Category Archives: HISTORY OF SRI LANKA

The Ramayana Connection: Sri Lanka

The Sanskrit epic Rāmāyana is perhaps the most depicted epic in the world today. Some of the most exotic historic sites in India and the rest of the east, such as the  Ellora caves, Mahāvalipuram,  Cambodian temples, and several other places in Thailand portray Rāmāyana scenes and characters in their sculptures and paintings.  Its literary contents have continued to inspire artists and artesans to depict the Rāmāyana scenes in paintings, on stone and other media for sculptures. Consisting

of 24,000 verses, it is supposed to have been written around 250 to 300 BC, although the events described in it appear to be much earlier, around 1000 BC.  Although generally looked upon as a religious epic of the Hindus the contents in relation to Lanka reveal some contents that may be historic.

Many other religious beliefs to stake a claim to Lanka, the present Sri Lanka. To the Mohammedans it was the paradise of Adam and Eve. One Islamic legend says that when Adam and Eve were cast out of the paradise, Adam fell on the island of Ceylon, and Eve near Jeddah, the port of Mecca. They later met each other and lived in Ceylon. Adam’s Peak is a legacy of this legend.

For the Buddhists, it was the island chosen for salvation of Rakshas and Nagas by the Buddha.  With such a variety of claims it is not entirely surprising to see Lanka having a multitude of ancient names. The Island’s ancient name, Lanka (Laka or Laksha, thousands) is supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit language, to refer to a multitude of islands around its western coast. In the Pandiyan Saṅgam  literature, the southern region in the peninsula is referred to as MaveIlaṅkai (great Lanka), while Lanka, known for its supply of rice to the Tamil kingdom, is referred to as Ilaṅkai. The Sinhalese called the island Sīhala, after the Siṃha (lion) of the Vijaya legend. This name was corrupted to Sinhaladipa, and became the Serendib of the Arabs around the 2nd century AD. During the colonial period Sieladipa became Ceilão, and later ‘Zeilan’, and ‘Ceylon’ under the Dutch and British.

To the Hindus, it was the scene of the epic Rāmāyana battle where Rāma and Rāvaṇa fought over Sītā. The Hindu epic poem, Rāmāyana refers to the island as Ilaṅkai, the most antiquated name for the island. Many holy places in the island are implied in the Rāmāyana. Rāma is said to have prayed for his victory over Rāvaṇa, at the shrine for Siva at Muniswaram (Tamil: mun, ancient or before, Īśvara, Hindu god) in the Chilaw district. The narrow causeway between Ramēśvaram (Hindu gods: Rāma, Īśvara,) in India and Talaimannar served as the crossing   point for Rāma   before   his battle with the Lankan  king Rāvaṇa, and we know that this is geographically true. Dandaka forest, the northernmost wildernes of South India (Penninsular India) is where the first conflict between Rama (Aryan) and Surpaanakai, the sister of king Rāvaṇa (Dravidian), began. The legend in many ways is a rerun of the Aryan invasion that occurred thousand years previously in the Indus which probably captured the imagination of Valmiki.

Following the Rig Veda of the Aryans (c 1400 BC), the next earliest quasi historic document that we can find is the Rāmāyana. The classical historian and Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Theodor Mommsen (1817-1910) quotes: “Imagination, mother of all poetry, is likewise mother of all history.” In the epic a divine monkey from the tribe of Vānarar comes to the island of Ilaṅkai  in search of  Rāma’s wife, who was abducted by  Rāvaṇa, the king of Lanka. Shortly before entering Lanka he stands on Pavalamalai (Pearl Mountain) near Lanka, and observes the island which is regarded as a paradise. In the Kamba Rāmāyanam, a Tamil version of the Rāmāyana written later in the 12th century AD, the divine city of Lanka was built by the architect of God. Its palaces reached for the skies, with shining precious stones embedded in gold. Divine women of the giant race (Rākṣasas) and divine   lords     were     serving  giants    like King Rāvaṇa. According to Kambar’s description Wind and  God       could     enter              the        city only with Rāvaṇa’s consent; such   was the the defence and           glory of Lanka.  Men and women happily lived here without the slightest care. Only happy people were seen about, and Hahnuman could not see any signs of discontent as he sifted through Lanka looking for Sītā.

The episode on war, the Uttara- kāṇḍa in the classic, between the Lankan Dravidian king and the Aryan king of India, constitutes 68 chapters out of a total of 537 chapters, in six books. Although  in these verses the Rāmāyana narrates unlikely supernatural feats such as            the flight of Hahnuman, a monkey god over Lanka,  some geographical framework such as the Rama’s Bridge is noted. Rāma and Sītā’s legend  still lives on in Sri Lanka    through several  place-names: Sītāvaka in the

Sitavaka Temple in Nuwara Eliya

Avissawella district where Sītā is believed to have been held in captivity: Sītākoṭuva, near           Gurulupota in Minipe, on         the        Kandy-Mahiyangana road where Sītā       is supposed to   have     been     initially held      by the        Lankan  king:     Rāvaṇa,              Älla,      in Ella              (near     Badulla), a scenic cave  behind  waterfalls              where   Rāvaṇa hid Sītā: Ariṣṭa   mountain Riṭigala) where Hahnuman is       said       to          have      dumped the earth containing medical      herbs from Himalayas: MunĪśvaram      where   Rāma    prayed  for his   victory:              Sītā       Amman Kovil, near Hakgala Gardens, where Hahnuman found Sītā,     and the Rāma’s Bridge (Adam’s              bridge)  built      by Hahnuman for             Rāma to cross over to Lanka.

HINDU ART & MYTHOLOGY

 

Paradise Lost, the Utmost Isle

Milton’s choice, the utmost isle,
A paradise lost to a sinner’s vile
Eve’s tears of shame and guilt
Ample drops for lakes to brim,
Adam’s foot on the mountain top,
A reconcile to his mortal crave

Sumanakuta where pilgrims lay
At first man’s foot, do they pray
Heavenly clouds blur their eyes,
Sorrowful tears brim their brows
What heaven is this that reaches the sky?
Lost to man forever for his sin and vile

Glittering pearls off Mannar Coast
Pandya king could never afford
The Madura princess for a trade
Yakkha queen to be cast aside
For Vijaya to be the king of  the Isle

Kuveni’s wail for her master’s love,
No avail to the prodigal prince
Cast away from her den of love
Meant to die for her treacherous deed
To her brethren of noble creed,

For millennia did the Yakkhas rule
Almost since dawn of time
Sans vice or greed
Joyful in their wild abode
Oh! What a shame now
To be deceived by their queen

Serendib, an Arabian dream
Of Aladdin’s Cave and Sinbad’s tales
A pledge of wealth most abound,
Twinkling pearls and sparkling gems
Nature’s den of assorted hoard
The ocean’s pride, a fantasy isle,

From far ashore, the navy came,
In quest of wealth for their Hebrew king,
Ophir, from the Book of Kings
A land of gems for Solomon’s queens,
Priceless stones for his shrine divine

A draught of arrack with a honey taint
A gentle snooze on the gold coast isle
Beneath the shadow of the palm tree trail,
Ocean waves for a lullaby tale,
And scented breeze of cinnamon wild,

Marco’s haven on the gem stud soil,
While his fame at Kublai’s aisle
With the spoils from Mahavamsa isle
A Persian queen for a romantic stroll
On the shores of the coveted isle,
Oh what a romance in royal style

From far away by sea they came
Spelling dome to the peaceful isle
Eating stone and drinking blood
Aiming guns and cannons, they did
Instil fear into native soil
Alas, an end to Mahavamsa Isle

A poem by Anton Sebastian,

copyright©reserved

HISTORY OF CEYLON

Author of A Complete Illustrated History of Sri Lanka 

Rare and Ancient Coins of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from Anton Sebastian Private Collection for Sale by Antiques International

Rare Books of Ceylon from Anton Sebastian Private Collection for Sale by Antiques International

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rare Coins & Stamps of Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

PARAKRAMABAHU LION COIN 1
Lion Coin, King Parakramabahu ca 1100 AD , Anton Sebastian Private Collection

The trade and cultural ties to other countries of the world could be traced through the coins as old as 2000 years found in Sri Lanka.   Among hoards of foreign coins found in the most unlikely places in the island such as Sigiriya,  the site of the citadel of Kassayapa, the sleepy village of Kantharodai in Jaffna. Nearly 3000 Roman coins excavated nearthe Sīgiriya site suggest a Roman connection during early Christian era.  Most of the coins found here belong to the period from Constantine the great (r. 306-337) to (Flavius) Honorius (reigned 393-423), which predate Kassapa (reigned ca 477-495) by nearly a century. The earliest Roman coin found in the region dates to about 317, nearly 150 years before Kassapa founded Sīgiriya. From the above evidence it is likely that Kassapa did not choose Sīgiriya by chance and it was already a hub of culture and trade. Some gold coins issued during the reign of King

Vijayabāhu currently exhibited at the British Museum, as well as in the Colombo Museum follow the types of Raja Raja Cholan when he was in possession of Pollonnaruva.

The relationship between the Tamils and the Sinhalese is also seen through the ancient coins in Sri Lanka.  The The Mullaitivu coins (kahāpaṇas) as old as 200 BC arguably attributed to Eḷāra (Ellalan, bear a tree with branches (probably Sacred Bo Tree) on one face, and the bull (probably the Sacred Bull of the Hindus) suggesting that Eḷāra respected both religions.  Mahāvaṃsa itself (XXI, 26) reveals the earliest date of kahāpaṇa (coins) in Lanka when Eḷāra spent 15,000 kahāpaṇas to repair a  Buddhist stupa.

Known as Ceylon until it became a republic in 1972, the island had the most eye-catching colors of the Victorian Era in stamps.

Sri Lanka Post has a long history of 209 years, dating back to 1798, when the colonial Dutch rulers started five post offices in the Maritime Districts under their control. In 1799, they published the first postal regulations and postage rates. The Dutch East India Company operated the Postal service, which was not meant for the public but for official use.

1861 ceylonThe first postmaster by the British was appointed in 1802 and hand stamps were first supplied in 1813. The British took control of the whole island by conquering the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 at the time of reign of King George III. Although horse drawn mail delivery commenced in Ceylon around 1832, the postage stamps were issued only on  1 April 1857.

VICTORIAN CEYLONThe first Stamp features a portrait of Queen Victoria and is brown in color and of 6 pence value used to send a half ounce letter from Ceylon to England. Eight more stamps were issued in year 1857, all featuring the portrait of Queen Victoria. One of the 5 stamps that were issued on 23 April 1859 is considered to be the most valuable stamp in Sri Lanka: it is a 4 pence with a dark pink color known as the ‘Dull Rose.

CEYLON WAR STAMPSA week after the First World War ended in 1918, Ceylon under King George V  adopted war stamps when all postal rates were increased to defray war expenditure. The 2c, 3c, and 5 c were all overprinted “WAR STAMP” in two lines, and the 5 cent was also overprinted with an additional “ONE CENT” with a line struck through the original value. There are a number of varieties in the overprints, such as double and inverted overprints.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         CEYLON 1972Sri Lanka later is the only country to include details in a stamp in three languages viz. Sinhala, Tamil and English. The first stamps marked Sri Lanka were issued on 22 May 1972.

CEYLON BIRDS 1966

The first ever souvenir sheet of Sri Lanka was issued on 5 February 1966 on the topic ‘Typical Birds of Ceylon’. This sheet was reissued on 15 September 1967 to commemorate the 1st National Stamp Exhibition of Sri Lanka, overprinted ‘FIRST NATIONAL STAMP EXHIBITION 1967’.

COLONIAL AND RARE POSTAGE STAMPS OF CEYLON