Folk Tales of Sri Lanka

Mount Lavinia

The city’s name is built up around the original residence of Sir Thomas Maitland who was the Governor General of Ceylon from 1805–1811. At a welcoming party held in his honour on his arrival to the island, he saw Lovina, a beautiful local dancer of European and Sinhalese ancestry. It was love at first sight. Sir Thomas was smitten by her smile and charms and soon found himself infatuated by her, taking every measure possible to see more of her. As it was unconventional for an unmarried British Officer to be seen associating with a local dancing girl, Sir Thomas and his lover met in secret. Legend says she was smuggled into his mansion through a secret tunnel that led from her father’s well into a wine cellar in the house.

In 1811, social convention and duty to his king led Sir Thomas Maitland to leave the country for Malta forcing him to abandon his zealous lover, Lovina. In Malta, he lived and died as a bachelor and the tunnel in the old house was eventually sealed in 1920 and the gypsy village that surrounded the Governor’s mansion developed into a modern bustling city that took its name from the beautiful Lovina. Today the governor’s home is the Mount Lavinia Hotel, yet the history of the passionate affair has been preserved within the walls and high ceilings. The statue of ‘Lady’ Lavinia, as the girl later became known, is still found in the middle of a water fountain at the entrance of the Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Sinhabahu

Long ago in the land of Vanga in India, the King of Vanga had a beautiful daughter whom fortunetellers believed would one day be kidnapped by a lion. One day as she was riding in a carriage near Lala country, a lion attacked and kidnapped the princess, taking her away to a cave which he blocked with a huge rock. Years went by and all efforts to find the princess failed. She eventually accepted her life with the Lion and a few years later gave birth to twins, a son, Sinhabahu, who had hands that resembled the paws of a lion, and a daughter, Sinhasivali.

As they grew older, Sinhabahu asked his mother why they were kept in the cave like prisoners and his mother told him what had happened to her so many years earlier. Saddened by her fate, Sinhabahu was determined to break the cave entrance. One day when the Lion had gone out to hunt, Sinhabahu pushed away the rock and escaped with his mother and sister. The King of Lala country was elated to see the long lost princess return. However when the Lion returned, he was outraged to find his family missing and set out to find them, attacking villages and scaring the people of Lala as he went. The King of Lala country asked Sinhabahu to stop the Lion. The encounter did not go well and Sinhabahu accidentally pierced his own father’s heart with a bow, killing him.

For his heroic deed, the King of Lala country built a city for Sinhabahu, named it Sinhapura, and crowned him King of the city. Years later, Sinhabahu married and had a son named Vijaya. Prince Vijaya was a mischievous young man with an unsuitable group of friends. People often complained to Sinhabahu about his son’s behaviour and the trouble they caused them leaving Sinhabahu no choice but to banish Prince Vijaya from Sinhapura. The Prince and seven hundred of his friends were given a ship and asked to leave. After sailing for several days they landed in Lanka.
When Prince Vijaya reached the island of Lanka, they met a female devil named Kuveni, with whom after a bad start they made friends with. Prince Vijaya and Kuveni later got married and they had a son and a daughter. Years later Prince Vijaya was able to subdue all the devils in the country with Kuveni help. He became the King of Lanka and gave up his early playful life, became very responsible and ruled the country justly.

Rama and Sita

Prince Rama was a great warrior who was married to a beautiful goddess named Sita. They lived happily in one of the most luxurious kingdoms and Prince Rama was destined to take over the throne after his father reign. Unfortunately his wicked stepmother had tricked his father into sending him away into the forest for she wanted the throne to be given to her son, Prince Rama’s younger half-brother. Before he left the palace, Rama begged Sita to stay in the palace while he stayed in the forest; however she was deeply in love with Rama and declared it was a thousand times better to be in the forest with Rama than in the richest palace without him.

So Rama and Sita prepared to leave the palace together and lived a peaceful, simple life in a small cottage in the heart of the forest. However their peace was soon disturbed as the beautiful Sita was spotted by the terrible demon king, Ravana. Ravana was frightening inside and out, with a terrible temper and twenty arms, ten heads, eyes as red as coal fires and a mouthful of yellow fangs. As soon as Ravana saw Sita, he immediately decided to kidnap her and make her his wife. One day, as Rama and Sita were enjoying a walk in the forest, they came across the most beautiful golden deer. Sita was so delighted by the little deer that she begged Rama to catch it for her. Rama hesitated sensing it was some sort of demonic trick however due to Sita’s adamant pleas he agreed and went after the deer. Meanwhile, Ravana was watching and as soon as he saw Sita alone, swooped down and swept her into his chariot, hurriedly taking her away to the island of Lanka. Despite her terror Sita thought quickly and scattered her jewellery on the forest ground as a trail for Rama to follow.

In the midst of the forest, Rama tracked down the beautiful deer. But when he caught it, it turned into a terrible demon that broke away from Rama’s grasp and flew into the sky. Realising that his instincts had been right had, Prince Rama ran back to where he had left Sita. His heart filled with dread to find her gone and he searched frantically until he came upon the trail of jewellery. He followed this golden trail until he met Hanuman, the powerful monkey king. Hanuman decided to help Rama find Sita and sent a message to all the monkeys and other animals worldwide to help in the search. Hanuman himself went to the island of Lanka where Sita was being held prisoner after she had refused to marry the evil Ravana.

Hanuman went back and returned with Rama and a great army of animals. The animals fought Ravana’s evil army of demons in a long and terrible battle until at last Rama faced Ravana. Rama took up his special bow and arrow that had been made by the sky god. He chanted a special prayer and shot piercing Ravana’s chest in a blinding flash and Ravana fell dead in an instant. The entire world rejoiced as the reign of the demons was over and Rama and Sita returned to their own country to rule and live happily ever after.

Queen Vihara Maha Devi

Sri Lanka was once ruled by a very harsh king named Kalantissa. It is said that King Kalantissa unjustly suspected a high priest of treason and had him murdered in a cauldron of boiling oil, throwing the body in to the sea. This wicked deed angered the sea gods and they cast powerful spells that caused the ocean to rush in and flood the land. The people grew restless and scared, pleading to the king for help. He turned to the astrologers for help however to his dismay all they declared was that the only way to placate the sea gods was to sacrifice the most beautiful virgin in the land. It was discovered that the most beautiful virgin was the king’s only daughter, Devi. Naturally the king was reluctant to sacrifice his daughter, however hearing this Devi came forward and told the king that she would sacrifice herself for her country.

A few days later, a golden boat was built and Devi was ceremonially sacrificed to the sea gods. As soon as she set off, the sea suddenly turned calm again and the water receded. However she was gravely missed by her parents and people who were upset over the loss of their brave princess. Fortunately the winds were favorable to her and the boat drifted south landing in Hambantota. The people of Hambantota saw the boat approach and ran to inform their king, Kawantissa. When Kawantissa went to greet a tired and hungry Devi, he fell in love at first sight and took care of her and made her his chief queen. Devi was a devoted queen who loved her religion and her country. She gave countless almsgivings and assisted sick monks. She was a brave woman who even had clever fighting skills which assisted her people in war. She gave birth to two sons who grew up to be great leaders of their nation, King Dutugemunu and King Saddhatissa, while Viharamaha Devi herself is recognised as the greatest heroine of Sri Lanka.

The Legend of Sigiriya

King Dhatusena had two sons and a daughter. The elder son Kasyapa, according to legend, was born to a mother of unequal birth but Moggollana the younger son, was born to a mother of equal caste. He loved his charming daughter and gave her in marriage to his sister’s son and made that son the commander in chief. King Dhatusena was a great man who built 18 Viharas for the Theravada monks and also constructed 18 irrigation tanks for the people. Above all, he built the famous Kala Weva, which is one of the greatest irrigation works of the Sinhalese and it is functioning in all its glory, even today.

However due to his power and intelligence, he had many enemies. One enemy in particular was able to influence Prince Kasyapa to turn against his own father because Kasyapa’s mother was not from a royal family and he was not entitled to the kingdom which would have gone to his younger brother Moggollana. One day in a fit of rage, Kasyapa seized the kingdom by force and imprisoned his father, murdering him by walling him alive. When this happened a terrified Moggollana fled to India in fear.

Knowing that one day his younger brother would return for revenge, Kasyapa went to Sigiriya Rock where he cleared the land, surrounded it with a wall and built a staircase in the form of a lion. He collected treasures and kept them there, well protected. Then he built a fine palace and dwelt there like a God, living a lavish, extravagant life.

In a few years, his brother Moggollana came back to Sri Lanka with an army and approached Sigiriya to fight Kasyapa. On hearing of the approach of his brother, Kasyapa marched with his army to fight his brother, and fought a mighty battle. During that battle Kasyapa, on his elephant saw a swamp in front of him and turned his elephant to seek another road. Unfortunately his soldiers thought that he was retreating and broke up in disorder. This misunderstanding of his soldiers, made Kasyapa lose his battle and take his life with his own dragger. Even though the legend says that Kasyapa lived in fear of Moggollana, it is not easy to believe this, because Sigiriya is not the work of a man who lived in fear. It is obviously, the work of a great artist and architect. There is no doubt about Kasyapa’s courage and self-assurance as he had left for his 20th century descendants perhaps, the eighth wonder of the world.