Pix by Ashan Gamage
In Nuwara Eliya, a steady flow of pilgrims visit a quaint temple known in brochures as the ‘only Sita temple in the world’. The complex which is patterned on the modern south Indian temple is set in idyllic countryside beside a clear stream. Adjacent to it is another new temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god who, according to mythology, was instrumental in rescuing Sita from Lanka.
The Seetha Amman Temple is built at a spot believed to be the exact place where Sita was held captive by the demon king Ravana in the Lanka of the epic, Ramayana. Myth has it that Sita, the wife of King Rama, was imprisoned in the Ashoka forests of the region.
The evidence for this belief that Sita once stayed in these parts, they say, are the concentration of Ashoka trees – various versions of the Ramayana state that Sita's home in Lanka was inside a thick Ashoka forest (Ashoka Vana) – and the discovery about a century ago of three idols, one of which was that of Sita. It is believed that the idols have been worshipped at this spot for centuries. There is also a belief that Ravana's palace existed somewhere in the vicinity.
The temple complex is situated approximately five kilometres from the Nuwara Eliya town on the road to Kandy. One temple is dedicated to Sita, and the other to Hanuman. The Sita temple looks like any modern-day temple with a multi-coloured dome filled with mythological figures. Three new statues – of Rama, Sita and Laxman – have been installed in the new structure. On the side closer to the river bank is a small shrine with the three darkened idols, which were found a century ago.
There is also a belief that at a particular point in the stream, the water has no taste, apparently at the spot where Sita cursed it. People could also see the spot where Sita bathed, the stone she sat on and where she prayed. Beliefs here are strong and devotees are convinced that this episode of the Ramayana epic did indeed take place here.
However, many historians of ancient India and Ceylon are of the view that the Lanka of the Ramayana lay no further south than the Vindhyas, and that the geographical position of Sri Lanka as reflected in the Ramayana was an interpolation made after trade routes with the island were opened.