama and Lakshmana. In the guise of an old sage he approached and kidnapped her. According to the Ramayana, King Ravana brought Sita Devi from India to Lanka in a heavenly charriot called "Pushpaka Vimana", which in Sri Lanka usually is identified with the "Dandu Monara Yanthranaya", in Sinhalese language meaning "Large Peacock Machine".
In this prehistoric aeroplane, according to the new Ramayana Trail legend, he brought her to Weragantota in Lanka. The Sinhalese word "Weragantota" can mean "place of aircraft landing". So Weragantota is supposed to be the place of Sita's arrival on the island.The surrounding jungles near Weragantota at the edge of Knuckles Range are believed to be the place where Ravana's capital Lankapura once stood.
The Ramayana describes the magnificent palace for queen Mandothari, where Sita Devi was kept in captivity after her arrival in Lanka. According to the Ramayana Trail legend she was moved to nowaday's Sita Kotuwa later on, these Sinhalese words mean "Sita’s Fortress". The ruins that are found here in an idyllic location of jungle streams and waterfalls are the remains of an ancient Buddhist forest monestary of Sri Lanka's Buddhist Anuradhapura period.
The Ramayana Trail legend furthermore states, that Ravana had an aircraft repair center at Gurulupotha close to Sita Kotuwa, the reason for this assumption is that the Sinhalese word "Gurulupotha" can be translated as "birds' parts", and Ravana's aeroplane was called "Dhandu Monara", meaning "flying peacock", a kind of bird aircraft.
As Sita decided not to live inside palace rooms belonging to any other man than Rama, her wish was respected in so far as she could stay in a grove or garden called Ashoka Vatika or Ashoka Vana. According to the Ramayana's book called Sundara Kanda this grove seems to have been close to the city and palaces of Lankapura. But the Ramayana Trail legend's version is that Sita had to be moved across almost the whole hillcountry to reach this grove, and the trail left by her transfer is called the "chariot path". Ravana is said to have chosen this route in order to impress Sita Devi by showing her the splendour and beauty of his kingdom. Indeed, the scenery along this charriot path is as impressive as lovely. Nowadays' Kandy-Nuwara Eliya main road runs almost parallel to the chariot path and is a a touristic highlight because of its panoramic views.
The grass lands atop Sri Lanka's mountain ranges are called Patanas. Their origin is still obscure, whether natural or manmade. The Ramayana Trail legend suggests these barren lands to be remnants of Sita's journey to the Ashoka Vatika grove. There are places of Patana grass land called "Sita Pokuna", meaning "Sita Pond", though there are no ponds to be found at some of these places. They are said to have dried up because of Sita's grief. Or the other way around: Those ponds existing are said to be the remains of Sita's tears. This is why they are called "Sita tear ponds", too.
In this area in the surroundings of Pusselawa there are many large trees whith bright red blooms. These flowers are called Sita flowers. Sita flowers are said to be endemic to this area, but actually they grow in many parts of the highlands. The flowers' configuration of the petals and pistils are said to resemble a human figure carrying a bow, and therefore representing Lord Rama.
Not far away from the Pusselawa - Nuwara Eliya main road there is a village called Kondagala, known as Kondakalai in Tamil. Kondagala, like many other cities and villages in Sri Lanka, is believed to derive its name from events associated with the Ramayana. When king Ravana took Sita Devi in a chariot to Ashoka Vatika, her hairs got deranged because of the speed of the chariot. "Konda kalai" in Tamil means "deranging of hair." Furthermore, this is an area where rice balls called Sita Gooli can be found. Ravana had offered them to to Sita, when he carried her on his charriot to Ashoka Vatika. But Sita Devi refused this food, since she did not want to consume anything provided by her kidnapper. This is why Sita, during this journey, scattered the rice balls all over the place, and they are found till date along the chariot path. Local villagers prescribe Sita Goolis for their children as a cure for headaches and stomach disorders. The farmers keep them in their cash boxes or grain pots for prosperity. It is claimed that carbon dated testing has been done in Tokyo and Delhi on these rice balls and ascertained them to be more than 5000 years old.
Ravana Goda is another place in this area where Sita Devi stayed during her transit. This is situated near the Kotmale reservoir opposite to Ramboda rock.
The final destination of Sita's transfer, the famed Ashoka Vatika grove, nowadays is identified with the surroundings of the Sita Amman temple in Sita Eliya close to Nuwara Eliya. This is the place where Sita was held in captivity during most of the time she had to stay in Lanka, a few months at least, maybe even a year. Sita is said to have bathed regularly in the nearby stream. About a century ago three images were discovered in the stream, one of which was that of Sita. It is suggested that the deities have been worshipped here for centuries. Nowadays' Hakgala Gardens at the base of the Hakgala Rock are believed to have been part of the Ashoka Vatika, too. There is one more of the places called Sita Pokuna at the Hakgala rock jungle area.
The summit of the mountain next to the mountain range overlooking Frotoft Tea Estate in Pussellawa is the place where Hanuman first set his foot on mainland Lanka after jumping across the ocean, as the beginning of the Sundara Kanda goes. The mountain known as Pawala Malai is visible from this mountain range. In the 1980th India's famous Swami Chinmayananda on one of his many journeys abroad visited Sri Lanka and identified this area as being full of Hanuman energy. This is why the Chinmaya mission branch of Sri Lanka purchased jungle land near Ramboda and built the Shri Bhakta Hanuman Kovil, the first major temple in Sri Lanka dedicated to Lord Hanuman.
In particular, Ashoka Vatika mentioned above is the place where Lord Hanuman finally found Sita and was able to identify himself as her husband's true messenger by showing her Rama's ring. Holes at the banks of the stream mentioned above are of different sizes, therefore they are supposed to be footprints of Lord Hanuman, who, according to the Ramayana, changed his size during his visit in the Ashoka Vatika. When he approached the Ashoka Vatika in search for Sita he was only a small monkey, but when he in anger about the way Sita was treated began uprooting the grove's trees and devastating Lankapura's palaces he had transformed his size to that of giant. In this way Hanuman tested the strength of demon king Ravana and his army of Rakshasas. After being captured by the Rakshasa guards, Hanuman was punished at Ravana's court by setting his tail on fire. Hanuman in turn with his burning tail set fire to the houses in Lankapura and devasted it. Ussangoda in the deep south is a barren land said to be one such torched area.
Hanuman later on returned to Lord Rama in India in order to announced the good news, that Sita was still alive and finally found. On the way back to India Hanuman is said to have rested on the hilltop Mani Kattuther belonging to the Labookellie Tea Estate. A small open shrine with statues can be seen on this rock, sometimes visited by locals, but not easy to reach by vehicles.
Sita's hiding places
After seeing Hanuman’s powers and capabilities, King Ravana decided to hide Sita at various secret locations, as a precautionary measure. Ravanagoda, which means "Ravana’s place", in the Kotmale area, is said to have been one such complex of tunnels and caves.
Ishtripura caves near Welimada are supposed to belong to another ingenious network of underground paths, interconnected with all major spots of Lankapura. Ishtripura means "Women city". This is said to refer to the retinue of ladies Ravana made available to look after Sita.
Kondagala or Kondakattugala refers to the many tunnels and caves in this area. This is believed to be part of the huge network mentioned above connecting all the major areas of King Ravana’s empire. Sita Devi took bath in this very stream and had dried her hair sitting on a rock and then put clips to her hair, hence this rock is known as Konda Kattugala. This is situated in the Welimada area, too.
The Ramyana Trail legend claims, that this presumed tunnel network is an architectural achievement of king Ravana. These tunnels are said to have served as quick ways of transport through the hills and also as secret passages, to all cities, airports and dairy farms. The tunnels are not explored or proven to exist, the caves believed to be the entrances or exits of such tunnels are usually considered to be natural formations. The Buddhist shrine at Kalutara is one more of these tunnel mouths at one of Ravana's palaces. Additional existing tunnel ends are situated at Welimada, Ravana cave, Dova, Senapitiya at Halagala, Ramboda, Labookellie, Wariyapola near Matale, and the above mentioned Sitakotuwa near Hasalaka, along with many more tunnels. Some believe that Ravana had a tunnel that went even to South America, in which he had kept parts his gold treasures.
Lanka war preparations
Prior to the battle king Ravana’s son Meghanatha propitiated Lord Shiva with penance and pujas, and in turn was granted supernatural powers by Lord Shiva. Gayathri Pitham (also spelled Gayathri Peedam) in Sita Eliya is believed to be the location of this penance.
Dondra, Seenigama and Hikkaduwa are beaches or islands at the southern and southwestern coast of Lanka where Sugriva, king of the Vanara monkey army, prepared for his onslaught on King Ravana’s forces from the southern flank.
After arrival on the island the monkey army supporting Lord Rama suffered from water shortage. Nilawari on the Jaffna peninsula is believed to be the spot where Lord Rama shot an arrow to the ground to obtain water for his Vanara soldiers.
During the height of the battle Indrajit, Ravana's elder son, beheaded a lookalike of Sita Devi in front of Hanuman to break his spirit. This story is believed to have happened at Sitawaka in the Avissawella area.
Battle of Lanka
Yudhaganapitiya, meaning battlefield in Sinhala, is a place in nowadays' remote Wasgamuwa national park. It is here where the major battles took place, according to the Ramayana Trail legend. But sometimes, instead of Yudhaganapitiya, Yudaganawa in the south of the island is said to be the setting of this final battle described in the 6th part of the Ramayana called Yuddha Kanda, meaning war hymn or battle book.
After being hit by Indrajit’s Brahmastram arrow, both Rama and Lakshmana as well as the monkey army lay seriously wounded and unconscious on the battle field. There was no other way to cure them, the veteran monkey Jambavan instructed Hanuman, than to go to the Sanjeevani Parvatha, the hill of herbs between Rishhaba and Kilasa peaks in the Himalayas, and to collect and bring the necessary medicinal herbs to Lanka. As Hanuman was not able to identify the herbs (or remember their names), as the story goes, he uprooted the entire peak with all the herbs growing there and returned with that whole peak to Lanka. But parts of the mountain fell down on five different places in Sri Lanka; namely Rumassala in Galle, Dolukanda in Hiripitiya, Ritigala close to Habarana, Thalladi in Mannar, and Kachchathivu island in the far north.
Pathala Lok, an area internationally better known as "Horton Plains" national park, is a plateau in 2000 metres hight. This plain is believed to be the area where Ahiravan had captured and hidden both Lord Rama and Lakshmana. Later on Lord Hanuman by assuming his five-headed form, Panchamuga (Panchamukha), was able to rescue them. This episode is not part of Valmiki's original Sanskrit version of the Ramayana, but narrated in many regional variants, for example in Telugu.
Lord Indra requested warrior god Karthikaya (also called Subramaniya) to go to battle in order to protect Lord Rama from king Ravana’s Brahmastram weapon. This was at Kataragama, which is now a very popular place for worship among Sri Lankans.
Dunuvila lake is a place from which Lord Rama fired the Brahmastram arrow at king Ravana, as "Dunu" means "arrow" and "Vila" means "Lake" in Sinhalese.
Ravana was directing his army from the nearby Lakgala. Here King Ravana was finally killed by the Brahmastram fired by Lord Rama. The top of Lakgala is flat, this is believed to be the effect of the powerful Brahmastram weapon. "Lakgala" is derived from the Sinhala term "Elakke Gala", meaning "Target Rock". It is believed that earlier on it was from this very same rock a first glimpse of Lord Rama’s army was sighted by the Rakshasas. Not far away from Lakgala there is the island's only traditional Rama temple at Rattota.
After Ravana’s death, his body was kept at Yahangala, meaning "Bed Rock" in Sinhala. Yahangala is located along the Mahiyangana - Wasgamuwa road.
After the war, when Rama and Sita met again, Rama seemed to doubt her faithfulness. This is why Sita Devi underwent the fire ordeal called "Agni pariksha", in order to test her innocence and fidelity. Sita came out unscathed and thereby proved her purity to Rama and the world. Divurumpola is believed to be the setting of this fire test, as this Sinhalese name means "place of oath". The spot was initially fenced and walled to protect it from the surrounding wilderness. Then one of the 30 original saplings of the Anuradhapura bodhi tree was planted here as a mark of respect for the place. Later on a small pagoda was built close to the Bodhi tree. The temple now depicts events of the Ramayana epic. The temple is revered for the oath taken by Sita Devi, this is why it became a common place for swearing done in order to settle disputes between parties, until the present day.
Vantharamulai is a place where Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman rested after the turmoil of the battle. Amaranthakali is believed to be the place where they had their first meal together after the Lanka war.
When returning to India in one of King Ravana’s vimanas, Rama thought he was followed by a curse called "Brahmahasti Dhosham", in form of a malevolent black shadow or dark cloud, capable of taking his life, as he - by killing Ravana - committed the worst crime, namely killing a Brahmin. When the vimana was passing over Munneshwaram, Rama felt the vimana vibrating, and he realized the Brahmahasthi Dosham was not following him at this particular spot. So Rama felt safe from the Brahmahasti Dhosham at Munneshwaram. This is why he stopped the vimana at this juncture and asked Lord Shiva for a remedy. Shiva blessed Lord Rama and advised installing and praying to four lingams in order to get rid of the Dhosham. Munneswaram means the first temple for Shiva (Munnu + Eshwaran). A Shiva lingam was already erected here when lord Rama visited the place. So it is believed that Munneswaram predates the Ramayana, this means a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was already existing here prior to Rama's penance.
Rama installed his first lingam for Shiva at Manavari about 5 kms from here, near the banks of Deduru Oya. This was followed by the lingams at Thiru Koneshwaram in Trincomalee, Thiru Ketheeshwaram near Mannar, and Rameshwaram in India. These Tamil Ishwaram temples are traditional places of Shiva worship, but dedicated to Vishnu's Avatar Lord Rama, too. They have a much more ancient history as places of Ramayana events than most of those newly discovered Ramayana Trail sites in the hillcountry.
After King Ravana’s death, Ravana’s brother Vibhishana, a supporter of Rama during the Lanka war, was coronated as a king of Lanka by Lakshmana at Kelaniya, because Lord Rama had to return to India to continue his self-exile of 14 years to fulfil the commitment to his father. Kelaniya is the closest Ramayana site to Colombo city. Apart from the Buddhist main shrine in Kelaniya there is a separate shrine for king Vibishana. There are murals enshrined outside the Buddhist temple depicting the crowning of Vibishana. Vibishana is considered to be one of the four guardian deities of Sri Lanka, the protector of the island's west in particular.