Ramayana, an epic sacred to the Hindus, refers to many places and sites that can be traced down in present day Sri Lanka. Even though the authenticity of this great epic is debated by historians, it is quite interesting to follow the Ramayana trail that traverses various parts of this island country. The trail throws glimpses of the abduction and captivity of Sita, Lord Rama’s beloved wife, by Ravana, the powerful 10-headed demon king of ancient Lanka. Incidentally Ravana was also a Hindu Brahmin by birth. According to Ramayana, it was in Lanka that the famous battle between the good and the evil had taken place. So, where does the trail begin and what does it reveal along the way? Well, going by the long list of significant places associated with the Ramayana, the trail crisscrosses the length and breadth of this beautiful island country. If we follow the Ramayana trail chronologically, it would begin in Sita Kotuwa, located close to Gurulupotha, Hasalaka. This beautiful spot, replete with limestone caves and waterfalls, is said to have been the location of the ancient palace of queen Mandodari, Ravana’s wife. Sita was held captive here until she was shifted to Ashoka Vatika, where Hanuman, Lord Rama’s messenger, had discovered her. Besides Sita Kotuwa, few other places, such as Rumassala and Kirinda, are also said to have been Sita’s abodes during her years of captivity in Lanka.
Ashoka Vatika (with reference to the Ashoka trees in the area), another place of great significance in the Ramayana trail, is said to be in Hakgala Gardens, Nuwara Eliya. While Sita is believed to have frequented a nearby stream to bathe in, the rocks by the river bank betray certain depressions that are said to be footprints of Hanuman, Lord Rama’s most devoted disciple! It was in Ashoka Vatika where Hanuman had met Sita for the first time, presenting her a ring given by Lord Rama and also bringing her the joyous news of Lord Rama’s approaching army. According to the Hindu scriptures, Hanuman was born as Maruthi to Anjana and Kesari, King of Sumeru. Incidentally, Hanuman is also believed to be the son of Wind God, Vayu, since the latter had played an important role during his birth.
Hanuman’s meeting with Sita prompted his arrest by Ravana’s soldiers. It is said that in order to teach Hanuman an apt lesson after he insulted Ravana, the demons set his tail on fire. Not one to surrender, Hanuman, in turn, torched large parts of Lanka. One such area that got charred was the Ussangoda coastal region. To this day this plateau is bereft of trees. Legend goes that prior to Hanuman’s act, Ussangoda also served as the landing spot for Ravana’s grand flying chariot, Pushpaka Vimana or Dandu Monara (Sinhalese for ‘peacock flying machine’).
Located on the south-west coast close to the popular tourist spot Hikkaduwa is a small village temple named Seenigama. The temple marks the spot where King Sugriva, Rama’s ally in battle, landed in Lanka with his Vanar (read monkey) army to fight against Ravana’s demon army.
Yudaganawa, an excavation site a few kilometres west of Puttalam at the Wellawaya to Monaragala main road (Southern Sri Lanka), is a place of immense significance in the Ramayana trail. This is where the iconic battle between Rama and Ravana is said to have taken place to rescue Sita. The region, devoid of any vegetation – a stark contrast to the rest of Sri Lanka, bears testimony to the intensity of the battle that raged there.
Legend has it that Ritigala, located between Anuradhapura and Habarena (Central Sri Lanka), is a part of Dronagiri mountain located in the Himalayan range. When Rama’s younger brother Laxmana, who took part in the great battle, was seriously injured by Ravana’s son Indrajit, Hanuman was sent to fetch the life-restoring Sanjivani herb from the Himalayas. But when Hanuman realized that locating the right medicinal plant from the vast array of herbs was a futile effort, he lifted the whole Dronagiri and flew with it to Lanka. However, he lost parts of the giant mountain on the way, Ritigala and Dolukanda (in Hiripitiya, north of Kurunegala) being two of them! Proof lies in the presence of a wide range of medicinal herbs in the Dolukanda and Ritigala ruins.
Kataragama, near the Southern tip of the island, is yet another important link in the Ramayana trail. Based on legend, Lord Indra, king of gods, ordered God Kataragama (also known by the names Murugan, Karthikeya and Subhramaniya) to join Lord Rama in the final day of his battle against the demon king Ravana in order to protect Rama from Ravana’s wrath. Kataragama is a prominent place of worship for Buddhists, Wedda Tribals and Muslim Sufis alike.
When the war ended with the death of the demon king in the hands of Lord Rama, Sita had to prove her chastity by walking through the flames of a huge bonfire. God Agni, the fire god, rose from the flames and handed over Sita to Lord Rama, unscathed, thereby proving her purity and innocence. This incident is believed to have taken place at Divurumpola where a temple stands marking the spot. Ravana’s earthly remains were kept at Yahangala for his countrymen to pay their last tribute.
Amarnthakali, about six kilometers away from Batticaloa, is believed to be the site where Lord Rama, Sita and Laxmana had their first meal after the war. What’s more, water from the Hanuman lake in the vicinity is said to have been used to extinguish the fire in Hanuman’s tail!
Ravana, being a Brahmin, was an ardent devotee of Hindu god Shiva. According to the Hindu scriptures, Lord Rama committed a sin by taking the life of a Brahmin or a priest. In order to rid himself of this sin or Brahmahasti dosha, he offered his prayers to God Shiva at the Munneswaram Kovil (temple), close to Chilaw, on his way back home. Shiva advised Rama to set up four lingams (Lord Shiva’s symbolic representation) at Manavari (close to Munneswaram), Trincomalee (on the west coast), Mannar (Northern province) and Rameswaram (also known as Pamban island which is a part of India located between the Indian peninsula and Sri Lanka).
Lord Rama returned to his kingdom in Ayodhya, India, with his bride and brother Laxmana to a grand welcome hosted by his brothers (acting king Bharath and Shatrughan) and countrymen. Quite a glorious ending to an illustrious trail!