Sri Lankans can be very superstitions. Children are sometimes given a “mottu” mark on their forehead to ward off evil spirits. People eat the auspicious dish of “kiri bath” (milk rice) as their first meal of the new year, and in many cases, on the first day of every month.

The slender loris — a small lemur-like creature — is supposed to call devils to a house by its cry and is looked upon with great dread, for a man who touches it will become lean and skinny like it; and to find a loris staring at you or waking up in the morning is said to be a very great ill omen. Long lines of black ants infesting a house also portend misfortune. The screech of a lizard when anything is about to be done must be regarded as an emphatic ‘don’t’. A man who gets scratched by the hind foot of a mouse deer will develop leprosy, while the stings of seven hornets are supposed to be fatal. It is believed that the bird ‘kirala’ hatches its eggs lying on its back lest the sky should fall. On full moon days leopards are said to be very ferocious, and lunatics and epileptics are all the more so on these days. [Source: M. B. Dassanayake]

The Theosophical Society — which played a major role introducing Eastern religions to the West and popularized practices like seances — had a close association with Sri Lanka. The Theosophical Society was a pseudo-religious organization founded in India by a lawyer and popular journalist named Henry Steel Olcott and a mystical Russian aristocrat named Helana Petrovna Blavatsky. After meeting in 1874 at a Vermont seance in which Blavatsky acted a medium for an Indian maiden, the couple set up a lamasery with snakes, lizards, stuffed fowls and tiger skins in Manhattan and later set up a headquarters for the Theosophical Society in Madras.

Olcott visited Ceylon 31 times in 27 years. He wrote a Buddhist catechism and designed a multicolored Buddhist flag which can be seen flying above Buddhist temples all over the world today. He established Buddha's birthday as national holiday in Ceylon. Since his death he has been featured on Sri Lankan postage stamps twice. People consider him the father of the Buddhist Revival Movement and an important figure in the island's struggle for independence.

Fortunetellers and Astrologers in Sri Lanka

Many Sri Lankans consult fortunetellers and astrologers before making important decisions about marriage, business and children, and believe that they have the ability to control events. Decisions regarding business, traveling and other matters are often not made without consulting a fortuneteller to astrologer first A great emphasis is placed on doing things in auspicious places at auspicious times.

Sri Lankans take astrology very seriously. A persons horoscope is determined by chronicling the movement of the planets in his or her lifetime on a talipot palm leaf with a metal stylus and black powder. Horoscopes are taken into consideration fr marriage. Newspapers are often filled adds like the following: "Goigama Buddhist family seek suitable husband for attractive 25-year-old daughter with stenographer skills. Dowry 10,000 rupees. Bring horoscope."

Robert Paul Jordan wrote in National Geographic: "In Sri Lanka, many people guide their lives by their horoscopes and return to their astrologers for all important decisions. A seer pronounces on the men, the time, an the place to dig for gems. parents consult and astrologer on when to wean the baby." Marriages are held on auspicious days set by astrologers and lovers often break up if they are told their stars are not in conjunction. “ [Source: Robert Paul Jordan, National Geographic, January 1979]

Horoscopes in Sri Lanka

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe wrote in the Sunday Obervor: “ It is customarily used by astrologers in drawing horoscopes (observational charts with diagrams showing the positions of the zodiac) and the movement of heavenly bodies at the time of birth. In addition, the reading of horoscopes to ascertain lucky and unlucky times, the selection of auspicious times for ceremonies, the matching of horoscopes of men and women to be married, before the commencement of new undertakings, specially in business matters, digging wells, laying foundation stones to buildings before construction, fixing door frames to houses under construction, ear-boring, weaning of children, puberty ceremonies etc., are considered inevitable and linked with the social life of the community. [Source: Aryadasa Ratnasinghe CDN, Sunday Observor,Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The reverence for ancestral ways, backed by traditions, customs, rites and rituals has compelled man to adhere to the basic principles of human conduct, the nurture of life, including the proper maintenance of the social order and the ungrudging co-operation in all matters needed to maintain peace and prosperity, in the coming year. These methods have survived to this day, to build good and sound relationships between kith and kin in forgetting displeasures of the past, by offering betel leaves to elders and smooth out differences, or to lull hatred.

The zodiac is an imaginary belt in the heavens, about 18 deg. wide, through which the ecliptic passes centrally. It is divided into 12 parts (constellations) of 30 deg. each, represented by an appropriate symbol, viz: Aries (Mesha), Taurus (Vrshabha), Gemini (Mithuna), Cancer (Kataka), Leo (Sinha), Virgo (Kanya), Libra (Thula), Scorpios (Vruschika), Sagittarius (Dhanu), Capricorn (Makara), Aquarius (Kumbha) and (Pisces (Meena).

Astrology and Sinhala and Tamil New Year

Sinhala and Tamil New Year takes place when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries). Unlike the usual practice where the new year begins at midnight, the New Year in Sri Lanka begins at the time determined by the astrologers. Not only the beginning of the new year but the conclusion of the old year is also specified by the astrologers. And unlike the customary ending and beginning of new year, there is a period of a few hours in between the conclusion of the Old Year and the commencement of the New Year , which is called the nona gathe (neutral period). During this time one is expected to keep off from all types of work and engage solely in religious activities. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

Most of the rituals are based on times calculated according to astrology. ‘Aluth Sahal Mangallaya’, ‘Esala Keliya’ and ‘Karthikeiya Mangalliya’ are essentially indigenous ceremonies based on the beliefs woven around agriculture. Rohana R. Wasala wrote in The Island:In terms of traditional astrological belief the sun is said to complete one circular movement across the twelve segments of the zodiac in the course of the year, taking a month to traverse each constellation. The arbitrary beginning of this circular solar progress is taken to be Aries (Mesha), which is conventionally represented by the zodiacal sign of ‘the ram’. Having travelled from Aries to Pisces the sun must pass from Pisces to Aries to begin a new year. The solar new year (known as the Shaka calendar) is reckoned from this transit (sankranti), which comes a week or two after the beginning of the new year according to the Sinhalese calendar. The Vesak Festival, which marks the dawn of the Buddhist new year, comes at least another month later. The Aluth Avurudda centers on the ‘transit’ of the sun from Pisces to Aries. It is remarkable for Sinhalese Buddhists to thus celebrate the beginning of the solar new year, rather than that of their own new year. So the Aluth Avurudda appears to be in homage of the sun god important for an agricultural people. [Source: Rohana R. Wasala, The Island, D.B. Kappagoda, Daily Mirror, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe wrote in the Sunday Obervor: “The injunctions laid down under the Uttara Bharata Shastra, and to be observed during the 'Aluth Avurudda' 2004, are: (1) Looking at the moon for the ensuing year on March 22 as the lunar month, and on April 22 as the solar month, (2) Bathing to mark the previous year, on April 12, after anointing the head with 'Nanu' (medicinal herbal preparation), prepared from the leaves of the 'Divul' (Limonia acidissium, or Feronia elephantum) tree. The 'Aluth Avurudda' dawns on April 13, at 18.32 hrs. 3) The 'Punyakalaya' (the time set apart for religious observances) stands from 12.08 hrs. on the 13th to 00.56 hrs., on the 14th. Hence, during this period all work, including taking of meals, should be suspended before 12.08 hrs., and keep the time exclusively to go to temples for worship, which is the first phase of the 'Punyakalaya'. [Source: Aryadasa Ratnasinghe CDN, Sunday Observor,Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The second phase begins at 06.32 hrs. on the 13th and lasts till 00.56 hrs on the 14th., and during this period all matters connected with commencement of work, transacting business and taking of meals have to be done. 4) Lighting the hearth to cook the first meal (Kiribath) has to be done on the 13th at 19.49 hrs, looking South and wearing a red dress. partaking of the meal has to be done at 21.47 hrs. also looking South. (Most housewives are not satisfied with this time as it interferes with dinner), (5) Anointing the head with 'Nanu' is an important injunction considered as essential to health. It has to be done on the 15th at 10.57 hrs. looking North, and by placing 'Bo' leaves (Ficus religiosa) on the head, and 'Kohomba' leaves (Azadirachta indica), under the feet. Bathing is done after anointing the head which is the highlight of the festival. Leaving home for work has to be done on the 19th at 06.59 hrs. heading in the northern direction, after partaking a meal of 'Kiribath' mixed with 'Undu' (Phaseolus radiatus).

Astrologers and Sri Lanka Elections

Astrologers often get more attention than political analysts at election time. Voters are often keen to know what astrologers have say about the outcome of an election.. It is not uncommon for politicians to consult with astrologers before making policy or political decisions. Presidents have been sworn in and governments ousted at times deemed auspicious by astrologers.

Before the election in 2004, AFP reported: With opinion polls still in their infancy in Sri Lanka, fortune-tellers are in high demand ahead of the April 2 parliamentary election, with the 6,024 candidates keen to know where their stars lie. "Astrology plays a crucial role in politics and particularly at election time," said soothsayer Ariyarathne Hewapathirana. "Politicians are busy getting horoscopes read and buy lucky charms to fight evil influences." Hewapathirana, who is also a consultant to a group of astrologers seeking to preserve their profession, said that while legislator hopefuls paid through their noses for talismans and good readings, many of the supposed seers were fakes. [Source: AFP, March 26, 2004]

“The publicity mileage from predictions is seized upon by political parties to influence undecided voters among the 12.8 million electorate. But Hewapathirana said the candidates were expecting strictly favourable forecasts from their seers ahead of the vote, the third parliamentary poll in four years — and are canny about what they give away. "No leader will publicly declare his actual time of birth because a rival can take that information, prepare a birth chart and see what lies in store for him and initiate counter-measures," he said. He lamented that a majority of "astrologers" in the country earned their fortunes by preying on the gullible.

“But fortunes can also turn against the fortune-tellers. After the last parliamentary vote in 2001, some astrologers went into hiding as their predictions proved wrong. The English-language Island newspaper commented at the time that Sri Lanka's obsession with astrologers might make outsiders think the island was driven by "loony politics". An astrological paper, Ira Handa (Sun and Moon), apologised after the last election for rigging predictions in favour of the president's party, which was swept out of power. This time around, the state-run Daily News, which is controlled by Kumaratunga, said that a seer had predicted victory for her party as her horoscope was powerful. But another astrologer later disagreed with the Daily News, saying Kumaratunga's horoscope could not be used as she herself was not running in the election.

Methods of Sri Lanka’s Political Astrologers

According to AFP: “The politically influential here traditionally keep family astrologers, much like family doctors, to advise on choosing a marriage partner, starting a business or even before deciding when to start a foreign visit. President Chandrika Kumaratunga's close aide Mangala Samaraweera is on record saying that the head of state attends to important matters of state at auspicious times and notes it is a tradition of her predecessors. [Source: AFP, March 26, 2004]

“More affluent politicians from the island seek out astrologers from neighbouring India instead, hoping for a neutral prediction from an outsider. A former Sri Lankan president was once reported to have commissioned charmers from the southern Indian state of Kerala to help him ward off an impeachment attempt.

Frances Harrison of the BBC wrote: One fortune teller says the elections will throw up a hung parliament but eventually the opposition will form a government. She has deduced this from splitting a coconut and comparing the two halves of the shell. The pointy end, which is considered the male end, is compared with the rounded female end to contrast the chances of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her rival Ranil Wickremesinghe. [Source: Frances Harrison, BBC, December 5, 2001]

“Another astrologer says he talks to the gods for intimations of the future. This is what his sources say about the outcome of the elections: "It's like a three horse race. The gods have told me that Ranil Wickremesinghe will win this election because he has a lot of educated people behind him. I have looked at his horoscope and according to the planetary positions there might be some obstacles but he will overcome them." So important are astrologers in Sri Lanka that their pronouncements are given more weight than those of political analysts and opinion polls on the nightly TV news. Needless to say the state run TV channel is foretelling victory for the governing People's Alliance.”

Astrologers Accused of Rigging Predictions Before 2001 Sri Lanka Elections

In 2001, astrologers were accused or corruption and prediction rigging before the election that year. Frances Harrison of the BBC wrote: “Sri Lanka's premier astrology magazine — Ira Handa or Sun and Moon — claims a circulation of half a million which is more than the national daily. Entering the politicians' date and time of birth in special computer programmes, the astrologers at Ira Handa magazine have calculated birth charts for the candidates and they have printed a list of which ones they think will be winners. They have even worked out a birth chart for the country as a whole using independence day as the date of birth. [Source: Frances Harrison, BBC, December 5, 2001]

“The magazine's editor says President Chandrika Kumaratunga's birth chart is especially powerful. He says the next government will be a combination of two colors — blue and red — which happen to be the party colors of the People's Alliance and the Marxists who are likely to form an alliance. You would not know the magazine had been hit by an embarrassing scandal when an employee recently resigned in protest at what he alleged was the rigging of the planetary positions in return for favours from the government.

“Chief editor Priyantha Ratnayake strongly denies the accusations. "He was not the editor as he claimed. He was not an astrologer at all, he was just a paste up artist on contract. "Basically he was bought for money so he went and told all those things. But he was never an astrologer or editor." Mr Ratnayake says in fact the opposition offered him money to predict an election victory for them. But even though money politics seems to be threatening Sri Lanka's astrological community their credibility seems untarnished among those who routinely consult the stars for guidance.”

Daily Superstitions in Sri Lanka

Omens hold great weight in and are believed to predict good and evil in Sinhalese society Bathing on Sundays is said to spoil the bather’s appearance; bathing on Monday improves it; Tuesday - brings on disease, and Wednesday riches; Thursday - creates quarrels and if one bathes on Fridays his children will die; Saturday is deemed to be the most suitable day for bathing and is said to bring happiness. To face east or west while taking meals is supposed to bring good luck; money transactions held on full moon days bring ill luck. [Source: M. B. Dassanayake]

Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are classed as unlucky, but for journeys Thursdays are the best unless they happen to be astrologically unfavourable. The best omen for a person setting out on a journey is for him to meet anyone carrying a pot of water, milk or white flowers first. But it is unlucky to meet those with shaven heads or with their hair (konde ) loose, as a sign of mourning, or those with great physical defects or a woman carrying a pot or ‘chattie’. It is also considered unlucky for a person to stumble against something or to be interrogated as to his destination at the outset of the journey.

Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays are bad for visiting, and July is considered to be an unlucky month for weddings just as May is in England. Talking of weddings, there is a strange ancient custom followed still in "bringing home the bride" - the bride is obliged to walk in front of her husband, always keeping in his sight; the traditional reason given for this is that once a bridegroom who had walked in front had had his bride carried off from behind him before he was aware of it, and the newly made husband is not very eager for history to repeat itself in his case at least.

Omens in Sri Lanka

If a crow flies through a house, it is a sign that an inmate of the house will have to leave it soon. The cawing of a crow from the house-top is the harbinger of good news; and the arrival of visitors is portended by the cawing of a crow in the front of the house, or by a cat washing itself on the doorstep. If one’s right nostril smarts it is a sign that a near relation is speaking well of him, but if it is the left nostril, it is very much the other way about.

The unaccountable smell of burnt flesh or the howling of dogs at night is said to be due to presence of evil spirits not far away. If this is repeated for several nights in succession, together with cat concerts and the hooting of owls, a very great calamity is certain to overtake the whole neighbourhood generally.

A special and quaint vocabulary is used by Buddhists when on pilgrimage lest they should commit themselves by using words unpleasant to the gods. So also when referring to small-pox, the Sinhalese name for which is ‘vasuriya’, it is invariably spoken of, in the presence of one suffering from it, as ‘Maha-lede’ or ‘great sickness’. For the same reason certain villages sacred to gods or demons are never referred to by their true names.

The tamarind tree is sacred to the chief of the devils and its exhalation at night is said to be fatal, although at daytime its shade is cooler then that of any other tree. There are also certain fruits like those of the ‘Dummela’ and ‘kekiri’ plants and certain yams like ‘habarala’ which are of a sweet taste, but if their names are pronounced by the eater himself or by any other person in the eater’s hearing, they will turn bitter in his mouth.

Snake Superstitions in Sri Lanka

Snakes are said to come out of their jungles during the south-west monsoon but they should not be killed on Tuesdays and Fridays. A man who gets bitten by a water-snake is said to be immuned to the bite of any other snake. As this snake is not poisonous people are glad to get bitten by it than otherwise. After the ‘wel-gerandiya’ has bitten a man it is supposed to tie itself in a knot around the trunk of a neighbouring tree and remain in this position till its victim dies. To defeat this purpose the man so bitten is carried like a corpse in front of the snake, which, thinking the victim to be dead, unties itself, and so the spell is broken and the man recovers. Angry at being thus cheated it goes up on to the roof of a house and waits for an opportunity to take revenge. [Source: M. B. Dassanayake]

Cobras, especially the light-colored ones, are supposed to be incarnations of dead men, and now guarding hidden treasures, Bo-trees and Buddhist temples. If a cobra makes the home of a Sinhalese its dwelling, it is supposed to be a dead relative who is desirous of protecting the present inmates, re-born in this state. Consequently they are never killed but placated as much as possible by plates of milk placed at the mouths of their holes. If a cobra does not move off at the polite and respectful request of a man when its presence is inconvenient, it is caught by a noose at the end of a stick, put in a sack and thrown away in an unfrequented place, thus often causing the death of the inquisitive and unwary. The cobra is supposed to be of a benevolent character, as it would not bite a blind man, and would not bite at all unless provoked. As for its food, the cobra is said to eject from its mouth a luminous bluish stone which attracts the fireflies, upon which the watching snakes feed.

Sea snakes do not bite as a rule but if they do, sea water drunk three times is considered to be an effective cure. There is another kind called the ‘two headed snake’ whose tail resembles its, head so much that it is supposed to be able to move backwards or forwards and drink at either end. The ‘mapilas’ are believed always to move about in groups of seven, and when they enter a house they form a chain from the roof and the last one bites the sleeping victim as he lies in bed.

But by far the most vindictive of all is the ‘tic polonga’ which is said to live from two to three hundred years. It cannot see in daylight so it comes out only in the night. Before its death it develops a pair of wings and anyone who gets brushed by it during its flight through the air will die. At its death it is supposed to burst and bring forth centipedes, scorpions and poisonous spiders. Another kind of ‘polonga’ is said to be non-poisonous and does not bite but if it falls on one’s neck he will be bent double for the rest of his life.

Death Superstitions in Sri Lanka

Death is indicated in several ways as for instance by the dog of the house digging the ground with its paw, by the screech of the black crane as it flies over the house, by the frequenting of the house by magpies or by a cry of that bird from the withered branch in front of the house. If a person while consulting a ‘vedarala’ about a person keeps on digging his toe into the ground or scratching his head, the patient will not recover. After death the body is placed facing towards the west, so that no one sleeps in that position; and a strict watch is kept in the death chamber lest evil spirits take permanent possession of the house. The dead are never buried or cremated on a Tuesday as such an action is said to have a fatal effect on the surviving members of the family. [Source: M. B. Dassanayake]

In the Northern Provinces there are certain ruins, and nothing would induce the natives to remove any stone of them, as they are generally supposed to contain hidden treasures guarded by devils, who in the form of beetles sting all intruders, so much so that the people are even afraid to pass by them at night. Near Mullaittivu there is supposed to be a ruined temple, which cannot be found by anyone who looks for it, but if a man gets lost at night in the neighbouring jungle he suddenly comes upon the place and is entertained at the fairy temple by a priest, with food and lodging; but no food can be brought away as it turns into stone by the way.

Ancient people feared their dead and when phantoms appeared to them in their sleep and if they recognise the dead ancestors who had died sometime before, they got alarmed. They started to propitiate such spirits as they believed they all forbade evil. They believed that those hostile beings and evil spirits not only had the power to curse them and all one’s family members but also cast an evil eye on them. Only the living were constantly threatened by evil spirits. [Source: Godwin Witane]

The Veddhas, the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka, are famous for incantations to avoid harm which they believe are caused by the dead. They call the "Nae Yakas’7. This is nothing but superstition. Even among civilised people the fear of the number 13 continue to strike fear into their hearts and the power of the evil eye is still believed to be dreadful to most educated and uneducated. To overcome these debacles Sooth Sayers and magicians have invented the Talisman and the Amulet for luck and protection against misfortune.

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.

Sri Lankan Amulets and Charms

People believe that by wearing of amulets and charms one can keep away misfortune. Magic and superstition were the products of the ages of ignorance but their power is rapidly declining with the advancement of science in the modern world. [Source: Godwin Witane]

During the ages of ignorance when man was primitive they feared natural phenomena like the eclipse of the sun or the moon. Even thunder was believed to be the handy work of evil spirits that dwell in the high heavens. They believed that a whole host of invisible beings and spirits were responsible for all external phenomena. Demons controlled wind and weather, raised storms, produced lightning and thunder. They also could cause drought and famine, make women barren and produce strangling at child birth. Primitive man lived by hunting and gathering natural food in the forests such as yams and wild fruits. We can therefore imagine how these early people spent days of misery and nights of anxiety or even terror as their lives were surrounded by all sorts of dangers and they seldom died a natural death. It was always a violent end, attacked by a jungle beast, a bear for instance or a leopard.

Sometimes like the monkeys, they fall down from frenzy heights when they climb tall trees or go down precipices on ladders made out of jungle creepers to pluck honey combs. Often they succumb to these dangers or some mysterious disease before reaching old age. Fear of death, alarm over natural phenomena or some similar calamity created belief in supernatural help and when a stroke of luck descend on them, they felt grateful and formed primitive belief in the supernatural.

The common practice is to wear round one’s waist, neck or arm a Talisman, containing a charm written on copper or gold plate or on ola leaf. Medicinal oil too are kept in hold" in these containers which are charmed either with incantations or Pirith. Charms and invocations are done by Kattandiyas, who are accepted by those who believe in them. The practitioners of charms do it as a living depending on their gullible clientele. The chanting of the Manthra with magical words which people believe to have the potency to create good or bad effects. Tying of a charmed thread or "Epa Nool" to ward off disaster for a given period as three months or one year is the first act conducted by the charmer to win the confidence of the effected person.

The commonest amulet worn by every Buddhist child is the 'Panchauda', an ornament made out of gold or silver in which the fivefold weapons are symbolically represented by carvings or embossed. They are the bow and arrow, conch, sword, trident and disc or 'Paara Walalla'. These symbols associated with the life of Lord Buddha are believed to protect the wearer from all evil. There are special amulets made of gold, silver or copper or a compound of five metals called Paslo, in which are enclosed sheets of gold, copper or ola leaf on which auspicious letters and words are engraved or written. These are charmed over an altar of flowers with fumes of incense thrown at intervals.

These worn by the believers to avoid misfortune. The spot or Pottu marked on the forehead with red or black paste is believed by the Hindus as a symbol to dispel ill-effects of the evil eye. This practice has now been copied by the Singhalese too that their children are daubed with the black Pottu in various proportions on their foreheads. The Swastika and the Anchor are worn as Amulets. Statues or figures of animals, birds, men, women, or sometimes replicas of a limb, a leg or hand are offered before the emblems of gods at the Devalas to win their grace and sympathy to overcome misfortune. Animal teeth of the leopard, bear and their claws are worn in order to dispel the effects of the evil eye. We see the horse shoe fixed above the door frames of most houses perhaps with the same intention.

However they are rare now as horse drawn wagons or horse riding is not common at present. Elephant hair is worn by both men and women which are made into rings or bangles. This is supposed to bring the wearer luck and prosperity. Rings made of gold or silver embodying the hood of the cobra are worn on the fingers to ward away bad periods in life. The wearing of precious stones of various hues is supposed to dispel ill-effects of malefic planets on man. The wearing of Navaratna or nine kinds of gem stones fixed on a ring or a pendant mitigates a host of unexpected pitfalls in life.

Snake Bite and Shark Teeth Charms in Sri Lanka

There are charms to prevent snake bites. These are hawked by snake charmers and the nomadic gypsy in the form of small stones or a piece of the root of a tree. In the Western world the comb is supposed to render protection from the inflammation of the mammary glands of a lactating woman that she carries a comb on her breast hanging from the neck. The jungle trackers use Manthras or charms which when uttered drives a wild elephant away from making any harm to human beings. [Source: Godwin Witane]

Once in 1947 when I was working in Polonnaruwa, a rouge elephant chased people and threatened them on the road between Giritale and Polonnaruwa when it was all jungle. The Korala of Topawewa, after a flip of toddy approached the animal on his push cycle and stretching his had uttering a 'Manthram' attempted to drive away the elephant. The raging beast caught hold of his knot of hair or konde with its trunk that his sculpt came out with the hair. The pachyderm after killing the man kept vigil over the corpse until the famous elephant hunter of Matale, Mr. Mant destroyed the animal. To avoid anger for a past offence or to express gratitude for a favour received a "Puja Vatti" is offered to god Kataragama and other deities.

This vatti contains an assortment of fruits, including a husked coconut and flowers either natural or made of paper along with Jos sticks. These are beliefs still prevailing in the country which are difficult to be explain, but embedded in their mental beliefs. When the foundation is laid for the construction of a new house it is the custom to bury in it a collection various objects called "Nidan Wastu" including even a portion of the soil trampled by an elephant. The belief is that the house when completed will bring prosperity to the occupants. When a child gets mumps a paste obtained by the rubbing of an elephant’s tooth is applied on the cheeks to bring on a cure.

The fishermen of Hikkaduwa have a brisk sale of shark’s teeth, which the foreign tourists buy to wear on their necks to prevent muscular cramps while bathing in the sea. Mothers while sending their children to school in the mornings do not forget to hide a nail or something made of iron in the lunch box. Thus they believe that no evil spirit or Prethaya could have access to the food. This clearly proves that faith reigns supreme in the mind. It is only science and medicine that can help minimise disease and prolong life.

Ola Leaf Horoscopes

Horoscopes written on ancient palm (ola) leaves have been known for decades in both Sri Lanka and in southern India, especially Tamil Nadu. Ola leaf is a palm leaf used for writing in traditional palm-leaf manuscripts and in fortunetelling (horoscopes). The leaves are from the talipot tree, a type of palm, and fortunes are written on them and read by fortune tellers. It is believed that three thousand years ago the seven rishis, sages, wrote everyone's fortunes on the leaves. Sinhala letters are round-shaped and are written from left to right. They are the most circular-shaped script found in the Indic scripts. The evolution of the script to the present shapes may have taken place due to writing on ola leaves. Unlike chiseling on a rock, writing on palm leaves has to be more round-shaped to avoid the stylus ripping the Palm leaf while writing on it. The National Library of Sri Lanka holds an ola-leaf manuscript collection. [Source: Wikipedia]

On why the ola leaf writings were written, it has been surmised that they were tutorial exercises set by the ancient sages (rishis) to their pupils who were set the task of composing the horoscopes of persons yet to be born in a series of dates and times, or that the sages made these writings for the guidance of people, There were apparently seven (saptha) rishis (saptharishi) who authored these horoscopes individually or in conference of all seven (saprha-rishi vaakyam, seven -rishi stanzas). Since these writings relate to ordinary people, it does not appear that the authors were concerned only with important persons whose life histories could make vivid stories. Some clients are told that there are no leaves pertaining to them. [Source: Studies on the Paranormal: The Indian Ola Leaf Horoscopes, And the Ideas of Karma and Re-incarnation]

“These leaves are claimed to have been in ancient Hindu temples in South India from where they were either stolen or bought during the British occupation of India. The British, it is said, took away the manuscripts of utilitarian value to them, such as traditional medicinal and alchemical texts. The remainder were the horoscopes. Since they apparently dealt with the lives of contemporary people, the present owners of the manuscripts have made a lucrative practice of reading them for their subjects in Asian countries. An occasional non-Asian has also found his leaf.

“Tamil subjects who have had their readings and who have seen the writing on the leaves are of the opinion that the language was not modern Tamil. Indeed one subject (case No.5) had to have his leaf translated into contemporary modem Tamil by a Professor of Tamil who was an expert in Tamil linguistics, and could understand ancient Tamil.

Ola Leaf Reading

“Leaves are identified as belonging to a given subject through his/her thumb prints which probably serve as indispensable 'indexes' or codes; birth date and time are insufficient. Four main groups of thumb print patterns have been identified. The reader generally takes a few days or even a week to locate the respective leaf (leaves) in bundles which the reader has brought over from India. In one case a subject narrated to me, and in which the readings were accurate, the reading was made an hour after the thumb print was supplied. In my case in South India, the reading was begun about 2 hours after the reader took my thumb print. Final identification is done by the matching of birth date, names of the subject and his/her parents as a prelude to the reading. The distribution of 'planets' in the natal horoscope as stated in the leaf which is described during the definitive reading and not revealed earlier by the subject, is an important verification of the correspondence of the reading with the subject. [Source: Studies on the Paranormal: The Indian Ola Leaf Horoscopes, And the Ideas of Karma and Re-incarnation]

“It is important to state that this correspondence is not used for the selection of the leaf. Beginning with the first chapter (corresponding to the 'house' of an astrological chart) which confirms the identity of the leaf the subject may choose for reading, any of the remaining 11 houses which deal with various aspects of his life, eg. 2nd dealing with his assets, 3rd with his brothers and sisters, 4th his home, vehicles, mother, 10th with profession and status in life and so on. Although the time of birth is not used for identifying the leaf the exact horoscope (distribution of the planets, birth star, rulership periods) is given on the reading. This indicates that the client's time of birth is implied in the leaf-reading, because an accurate horoscope cannot be drafted without the exact time of birth. This suggests that the reader is not using a chart drafted by him on the occasion of the consultation for his reading, excluding this device as one possibility of fraud.

“On the appointed day, the leaf is read, while a tape recording is made. In one center (of the case documented below) there were several readers and translators, one pair dealing with a given leaf. After each sentence or part of it, the reading is translated (if the subject so wishes) into his own language by a translator; the translation is recorded at the same time. The reading covers not only the subject's present life (its past, present and future), but also his/her previous birth and the next birth. The leaf has often been known to state that the subject will have the reading only at the age (and year) at which he seeks the reading. Indeed I personally know of one case (case No.3) in which the subject was told that at the time of reading, his wife would be abroad; in fact his wife was abroad on a 3 month holiday. It is remarkable that over an age-span of 60 odd years of this subject, this period of 3 months when his was away, was his 'appointed' time for having his leaf read.

“There is no discussion between reader and subject except initially when the subject is asked to verify that the leaf is indeed his, from his date of birih, and names of the subject and of his parents, and on occasion from key facts of his life, eg. number of siblings. The absence of such a discussion excludes the possibility of the reader 'fishing out' information from the client.

“The reading states all significant facts from the time he was born including where be was born (eg. public hospital, major city), the date, day of the week, the natal horoscope, parents' names, subject's name, number of siblings (male, female), number of children (male, female), profession, events in the subject's life and a full description of the natal chart. It is again to be emphasised that, although the subject does not initially state his time of birth, the horoscope that is described necessarily entails a 'knowledge' of the time of birth because the natal horoscope depends on it for its accuracy.

“The events are related to astrologically determined 'periods'; under the rulership and sub-rulership of specific 'planets'. In my fathers' reading (case No.4) which he obtained in the 1930s, the periods were listed from the year of his birth (1889) till only 1960, as if to mean 'that; 1989-1960, is his life span'; indeed he 4ied in 1960, a correct prediction for a 30 year period.

Possible Sources of Fraud in Ola Leaf Reading

“One possible source of fraud is a tracing of the antecedents of the subject through his/her name, address or other personal details (if given), during the week or more that elapses between the initial meeting at which the thumb print of the subject is supplied, and the reading. That this does not seem to occur is suggested by the fact that the subjects who have had correct readings did not give their correct name, nor address nor other relevant personal details. Such a source of fraud is also discounted on the facts that (1) the gap between the giving of the thumb print and the actual reading after the selection of the leaf has been as short as one or two hours, making it impossible for the reader to do 'research' on the subject's background; (2) confidential details pertaining to the subject, but which have not been known to anyone else, or not documented, have been read or commented on with great accuracy; (3) specific predictions, borne out as correct by subsequent events, have been recorded. In one case (case No.7), the transcript of which I have, the subject (a Sinhalese) was told that he will marry a girl of a different face, with a specified surname. Indeed, years later, he did get married to a Tamil girl, but her surname differed from what was predicted. On checking with her parents after marriage, it was revealed that their family name had indeed been changed many years before, and the original name was in fact what was stated on the subject's leaf Neither the subject nor the girl was aware of the original name. Other examples of accurate predictions made for periods of up to several years in the future, would also exclude fraud of this type, and are recorded below.

“Another obvious type of fraud could occur when the reader by skilful questioning, draws out the information from the subject himself in the guise of needing that information for verification of the ownership of the leaf. In my personal experience and that of others, such 'fishing' did not occur. The only questioning by the reader was solely for verification of the identity of the leaf from basic facts (date of birth, names of subject and family members) related to the subject, before the actual reading.

“Each session covers only 2 or 3 chapters and when the subject returns, days or weeks later on appointment, the same leaf (identified by a shrewd subject by its physical appearances such as tears and marks) is taken up again to continue the reading. Further evidence in refutation of the possibility of fraud (as pertaining to an instant astrological reading inste) is that when a person who once had a reading went back for re-reading of the same leaf, a near-identical reading was made on the second occasion, as described below. The investigator was herself proficient in astrology. She had readings (her son's) (case No.8) made on two different occasions, 8 months apart. The facts and the sequence of the facts given in the four chapters thus tested, were closely similar. If the reading were a concoction or all instant reading from a chart made at the session by the reader from his knowledge of astrology, successive readings on widely separated occasions could scarcely have been identical. In case No.3 the subject who once had a reading, went back for a re-reading of the same leaf, six years later, and was told that after the original reading, his leaf has been sent back to India and that he will have to await the reader's return from India with that leaf On his re-visit he was told that the original leaf was not available but that another lea{ also pertaining to this subject, will be read; this reading was also correct, but this particular case could not produce a confirmation of actual written documentation of the original reading, as two different leaves and different chapters were read.

People Who Had Ola Leaf Reading

The reader was a south Indian resident of Sri Lanka for over forty years. The readings was done in Tamil, with English translation. F = C's father who had a son from his 1st wife W1 AL = his second wife and mother of C. C = daughter of F from his 2nd wife AL F's ola reading (describing his present and past lives) were given by the reader in 1956, a year before C was born (1957). C was told of her father's reading by her mother AL. C's reading (describing her present and past lives) was also given by the same reader but 24 years later in 1980, after her father had died many years earlier. C was 23 when the reading was made. She was 15 years when her father (F) died and was 27 when she was married.

“The reader was unaware of the relationship between C and F at the time of C's reading, nor did he have cause to remember that he gave her father's (F's) reading 24 years before. Moreover since F had died, there was no possibility of getting his thumb print for retrieval of his leaf for a second time. Later the reader 'was told of the father's death. The remarkable coincidence of the facts stated on the two leaves, and described below, could thus not have been attributed to a knowledge on the part of the reader that the leaves belonged to two related subjects.

“F's present life: F was very keen to study medicine and he sat one examination but he did not continue as his parents wanted him to work towards the examination for the Civil Service. He always regretted that he did not study medicine. In his professional life, F was in employment as a senior government official in the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service, and held an important posting in a state ministry. F was married to W1 from whom he had a son (S). After S's birth, F's marriage had foundered and they were divorced. The son S was taken by W1. F then married AL and C was born in 1957. W1 died in 1958, and then her son S was brought up by F's 2nd wife AL, who cared for the son as if he were her own son. F's marriage to AL was a successful and happy marriage.

“F's former life (as stated on his ola horoscope): You had been a King in Nepal and though having had a Queen; you also had an affair with a minister's daughter (MD), and she conceived. The Queen had the pregnancy aborted and the mother (MD) too died. Before her death, the minister's daughter (MD) cursed you (the King) that in a future birth you will never be a King but will merely be an advisor to a King, that you will want to become a doctor but you won 't succeed, and that you will be married to a reincarnation of herself the Queen. The unborn child of the minister's daughter (MD) aborted on the order of the Queen will be re-born as your child and the Queen of your former birth, as your 1st wife. This child will bring trouble to you, the parents, and your marriage wan't succeed You will be divorced and later she will die. You (the former King, now F) will marry the former minister 'S daughter (MD) with whom you had an affair (now AL) and the aborted child will come back to your second wife (AL) who will look after him, lovingly as her own son. Your second child chased you away from your throne.

“Possible parallels between F's former life and his present life: “His former Queen is the 1st wife (W 1) in his present life. F is now the former King. The child (of the minister's daughter who conceived after her affair with the former King) that died in the abortion in the previous life, is the son (S) who is now the step-brother of C and who was cared for by F's 2nd wife AL, who was the minister's daughter in the previous life The affinity between the former King and the minister's daughter in the previous life, now continues in the present life as an affinity (and marriage) between F (the former King) and AL (the former minister's daughter MD). MD's aborted child is now her (AL's) step-son for whom she cares as if he were her own.

Nittaewo — The Dagger Clawed Pygmies of Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lankan folklore and jungle tales, the Nittaewo was a short, hairy-bodied creature with dagger-like claws. It is said they lived side by side with the Veddas in the jungles of the East. Although some claims that Nittaewo is confusion with a species of monkey or sloth bear, others are convinced that they must have been an early species of hominids or ape-men in and around Mahalenama, of the Eastern Province. However in the absence of skeletal remains, the Nittaewo continues to be one of the great mysteries associated with Eastern Sri Lanka. [Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau ]

During the A.D. first century, Pliny the Elder mentioned the existence of a ‘beast-men’ in Ceylon. But the mystery surrounding their identity appeared to be solved in 400., when one Bishop Palladius described a race of primitive people to be found on the island. But Palladius was referring to the Vedda, Sri Lanka’s last link with its prehistory while Nittaewo lived in the same environment fighting Veddas for generation. The news of the existence of beast men in Ceylon was revived by Moroccan traveller IbnBatuta in the fourteenth Century when he mistook Purple faced leaf monkeys for the much debated Nittaewo. More credible information on Nittaewo unearthed in 1886, when a British civil servant named Hugh Nevill reported in his journal, the Taprobanian, that he had gathered information on a strange race called the Nittaewo, which he claimed, inhabited the then inaccessible mountains of the southeast Sri Lanka.

The Nittaewo were reported to resemble orangutans or gorillas and were expert climbers of nearly one meter height. They had the ability to walk upright and were covered with reddish hair with claws of great length and strength. Nevill also learned that the Nittaewo used to descend from the rocks in gangs to steal meat that had been spread out in the sun to dry by Vedda hunters, who feared Nittaewo’s fearsome claws. Eventually he had met a hunter who knew an old Veddanamed Koraliya, who had said that the Nittaewo lived in small social groups, sleeping in caves or on platforms of branches in trees.

He had also related the end of the Nittaewo tribe in the hands of the Veddas, where driven to desperation by the cruelty of these ‘little men’, the remaining group was rounded up by the Vedda and driven into a cave. Then the Veddas had heaped wood in front of the entrance and set fire to it, creating a bonfire that burned for three days and suffocating the trapped Nittaewo. Nevill’s report was supported by an adventurer named Frederick Lewis in 1914. During an exploration of the area, Lewis learned from a family of Vedda lineage that the Nittaewo had been exterminated four generations earlier, around 1775, and that a relative of this family had taken an active part in burning their last encampments.

However the first scientific investigation into the being of Nittaewo was made in 1945 by Professor W.C. Osman Hill of Edinburgh University, an expert on primates. Based on the flimsiest of evidence he came to the conclusion that Pithecanthropus of Java, a speechless hominid intermediate between modern man and the anthropoid apes, accords best with the tradition of the Nittaewo.

Captain A.T.Rambukwella theorised that the Nittaewo may have been a species of Australopithecus, described as small, man-like apes that stood erect and had a bipedal gait. He led an expedition to the Mahalenama area in search of the Nittaewo in May 1963. During an excavation of a cave at Kudimbegala they discovered, at a depth of 25 cm, the vertebrae of a monitor lizard and a piece of a carapace of a star tortoise both said to be part of the diet of the Nittaewo.

Meanwhile the discovery of the fossils of a proposed new species of the genus Homo, Homo Floresiensis, from the Indonesian island of Flores in October 2004 and the discovery of microliths in the Uva and Eastern provinces, which were believed to have been used ‘by small hands and therefore by a small-sized type of mankind’, the legend of the Nittaewo is kept alive many a minds in and out of Sri Lanka.

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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