What do you dream of? Love? Happiness? Money? Or maybe Wisdom? In my case, it was none of those. I dreamt of faith; something I had lost and was desperate to regain. For this purpose, I set out on a 3000-kilometer journey retracing Lord Hanuman’s epic quest from the Ramayana. I walked around 1200 kilometers across South India, starting from Hampi all the way to Kanyakumari. After finishing the hike, I motorbiked 2000 kilometers around Sri Lanka, exploring various Ramayana places to see in Sri Lanka.
There are around 40 major and minor sites (temples, caves, gardens, mountains and heritage sites) associated with the Ramayana, spread across Sri Lanka. Most of these are easily accessible. But there are a few that are ridiculously hard to locate even with maps and detailed directions. There are several tour agencies in Sri Lanka that offer package tours to visit the major Ramayan sites in Sri Lanka. If you want to visit all the Ramayana Places to see in Sri Lanka, all major and minor ones, you’re on your own.
Ramayana Places to see in Sri Lanka
Shiva Temples in Sri Lanka
The first Ramayana site I visited in Sri Lanka was the Munneswaram temple, located near Chilaw. There are three Siva temples in Sri Lanka associated with the Ramayana and they are connected through the following story. After winning the war, Lord Rama started the journey back to Ayodhya. Unfortunately, he had acquired the Brahmana Hatya Dosham for killing Ravana. At Munneswaram, he felt the Dosham weaken and prayed to Lord Siva for a solution. Lord Siva advised him to install four Siva Lingas at Manavari, Thirukoneswaram, Thiruketheeswaram, and Rameshwaram and pray to them to get rid of the Dosham.
Munneswaram Temple, Chilaw
The Munneswaram temple complex consisted of several smaller temples, with the chief one dedicated to Lord Siva. During my visit, the temple had a festive atmosphere to it. It was decorated with flowers and completely lit up with lamps and lights making for an amazing sight. Though it was filled with devotees, there was no pushing or shoving and despite my shabby appearance, people welcomed me with smiles.
I offered my prayers and noticed an odd custom in this temple. The offerings to the Gods were watermelons, papayas, oranges, bananas, apples, and a dozen other types of fruits. Apparently, this is the norm in temples across Sri Lanka.
Manavari Sivan Kovil near Chilaw
The next morning I visited the Manavari Sivan Kovil which is located ten kilometers north of Chilaw. The Manavari Sivan Kovil (Eswaran Kovil) is a small temple considering its huge religious significance. It has the first Siva Linga that Lord Rama installed to get rid of the Brahmana Hatya Dosham. The Siva Linga present in the temple was established by Lord Rama himself and hence is known as the Ramalingam. Since it is believed that Lord Rama was born in 5114 BCE, it would mean that the Siva Linga was more than seven thousand years old!
I then proceeded towards Talaimannar, the geographically closest point to India and the other end of Rama Setu (Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge). As per legend, once Lord Hanuman had located Sita Devi in Lanka, the Vanara army moved towards Lanka swiftly and arrived at the ocean. Under the guidance of Nala, the Vanara architect, they proceeded to build a bridge (Rama Setu) to Lanka using rocks which had Lord Ram’s name written on it. A few of these floating rocks (coral) used in building the bridge to Lanka can be seen at the Panchamukhi Hanuman temple in Rameshwaram.
The Sri Lankan Navy offers boating at Talaimannar from a dock near the old lighthouse. At certain places, where the water is shallow, the remnants of the bridge can still be seen.
After visiting Rama Setu, I headed back to town for dinner. I entered a small restaurant and started talking to the owner about the route to Thiruketheeswaram. Once he found out that I was from India and about my journey, he let everybody in the restaurant know. Soon everybody was gathered around my table discussing cricket, politics, corruption and the religious sites. Strangers came over and offered a friendly handshake, a smile and wished me luck on my journey. It was incredible, how many people were interested in my journey and offered me advice and support.
Thiruketheeswaram temple at Mannar
The next morning I proceeded towards the Thiruketheeswaram temple, which is located around 10 kilometers from Mannar town along the Mannar Highway. This is the second of the three Siva Lingas in Sri Lanka. Legend has it that this temple was built by Ravana’s father-in-law, Mayan, the master architect, who also built the Mayasabha at Indraprastha.
The Portuguese destroyed this temple and it was only restored in the early 1900s after the original Siva Linga was excavated. Before it was destroyed, it was supposed to be the largest of the Siva temples in Sri Lanka. Considering that the Mannar Fort, the churches in Mannar, and the Hammershield Fort at Kayts were built with stones from the demolished temple, you can imagine how huge the original temple would have been.
The temple had multiple courtyards with various idols dedicated to the gods. The entrances to these courtyards were all lined up perfectly. I could see the Siva Linga past the doorways from the entrance of the temple. An incredible sight which left me with a feeling of calm.
On the way back to town, my bike took the opportunity to give me a hard time. I had left the headlight on while taking a call which drained the battery. Looked around, but there was nobody to seek help from since it was an isolated area. I tried to jump-start the bike and nearly gave myself a heart attack in the process. Thankfully, some, kind college kids turned up and helped me get it started. Considering all the help and support I received, I really wanted to believe in people but some things just couldn’t be forced; I remained skeptical.
A few days later, after visiting Anuradhapura and several other heritage sites, I visited the Koneswaram Kovil, located in Trincomalee town. The Koneswaram Kovil is the last of the three sites where Lord Ram performed Puja to get rid of the Brahmana Hatya Dosham. It was built by Sage Agastya and is referred to as Dakshina Kailasam (Kailash of the south). In addition, it is also a Maha Shakti Peetha. The temple is located on a hill, which overlooks the harbor and the views it offers are simply brilliant.
Dakshin Kailasam in Sri Lanka is located on the exact longitude as Mount Kailash
Legend has it that Ravana’s mother who performed Siva Linga puja daily couldn’t find a Siva Linga to perform puja one day. To help her complete the puja, Ravana went to Dakshina Kailasam and performed penance for a Siva Linga. Upon receiving no response, he got angry and tried to lift the mountain but was pummeled by Lord Siva. He didn’t learn his lesson, pulled out his sword and inflicted a huge cut in the hill (Ravana cut) for which he was punished by Lord Siva. To pacify Lord Siva, Ravana fashioned a veena from his head and arms and sang hymns in his honor. Lord Siva was pleased and gave him his blessings and a Siva Linga.
An ancient temple, it finds mention in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Under the patronage of a series of Chola kings, it grew rapidly and had a huge Gopuram with a thousand pillars. At the heights of its glory, the temple grounds consisted of the entire hill. With every rise comes a fall, and in 1622 the temple was destroyed by the Portuguese. It was only reconstructed after the idols of Lord Siva, Parvathi and Ganesh were found buried underground.
In 1956, the famed author, Arthur C. Clarke discovered the legendary Swayambhu lingam (the Linga that was established by Ravana) while scuba diving.
Cut to the present day – the lower part of the hill is occupied by the army, who carefully monitors visitors. Along the road to the temple, there were shops selling various items like puja material, clothes, toys, and food.
People welcomed me here as well, as was the case at all the places I had visited. They were warm and friendly and always invited me for a meal at their homes. I wondered if it had anything to do with the way I was behaving rather than the people themselves. I was certainly enjoying the trip and thus always had a smile on my face. Definitely more welcoming than when I would usually be when I was stuck in peak traffic, driving to work!
My next destination was the Cobra Hood Cave at Sigiriya, another World Heritage site, located 15 kilometers from Dambulla town. According to legend, Ravana was afraid that Sita Devi would be found by Lord Rama’s allies and hence he kept shifting her across multiple locations like Ishtripura, Sita Pokuna, Ussangoda, Sita Kotuwa, and Ashoka Vatika. The Cobra Hood Cave in Sigiriya is said to be one of these places where she was held, prisoner.
Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) is an ancient capital of Sri Lanka and is one of its kinds thanks to its location – built around and on a huge rock, 180 meters high. It was established as a capital during the reign of King Kashyapa (477 to 495 AD) after he murdered his father and seized the kingdom from its rightful heir, his brother Moggallana. Kashyapa built it to serve as a defensive fortress and pleasure palace. Ironically, he lost a battle against his brother at the fortress itself after which it was handed over to the monks thus ensuring that both the purposes were not satisfied.
Since Sigiriya was a fortress, it had the mandatory defensive structures – walls, towers, gates, and moats which at one point in time had crocodiles. I guess it would have been fun to throw those pesky ninjas, spies, and dissenters to the crocs. Within the walls, there were several ‘Water’, ‘Boulder’ and ‘Terraced’ gardens all along the path that led towards Sigiriya rock.
Halfway up the hill, there was a ‘Mirror Wall’ – a plastered wall which in its prime had been polished to such a high degree that it functioned as a mirror for Kashyapa. The mirror had been well visited in the past and hence there was a lot of ancient graffiti on the walls. The desecration had somehow merged itself with the art and was now considered a part of it! I wondered if the “Raju loves Rani”, “Mera baap chor hai” and “Idhar pishaff mana hai” scribbled on our tourist sites would be considered a part of our heritage in the future as well.
Bhakta Hanuman Temple, Ramboda
Located around 50 kilometers from Kandy, near Ramboda on the route to Nuwara Eliya is the Sri Bhakta Hanuman Temple. According to legend, this is one of the locations where Lord Hanuman searched for Sita Devi. The ‘Sita Tear Pond’ is located nearby, which is said to be formed from Sita Devi’s tears. This was also the place where the two armies faced each other for the first time, Lord Rama’s army on the Ramboda hillside and Ravana’s on the other side, separated by the Ramboda Lake.
The Ramboda Sri Bhakta Hanuman temple was established here by the Chinmaya mission and is perched high on top of a hill that overlooks the lake. It was near the temple that I had one of the most exasperating experiences of the trip. As I was driving, I saw a puppy sitting and wailing in the middle of the highway. I parked to the side, picked him up, and carried him to the side of the road. I bought him something to eat from a nearby shop and turned around, only to find the little bugger standing in the middle of the road again. Once again, I approached him, but this time, he ran away. I tried to chase after him, but in my haste, I was almost run over by a truck.
In the few seconds, it took for the truck to pass, the bugger had disappeared. ‘Had he been run over?’ I wondered until a passerby pointed out that he had run into a nearby house. I swear that if he hadn’t run off, I would have killed him myself!
Experiences & Learnings during Travel
This was when I noticed a bunch of people standing on the other side of the road, laughing their asses off. I tried to salvage my pride (whatever was left of it) by stepping into a restaurant. It hurt to have people laughing at me when I was trying to do the right thing. I only realized that people were laughing at the hilarity of the situation rather than at me when the owner of the restaurant, a portly fellow, pointed it out to me, all the while guffawing loudly. He had seen what had happened and offered to reopen the kitchen for me. He even declined my offer to pay for my meal. Kindness indeed.
Over the next few days, I visited Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Adam’s peak (which is supposed to have a footprint of Lord Siva) and several other sites. I eventually ended up at Horton’s Plains National Park, around 30 kilometers from Nuwara Eliya which was the location of Patal Lok aka World’s End. This was the place where Ahiravana held Rama and Lakshmana prisoner after capturing them. They were later rescued by Lord Hanuman in his Panchmukha form.
Hanuman rescued Rama and Lakshmana from Ahiranavan in his Panchmukhi form
Located close to Horton’s Plains is the Hakgala Gardens or Ashoka Vatika, the place where Ravana kept Sita Devi prisoner, as Queen Mandodari would not allow her to be brought into the royal palace. This was also the place where Lord Hanuman first met Sita Devi and passed to her Lord Ram’s ring.
An incredibly beautiful garden with thousands of species of plants and hundreds of butterflies flying around. In the spring season, the gardens were supposed to look their best with all the flowers in full bloom; unfortunately, for me, that was a long way off.
Sita Amman temple
After visiting the Hakgala gardens, I walked over to the Sita Amman temple, which was located right across the road. According to legend, Sita Devi bathed in the stream near the temple. There are also several footprints in the stones near the stream which are said to be Lord Hanuman’s.
Was it fate that ensured that I walked it right in time to have a life-altering experience or was it just dumb luck? I still wonder about that.
More travel experiences
“After offering my prayers, I sat in the corner of the temple in silence. A little girl walked over and gave me some of her Prasad along with a huge smile. It was very kind of her and it struck me how children can be so innocent and trusting. My misanthropy went into overdrive and reminded me of the dangers and grim consequences that had been drilled into my head far too many times. I wanted to shout at the little girl, tell her that the world wasn’t a safe place, that there were real monsters out there that she should stay close to the safety of her family, but I didn’t. Why, is a good question.
After receiving her kindness, who was I to destroy her innocence, her unquestioning belief in goodness? Was I a guardian and of what? If anything, I had to guard that, the part of humanity’s divinity I had just experienced.
It certainly wasn’t that reason alone. It was also because I was selfish. I wanted to see that innocence for longer, the faith in humanity. It made me forget my doubts and fears. It was something that I had lost a long time back and the loss had left me jaded. Why would I want to do that to someone else?
I realized that I was nothing at that moment, but the doubt that haunts all of the humanity; the one that makes us think before smiling at a stranger; the one stops us from saying a kind word or extend a helping hand. It had to die; I had to kill it and now was the time.
While the incident in itself was trivial, something that I would have brushed aside on any normal day of my life, in that situation, it affected me a lot. It is hard to explain, but there are these experiences – the ones at exactly the right place and the right time. They could be as small as a stranger’s words, a line in a book, and a dialogue from a movie or as large as an accident, but these are the ones that change our lives and define who we are. This was the one that gave me back my faith in humanity“
Divurumpola Temple, Nuwara Eliya
The next day, I visited the Divurumpola temple which is located 20 kilometers from Nuwara Eliya on the road to Welimada. Legend has it that Sita Devi performed the Agni Pariksha at this place and there is a temple there to mark the spot. The word ‘Divurumpola’, itself meant ‘place of oath’ in Sinhala. The temple is very famous for Sita Devi’s oath and the locals accept oaths made at this temple as a means to settle disputes! The Bodhi tree present in the complex is a descendant of the sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi at Bodh Gaya – the tree under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment.
Ravana Temple & Caves
Located around 2 kilometers from Ella are the Ravana temple and caves. The Ravana temple is quite small and surprisingly does not have an idol of Ravana despite its name. The Ravana caves are very close to the temple, about five hundred meters uphill from the entrance of the temple. Legend has it that Ravana built this cave network, which extended across Sri Lanka. The purpose behind these tunnels was to connect various locations of his empire and serve as a secret means of espionage, reconnaissance, and escape.
The entrance to the cave was huge and so was the main chamber of the cave. There were three tunnels from the main chamber, tunnel one, which was the largest, ended after twenty feet, tunnel two, ended after ten feet, and tunnel three, which was the smallest didn’t seem to have an ending.
Ussangoda – the city that Hanuman burnt
It was near the end of my trip that I reached Ussangoda. According to legend, Ussangoda is one of the cities of Ravana’s kingdom that Lord Hanuman burnt down. After he found Sita Devi, Lord Hanuman decided to meet Ravana, so he allowed himself to be captured by Indrajit, the most valiant of Ravana’s sons. Ravana wanted to teach Lord Hanuman a lesson so he instructed his demons to set Hanuman’s tail on fire. Things got heated and Lord Hanuman burnt down the city of Lanka. Following the destruction of Lanka, he leaped to Ussangoda, an airport with Vimanas and razed it to the ground as well.
Tricky to locate
As was the case with a lot of the sites related to the Ramayana, Ussanagoda was tricky to locate. It was clearly marked on the map (30 kilometers from Hambantota on the Hambantota – Tangalle highway), but once we got to the location, we couldn’t see any signboards nor find people who knew the place. Eventually, a kind soul took pity on me and gave me specific directions, “Take a left off the highway near the factory, follow the road, and take a walk when it ends near the cliffs.” I followed his directions to the T and managed to get lost again. My internal compass was broken beyond repair and was probably less functional than a suicidal lemming; at least they could find the edge of the cliffs!
After an hour of searching, I ran into a little boy who led me to Ussanagoda. Thick shrubbery surrounded the three kilometers circular plain and the soil was bright red in color. No shrubbery grew in the plain itself, though, supposedly due to the fire that burnt down the place.
The final location I planned to visit was Rumassala, a small hill located around near Unawatuna. During the Ramayana war, Indrajit wounded Lord Lakshmana. Noticing how critical the wounds were, Jambavanta, the king of bears, asked Lord Hanuman to fetch four medicinal herbs (Mrita Sanjeevani, Vishalyakarani, Suvarnakarani, and Sandhani) from the Rishabha Mountain in the Himalayas. Hanuman flew all the way to the Himalayas, but could not identify the herbs, so he decided to pick up the entire mountain and fly back with it to Lanka. Along the way, several pieces of the mountain are said to have fallen off at places like Sirumalai (India), Rumassala, Ritigala, Doulkanda and Talladi (Sri Lanka). To this day, medicinal herbs are extracted by traditional healers from each of these locations.
More Ramayana Places
There are several other places related to the Ramayana in Sri Lanka to visit like Nagadeepa (the location where Lord Hanuman was tested by Surasa Devi, the mother of the Nagas), Kataragama (Lord Kartikeya temple), Sita Kotuwa (where Sita Devi was kept, prisoner), Laggala (hill from which Lord Rama’s army was seen), Yehangala (where Ravana’s body was displayed), Kelaniya temple (Vibhishana temple), Kanniya (underground springs created by Ravana) which I haven’t detailed out in this article due to how long it was getting.
So at the end of it, if you ask me if undertaking a journey of this nature and scale was worth it, my answer would be “Yes, absolutely”. All through the journey, I experienced ‘signs’ that gave me an insight into the nature of faith and a reason to believe. My journey across Sri Lanka restored my faith in humanity and made me a better person. At the end of the day isn’t that all that matters?
This is a guest post on ‘Ramayana Places to see in Sri Lanka’ by Harsha – the author of Monkeys, Motorcycles, and Misadventures. For maps, photographs and additional details about the journey, please visit MMM’s Facebook page. You can read a sample of MMM here or purchase a copy here. My review of Monkeys, Motorcycles, and Misadventures.