By Austin Fernando
Ramayana episodes are spread all over the subcontinent, particularly in India and Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka episode in the Ramayana is described as Yuddha Kanda or Lanka Kanda. The places associated with Lanka Kanda are of immense religious and touristic significance for Indians visiting Sri Lanka.
The Government of Sri Lanka has commenced new product creation and facilitation to reach increased tourist arrivals from India. One such is through the development of the Ramayana Trail or visiting places in Sri Lanka associated with Ramayana epic. This is called ‘Ramayan Yatra’.
The existing Ramayana Trail is coordinated with a limited number of Indian operators with Sri Lankan counterparts. The envisaged Ramayan Yatra preliminaries are to create awareness amongst Indian tourists regarding the Ramayana related attractions in Sri Lanka to visit them.
A workshop was conducted on 21 August at the Sri Lanka High Commission attended by Outbound Tour Operators Association members and media. Tourist trade has identified sites connected with the Ramayana epic, spread throughout Sri Lanka, as seen in the map below.
Some of the prominent places are:
- Seetha Matha’s Court – As per legends the site of Seetha Amman, Queen Mandodhari’s Palace
- Gurulupotha, Wariyapola and Thotupola Kanda considered as related to landing of Pushpaka Vimanam or ‘Dhandu Monara’ or ‘flying peacock’
- Ramboda Sri Baktha Hanuman Temple believed to have served as Lord Rama’s military camp and the location where Lord Hanuman guessed the Asoka Vadiga
- Seetha Amman Kovil considered being a part of the Ashoka Vanam holding idols of Seetha Amman, Lord Rama, Lakhsmana and Hanuman
- Presently Hakgala Botanical Garden believed to be a place in proximity to a place that King Ravana held Seetha Amman
- Gayathri Peedam considered as the first temple constructed for Gayathri Amman in Sri Lanka and the Shiva Lingam in this temple is considered to have been brought from Central India
- Rama Setu or Nala Setu a geographical structure considered to have been built by the Vanara Sena (Monkey Army). This bridge is considered to have been engineered by Nala for Lord Rama on the instructions of the Vanara King Sugriva
- Horton Plains World’s End or Pathala Loka – According to legends the place where King Ravana had hidden Lord Rama and Lakshmana
- Ussangoda considered a Vimana landing area torched by Lord Hanuman
- Thiru Koneswaram said to be the place where King Ravana did his penance to Lord Shiva and also the place where Lord Rama installed Shiva Lingams to rid of his Brahma Hatya Dosam (Sin for killing a Brahmin)
- Kanniya – The site where King Ravana is considered to have performed the last rites of his mother. Legends state that he was unable to find water in the area and he pierced the ground with his ‘trishul’ seven times and water started gushing out as his anger subsided, so did the temperature of the water
- Ishtripura – The site where King Ravana is considered to have shifted Seetha Amman when Lord Hanuman came to his kingdom
- Ravana Cave – The manmade tunnels showing architectural brilliance of King Ravana. Six related tunnel mouths have been identified
- Yudhaganawa – the region with no vegetation and considered to be the battlefield in the war between Lord Rama and King Ravana
- Rumassala Sanjeevani Drops – The hilly area believed to be one of five pieces fallen of the Sanjeevini Mount brought by Lord Hanuman to treat Lakshmana and where the vegetation is unique, exotic and showing similarity to some parts of Himalayan region
- Dewundara – Believed to be the site from where the Vanara King Sugriva started his campaign against King Ravana’s forces
- Dunuwila – The place from where Lord Rama had fired the Brahmaasthram, the arrow killing King Ravana
- Divurumpola – The site considered as the place where Seetha Amman had to undergo ‘agni pariksha’ to prove her chastity or innocence
- Munneshwaram – According to legend when Lord Rama left for Ayodhya he stopped at Munneshwaram to rid of his Brahma Hatya Dosham
- Manavari – The first place where Lord Rama installed the first Lingam at the end of the war with King Ravana
- Thiru Ketheswaram – The site of the third Lingam installed by Lord Rama
- Kataragama – Where there is a Kovil dedicated to Lord Karthikeya Subramaniam
- Kelaniya Buddhist Temple – Believed to be the site from where King Vibhishana ruled
- Maha Ravana Kotuwa – Where King Ravana had established ‘Lankapura’
- Neelavari bottomless well – Where Lord Rama’s forces entered Lanka to attack King Ravana and Lord Rama shot an arrow into the ground to release water
- Keerimalai Pond – The site where a sage was cured by immersing in the healing holy waters
The outcome of the Workshop was on steps to be taken to enhance movement of tourists to Sri Lanka on the Ramayan Yatra. In summary, the issues raised and the proposed steps were:
- The limited number of companies engaged in Ramayan Yatra in both countries, which has to be countered through Tour Operators Training events in Chennai and other key cities in India. Trained operators are expected to give publicity through their companies, which will ultimately benefit them economically
- Non-availability of ‘clear’ packages considering different food preparation habits, hotel accommodation standards, drawing mixed tour packages, creation of ‘Pure Ramayana Yatra’ or customised or personalised packages etc. that have to be pre-arranged in consultation between Indian and Sri Lankan tour operators, facilitated by Sri Lankan tourism authorities
- Lack of coordination between the Hindu clergy and tour organisers has to be countered by direct accessing the Hindu Clergy and exposing them to the new Ramayana Yatra narrative because the Indian Hindu clergy is a great conduit to attract potential visitors
- Cost effectiveness of available Ramayana Yatra packages and possibility to integrate awareness creation through International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna Movement) or any other appropriate organisation
- Need for more overarching tourist travel programs and training of Tour Guides including in language competency and training of Chefs in Sri Lanka in selected Indian food preparations (e.g. Gujarat food habits) and especially coordination with inland travel arrangements with logistics companies
- Establishment of separate immigration counters at Bandaranaike International Airport for large Ramayan Yatra Groups visiting Sri Lanka
Explore potential to combine Ramayan Yatra programs with Buddhist Pilgrimage programs in Southern Indian States such as Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. These have to be explored by Sri Lankan and Indian tour operators.
The feasibility exists in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh where the interest is clearly observed in the State Government authorities. The demand is to enhance air connectivity (perhaps reinforced with Palali Air Port development), as requested by the Governor of Odisha and Chief Minister of Andra Pradesh, when the writer met them.
These steps can be further developed through negotiations between tourism authorities, airlines and private sector organisations. This activity need not be left only in the hands of Government functionaries. Stepped-up action will upgrade ‘people to people’ understanding and harmony, public diplomacy between both governments, inclusivity of the State Governments, coordinated by the centre.
Joint efforts will bring business success for both countries. However, freedom to operationalise is more with the private sector, where flexibility for decision making exists. Nevertheless, the main facilitator can be the centre. It is expected the relevant public and private authorities will kick-start to achieve these objectives.
(The writer is the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India.)
Source : FT