He had traveled a long way..Flown across the sea. Fought monsters along the way. The final hurdle was at the giant fortress of Lanka where he had to meet yet another foe, the goddess guarding Lanka. After successfully defeating her, Hanuman finally crossed the fortress wall and into Lanka.
He paused to wonder at the beauty of the city he was looking at, Ravana’s capital city. The buildings were built of gold, bedecked with precious stones, sparkling like lightning, shining as if they were built with sun’s rays and reaching taller than the clouds, tall enough to even touch the moon. The air was filled with music and the pleasant sounds of women dancing.
It was a city that had no fear of enemies where people enjoyed life to the fullest even in those wee hours of the night.
For those who would like to read Kamban, the Tamil poet’s description my lines above are based on –பொன் கொண்டு இழைத்த மணியைக் கொடு பொதிந்த மின் கொண்டு சமைத்த வெயிலைக் கொண்டு சமைத்த என் கொண்டு இயற்றிய எனத் தெரிவு இலாத வன்கொண்டல் விட்டு மதி முட்டுவன மாடம்
Modern Nuwera Eliya is considered to be the capital city of the most famous SriLankan king Ravana. It is the hill country in the Central province, the highest point in SriLanka. Seeing the place, one would tend to agree with the description of the city in the epic Kamba Ramayana, that narrates Rama’s story.
The name of the region literally translates to “City of Light”.
The entire region is situated among the clouds. So the buildings that rise from there could have only reached farther; as the poet imagines, probably to the moon.
Nuwara Eliya is also famous for its precious stones and rich natural resources. So it is easy to visualize lavish buildings decorated to their best, shining like the rays of the sun. If there was a place fit to be the majestic king’s abode this had to be it.
Sita shivered a little. It was cold. She wondered how much longer she would have to endure being in Ravana’s captivity, away from her beloved Rama. She despaired over if he knew where she was; and if he was well; and if he would come to rescue her. The fragrance of the Asoka flowers in the garden where she had been kept captive was mesmerizing. She found them repulsive as they reminded her that she was away from her beloved.
The rakshasa (demons) ladies guarding her swooned, seduced by the fragrance, missing their boyfriends and cursing Sita for being so inflexible. After all, the might King Ravana is begging her to be one of his wives and she dares to refuse him!!
Sita’s misery was soon to end as the monkey God Hanuman, Rama’s messenger had at last made it to Lanka. As he proceeded to produce proof to the skeptical Sita that he has indeed come from Rama, her joy knew no bounds. Hanuman assured her that he would sonn come back with Rama and a large army to defeat Ravana and take Sita back home.
Before going back though, Hanuman decided to leave a mark. He grew to an enormous size and started destroying the beautiful garden. He crushed all the guards who came to subdue him. After a putting up a valiant fight, he finally gave up himself to be bound by the powerful Brahmastra.
The bound messenger sought audience with Ravana and during that meeting, advised Ravana to let go off Sita before Rama destroys Lanka with his army. Ravana was furious that a monkey was advising him and ordered the guards to kill him. Fortunately wisdom prevailed. Killing a messenger was a sin. So instead he let him go after setting fire on his tail. Hanuman used the fire on his tail to burn down the entire city before he went back to Rama.
So goes the legend. And the people of Nuwara Eliya show the black top soil of the area as the proof of Hanuam burning down Lanka.
Not far from the city of Nuwara Eliya, sits Sita Eliya, a beautiful spot by a stream surrounded by Asoka trees where Sita is said to have been kept captive. There is a footprint, if you can imagine that rock formation to be one, which is claimed to be Hanuman’s footprint. The place now has a temple to Sita and Hanuman and is full of monkeys.
The battle between Rama and Ravana’s forces is a spectacular one. The chapters that describe this war form the largest section of the epic. We read Ramayana in our houses every year and every time we read it, we try to imagine the scenes which go something like this:
Hanuman picked up a boulder and threw it on the rakshasas. Sugreeva unearthed a whole hill and destroyed a part of Ravana’s army with it.
Indrajit, Ravana’s son, flew up in his chariot and fought, well hidden in the clouds.
Angada, Vali’s son, uprooted a huge tree and fought with it.
The acts sounded super human as we read the lines.
But walking around in Nuwara Eliya, it was easy to imagine those scenes unfolding. There were clouds. Everywhere. Our cabin was submerged in clouds. So hiding in the clouds to fight must have been so easy for Indrajit!
There was no dearth of huge trees or boulders. We could almost see Sugreeva and Angada picking up the trees and boulders to fight.
In fact, there was no other way the armies could have fought in that hilly region.
I went into Nuwara Eliya expecting not more than a pleasant weekend among the woods. I left the place having come face to face with Ravana.
Ravna is not your ordinary villain. He was a great King, pious, valiant, handsome, majestic, his only flaw being his desire for Sita and abducting her and forcing her to be his wife. While the great epic ends with Ravana’s defeat and demise, you leave the story only with respect for the character; a feeling well echoed when you visit Nuwara Eliya.