With a quarter-century of ethnic conflict and terrorism in Sri Lanka left behind, the island nation, known for its sun-kissed beaches and rolling tea gardens, is wooing Indian tourists like never before by developing a Ramayana trail to enable them to visit the Lanka of demon king Ravana.
The Sri Lankan tourism department has identified about 50 sites that are said to be connected to the Ramayana that tells the tale of the Hindu god Rama, whose wife Sita was kidnapped by Ravana and taken to ‘sone ki Lanka’, or the golden kingdom of Lanka.
“One just needs to talk to the local people, who would immediately tell which event in the Ramayana unfolded where,” said S. Kalaiselvam, director general of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.
“We are developing the Ramayana trail and the sites that are easily accessible will be part of this trail. I am confident that tourists, particularly Indians, will find the visit along the Ramayana trail satisfying.”
A 600-step climb, for instance, takes the visitor up to the cave in modern-day Ella in central Sri Lankawhere Ravana is supposed to have hidden Sita.
Sri Lankan tourism officials say the cave is connected to tunnels proving “beyond doubt the architectural brilliance of King Ravana”.
“A close look at these tunnels indicate that they are manmade and no natural formations,” said Wijae Manawadu, a tourist guide.
Then there’s the spot in Divurumpola where Sita is said to have undergone the famous ‘agni pariksha, or fire test, to prove her virtuousness.
“Disputes can be settled simply by taking oath in Sita’s name at the place where the fire test took place. It is actually legal tender,” a tourism official said.
Rama is believed to have installed a shiva lingam, an icon of Lord Shiva, at Manawari Kovil in Chillaw, which is about 65 km from capital Colombo. It was a remedy to get rid of ‘Brahmahathi Dosham’ for having killed Ravana who was a Brahmin.
Legend has it that during the battle with Ravana, Rama’s brother Lakshman was seriously injured. Hanuman was asked to fetch the life saving herb Sanjeevani from the Himalayas. He couldn’t locate it but brought the entire hill instead, five parts of which are said to have fallen in Sri Lanka.
A hill at Dolukanda, about 100 km from the national capital, marks one of the five sites.
At Seetha Eliya, on the hilly Nuwara Eliya-Welimada road about 195 km from Colombo, is where Sita is believed to have bathed. A temple has come up at the spot, and there is also a huge footprint imprinted in stone that legend says belongs to the monkey god Hanuman.
The red earth of Ussangoda in coastal Sri Lanka is considered suitable evidence by the tourism officials to state that this was the place Hanuman took on Ravana.
“In the event that unfolded, Hanuman’s tail was set on fire by the demons and he in turn went on to torch some parts of Ravana’s empire. Ussangoda is one of the places that was torched,” said a tourist guide.
Sri Lankahas a host of other Ramayana sites of considerable interest to all believers.
According to historian Neil Kiriella, there is historical evidence to prove that the epic took place in Sri Lanka.
“There are 87 rock edicts that refer to Ravana and Sita. Several incidents in the Ramayana took place here,” he said.
With the mapping of the Ramayana trail, Sri Lanka, which banks on tourism as a mainstay of its economy, is targeting an increase in tourist arrivals from India.
Said Indrajith De Silva, assistant director in the Sri Lanka tourism promotion bureau: “With Tamil Tigers gone, there has been an increase of Indians coming to Sri Lanka.”
Up to June 30 this year, he said, 30,902 Indians had come visiting. “In June 2009, 6,124 Indians came here while in June 2008, the figure stood at 5,664,” De Silva said.