Monday, October 12, 2015

Sri Lanka Ramayana Trail - Part 2 ( Day 2 )

Sri Lanka Ramayana Trail  -  Day 2

20 September 2015 (Sunday)

Sri Nrisimha Pranama
namas te narasimhaya
hiranyakasipor vakshahsila-
ito nrisimhah parato nrisimho
yato yato yami tato nrisimhah
bahir nrisimho hridaye nrisimha
nrisimham adim saranam prapadye
Sri Madhavananda Dasa who was making the tour of Sri Lanka very  much interesting, had briefed us at the end of the first day, the program schedule for Day 2. We came down with our bag and baggage on Day 2 to the lobby  of Ramboda Falls Hotel and greeted the other members of the tour saying ‘JAI SRI RAM ‘ with a smile and cheer after a good night’s rest.

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                                                                                  Ready for Day 2   
( bye to Ramboda  )                                       

We looked forward to an exciting day,  joined our Guide Sri M.A.Dasa and took our seats in the bus. Sangeeth loaded the baggage into the bus. We passed through the Ramboda Tunnel
again to go to the Annapurani Restaurant situated near the Ramboda Hanuman Temple. We recited the Narasimha Sloka and sang the Narasimha stuti after M.A .Dasa ji.

( View of Hanuman Hill From Annapurani Restaurant )
The bus stopped at the base of the hill and we reached the restaurant by autos. Some went up the steps to the temple to have a quick darshan of Ramboda Hanumanji. The Chinmaya Mission of Sri Lanka built the Hanuman Temple. On every full moon day special pujas are conducted. Thousands of devotees throng to witness the pujas. Full Moon Day is a declared public holiday in Sri Lanka. Poya is another name for Pournami. Each of the full moons has its own name and they are days to commemorate key events in Buddhism. Sep. 27 Sunday (two days after our return from SL) was called Binara Full Moon Poya-- which stands for the establishment of Bhikkhuni order.
Mr.Dasa remarked that Ramayana mentions Ramboda Hills as Suvela Mountain. Rama’s army stayed in the Ramboda Hills when Ravana's army was sheltered at Ravanagoda. The two hills are separated by the Kotmale river. The view of the valley was clearer than what we had seen the previous afternoon

There is a Chariot path above the hills surrounded by jungle through which Ravana carried Sita in the Pushpak Vimana from his capital city Lankapura to Ashoka Vatika which is a paradise on earth. To date no vegetation grows on this path except grass. King Ravana has taken this passage on the top of the hills to show Sita Devi the beauty of his kingdom. There is a pond found on the en route is believed to have been formed by the tears of Sita Devi.

The Sita Tear Pond never dries up even during severe droughts when the adjoining rivers dry up. In this area there are many large trees with red flowers which are called Sita flowers. The petals, stamens, and pistils of the flowers resemble a human figure carrying a bow and is said to represent Lord Rama. These flowers are unique only to this area in the whole of SL.
We had delicious breakfast @ Annapurni in buffet style - tasty idli, vada, pongal, sambar and chutney and  hot filter coffee  The fresh aroma of the coffee  took us back to our kitchens @ home.
By 8.45 A.M. we crossed the Ramboda Tunnel once again towards Nuwara Eliya.(25 KM) to visit the most important places connected with Ramayana in SL.
Nuwara Eliya is the most charming hill station of Sri Lanka and the former golden capital city of Ravana. Asoka Vana grove is close by, where Sita was held captive. The name of the city tells ‘it is a city on the plain or tableland ‘or ‘City of Light ‘. The climate here is temperate, the landscape is picturesque. The city is the capital of Nuwara Eliya District. It is located at an altitude of 6128 feet (1868 M) and this location is considered as the heart or coveted centre for production of Tea (Tea Capital) in Sri Lanka..There is a wide felt belief that Ravana had his capital in Nuwara Eliya which also means ‘the Glade with the City’.  Hanuman burnt the entire city when Ravana ordered to set his tail on fire. The city is  also called as ‘Golden City’ as it has large volumes of Gold. The black soil which still forms a top layer here consists of the ashes of the city burnt by Hanuman.
We started climbing the winding mountain path which has more than 40-50 sharp hairpin bends. Our sarathi Chamith skilfully navigated through the tough route. We watched the tall mountains, verdant forests, gushing rivers (oyas), and mighty waterfalls. Tall pine, oak trees ,GulMohar,  Cassia  trees in full blossom, varieties of shrubs lined the ascending path. We passed through flower nurseries with colorful roses, cannas, hibiscus, tiny white flowers ( nandhiyavattai / chandini), Oleanders (Arali) etc.
The valleys presented a picturesque view with brightly painted farm houses, terrace gardens and step cut cultivation, the latter two to prevent soil erosion, since this region receives heavy rainfall. (Two days after we returned to B’lore we read in the newspaper this location was flooded due to heavy rains and there were landslides)
We passed through areas surrounded by vast tea gardens. We crossed many tea estates and factories.  Tea is cultivated in the central highlands and is a major source of foreign exchange    (4th Largest producer in the world). Hill slopes, cool climate, humidity and adequate rainfall.
make it ideal for tea cultivation

   ( Mackwoods Tea Estate)
Nuwara Eliya is also known as the’ Fruit and vegetable Basket’ of SL. Around 80 different varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown here. Cool and salubrious climatic conditions in the hilly region is suitable for temperate crops such as carrot, leek, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce,
bean , beet, bell pepper, cucumber, sweet bananas, queen pineapple, papaya, watermelon, bread fruit, jackfruit, mangoes, avocado, star fruit, rambutan ,Mangosteen to mention a few. Trucks loaded with fresh vegetables offered a pleasing sight. Our search for rambutan and mangosteen fruits  proved to be futile.
The first sight seeing place ( 9.30 to 10.30 a.m). was Lankadhiswara Temple, also known as Gayatri Peetha. This was also a secret place of Ravana.  Meghnath (Indrajit), Ravana’s son, propitiated Lord Shiva at this place in penance and in turn was granted supernatural powers by Lord Shiva. This place is referred in Ramayana as Nikumbhila..
Indrajit, the invincible was given a boon that he could be killed only by a person who was married but remained as a brahmachari and had not slept for 12 years. Lakshmana fitted this description adequately and vanquished Indrajit in the war. Hence this place is known as Lakshmana Vijaysthala. Gayathri Siddhar Swami Murugesu is the founder of Sri Lankatheeswarar Temple in 1974. This is the first and foremost temple built for Gayathri Amman in Sri Lanka. The Shiva Lingam installed in the temple was brought from the holy river Narmada by Shiva Yogi Maharaj who sanctified and consecrated the Atmalinga at this holy site. There is a belief that the Atmalinga is growing in size. People can enter the Sanctum Sanctorum during Shivarathri and perform abhishekam to the Lord.
There is a black statue of Goddess Gayatri installed on the right side as one enters the temple. here. The idols of Sri Mruthyunjaya, Sri Rama Gayatri, Sri Vishnu Gayatri, Sri Krishna Gayatri, Agastya and Viswamitra Rishis are all installed in the ‘ praharam ‘ and we saw them while we did  pradhikshana. We chanted the Lakshmana Kavacham as led by Dasaji.  We received the prasadams and proceeded to the shrine and museum of Siddhar Murugesu located in the same premises. There is a quiet meditation hall, Siddhar’s personal belongings and number of Saligrams  are kept in a covered glass box. We offered prayers at his samadhi. We noticed children studying for exams in Tamil language in the temple with the help of teachers. (Tamil in a foreign land)!  We came out of the Temple and as the bus was crossing the Nuwara Eliya city it started drizzling. We passed through the Marketplace, Colonial Buildings, .Red brick Building housing the Post Office, Queen Victoria Park, 18 hole Golf Course ,Turf Club,( all built during British rule ) and lovely manicured gardens , etc.

The Queen Victoria Park is located by the Nuwara Eliya City Center and one of the must visit attraction. This park was named so to commemorate the 60th Jubilee Coronation of Queen Victoria in the year 1897. The Park came into being first when a German Princess planted an oak tree during her visit to Nuwara Eliya in later part of 19th century. Victoria Park comes alive with flowers in the month of April .

(Flower garden in Victoria Park)

Next we stopped at the Gregory lake and captured some pictures of the scenic surroundings.
Gregory Lake is located about one kilometer away from the Nuwara Eliya town.

Governor William Gregory built it during the year 1872- 1874. utilizing the water from Nanu Oya which runs across the town.  It is believed that the main intention of building this lake is to generate electricity to the town. It is one of the important tourist attractions in Nuwara Eliya. Visitors go boating and rowing

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                                         (Ashoka Vatika - Front View )

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             ( Front View  of the Temple of Sita Mata)
ASHOKA VANA :- We visited Ashoka Vana (Seetha Eliya ) by 11 A.M. Ashoka Vana or Vatika was the most beautiful garden in the Kingdom of Ravana.

Sita was held captive here. It was here Mandodari met Sita. Hanuman met Sita for the first time in Ashoka Vana and showed the finger ring of Rama to identify him to Sita Devi. Sita stayed here till the end of the battle between Rama and Ravana. Most parts of Ashoka Vana including Premada Vana was destroyed by Hanuman when his tail was set on fire.. Sita is said to have bathed in the stream that runs from the hill.

During 15th Century, Portuguese settlers destroyed the ancient temple and took away the monuments - now seen in Lisbon Museum.
The idols of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita were hidden in the river. About a century ago three idols were recovered in a deformed condition. Now there is a temple for Lord Rama, Sita Devi, Lakshmana & Hanuman by the side of the stream. We saw in astonishment footprints akin to Hanuman’s by this river.
Our Guide pointed out some footprints were small and some large due to the immense
Power of Hanuman to transform himself to any size.
(Hanuman’s footprints)
IMG_0547.JPG        Simshupa Tree                                                                             

    Sita Mata Temple                                                                                       

 We performed archana at Sita Mata temple and chanted Sita Kavacha. Next we saw the famous Simshupa tree where Hanuman was hiding first in Ashoka vatika and his searching eyes found Sita Devi. We went down the rickety iron ladder to the stream where Sita used to take bath and sprinkled the holy water on our heads.

(Sita Stream)

Rama Bhakta Hanuman
The idol of Hanuman is installed diagonally opposite to Sita Mata and we offered our prayers before leaving for the next destination.


Divurumpola (12 noon) 20 KM: - Divurumpola means ‘A Place of Oath’ - Sita underwent the Agni pariksha at Divurumpola after the battle was over. She came unscathed and proved her innocence and purity. The temple is revered for this reason today. We learnt that local disputes get settled at this place and even the legal system accepts and permits the swearing done at this temple while settling disputes between the parties.
The bus was parked on the main road and we walked up an ascending path some 300 meters to reach the temple. The original temple was demolished by the British 150 years back.The Ashoka tree and old walls stand as relics.
There is a Buddha shrine in front. We also saw a number of Buddha idols in bright colours kept side by side in the adjacent room.

A big banyan tree was at the back of the shrine. There is a platform to commemorate the place where Sita’s Agnipariksha is said to have been conducted. At this spot we read Sita Mata’s OATH engraved on a stone in big letters (in Sinhalese, Tamil and also in English).

We also saw the Ashoka Tree with  crimson red flowers.

We then entered a small chamber where the mural paintings from Ramayana like Angulia Pradhanam, Chudamani Dattam and the scene from Agni Pariksha are depicted on the wall.

( Choodamani dattam )

                                                                  ( Angulia Pradanam )                                                                                                     

A purohit performed puja for each one of us and tied a white thread around our right wrists for our protection.
( Agni Pariksha )

We received fruits as prasad and started returning to the bus. We spotted Sangeeth walking towards us in colorful umbrellas as it started drizzling.
We continued towards Ravana Ella (50 KM). We were famished as it was past 2 p.m. We ate biscuits, fruits and chaklis on the way. Jack fruit trees loaded with bunch of fruit and
Mango trees in full blossom were a feast to our eyes.  Monkeys jumping from trees to trees added to our interest. On the way Mr. Dasaji got down to buy yummy Curds in mud pots for our consumption later.

At 3:30 pm we had a picnic lunch (packed from Annapurani restaurant) on the terrace of
Mount Heaven Restaurant.

We relished the rotis, fried rice, dal, sabji with the thick curds set in mud pots (the curds did not spill even when we tilted the pot). We finished the lunch with a glass of cool pineapple juice.  From this top point we had a clear view of the entrance to Ravana’s cave among dense vegetation. The breathtaking view of the valley and the surrounding mountains held our attention for quite some time.
Ravana Cave: - The tunnels inside the Ravana Cave prove the architectural brilliance of Ravana. He used them as secret passage and a quick means of transport. These tunnels networked all the important cities, airport and dairy farms. A close look inside the tunnels.
indicates a palace existed inside the tunnel.

( View of the entrance to the Cave )

Next halt was at Ravana Falls. (4km).

We parked the bus and crossed the road to have a close view of the Falls. The waterfall (1080 Feet high) presents a mighty look cascading into several branches. It is located on the road from Ella to Wellawaya. The stream is a branch of Kirindi Oya. The rocky underground of the waterfalls instead of hard granite consists of Khondalite, a kind of limestone which undergoes decay faster. This has resulted in many caves being formed near the waterfalls. King Ravana is said to have lived in one of the caves above the falls. The falls form part of Ravana Ella Wild Life Sanctuary. According to legend, Ravana hid Sita in the cave behind the waterfalls, now known as Ravana Ella Cave. Ravana’s queen bathed in a pool formed by the falls on the ground level.
Before we leave Nuwara Eliya we want to include a few more places of interest in this area since Mr. Dasaji had mentioned about them. We didn’t visit those places as they were not part of our itinerary, still these places created some curiosity in us. Hence a brief reference about these places follow :-
Piduruthalagala- Mountain
This the highest point in SL overlooking the town in the North. No more walking possible but there is a small path off water field Drive that leads to a waterfall. From there the hikers can follow the river up via seven more waterfalls - a neat hike for adventurous folks. The journey extends up to 7000 feet upward.
Adam’s Peak:- Adam’s Peak is known by many other names like Butterfly Mountain, Sri Pada, Sri Paadaya, Samanala Kanda ( Sinhalese) , Sivanolipatha Malai in Tamil . The Peak is 2243 M .high, conical in shape and located in central SL. It is well known as Sri Pada, the Sacred Footprint, 5’11” long rock formation near the summit, which in the Buddhist tradition is held to be the Footprint of Sri Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Shiva and in Islamic and in Christian tradition that of Adam, or that of St.Thomas. In Islamic tradition it is the site where Adam fell to the Earth where his foot print could be found.
Hakgala Mountain:- In Sinhalese the name means jaw-rock. According to the legend Ramayana Hanuman was sent by Rama to bring a particular medicinal herb found in Himalayas to rescue Sita from the demon king Ravana. Hanuman had forgotten which herb he was looking for and so he decided to bring a chunk of the Himalayas back in his jaw thinking that would have the herb growing on it. The Hakgala Mountain was formed by the chunk of the rock brought from the Himalayas by Hanuman.  
By 5pm we took the road to Kataragama.(120 KM) passing through the Yala National Park. The Yala Park is most visited and second largest (378 sq.m.) in Sri Lanka. Yala was designated as Wild Life Sanctuary in 1900 and 190 miles from Colombo. The park is best known for its variety of wildlife animals. It is important for conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and leopards.  King Ravana is believed to have established his kingdom here with Ravana Kotte, now submerged in the sea as its boundary.
We watched a few peacocks strutting in singles and pairs and a group of deer on the grass land. The sun was on the verge of setting. The vegetation around is mostly bushy and thorny. We were excited to see an elephant on the highway which came very close to our bus.

(Lord Gajendra greeting us before Darshan of Kataragama Skanda)
We also spotted a few elephants resting under the trees. There were sign boards for leopards and bears but we did not come across any. After 3 hours of drive on the forested area we reached Kataragama by 8p.m. the final destination for day 2.
As we entered the town we came across dimly lit houses and shops. We stayed at  Hotel Rajasinghe Holiday Resort. The front yard was spacious with mango trees. We were welcomed with sweet mango juice. After leaving the luggage in our allotted rooms, we freshened ourselves and left for the famous Kataragama Temple. The bus was parked near the market place. We saw large number of shops selling fruits which the devotees were buying for worship at the temple. As it was getting late (8.30 p.m.) we went straight to the temple by walk. (0.5K.M), crossing the bridge over Manik Ganga river. As it was dark, we couldn’t see the flowing water. People take bath in the river Manika Ganga (River of Gems).It is believed one can be healed of ailments by bathing in this holy river because of its high content of gems and also the medicinal properties of the roots of various trees that line the path of the river.

Kataragama (Kathirkamam in Tamil) :- The Temple here is famous for worship of Lord Karthikeya or Skanda, the son of Shiva and Parvati and commander of Demi Gods’ army. He assisted Sri Rama on the final day of the battle with Ravana, as requested by Indra to protect Sri Rama from the wraths of Brahmastra aimed at him for the second time. The Skanda Purana also narrates the well known story how Skanda came to Kataragama.
There was a competition between Ganesha and Skanda for winning a mango fruit. Whoever went round the globe first would be the winner.
Ganesha won the race by going around Shiva and Parvati whereas Skanda encircled the the entire world seated on his peacock (vehicle).  Embarrassed by his defeat, Skanda left Kailasa and after travelling to many places and slaying many demons, finally settled at Kataragama.

Kataragama is also known as Dakshina Kailasa. Kailasa in the Himalayas and Kataragama in the South lie on the same line of Longitude - 80.10 degrees East
.In Kataragama, the Maha Devale or Maha Kovil is dedicated to Skanda- Murugan known amongst the Sinhalese as Kataragama deviyo. It does not have a statue of the deity., instead it holds an Yantra, a spiritual drawing of the deity’s power. There is a curtain in front ,we offered our prayers with hands joined and bowed heads. (Arohara  Muruga Arohara)
Kept in the adjoining room is a statue of Shiva ( Karanduva in Sinhalese ). Within this there is a clay arm chair known as Kalana Mandima, supposedly belonged to Kalyana Giri Swami.
It is covered by a leopard’s skin with all the ceremonial.instruments.

To the left of the main shrine, lies a small shrine of Ganesha (Ganapati Devio). Tamils refer to him as Manica Pillaiyar.


Vishnu Devale is to the left of Ganesha Shrine within which there is a Buddha image also. Behind this there is BO (Bhodi) tree that tradition holds as sprung from the sacred sapling of original BO tree in Anuradhapura - hence held as sacred by the visiting Buddhists.



There are also shrines dedicated to Kali, Pattini, Mangara devio, Dadimunda and Sunyam on the western wall of the shrine -a Shrine dedicated to Teyvainai (DEVAYANI in Tamil) is outside the main shrine which is managed by Sringeri Mutt in Karnataka. Valli shrine is in front of the mosque situated within the temple premises. Kadamba Tree, sacred to Muruga, is close to Valli Shrine. Kataragama Temple is one of the few religious sites in SL that is venerated by the majority Sinhala Buddhists. The temple has a spacious outer area and the walls around the temple (inside and outside) had rows of elephant (on top) and peacock statues (below) which added to the aesthetic beauty of the surrounding                                                                                                       
As we were coming out we were offered the cut fruits (banana, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, mango, passion fruit etc;) as prasad by the devotees (locals). We were touched by their generosity and faith. We took the return path to the bus then proceeded towards the hotel (name not in memory now) for a sattvic, vegetarian dinner. (9:30pm). The menu -   fried rice, rice noodles, raita, a dish with soya nuggets, a Sri Lankan dish with coconut gravy, salad, rice and our favorite curds and 2 scoops of special ice cream for dessert. Everyone did full justice to the hot and tasty food.
We returned to Hotel Jayasinghe. After wishing everyone good night, we retired to our rooms for a peaceful slumber. Soon we were on the laps of Nidra Devi.  Day 2-- in SL was hectic as we visited many places covering nearly 300 KM, yet we were looking forward to the next day’s schedule.
(End of Part-2 - to be continued   - Natarajans, participants of the Tour of Sri Lanka)


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