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Where Ravana is revered

Where Ravana is revered
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Where Ravana is revered. Ramayana with “Maryada Purusha” Rama at the centre of the epic is a tale that is part of the Hindu ethos, with Rama’s virtues...

Ramayana with “Maryada Purusha” Rama at the centre of the epic is a tale that is part of the Hindu ethos, with Rama’s virtues being extolled in various forms in print, song, theatre, celluloid as well as the Harikatha kalapshekams that were an integral part of India’s rural landscape. “Rama Nama smarana” (Recalling Rama’s name over and over)and the ideal state of governance (Rama Rajya) are concepts that keep alive the flame of devotion and hope in the hearts of many, not only in Rama’s land but in the country that carries strong traces of Ravana, the great Shiva Bhakta and ten-headed king of Sri Lanka, the main antagonist in the epic.

A trip to the tiny island nation to see the Shankari Devi temple one of the 18 Devi temples, revealed a lovely terrain covered with huge king coconut trees and thick vegetation, beautiful beaches with silver sands, Buddha’s statues and shrines and Hindu temples with exquisite architecture. The depictions of the epic Ramayana on stone with Ravana’s statues in the Shankari devi temple outline the impact of Ramyana all the way from Rameshwaram on one side of the Ocean to Mannar on the other, said to have been traversed by the monkey army led by Rama that finally vanquished the Rakshasa King.

A six-hour drive from Colombo took us to Trincomalee the picturesque resort and port city overlooking the harbour, which is home to a number of temples including the Thirukoneeswaram temple which houses the idol of Shankari devi , the Bhadrakali temple and the Kanniya hot springs. Trincomalee which derives its name from the Tamil word “Thiru- Kona- Malai” (Lord of the hill shrine temple) is one of the oldest cities in Asia and a major maritime port in the international trading history of the island. As we drove past the well planned city on our way to the “sea breeze” resorts where we were staying we noticed the neat road ways, well constructed school and college buildings and administrative structures that reflect the interaction between the native and European styles of architecture. Our rooms over looked the sea and we could hear the sound of waves which was like soothing music in the scorching Sri Lankan sun. From our resort we were shown a distant hill skirting the ocean which housed the Tirukoneeswaram temple said to have one of the lingas installed by lord Rama to be cleansed of the “Brahmahatya pathakam” (Sin accrued due to killing a Brahmin) after Killing Ravana who was a grandson of the great Brahmin Sage Pulastya.

At Trincomalee one has to drive past the Sri Lankan army outpost, where all vehicles are stopped and climb the pathway lined with shops selling flowers, decorative items made of sea shells, idols and other pooja items. The drive up hill is beautiful too as one catches glimpses of the ships cruising along in the blue ocean waters as our vehicle moves up the tree lined hilly path. A steep climb and a series of steps takes us to the temple that has the main deity Thirukoneswara at the centre. The temple was decorated elaborately with flowers of all hues with several purple lotuses occupying a predominant place among the offerings and the priests were busy as it was day 5 of the annual temple festival which lasts for 18 days. As SP Balasubramaniam’s “Brahmamurari Surarchita Lingam” was being played in the background, several devotees thronged the temple standing in a queue for a darshan of the main deity. To the left of the main deity stands the idol of Shankari devi, one of the 18 (Asthadasha shakti peethas) described as “Lankaayaam Shankari Devi”by Adiguru Shankaracharya. All around the temple are idols of different gods and goddesses to which the Tamil speaking priests conducted various poojas.

According to some sources the original Devi temple was ambushed by the Portuguese in the 17th century and a new idol was placed at the original site in the Thirukoneshwara temple said to have been rebuilt in the same place. The goddess is also referred to, as Madhavi Devi and the Srichakra near her idol is said to be all powerful according to the local priests. A notable feature on the temple gopuram is a sculpture depicting Ravana with nine heads, the tenth being part of his rudra veena where he uses his intestines to replace broken strings to play without interruption and please Lord Shiva. At one side of the temple stands a bilva tree from where one can see the ocean stretching yonder. Priests first perform a pooja to the Shiva linga under the tree before they go to the main deity of the temple. This sacred spot is kept locked to the general public and only the priests and temple trustees are allowed to be present. The place derives its sanctity from the fact that Rama is said to have felt the disappearance of the Brahma hatya Dosha while going back in the “pushpaka vimana” at this very spot. I was fortunate to be present at this ritual courtesy a lady I befriended during the waiting in the queue. She was one of the trustees and generously took me along for the ritual. We chanced upon another statue of Ravana with folded hands facing the main temple, as we finished a complete circle of the temple complex. It was very clear that the learned scholar Ravana, whose ten heads were supposed to represent the six shastras and the four Vedas still held a place of honour in his kingdom.

The Kanniya hot springs have nine wells with hot water that is said to have come up from spots were Ravana’s sword fell. It is a common sight to see pilgrims bathe from the water in these springs which is supposed to cure skin diseases and arthritis. As night set in, the moon shone in resplendence and we closed our eyes taking in the magic of the silver beams heightened by the sound of the ocean. The Ramboda temple where Hanuman is said to have rested while searching for Sita, the Sita Vatika which is said to be the place where Sita stayed and where a massive footprint of Hanuman stands, Ravana’s Palace to which the roads have been closed are all testimony to the events from the great epic that guides our lives. Gem stones, whale watching, water sports, casinos, spices and tea plantations are all there..... but it is the spirit of the Ramayana that makes Lankaayaan (travel to Lanka) truly memorable.

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