Monday, October 4, 2010
Mystery of Ravana: Tipped off by a rtd master who wrote to Prof.Somadeva about a grave he had passed everyday on his way to Haldumulla Tamil school.!
A Step back in time
Benign spirits, tombs and Ravana's offspring:
Never would the 'if' factor have loomed so large in your life if you had been here last Sunday. If the dogs had not barked, if the camera had not captured the tiny spots of light, if the house had been built elsewhere... this article would not be written today.
Ravanage Chandrasena with his family
But this is not so. The dogs start to bark at about twelve midnight. Try stepping outside to find out the reason behind their agitation and you find...nothing. You see nothing, you hear nothing, until someone clicks his camera. To everyone's surprise the digital images reveal tiny spots of light. When a mobile phone, in video mode, captures the lights they are seen to be moving. What are they? Not fireflies.
Not the product of overtaxed imaginations. (How else could they have been captured onto a camera?). Mysterious and scary, none of the students of archeology who had watched the lights, could find an explanation for what they had seen in the night.
Unless the lights are spirits, long lost souls from more than 3000 years ago come to tell you their tales, hoping to help you learn more about the kind of lives they had lived here, an uncountable number of moons ago.
Here, means Haldummulla. The leader of the group, Prof. Raj Somadeva, of the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology is in the midst of excavating a 3000 year old cemetery. Tipped off by a retired school master who had written to Prof. Somadeva about a grave he had passed everyday on his way to school, when he taught at the Haldumulla Tamil Vidyalaya, the archeologist and his team have taken residence in a house which they suspect is built on part of the cemetery.
Their mission; to find out more about the men and women who had lived (and died) in the hill country, more than three thousand years ago. This cemetery too, as the school master had correctly deducted is similar to the ancient canoe burial site at Ranchamadama, in Embilitiya.
Minus, of course, the moving lights at night. But, if the lights were benign spirits come to help unravel the past, no one present could try to figure what they were saying.
So, back to the digging; to the pickaxes, brushes, zip-log bags, to unearth a coffin, a clay canoe and small rounded pebbles, which the villagers who stop at the site every now and then to exchange the time of day, identifies as Ravana guli.
Listening to Prof Somadeva's explanation about the furnace which he suspects is where the Ravan guli might have been smelted to make the iron tools and his attempts to trace the path of these settlers, from Horton Plains, down to Kirindi Oya basin, it is easy to recall how barley pollen dating back to thousands of years had been discovered on Horton Plains, and of the capstone burial site at Ibbankatuwa, all of which point to greatly civilized settlements long before the advent of Prince Vijaya.
Three clay canoe burials
What are Ravana guli? One mystery leads to another. (Did Sherlock Holmes say that? If he hadn't he ought to have). While trying to unravel the mystery behind the Ravana guli another mystery begins to form. The mystery of Ravana. Did he really exist? Did he live in Lanka? Are his descendants still among us?
Ask anyone you meet on Ravana Kanda and they will say yes to all three questions. And, if they are in a talkative mood, (which is often the case) they will tell you about a village called Ravanagama. When your curiosity keeps nagging you, telling you to go in search of this strange village, you will undoubtedly decide to leap before thinking. And nothing would match the sense of euphoria you feel, even as you realize all too well curiosity could kill not only cats but amateur hikers too, as you try desperately to stay on your feet on slippery rocks, trek through a thick jungle, cross two rivers, when you finally come across this village named after Ravana.
In Ravanagama everyone is bound to direct you to the abode of Heen Balage Sirisena who will show you an ola leaf which has, inscribed on it descriptions about treating certain ailments, medicine he claims dates back to the days of the great physician, Ravana. As luck would have it the rain which would have followed you all the way to the village is sure to intensify making you a prisoner in Sirisena's house for more than an hour.
For Sirisena, though, the rain allows some breathing space as it keeps him away from the threshing floor where he is threshing the year's harvest of rice.
Making use of this respite he will tell you about the cave where Sita had been hidden, about the aggala that had been given to her, about Rassa gala, and Ravulagala as mentioned in ancient folklore, woven around Ravana.
Descendants of Ravana
Finally to the descendants of Ravana. The family with the name Ravanage. 'I remember how my grandfather carried the Ravana Flag at the Bolthumbe Saman Devalaya' Ravanage Chandrasena recalls in support of his lineage dating back to the demon king, Ravana. As if on cue, the rain which has ceased momentarily begins again. Is this Ravana's doing? Is he trying to prevent further prying?
So, back to base; the house rented by the archeologists for the duration of their stay in Haldumulla. Back to the tools unearthed during the course of the excavations, tools made not of granite, but of flint and quartz.
Back to an imaginary journey to the days before Vijaya's visit, when every hill top in the country from Nuwara Eliya, to Badulla to Ratnapura had probably been prosperous farmsteads.
How many times a year would this soil have been turned? How many would have lived and died here leaving their flesh and bones to turn back into the soil on which you step on, now?
Ask the moving lights outside? Yes, If only you had not walked so far in search of Ravanagama. If only you had been more skillful in navigating the hills and rocks and rivers that lay on your path, if only your legs didn't hurt so much...Ah, the 'if' factor again. If these are not so, then there will be another story to write tomorrow, the story of the spirit orbs. But these are so.
An exhausted body unused to vigorous treks through thick jungles is yearning for sleep. Good night, lights, spirits, orbs.
Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2010 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.