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Monday, April 17, 2000



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A Sita temple in Sri Lanka

Saggere Ramaswamy

Lush greenery and huge mountains greet a visitor to the town of Nuwara Elia in Sri Lanka, famous for its distinctively flavoured export-quality tea. An Indian tourist entering this commercially vibrant town, about 150 km from Colombo, would be happy to k now that it is home to a Sita temple, built on the spot where she was imprisoned by Ravana.

Naturally, expectations are high. A devout Indian visitor would expect thousands of pilgrims lined up for a darshan of Sita and Lord Rama. More so, when one considers that Hindus are the second-largest community in the country. But there are not many vis itors. Perhaps, its potential as a tourist spot has not been fully exploited. Apart from the local Tamilians, it is estimated that only about 100 people from India visit the temple every month.

The temple itself is a small isolated edifice, housing the idols of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Besides modern wood-crafted idols of the three deities, the temple also has three stone idols depicting Sita, Rama and Lakshman in their old age, which are beli eved to have been discovered there itself. The formal structure that represents the temple is just a few months old -- it was inaugurated only on January 26, 2000. About 1,000 religious leaders from India took part in the proceedings.

According to the epic Ramayana, the demon king Ravana, ruler of Lanka (not Sri Lanka), abducted Sita, wife of Rama, during their 14-year banishment and confined her to his Ashoka Vana. Rama rescued Sita after a fierce battle in which the 10-headed Ravana was killed.

Every Indian visitor to the Sita Elia temple asks the question: Where is Ashoka Vana? G.T. Prabhakaran, in-charge of the temple, points to the surrounding hills and says, ``This entire place is the Ashoka Vana. They say there were a lot of Ashoka trees h ere, which is why it was called Ashoka Vana.'' `Vana' in Sanskrit means `forest' or `woods'. And a small place nearby known as Streepura is believed to have been where women attending on Sita lived.

A waterfall and some of the caves in the vicinity are named after Ravana. According to a local story, water from the falls has no taste and flowers in the area have no smell because Sita had cursed them.

A project report is now being prepared by the Sri Lankan Government to convert the temple into a full-fledged tourist centre. The expectation is to attract as many as two lakh Indians to this place annually.

According to some reports, the Government wants to develop various facilities on a 32-acre plot of land. According to V. Radha Krishnan, Trade and Industries Minister in the Central Province, boating, horse-riding and motorcycle racing would be introduce d, besides boarding and lodging facilities.

In fact, the Government had proposed to develop the site as a major tourist centre even in 1988, but the locals, fearing displacement, opposed the idea. Radha Krishnan says that now people are convinced that only a few families may have to be rehabilitat ed as it was mainly the forest lands that the Government wanted to acquire.

A Delhi-based firm has offered to join hands with the Government in developing Nuwara Elia. According to Government sources, many Indian companies have come forward to invest.

Pictures by the author

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