‘The cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek’
– Joseph Campbell (American mythologist, writer and lecturer)
Many of us have grown up on a staple diet of Greek mythology of Lord Zeus, Achilles, Hercules and others. Allow me to introduce Sri Lanka, the ground zero of Hindu mythology. That is where lines between fantasy and reality blur so very often. If you are from India, of course, you have grown up with stories from the Ramayana. It is the age old story of the triumph of good over evil. In Ramayana, the just & dutiful protagonist ‘Rama’ has to fight a battle in an unknown land, Sri Lanka, to bring back his beloved wife.
Modern day Sri Lanka in the mind of a tourist is the land of beaches and tea plantations. But the island holds many a secrets beyond its beautiful landscapes. And some of those are from the epic Ramayana. If you have wondered how places from your childhood imagination hold up against reality, Sri Lanka is your chance.
There are many places on the island country that are associated with the Ramayana. Here I list six, that I have personally visited.
Mannar is an island in the north western part of Sri Lanka. If you look at the map, the island of Mannar seems like it had a reluctant separation with India.
Regardless of the geographical explanation, Talaimannar is an essential part of the Ramayana story. ‘Rama Sethu’ was the bridge built by Rama’s army of monkeys to help him cross over to Sri Lanka from India on foot to rescue his wife, Sita. Rama and his army first landed in Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. After this, they proceeded to the mainland through Mannar. Even without the legend, the village of Talaimannar and surrounding areas are breath-takingly beautiful. Fishermen will be happy to take you on a ride to the second island, which mythologically speaking is a part of ‘Rama Sethu’.
How to get there:
Mannar is connected both by buses and railway from Colombo. Talaimannar is about 30 kms away. There is a railway which can take you up to Talaimannar, the last station which is just a few hundred metres away from the pier.
This is another place with strong links to the Ramayana. It is said that this mountain exists because of Lord Hanuman (monkey god & loyal follower of Rama). Dolukanda is one of the five places where splinters of Sanjeevani Mountain fell during Hanuman’s flight to save Laxman. Rama’s brother was wounded in the battle and Hanuman was asked to bring a miracle herb to save him. The herb grew all the way in the Himalayas on a mountain named ‘Sanjeevani’. Unable to identify the herb, Hanuman uprooted the mountain and flew with it to Sri Lanka.
Thus, the legend of Sanjeevani entered the island. Today, there is a grand yet dilapidated monastery at the foothills of Dolukanda. Locals believe in the legend despite being Buddhists. They also suggest that the herbs found on the mountain have miraculous properties.
How to get there:
You’d be best off hiring a taxi or trishaw from Kurunegala, which is three hours away from Colombo. If you choose to take a bus, you will have to explain yourself a little bit. Dolukanda isn’t exactly the most popular spot with tourists. Okay, to be honest, I think hardly any foreigners ever go there.
Koneswaran Temple, Trincomalee
Trincomalee is one of the most beautiful natural harbours in the world. But beyond the physical beauty and stunning views of the Indian Ocean, it is also home to another legend of the Ramayana.
This one is closer to the antagonist of the epic, Ravana(who is more than a fascinating character). His mother used to pray to Lord Shiva (one of the three main gods in Hinduism) at the temple in Koneswaran. To avoid his ailing mother’s long walk for worship, he decided to bring the temple closer to her.
Ravana’s plan was to break the hill. It is said that as soon as he hit his sword on the rock, Lord Shiva appeared and stopped him. It is said that the cleft from this sword strike on the rock remains to this day and is known as Ravana Vettu.
How to get there:
Trincomalee is well connected by Colombo by buses and trains. Koneswaran is situated in the main tourist area of the city and you should not have any troubles finding this mountain on the hill.
Seetha Temple, Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya, the super popular hill station of Sri Lanka, is a great destination for families. But it is also close to a village called Seetha Eliya.
Situated right next to a stream, locals believe that this is where Lord Hanuman met Seetha. Many believe that the holes in the rocks are foot impressions of Lord Hanuman. I highly doubt if that is true, because they looked like anything but footsteps to me.
How to get there:
The Seetha Amman Temple is only a few kilometers from Nuwara Eliya and can be reached by a bus, trishaw or taxi. Nuwara Eliya itself is well connected by Colombo and Kandy. In fact, the train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya up to Ella is said to be one of the best in the world.
Most tourists make a beeline for the delightful walled town of Galle as soon as they land in Sri Lanka. Understandably so, its beaches and light house inspire special memories. But most are unaware that hardly five kilometers away is Rumassala peace pagoda.
The site in itself is breath-taking with a serene pagoda adorning a hillock next to the sea. Not just that, a small beautiful beach called ‘Jungle beach’ lies right next to this hillock.
But Ramayana lovers do not lose patience. The reason why I list this place is because it is also considered one of the places where the splinter of the Sanjeevani mountain fell during Hanuman’s flight. There is now a Hanuman statue on the site, built as a prayer to end the ethnic conflict. Looks like Gods did listen to these prayers, the Sri Lankan civil war came to an end in early 2009.
How to get there:
Galle is really popular with backpackers, so getting there won’t be a problem. Get a trishaw/ tuk tuk from Galle to Rumassala and look for the peace pagoda. After visiting Hanuman you can also take a dip in the waters of Jungle beach. Just remember that you are not bestowed with super powers like the monkey god was, and do not try to swim too far.
Ravana Cave, Ella
Ella is a bit of a backpacker haven. Tourists definitely outnumber Sri Lankans in this mountainous destination at the southern edge of Sri Lanka’s hill country.
For mythology lovers, this place may well be the one you have been dreaming of. So many things here go by the name of Ravana. There is Ravana cave and Ravana waterfalls just to name a couple. It is believed that this is the area where the king was really active. Some say that Ravana had seven underground palaces around the island and all of them are connected by a network of underground tunnels. Even the thought of underground palaces connected with tunnels sounds so exciting!
But the one spot that steals the limelight is the Ravana cave. A 45 minute walk and trek from Ella will get you to the mouth of the cave that is said to be the entrance to the King’s underground palace. Seems like the authorities have closed the entrance as we could not find one when we got there. Despite that it is a special place. Sitting in the darkness inside the cave it is easy to let your imagination run amok.
Did Ravana really exist? If he did, was he a great king like many say he was? How would he be if he had been living today? Was his crime in anyway bigger than the crime that people of power today commit? Well, if these questions come to your mind quite often, then I have already told you where to go. May be the answers lie within that cave of Lanka’s great king.
May be one of us needs to leave our fears behind and find out.
Want to know how much would a trip to Sri Lanka cost and how to plan it? Read this post.