Saturday, October 01, 2022

'Ravan Was The First Aviator': How Sri Lanka Sees The Ramayan

The Ramayan continues to evoke passions in the faithful on both sides of the religious and cultural divide. Ram is worshipped by millions of Hindus as the embodiment of light while Ravan symbolises darkness and evil. But this version of Ravan is as contested in Sri Lanka as in several parts of south India. Ravan is a heroic figure in Lanka, a great warrior and a compassionate monarch endowed with superior intelligence.

There are also people who claim that Ravan was the first to fly a plane centuries before the Wright brothers did. His Pushpak Vimana was the world’s first aircraft. In fact, the Sri Lankan government 2020 funded a project to be taken up by the nation’s civil aviation authority to search for evidence of Ravan's aircraft and aerial routes. 

“King Ravan was a genius. He was the first person to fly. He was an aviator. It’s not mythology; it’s a fact. There needs to be detailed research on this. In the next five years, we will prove this,” Shashi Danatunge, the former vice-chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, was earlier quoted by local reports. He said that the government had irrefutable facts to prove that Ravan was the first person to fly an aircraft.

In the Buddhist-majority nation, Ravan is more of a cultural than a religious or political issue.  Sri Lankan expert S Sathya Moorthy says: ``Hindu Tamils of Jaffna are mainly Shaivites and are not followers of Ram, though among the Indian origin Tamils living in the central highlands there are temples dedicated to Sita.’’

The British took several residents of Tamil Nadu as indentured labourers to work in tea plantations. It is said that the temple in Sita Eliya, where Indian Tamils are concentrated, marks the place where she was kept by Ravan during her captivity. 

Sita Eliya is a favourite destination for Indian tourists visiting the island state.  In fact, a stone from Sita Eliya will be used in the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. 

01/10/22 Seema Guha/Outlook

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