The culture of the Sinhalese is basically that of Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka and is expressed early literary works such the Dipavamsa from A.D. 350 and the Mahavamsa from. A.D. 550), which chronicle the history of Buddhism on the island. The Buddha's life, as well as from his past lives as a Bodhisatta, recorded in the Jataka stories, whose oral sources go back to 500 B.C.,. Some of the Jataka stories, like the Ummagga Jatakaya and literature such as Saddharma Ratnawaliya and Pujawaliya narrate how kavum (cakes) was enjoyed even by our ancestors. A number of Buddhist Jataka tales, concern sex workers. Some describe the “sixty-four womanly arts” used sexually satisfy high-ranking men.

Sinhalese also worship at the temples that honor Hindu gods and believe in demons, ghosts, and evil spirits and have a number of folk practitioners that with such beings. The Sinhalese developed their own form of classical dance, theater and dance-drama involving masked dancers who retell stories from myth and legend. Most Sinhalese follow Buddhism.

According to the Sunday Times: “We have a rich legacy of stories, legends and myths. Story-telling thus forms an integral part of our culture. Being a society with a Buddhist background, it is natural that most stories are related to the life of the Buddha and Buddha's former births as a Bodhisatva. The collection of 550 Jataka tales (Pansiya Panas Jataka Pota) relating to these former births, provided enough material for the devotees to listen to. While the book was available in most homes, it was on Poya day that many listen to a Jataka story at the temple having observed 'ata sil'. With only a handful in the village being educated, one elderly male would be reading the Jataka Pota with others gathering round him to sit and listen. These stories create a lot of piety and devotion among the listeners who respond with regular chants of 'sadhu','sadhu'. There were many popular Jataka stories and the grandmothers would relate the easy to understand ones to the grand chidlren. Each story invariably teaches a moral. [Source: LLRH, Sunday Times, 2008]

Legends relate stories of some historical value. The have come down the ages and even if the whole story may not be entirely authentic, there would be a link to a historical happening. Certain characters have been transformed into legendary individuals. The memory of great kings and national heroes last forever, through legendary tales. Folk tales are simple stories woven round the village. The characters in our folk tales are simple village people. They have a lot of humour and are always meant as light entertainment.

Legends Associated with Places in Sri Lanka

There are many legends connected with certain places in Sri Lanka. M. B. Dassanayake wrote: Matara is celebrated for its learning and Kalutara for the salubrity of its climate, so that there is a Sinhalese saying that ‘to be born at Kalutara and educated at Matara is the best fate a man can have’. Tumpane on the borders of the Central Province is noted for their simpletons, regarding whom there are several stories current. ‘there is one relating how a party while on a journey mistook sweet toddy, with which they were regaled at a house by the wayside, for water drawn from the well, and struck with the ‘excellence of the water’, they returned at night armed with pickaxes, spades, thick ropes and poles with which they meant to dig out the well and carry it home on their shoulders, but unfortunately when they had finished digging deep round the well, they were interrupted by the neighbours, who had been disturbed by the noise and had come out to find the cause. [Source: M. B. Dassanayake]

The Siberia of ancient Sri Lanka is supposed to be Walapone, notorious for its arid climate and where political offenders are said to have been exiled. Sita Eliya, near Hakgala, is named after the beautiful consort of ‘Rama’, said to have been hidden here by her enticer ‘Ravana’, whose stronghold was at ‘Ravana Kotte’ near Hambantota. Another King while fleeing for his life in disguise was denied shelter at Wellagiriya by a man, who was afterwards condemned for his inhospitality and choked with sand, which was plentiful there - hence the name, ‘wella’ - sand, and ‘giriya’ - throat.

After his quarrel with his father and brother, Dutugemunu retired to Kotmale where he led the life of a common villager under an assumed name. Once he was entertained to a frugal meal of ‘alussal’ (rice broken up into a sort of pulp), he being somewhat hungry fell to rather hastily. This brought upon him the rebuke of the good woman of the house, who said "son, you should deal with your food as our Prince Gemunu would deal with the Tamils".

"And how is that, pray?" asked he,
"You should make small balls of the rice, place them around the plate to cool, and eat them one by one," said she.
"Yes, but how would Prince Gemunu fight the Tamils?" he inquired.
"Why ", she replied, "instead of trying to meet the combined forces of the enemy as our King is doing at present, he would subdue their strongholds one by one."
When Prince Gemunu came into his own again soon he followed this device of the country woman and so successfully crushed the forces of ‘Elala’. The woman, too, was not forgotten by ‘Gemunu’ but was suitably rewarded.

Vijaya, Yakkas and Nagas

The Sinhalese have many legends about heroes and kings. D. O. Lodric wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: When Prince Vijaya first came to the island of Lanka from northern India, so the tale goes, his men were imprisoned by the demon Kuveni. Kuveni was the queen of a Yaksha clan, the Yakshas being a class of often evil mythological creatures, who possessed magical powers.When Vijaya went to search for his men, he found Kuveni and threatened to kill her. Kuveni, who had assumed the guise of a beautiful maiden, pleaded for her life. She promised to release the men, give Vijaya a kingdom, and become his wife. Using her magical powers, Kuveni helped Vijaya destroy the Yakshas. Vijaya ruled as king in Lanka, the couple lived together for many years, and Kuveni gave birth to a son and a daughter. However, when a marriage was arranged for Vijaya with an Indian princess from the mainland, Vijaya banished Kuveni from his life. As she was leaving, Kuveni cursed the king for his act, and, as a result, he and his successor remained childless. It took a magical dance to remove the effects of the curse.” [Source: D. O. Lodric, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Sri Lanka is said to have been inhabited by Yakkas (demon-worshippers) , Rakshasas and Nagas (snake-worshippers) before the arrival of Vijaya and his men who colonized the island. They were totemic tribes not supernatural beings. There is in north-east India today a state called Nagaland the home of the Naga people. The Nagas of pre-Vijayan Lanka lived around Kelaniya and in the peninsula in the North. Nagadeepa (Nainathivu) was an island off the peninsula joined to the mainland about 30 years ago by a causeway. Does Nainamadama the name of a village in the NWP, hark back to a time when there was a Naga settlement in that area. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

It was at Nagadeepa that Mani Akkhika (one with eyes like gems) met the Buddha who had come there to bring peace between two Naga chieftains Chulodara and Mahodara, who were fighting to claim a precious seat, and invited the Buddha to his homeland Kelaniya. Mani Akkhika was an uncle of the two warring Naga chieftains.

Nagas were living in Kelaniya as a distinct group of people or in today's parlance as "an ethnic entity", when the poet monk Sri Rahula wrote the Selalihini Sandesa in the 15th century, and they were Buddhists. The poet points out to the Selalihini bird, the Naga maidens seated on the Sandy bank of the river, strumming their veenas and singing hymns to the Buddha (Budu guna gee).

The 'yakkas' were numerous and very powerful, and held themselves aloof and confined themselves to the mountain fastnesses of the North- Central region, whereas the 'nagas' confined themselves to the sea-board, and Maniakkhika was the 'naga' king of Kelaniya.

Buddha and the Yakkas

The luxuriantly wooded Mahanaga garden, on the right-bank of the river Mahaveli, which discharges its confluence into the sea near Trincomalee, was at that time a strategic stronghold of the 'yakkas'. When Buddha arrived at the Mahanaga garden to intercept the 'yakkas' who were assembled there, they were more surprised than alarmed, when they saw him clad in a yellow robe and shaven-headed. Being inquisitive of the intruder and to know who he was, the 'yakka' chief asked the Buddha, "Who art thou to come here and disturb us?" At once, the Buddha, to their bewilderment, performed a miracle by sitting cross-legged in the air. Now, the 'yakkas' through fear, emotional excitement and apprehensive of danger, begged the Buddha to save their lives and set them free. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

Whereupon, the Buddha, addressed them saving "I shall, O yakkas,save thee from all danger, provided I am offered a place to sit down, and make known to thee my mission". The evil horde verily agreed saying "O Great Being! We shall offer thee the whole island". Buddha, having seated at the spot, where the Mahiyangana cetiya now stands, delivered to them a discourse, whereby they became spiritually evaluated and attained the stages of holiness (i.e., the fruits of Sovan, Sakadagami, Anagami and Arhat). Among them was the 'yakka' commandant Saman who, after listening to the discourse, became elevated to the first phase of spiritual eminence ('Sovan'), and came to be known as Saman deviyo, who is now propitiated as the tutelary deity of Sri Pada. The god, thereupon, appealed to the Buddha to give him something as a token of symbolic worship, in the absence of the Buddha. Buddha in accedence of the earnest request, gave the god a handful of hair from his head, which the god accepted with great devotion. The god had the hair-relic secured in a golden reliquary and enshrined it in a small tope 10 ft. high and 24 ft. in circumference (Mhv. 1:36). It is the first cetiya in Sri Lanka, built during the life-time of the Buddha. All other cetiyas were of later construction.

Buddha and the Nagas

When the Buddha was dwelling at Jetavana in the fifth year of his Buddhahood, he saw that a war was imminent between the Nagas Mahodara and Culodara, uncle and nephew, for a gem?set throne. With compassion for the Nagas, he took his sacred alms?bowl and robes and proceeded to Nagadipa in the north of Sri Lanka. When they saw the Blessed One, they joyfully worshipped at the feet of the Master. He counseled them in the way of the doctrine and both Nagas gladly gave up their claims to the throne and instead offered it to the Buddha. The Buddha however returned the throne to the Nagas as a memorial requesting that they pay homage to it. On this second visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, many millions of Nagas established themselves in the three refuges (Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha) and in the moral precepts. Today they consider an islet named Nainathiu as the sacred place the Buddha so visited. (But, according to history, they had earlier considered the whole of the Jaffna peninsula and most of other parts of northern Sri Lanka as Nagadipa, and that the ancient Nagadipa temple was in what is presently Kandarode.) [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The Naga king, Maniakkhika o Kalyani, who had come there to take part in the battle, became established in the refuges and moral duties. He respectfully invited the Buddha to visit the part of the country where he held sway. When the Buddha accepted it in silence, the King planted the Rajayatana tree on that very spot. The Rajayatana tree was carried as a parasol over the Buddha by the deva named Samiddhi Sumana when the Buddha was traveling from Jetavana to Nagadipa. In this way the compassionate One completed his second visit to Sri Lanka and returned to Jetavana.

In the eighth year following his attainment of Buddhahood Buddha, accompanied by five hundred disciple monks, proceeded to King Maniakkhika's dwelling city of Kelaniya in the west of Sri Lanka on the Vesak full moon day. He stayed there temporarily together with the monks under a canopy decked with gems, upon a precious throne?patterned seat. The Naga king and his followers treated the Buddha and disciples with great delight. The compassionate One preached the Dhamma there. The Kelani cetiya (stupa) was later built on this site.

From there he proceeded to the Sumanakuta (Sripada) mountains in the middle of the country. The footprint he left there is highly venerated and is still protected. It is called "Sripada " meaning the noble footprint, and `Sumanakuta " because it was the dwelling of the deva Sumana and also called "Samantakuta " because of its height. He spent the day with the monks in a cave called Divaguha at the foot of this mountain. This sacred place is still not recovered.

Bahirawa: a Demon Appeased with Human Sacrifice

Bahirawakanda — 'the hill of Bahirawa' — has been known since Kandyan times as the abode of Bahirawa, an elusive demon who, it was believed, preyed upon humans. S. S. M. Nanayakkara wrote: Tradition recounts that during the Kandyan period human sacrifices were made to propitiate the demon of Bahirawakanda. The first such sacrifice is credited to the fancy of a 17th century childless queen. The queen dreamt that Bahirawa manifested himself to her in a dream and demanded a human sacrifice if she were to be with child. The king in his anxiety to beget an heir soothsayer the king decreed that a virgin of noble birth be selected as the victim. On the evening of the appointed day the young girl was led up in a procession to a clearing in the wilderness of Bahirawakanda and left there secured to a stake. Their gruesome task accomplished the crowd deserted the place leaving the girl to her fate. Morbid terror, exhaustion and exposure to the chilly mountain air had done the work that Bahirawa was supposed to have done to her. The following morning her remains were found with the lower portion of her body severely mauled and partly eaten by those relentless scavengers of the jungles — jackals. [Source: S. S. M. Nanayakkara]

The last human sacrifice to Bahirawa was in the reign of the last king of Kandy, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe. During the latter period of his rule he was in the doldrums. Political intrigues of his ministers from within and the threat to his kingdom from without had goaded on the irascible potentate to desperation on the advice of his soothsayers he decided to review the now defunct traditional practice of the grisly sacrifice to appease the wrath of Bahirawa which he opined was the cause of his predicament. The object of sacrifice,a comely young wench, daughter of a lesser chief was taken in a procession to the selected spot of immolation and in accordance with the traditional custom was left there secured to a stake.

This time Bahirawa was baulked of his victim. The hinge of fate turned in favour of the girl. No sooner than the crowd deserted the arena of sacrifice, the girl's suitor disguised as a woodcutter secretly stole up to her and freed his love. The king who slept well that night comforted by his surmise the Bahirawa was appeased and the future would augur well for him was taken by surprise when he was informed by his ministers the next morning that the girl was well and alive. He considered the event a propitious omen and offered her a golden handshake in anything she desire. She preferred her saviour who had by now fled the king's territory fearing royal wrath. The king granted her wish.

According to one tradition the girl was rescued by one of the king's young courtiers. Enraptured by the ravishing beauty and charm of the young girl is disguised himself as a woodcutter, crept up to her immediately after the assemblage deserted the locality and freed her. His daring feat accomplished, the gallant Lochinvar fled to Colombo with his love. He returned to his native Kandy after 1815 when the kingdom was ceded to the British.

Mahasona: Famous Demon of Sri Lanka

Mahasona is a famous wolf-headed demon and regarded as the Great Cemetery Devil. S. S. M. Nanayakkara wrote: This is a famous demon of Sri Lanka who it is claimed uses a black dog as the vehicle. When it's influence is felt, people see the apparition of a black dog and faint off; some have the hand print on the body where the apparition struck. Mythological history claims that two warriors of the warrior king Dutugemunu (Circa B.C. 100) had a duel. One kicked the head of the other out of joint effectively decapitating the victim. Since the dead warrior was a champion bear-hunter, he was buried with the head of a bear. This is claimed to be the "Mahasona" apparition. [Source: S. S. M. Nanayakkara]

In the village of Hundarivapi there lived a man named Tissa, who had eight sons. The youngest was named Sona and later became known as Maha Sona. It is said that when Mahasona was seven years old, he had the strength to tear young palms with his bear hands. When he was ten, he could uproot palm trees.

The King of Rohana, Khavantissa, who was looking for brave young men for his army, heard of the this young boy's strength and sent his men with gifts to his parents, requesting them to send their son to the royal court. After seeing him, the King enlisted him into the service of Prince Gemunu who was building up his army.

Gamarala Stories

Gamarala stories are very popular in Sri Lanka. Every Sinhalese and Tamil knows them are are commonly told to children, and typically impart a lesson. The Gamarala is usually an ordinary Sinhalese villager, mostly a farmer. In some tales he has a Gamamahage and children. In most cases the Gamarala is portrayed as a witless person who acts imprudently.

According to the Sunday Times: “We are all used to listening to lovely stories related by our grandmothers particularly at bedtime. The folk tales revolving round the 'gamarala' are the most popular. They are fascinating stories related to the life of the 'gamarala', the village chieftain. The stories woven round the 'gamarala' are so interesting that even if they are make-believe tales, the listener gets carried away and more often than not is convinced that they are true. They have come down through the generations and can still be heard in village households.Very often the gamarala's actions are foolish ones. Yet they are related with malice to none. Most of the stories are connected with cultivation because ours was, as it is now, an agricultural society. [Source: LLRH, Sunday Times, 2008]

The Story “Gamarala’s Girl” goes: In a certain city there was a King, it is said. The King sends letters into various countries to be explained. When they were sent, no one could explain the things that were in the letters. When he sent the letters, on the following day [the recipients] must come near the King. When they come the King asks the meaning in the letter; no one can tell it. Well then, he beheads the man. Thus, in that manner he sent letters to seven cities. From the seven cities seven men came to hand over the letters. He beheaded the seven persons. On the eighth day a letter came to the Gamarala. There is a girl of the Gamarala’s. When they brought the letter the girl was not at home; she went to the village to pound paddy. Pounding the paddy and taking the rice, when the girl is coming home the Gamarala is weeping and weeping. So the girl asked, “What is it, father, you are crying for ?” [Source: “Village Folk-tales of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), vol. 1-3 by Henry Parker, 1910]

Then the Gamarala says, “(Daughter, why shouldn’t I cry ? The King who beheaded seven men of seven cities has to-day sent a letter to me also. Now then, the letter which the people of seven cities were unable to explain, how can I explain ? Well then, mustn’t I take the letter to-morrow ? It is I who must take the letter. When I have gone he will behead me. Well then, owing to your being [left] without anyone, indeed, I am weeping.” Then the girl said, “Where is it, for me to look at, that letter ?” Asking for it, and having explained all the things that were in the letter, she said to the Gamarala, “Father, having gone to-morrow, to what the King asks say thus and thus.”

The Gamarala on the following day went and handed over the letter. The King, in the very way in which he asked those seven persons, brought up the Gamarala, and asked him. The Gamarala replied in the very way the girl said. Then the King asked the Gamarala, “Who expounded this ?” The Gamarala said, “There is a daughter of mine; that daughter herself explained it.” After that, the King said, “To-morrow we are coming for the marriage [to your daughter]. You go now, and having built inner sheds and outer sheds, and milked milk from oxen, and caused it to curdle, and expressed oil from sand, place them [ready]; those [previously] unperformed matters,” he said.

When the Gamarala is coming home the girl is not at home. Having gone to pound paddy, and having pounded the paddy, when she comes, taking the rice, that day, also, the Gamarala, weeping and weeping, is digging some holes for posts. So the girl asked, “What, father, are you crying for to-day also ?” Then the Gamarala says, “Ane ! Daughter, the King is coming to-morrow to summon you in marriage, and return. Owing to it, the King said to me, ‘ Having built inner sheds and outer sheds, having milked milk from oxen and caused it to curdle, and having expressed oil from sand, place them [ready].’ Now, then, how shall I do those things ? It is through being unable that I am weeping.” Then the girl says, “Father, no matter for that. Simply stay [here]. Please build the [usual] sorts of inner sheds and outer sheds. How are you to milk milk from oxen and curdle it ? How are you to express oil from sand ?”

Afterwards the Gamarala indeed built the inner sheds and outer sheds. On the very day on which the King said he is coming, the girl, with another girl, taking a bundle of cloth, went along the road to meet the King. On the road there is a sesame chena. By the chena they met the King. When coming very far away, the Ministers said at the hand of the King, " That one coming in front is the Gama-rala’s daughter herself.” The Gamarala’s daughter, too, did go in front.

Then the King asked at the hand of the Gamarala’s daughter, “Where, girl, art thou going ?” The Gamarala’s daughter replied, “We are going [because] our father has become of age [in the same manner as women]. On account of it [we are going] to the washermen.” The King said, “How, girl, are men [affected like women] ?” Then the girl said, “So, indeed ! You, Sir, told our father that having built inner sheds and outer sheds, having milked milk from oxen, and caused it to curdle, and having expressed oil from sand, [he is] to place them [ready]. How can these be [possible] ? In that way, indeed, is the becoming of age by males [in the same manner as women].”

Then the King, having become pleased with the girl, asked yet a word. He plucked a sesame flower, and taking it in his hand asked the girl, “Girl, in this sesame flower where is the oil ?” Then the girl asked, " When your mother conceived where were you, Sir P”Immediately (e paramo) the King descended from the horse’s back; and placing the Gamarala’s girl upon the horse, and the King also having got on the horse, they went to the palace. The other girl came alone to that girl’s house. On the second day, the King having sent the Ministers and told the Gamarala to come, marrying the girl to the King she remained [there]. The Gamarala also stayed in that very palace.

Gamarala Going to Heaven

Take the story of the 'gamarala' going to the heaven. It was the sight of huge round marks indicating that someone had walked through his plot of cultivated land ('hena') that started the ball rolling. He first thought they were marks of a 'vangediya' — the mortar at home. He wanted the damage done to his plot stopped. So having returned home, he tied the mortar to a post so that it would not go on any more rounds. But when he went in the evening, he saw that the mortar had walked over the plants and eaten them. He appealed to the neighbours to tie up their mortars, which they did. Yet the damage continued. In anger he cut the mortar at home into pieces and burnt it. [Source: LLRH, Sunday Times, 2008]

When the gamarala decided to spend a night and catch the thief, he saw an unbelievable sight. A white elephant came down from the sky, walked up and down, ate some plants and destroyed many, and disappeared into the sky. Having watched the whole scene, he got an idea. He wanted to go and see the 'divya loke' by hanging on to the elephant's tail. No sooner he related what he saw to the wife, the 'gamamahage', and told his desire to go and see the heaven, she too wanted to go. The 'henemama' — the family dhoby and the 'redinenda', the dhoby's wife too would join. Having agreed, they went to the chena in the evening and waited for the elephant to come. The animal came and as planned, the 'gamarala' ran and hung on the tail. Others followed with the wife holding on to the 'gamarala', the 'redinenda' to the 'gamamahage' and the 'henemama' hanging on to the wife. As the elephant started going up, they were all excited and thrilled. They started talking about the 'divya loke' and when the 'redinenda' in all her innocence asked the 'gamarala' how big the 'kuruniya' used to measure paddy in the heaven would be, he showed the size by stretching his hands resulting in everyone crashing to the earth.

The story is narrated so beautifully that everyone listens eagerly and has a hearty laugh at the end. While the 'gamarala' is a lovable character in the village, he is famous for his follies, like the trip to the 'divya loke'. Apart from the tales connected with the 'gamarala's family, there are ones which relate numerous incidents which happen when he goes outside the village. He is always accompanied by his servant, Duraya by name, who saves him from embarrassing situations. Duraya is sharp and shrewd. He steps in at the right moment and saves the day. The folk tales create a lot of amusement. They are pleasing to listen to. At the same time there is food for thought. "Don't be like the 'gamarala'. Think before you act" is the lesson taught by these simple tales.


Ramayana (Sanskrit for "The Romance of Rama" or “The Career of the Rama”) is a great epic poem that is 24,000 verses long. it consists of seven books and tells the story of Rama, or Ramachandra, the King of Ayodhya and the God of Truth, and his adventures. The work is attributed to the poet Valmiki although it was probably written by several authors and embellished over the centuries by others.

The Ramayana is a cornerstone of religion and literature not only in India but in other South Asian and Southeast Asian nations as well. It was originally written in Sanskrit but has been translated into numerous other languages. There are many variations.

The Ramayana is somewhat reminiscent of the Odyssey in its organization and plot. The stories may be based on a real life king named Rama who helped spread Hindu and Aryan ideas throughout India. Hindu nationalists believe this and based their 1980s attack on mosque in Adoyda’said to have been built on the site of Rama’s birthplace — on this belief.

Simply reading or hearing the Ramayana is said to bring about good things. The last paragraph reads: “He that has no sons shall attain a son by reading even a single verse of Rama’s song. All sin is washed away from those who read or hear it read. He who recites the Ramayana should have rich gifts of cows and gold. Long shall he live who reads the Ramayana, and shall be honored, with sons and grandsons in this world and in Heaven.”

Ramayana and Sri Lanka

Ravana — the main villain in is the Ramayana — is demon king of Lanka (present-day Sri Lanka) and the chief of the raksasas (demons). He is a grotesque figure with 10 heads and 20 arms. He carries a variety of weapons in his 20 hands. Each time a head is lopped off in a battle another quickly grows to replace it. It has been said that he symbolizes lust and greed and uses his powers to disrupt the cosmic order and sanctity of women and the family.

Ramayana is essentially a story of love and banishment. The main characters are Rama and his love Sita. Ravana is entranced by Sita’s beauty and angry at Rama because he rejected Ravana’ sister, who had fallen in live with him. Ravana conspires to abduct Sita with the help of Marica, who disguises himself as a golden deer to lure Rama and Laksmana away from Sita. While Rama and gis brother is distracted Ravana snatches Sita and takes her back to the Golden City of Lanka (present-day Sri Lanka).

Sita is kept captive in Ravana’s castle. The demon threatens Sita with torture unless she marries him. In the meantime Rama and Laksmana go through a series of adventures and battles trying to rescue Sita. They are helped by Hanuman, who discovers where Sita is kept.

When Rama can not get to the island of Lanka he seeks the help of Hanuman, who summons his army of monkeys to form a bridge from India to Lanka. On Lanka, Rama is able enlist the help of Hanuman’s army and the army of the great monkey king Surgriva who Rama helps by slaying his rival with an arrow.

The battle — pitting Rama, and the armies of Hanuman and Surgriva against Ravana and the demons — is the central event of the Ramayana. It begins after Hanuman sets fire to Ravana’s city and continues through a long series of offensives, counterattacks and battles. Ravana’s forces fire arrows that turn into serpents and wind around their victims necks like nooses.

Ravana: the Sri Lankan Perspective

The life of Ravana, one of the most powerful beings ever to roam the universe, if Hindu legends are to be believed, had unfolded in Sri Lanka, where he ruled with mighty power over gods, humans and demons. Valmiki’s Ramayana paint Ravana as a tyrant of mighty power who was holding the gods at ransom, and he continues to be treated as a blackguard in India even today. In the classic text, he is found kidnapping Rama's wife Sita, to claim vengeance on Rama and his brother Lakshmana for having cut off the nose of his sister Surpanakha. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau ]

Yet Ravana of Sri Lanka is portrayed to be a different king and a human. He is described as a devout follower of the god Shiva, a great scholar, a capable ruler and a maestro of aveena, known as the ravanhattha. The story goes that Ravana in order to please his mother had decided to bring the mountain Kailash to Sri Lanka. As he lifted up the mountain, God Shiva was angered by his arrogance and pushed it back down, trapping Ravana. The King of Lanka had torn off one of his own arms and made a musical instrument, ripping out sinews to form the strings. He used the newly invented ravanhattha to sing the praises of Shiva, creating music of such beauty that Shiva wept and forgave him.

According to Hindu mythology Ravana was born to a great sage Vishrava and his wife, princess Kaikesi. He was born in the Devagana, as his grandfather, the sage Pulastya, was one of the ten Prajapatis or mind-born sons of Brahma and one of the Saptarishi or the Seven Great Sages during the age of Manu.Ravana’s siblings include Vibhishana, Kumbhakarna and Ahiravana and a step brother Kubera, from whom he usurped the Kingdom of Lanka.

Lanka was an idyllic city, created by the celestial architect Vishwakarma himself and was the home of Kuwera, the treasurer of the gods, when Ravana demanded Lanka wholly from him, threatening to take it by force. Although Ravana usurped Lanka, he had been a benevolent and effective ruler. Lanka flourished under his rule and Ravana had proceeded on a series of campaigns conquering humans, celestials and demons.

It is said that Ravana ruled Lanka for several hundred years prior to the times of Ramayana, when he was killed by prince Rama for kidnapping his wife Sita. Yet some believe Ramayana to be a semi-fiction woven around a real King who ruled over Sri Lanka from 2554 to 2517 B.C.Sri Lankan lore has it that Sri Lanka under the scholarly Ravana saw great advancements in science and medicine. The pushpaka vimana or the aeroplane which he flew is held as an example of great scientific achievements made during his regime while Ravana also holds a high position as a physician and there exists, to this day, seven books on Ayurveda in his name. He is also believed to have authored Ravana Sanhita, an anthology of Hindu astrology and his description as a ten-headed person, Dasamukha or Dasagriva, is believed to be a reference to his vast knowledge and intelligence.

Places Associated with Ramayana in Sri Lanka

Sirancee Gunawardene wrote in the Sunday Times: 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. [Source: Sirancee Gunawardene, the Sunday Times]

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.

Rumassala is held to be a part of the Himalaya Mountain. The mountain filled with medicinal plants was allegedly brought to Sri Lanka to treat the injured of the Rama-Ravana war was left in the country and is still filled with herbs of rare medicinal value. 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.

Places Associated with Ravana in Sri Lanka

Ravana’s Kingdom had mainly concentrated around the Eastern and Southern corners of the country and believed to have been lost to the sea with the years. Some even go as far as to insist that Ravana was a Buddhist king and holds him to be the creator of monasteries found in Sri Lanka like Kuragala and Rahalgala. The country is filled with locations which are linked to the Ravana legend like Sita Eliya in Nuwara Eliya, which is believed to be a prison of Princess Sita while Wariyapola and Horton Plains are considered to be the landing sites of his flying machine.

Sirancee Gunawardene wrote in the Sunday Times: Ravana 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.

Adam’s Bridge and the Ramyana

Adam’s Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals, between Rameswaram Island, off the south eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and Mannar Island, off the north western coast of Sri Lanka too is connected to the legend of Ravana. Also known as Rama-Sethu or Rama’s bridge the land mass is believed to be a bridge built by monkeys interconnecting India and Sri Lanka and enabling the crossing of Rama’s army.

Investigations conducted by Indian National Remote Sensing Agency had suggested that the land connection could be a manmade structure built 5000 to 3500 years ago. Yet Sri Lankan Ravana fans contradict its origin and its builder. Sri Lankan historians believe that the bridge was built by Ravana and was a floating structure connecting Lanka with lands in India. According to them the bridge was later used by Rama’s army who crossed boundaries to Ravana’s Lankapura and overthrew one of the greatest rulers of the world with the assistance of his brother Vibishana, bringing down one of the most advanced civilisations in the history.

Sirancee Gunawardene wrote in the Sunday Times: 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. [Source: Sirancee Gunawardene, Sunday Times

Monkeys Cross Adam’s Bridge to Lanka from the Ramayana

Here's the account from the "Ramayana" of Sage Valmiki:"At Rama's command, those lions among the monkeys entered the mighty forest with alacrity in hundreds and thousands on every side and those leaders on the simian tribes, tearing up the rocks, which in size they resembled, and the trees also dragged them to the sea and they covered the ocean with Sala, Ashvararna, (list of tree names).Those foremost monkeys transported those trees, with or without roots, bearing them like so many standards of Indra (the king of heaven) and they heaped (list of tree names) here and there. With the aid of mechanical devices, those powerful colossi dug up stones as big as elephants and rocks, and the water suddenly spouted into the air only to fall instantly. Thereafter those monkeys churned up the sea by rushing into it on all sides pulling on the chains. [Source: The Ramayana of Valmiki, Yuddha Kanda]

"That immense causeway constructed by Nala in the bosom of the sea was built by the arms of those monkeys of formidable exploits and it extended over a hundred leagues. "Some brought trunks of trees and others set them up; it was by hundreds and thousands that those monkeys, like unto giants, made use of reeds, logs and blossoming trees to construct that bridge, rushing hither and thither with blocks of stone resembling mountains or the peaks of crags, which, flung into the sea, fell with a resounding crash.

"The first day those monkeys resembling elephants, or immense energy, full of high spirits and exceedingly merry, erected fourteen leagues of masonry. The second day, those highly active monkeys of formidable stature set up twenty leagues. Bestirring themselves, those giants threw twenty-one leagues of structure over the ocean on the third day and on the fourth, working feverishly, they built up twenty-two leagues in extent. The fifth day, those monkeys, industrious workers, reached to twenty-three leagues distance from the further shore.

"That fortunate and valiant son of Vishvakarma (architect of the demigods), leader of the monkeys, constructed a causeway worthy of his sire over the ocean and that bridge erected by Nala over the sea, the haunt of whales, dazzling in its perfection and splendor, was like the constellation of Svati in space. "Then the gods, Gandharvas, Siddhas (living beings superior to humans) and supreme Rishis (great sages) assembled in the sky, eager to see that masterpiece, and the gods and Gandharvas gazed on that causeway, so difficult of construction, that was ten leagues in width and a hundred in length built by Nala.

"Those monkeys thereafter dived, swam and shouted at the sight of that unimaginable marvel that was almost inconceivable and caused one to tremble! And all beings beheld that causeway thrown over the ocean and by hundreds and thousands of kotis (millions), those monkeys, full of valor, having built that bridge over the immense repository of waters, reached the opposite shore. Vast, well-constructed, magnificent with its wonderful paved floor, solidly cemented, that great causeway like unto a line traced on the waves, resembled the parting of a woman's hair.

"Meanwhile Bibishana (brother of Ravana who joined Rama), mace (club) in hand, held himself ready at his post with his companions in case of an enemy attack. Thereafter Sugriva addressed Rama, who was valiant by nature, saying "Mount on the shoulders of Hanuman and Laxmana (brother of Rama) on those of Angada. O Hero, vast is this ocean, the abode of whales; those two monkeys who freely range the sky will transport you both."

"Then the fortunate Rama and Laxmana advanced thus and that magnanimous archer was accompanied by Surgriva. Some monkeys strode forward in the center, some threw themselves into the waves, some sprang into the sky, others marched on the bridge, some ranged through space like birds, and the terrific tumult of the trampling of that formidable army of monkeys drowned the roar of the ocean.

"When those simian troops had passed over the sea by the grace of Nala's causeway, the king ordered them to camp on the shore which abounded in roots, fruits and water.At the sight of that masterpiece that had materialized under the command of Raghava (another name of Lord Rama), despite the difficulties, the gods, who had drawn near with the Siddhas and Charanas as also the great Rishis, anointed Rama in secret there, with water form the sea, and said: "Mayest thou be victorious over thy foes, O Thou, who are a God among men! Do Thou rule over the earth and the sea eternally!" Thus in various auspicious words, did they acclaim Rama in the midst of the homage offered to him by the Brahmins."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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