Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lanka Veera Hanuman

Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Ramboda
Hanuman Jayanthi is celebrated in the southern part of India during the Tamil month of Margazhi, Hanuman is seen as an embodiment of courage, true devotion, valour and loyalty and is worshipped not just in India, but in many countries where the Indian diaspora are found. Hanuman's contributions in the legend of Ramayana are signifant and praiseworthy, especially the finding of Sita in Sri Lanka and conveying the message that Rama was on his way to retrieve her.

Although Ramayana is primarily an Indian legend, Sri Lanka has over forty sites associated with it. Just like we have different versions of Ramayana in India - the Valmiki Ramayana, Tulsidas Ramayana and Kamba Ramayana, several literary works in Sri Lanka have revolved around the  Ramayana. Janaki Harana written by King Kumaradasa (506-516 AD) is one such work that focuses on the abduction of Sita. The Mahavamsa also makes references to Ramayana and traditions that evolved from it. While in India, the focus is on Rama as the virtuous and Ravana as the tyrant who abducted Sita, the Sri Lankan versions focus on Vibheeshana as the follower of Dharma and Ravana as the glorious warrior, who even won the affection of Shiva, but faced his doom due to his passion for Sita.

The entrance to Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Rambodha Hills
The Ramayana Sites in Sri Lanka have not been identified just on the basis of mythology and folk lore, but several universities such as the University of Peradeniya, and national and international scholars such as Anand Kentish Coomaraswamy, have done extensive research on this subject and identified these sites,  through a corroboration of literature with archaeology, geography, topography and marine geology, apart from archeo-astronomy by the Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka, such as Rev. Bikku, Chandrajothi Thero.

We shall see a couple of places pertaining to the journey of Hanuman to meet Sita in Lanka, below:

Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Ramboda Hills


The author at the foothill of the Bhaktha Hanuman Temple, Rambodha Hills
This is said to be the first spot that Hanuman landed in Sri Lanka while in search of Sita. On the way to Nuwara Eliya from Colombo, one comes across two hills facing each other, with a deep valley in between. The first is Ramboda hills, a part of the Wevandan Hill range and it has got its name as Rama's forces are believed to have camped here, based on the advice of Hanuman. The hill opposite is called Ravana Bodha and that is where Ravana's army is said to have camped during the battle of Lanka.

The Chinmaya Mission has constructed a beautiful Bhaktha Hanuman Temple on the Ram Bodha hills. After a brief climb atop the hill, one can reach the serene and beautiful settings of the temple. Here, the 16 feet Hanuman, carved out of granite, is seen in his magnificent vishwaroopa form. Every full moon day, special prayers are conducted here, which are witnessed by thousands of devotees.

The 16 feet Bhaktha Hanuman at Rambodha Hills
The temple is open between 7 am and 12.45 pm in the morning and 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm in the evening. There is a vegetarian restaurant within the temple complex that serves tasty yet economical food for the devotees and the book shop here has CDs and books about the Ramayana trail research that has been and is currently being undertaken in the island.

Sita Amman Temple, Ashok Vatika, Sita Eliya

We now take a look at the most important site in the whole of Ramayana. It is the Ashoka Vatika where Sita had been kept by Ravana in the hope that she would agree to marry him. It is here, that Hanuman meets Sita and assures her that Rama is on his way to rescue her from Ravana.

Sita Amman Temple, Sita Eliya
There is a small temple built right next to the Ashoka Vatika at the spot supposed to have been where Hanuman met Sita and is called the Sita Amman Temple. The place looks delightfully scenic and one can well imagine why Ravana would have chosen such a beautiful spot, to entertain Sita and perhaps change her mind. A stream runs right next to the temple with a narrow staircase leading down from the temple to the stream. " This is the route Sita Devi took every day for her bath" explains the priest.

The path that leads to the stream next to the temple
He also points out to the Ashoka Vatika and asks, " Do you see the huge footsteps on the rocks?"  After Hanuman handed over Rama's ring to Sita to identify himself as Rama's messenger and reassured her that Rama was on his way, he decided to set fire to the trees in the Vatika. The priest tells us that even today, there are frequent forest fires among the Ashoka trees, even though the whole area is wet and humid. "Moreover, the trees do not grow beyond a point, they wither and die ", he says, showing us several such trees. 

The huge footsteps of Hanuman at Ashok Vatika
He takes us to the front yard of the temple and shows us the hill ahead. " Can you see Hanuman there?"  he asks. And we do. The face of the cliff is clearly shaped like that of a huge monkey. " He is still here. We feel his presence every day in some form or the other," he continues. 

The hill face that looks like Hanuman
The original deities in the sanctum are said to have been installed by Vibheeshana after his coronation. Newer versions of deities are installed behind the old deities. There is also a separate shrine for Hanuman here.

Dieties said to have been installed by Vibheeshana at Sita Eliya
The temple here is open from 8 am to 1 pm in the morning and from 2 pm to 6.30 pm in the evening.

About 8 kms from Sita Eliya is Divurumpola, the place where Sita entered the fire, before leaving Lanka with Rama. Although this place is now converted into a Buddhist monastery, there is a platform and a plaque to signify the location where Sita entered the fire. Promises made at this place are even still honoured and considered as testaments in Sri Lanka. 

The Buddhist monastery at Divurumpola - the site where Sita entered the fire
These are just a few sites that speak about the valour of Hanuman and his contribution to the retrieval of Sita. Archeo-astrologists in Sri Lanka have even dated the actual date when Hanuman met Sita in Ashok Vatika using the description in literature, and matching them with lunar configurations in the geography and have arrived at 12th September 5076 BC. Not just this date, several other dates of events in the Ramayana right from Rama's birth, have been calculated and agreed upon by scholars and researchers. This is an entire topic in itself and Chinmaya Mission's documentary on this subject throws more light on this. 

There is no doubt that Hanuman is the real hero of Ramayana! Let us worship and celebrate him on his Jayanthi!

Hanuman at Sita Eliya
Acknowledgements: Information Courtesy- Chinmaya Mission Ashrama, Rambodha Hills, Sri Lanka