Ashoka Vatika in Sri Lanka : On a Ramayana trail

Are you looking for the exact location of Ashok Vatika in Sri Lanka? Want to know the importance of Ashoka Vatika for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka? Are you planning to visit the Ashoka Vatika on your trip to Sri Lanka? Then, you have come to the right place.

As a firm believer in the events of the Ramayana, we have it all covered about Ashoka Vatika. In this post of ours, we have also covered other places related with the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Also,  if you are planning a visit to Sri Lanka, then make sure you have the Seetha Amman Kovil at Sita Eliya, as well as the Bhaktha Hanuman temple at Ramboda, on your itinerary; even if you aren’t able to cover the other important places on the Ramayana trail in Sri Lanka.

For, Sita Eliya and Rambodha are sacred, and two of the most beautiful places in the Ramayana Trail of Sri Lanka.

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In search of Ashok Vatika in Sri Lanka

Situated just a stone’s throw away from Dhanushkodi in TamilNadu, and dubbed the Serendib in Arabic and Ceylon by the colonists, SriLanka is a gem of a destination that remains vastly unexplored.

And, it is widely known that a considerable part of the Hindu epic Ramayana is set in Sri Lanka, which was once ruled by Ravana.

On a recent road trip across this historical island, I ascended the misty slopes of its Central Province, in search of Ashok Vatika and other sacred realms connected with the epic Ramayana. 

One such search brought me to a region called the Central Highlands : famous for its kovils, Ceylon tea and bio-diverse jungles. 

And, it is in this region near the famous hill-station of Nuwara Eliya with a considerable Tamil population that Ashoka Vatika is supposedly located.

Central-highlands-sri-lanka-meenakshij
Central Highlands in Sri Lanka

Additional reading
Read my experience of watching Kecak dance in Bali. The Kecak is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Bhaktha Hanuman Temple at Ramboda

My first stop on this spiritual quest is the Bhaktha Hanuman Kovil, at a village named Rambodha or Ramboda. This village is located en route to Ashoka Vatika on the outskirts of Nuwara Eliya while coming from Kandy.

Located inside the Chinmaya Mission premises at Ramboda and perched at 3200 feet, the Bhaktha Hanuman temple is home to a 16 ft tall granite Hanuman idol revered and worshipped by the local people.

“This is the place where Hanuman first set foot in SriLanka” , informed Shiva Lingam , an office bearer at Chinmaya Mission, as I paid a visit to the office enclosure.

” And, this temple is built at the very spot”, he said.

Chinmaya-ramboda-temple-meenakshij-sri-lanka
Bhaktha Hanuman Temple in Ramboda

The village of Ramboda

Ramboda is a hamlet nestled in the folds of rolling tea-plantations of Central Highlands in SriLanka — a mere 35 km away from the popular colonial hill-city of Nuwara Eliya, home to a large Tamil population working as tea-plantation workers for generations.

The Tamil people here believe that Ramboda is the place where Hanuman had first touched down, on his visit to SriLanka, in order to rescue Sita devi in the epic Ramayana. He is said to have rested here and meditated. 

Indeed, the serene climes of Ramboda is the ultimate place to seek divinity, and I could imagine why Hanuman ji must have chosen this spot to meditate, in the name of Shree Ramachandra.

But this hamlet isn’t the only place related to Hanuman or the Ramayana in this region.

Hanuman-temple-ramboda-meenakshij
Ramboda temple

Additional reading
Did you know that the famous Thai Ramakien dance is based on the Ramayana? Read about my experience of watching a Ramakien performance in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai city.

Ravana Boda

Blessed with plentiful mist-kissed mountains, gurgling streams, gushing waterfalls, luxurious flora and fauna, and dotted with vibrant kovils, the whole of Central Highlands is steeped in the legend and lore of Ramayana. 

While giving a tour of the Chinmaya Mission premises, Shivalingam showed me a mountain range opposite the Kovil.

“ It is known as Ravana Boda”, he said. “ Ravana Boda is where Ravana’s army was stationed during the war in Ramayana, while Rama’s army along with the Vanara sena was on Ramboda”. 

I saw that the two mountain ranges were separated by the Mahaweli Ganga river, flowing majestically in the valley down below. It is here that the epic battle between Rama and Ravana happened and the triumph of dharma over adharma, facilitated by the might of Hanuman and vanara sena.

Ramboda-ashoka-vatika-srilanka-meenakshij
Ravana Boda afar…

The curious case of a sleeping Hanuman

Local people believe that the presence of Hanuman still lingers over these mountains. They have nicknamed the peak line of Ravana Boda as ‘Sleeping Hanuman’, as it closely resembles a reclined Hanuman.

Looking keenly, I couldn’t help but agree that it indeed did look like a figure of him sleeping with hands close to his chest !

Every rock, tree and stream, from the inanimate to the animate, in this land seemed to be waiting to narrate its own tale associated with the epic. And, the Hindu gods and goddesses that I so revered came alive in these mountains that were blanketed by an energetic vibe.

Although I couldn’t visit the other places associated with the epic, I made sure to pay my obeisance at the Seetha Amman temple, located on the outskirts of Nuwara Eliya, nearby Ashoka Vatika, as instructed by ShivaLingam.

And, let me tell you why. But not before giving a brief backdrop of the Sita Eliya village, near the Nuwara Eliya town.

Additional reading
Did you know there are thousands of Tamil migrants in Nuwara Eliya working as tea-plantation workers? They were brought in by the colonists to work in the tea-estates of the East India Company. However, a lot of Tamil people already were living in Sri Lanka in the northern parts of the island, due to the conquests of the Chola dynasty over two millennium ago . Read about the Cholas in my write-ups

Sita Eliya, near Ashoka Vatika

“ Sita Eliya has the only temple in Sri Lanka dedicated to Sita ma, and you should visit it”, Shivalingam had reminded me, as I relished the ‘prasadam’ lunch served inside the Chinmaya Mission premises [thoughtfully booked by my friend Jude, in advance] before bidding good-bye to Ramboda.

And, what a beautiful visit it turned out to be!

For it is this village with its Seetha Amman Kovil, nearby Hakgala Botanical Garden and forest reserve that was once known as Ashok Vatika, and is now called Sita Eliya after Sitai amman.

seetha-amman-temple-ashoka-vatika-sri-lanka-meenakshij
Seetha Amman Temple, Sita Eliya

Seetha Amman Kovil at Sita Eliya

Built abutting the fringes of the mist-kissed verdant forests of the historical Ashoka Vatika, beside a burbling stream meandering its way through the woods, the Seethai Amman kovil at the Sita Eliya village brings forth the bygone Ramayana alive.

Local people believe that Sita devi used to bathe in this stream, descending the slopes of the enigmatic Ashoka Vatika where she was held captive by Ravana. Just adjacent to the stream, on the boulders are huge imprints, believed to be of Lord Hanuman who is said to have introduced himself to Sita Devi at this very spot, on his first ever interaction with her.

Hanuman-footprint-ashoka-vatika-meenakshij
Foot prints at Sita Eliya

This event from the Ramayana has been immortalised through the statue of Sita Devi blessing Hanuman, with details engraved on a plaque at the historical spot.

Legend goes that the stream’s water loses its taste around this spot, and that it regains its taste a little further downstream.

Sita-eliya-ashoka-vatika-meenakshij
Sita Eliya

Also, three black-granite idols of Rama-Sita-Lakshmana were unearthed from the Ashoka Vatika a few years back, and since then it has been installed inside the Seetha Amman kovil.

The kovil built by local people is colourful with a fresh coat of paint and resembles the temples of TamilNadu, with a Dravidian temple architecture. An old shrine dedicated to Lord Hanuman still exists on the sides of the stream nearby.

Now that we have followed the trail of Hanuman and his meeting with Sita maiyya in Lanka, let’s also focus on the Ashoka Vatika, described in glorious words by Valmiki in his Ramayana.

Additional reading
Read more about Tamil people, their culture, architecture and lifestyle in my write-ups on Tamil Nadu.

Ashoka Vatika in Lanka

A mere 1km away from the Seetha Amman temple in Sita Eliya is the Hakgala Botanical Garden abutting the Hakgala Wildlife Reserve.

Although the Hakgala reserve is out of bounds to the public, owing to it being a sensitive bio-reserve, the Hakgala Botanical Garden is open to the public.

It’s said that when goddess Sita, wife of King Rama whose kingdom was in Ayodhya, India, was abducted by Ravan [ the King of Lanka] she was held in captivity at a garden inside the sprawling palace of Ravana, called the Ashoka Vatika.

Here at Sita Eliya, closer to Nuwara Eliya, precisely at a place overlapping Hakgala Botanical Garden and the Hakgala forest reserve is believed to be Ashoka Vatika of Ramayana fame.

It is believed that a considerable area of Ashok Vatika was burnt and destroyed by Hanuman when he arrived on the island and found Sita maiyya.

Locals also believe that the soil around Sita Eliya is black in colour owing to this legend of Hanuman burning Ravana’s place, as well as a part of Ashok Vatika.

Hakagala-reserve-ashok-vatika-meenakshij
Hakgala Reserve – a part of Ashoka Vatika

A piece of Ashoka Vatika in Ayodhya

Recently, a Sri Lankan delegation led by their high commissioner to India, Milinda Moragoda, visited Ayodhya and offered a shila (sacred stone) from this Ashok Vatika for the Ram temple at Ayodhya.. 

Well, it is no secret that SriLanka is an integral part of the Ramayana epic that comprises 24,000 verses divided into seven volumes or kanda. While the Sundara Kanda has fleeting mentions of the island and introduces Ashoka Vatika, the Yuddha Kanda almost brings SriLanka to life. 

However, what is largely unknown is that the people of this island nation also consider Rama as a revered figure; while the temples, caves and mountains associated with the events in Ramayana are considered sacred.

In fact, pilgrims and travellers from India, often visit places in the Ramayana-trail circuit when on a trip to SriLanka, as do the local populace. And, Ramboda and Sita Eliya top this pilgrimage trail.

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Seethai Amman Kovil

Gayathri Peetam in Nuwara Eliya

The location of Gayathri Peetam where the temple of Sri Lankatheeswar is built has significance owing to its connection with Ramayana.

According to legends, it is here that Prince Indrajith ( Meghnad), the son of King Ravana, had performed penance to god Shiva, as well as Nikumbala Yajna to please the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Gayathri Peetam also houses a sanctum for goddesses Gayathri Vedha madha. Therefore, the Gayathri mantra is chanted incessantly in this temple.

Ravana’s Waterfall and Ravana cave in Ella

Located 58 km from Nuwara Eliya is Ella, an enchanting town in the Badulla District of Uva province,  famous for its waterfalls, trekking routes and biodiverse jungles.

It is also prominent with Hindu pilgrims for Ravana Caves and Ravana Falls. 

The Ravana cave is a man made cave opening that’s said to be connected to several larger caves, and was once used by Ravana to move stealthily and quickly around his kingdom without drawing much attention.

He is said to have kept Sita here for sometime before shifting her to Ashoka Vatika. 

Ella-ashoka-vatika-meenakshij
Enroute Ella

Nearby is a 1,080-feet-high waterfall named after the Ravana cave. Local people are of the opinion that there are many more caves behind the waterfalls.

ravana-falls-sri-lanka-meenakshij
At Ravana falls, Ella

Divurumpola Temple near Welimada

A little over 15 km from Nuwara Eliya on the way to the Ravana cave in Ella, is the buddhist temple of Divurumpola with a stupa.

Inside the premises exists a corridor with significance to Hindus, owing to its connection with the Ramayana epic.

Divurumpola translates to ‘place of oath’ in Sinhala. And, this place true to its name, is widely believed to be the spot where Sita underwent agni pariksha to prove her chastity, before her journey back to Ayodhya, after Rama defeated Ravana. 

The place now houses a stupa and a Buddhist temple. While, paintings on the corridor walls depict the event from Ramayana.

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara 

Located on the banks of River Kelani, 11 km from Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo, is the sprawling premises of Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara.

A Buddhist temple of immense historical significance, this is supposed to be the place where Lord Buddha had alighted on his third and final visit to Sri Lanka, five years after his enlightenment in 500 BCE.

Kelaniya--raja-mahavihara-meenakshij
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

According to another legend, Lord Rama had befriended Vibhishana, brother of King Ravana, during his search for Sita. And, post the defeat of Ravana, Vibishana’s coronation as the King of Lanka supposedly took place at this very place, in the presence of Rama and Lakshmana.

A bas-relief on the temple walls, depicts this significant event connected with the Ramayana.  A reason why Vibhishana is worshipped as the guardian deity of Kelaniya, and has a shrine or “Dewalaya” dedicated to him inside the Kelaniya temple premises.

Additional reading
Did you know that the people of Bali in Indonesia are Hindus and also consider the Ramayana sacred? It’s a beautiful island to visit for its temples and culture. Consider going through my post on Bali itinerary for more info on Bali.

Practical information on visiting Ashoka Vatika

Visiting Sita Eliya as a standalone place would be a futile exercise. It’s highly recommended that you club a visit to Sita Eliya, with a trip to Nuwara Eliya, and places around the town.

A handy map of the Ramayana Trail in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

How to reach Ashoka Vatika or Sita Eliya

Sita Eliya is around 5 km from the town of Nuwara Eliya. And, the latter is well-connected by public transport from Colombo, Kandy as well as Ella.

The nearest railway station is at Nanuoya, which is at a distance of 6 km from Sita Eliya. The tuk-tuks could be used to reach Ashoka Vatika from the railway station. You could also book train tickets to Nuwara Eliya through agencies, by clicking on this link.

You could also opt for a guided tour like this one, which covers Gayathri Peedam, Sita Eliya and Divurumpola from Nuwara Eliya.

Best time to visit Sita Eliya

February to May is the best season to visit Sita Eliya as well as Nuwara Eliya.

It can get colder during the winter months from November – January, being a hill-station. Although, the winters are best to explore the other parts of Sri Lanka.

While visiting the Ramayana trail, I suggest you also visit a tea-plantation. Here, you could interact with a lot of Tamil migrant workers from India.They feel good upon knowing that you have actually come to visit them. Of course, there are also a lot of things to do and places to visit in and around Nuwara Eliya.

Where to stay in and around Sita Eliya or Ashoka Vatika

There are quite a handful of properties near Sita Eliya, if planning to stay near the Seetha Amman Temple.

Another, good option would be to stay put in Nuwara Eliya town where there are umpteen hotels and resorts catering to all budget range.

Sita Eliya is just 3.5 km from the centre of Nuwara Eliya town. So, it could be easily visited even in a tuk-tuk from Nuwara Eliya.

We had stayed at Hotel Blackpool, and JetWing’s St.Andrews in Nuwara Eliya. And, we had a pleasant stay at both these properties. Do check out these properties by clicking on the name of the hotels above.

You could also check the below hotel deals available in Nuwara Eliya, for your convenient dates.

Booking.com

Places to eat near Sita Eliya

Again, not many restaurants in and around Nuwara Eliya when we had visited. However, there is a pure-vegetarian food joint by name ‘Sri Ram Dosa Cafe’ run by a couple. Nothing fancier, but they do dish out simple fare that includes yummy vadai and dosai.

You could also book your lunch with the Chinmaya Mission folks at Bhaktha Hanuman kovil at Ramboda. They also have simple and affordable rooms as well as dormitories.

Kindly connect with them directly by clicking on Chinmaya Mission Ramboda.

What else to see in and around Ashoka Vatika or Sita Eliya

So, you have time after a visit to Ashok Vatika in Sri Lanka, and are looking for things to do and places to visit around, are you?

Then, you may find the following tour suggestions extremely handy. And, any of these tours could be booked instantly by clicking on the below links:

Nuwara Eliya Sightseeing Tour with Krishna

Visit the 9-arches bridge and trek to Adam’s peak

Hortons Plains World’s End Tour

Ramayana Sites in Sri Lanka

According to local people who believe in Ramayana, there are close to 52 Ramayana sites in Sri Lanka [with a Ramayana connection]— right from the northern islands off the Jaffna coast up until the highlands of the Central Province.

Here is a recap and list of a few of the Ramayana Sites in Sri Lanka that I could find during my research.

  1. Seetha Amman Kovil and Ashoka Vatika at Sita Eliya and Hakgala 
  2. Ramboda Hanuman Temple
  3. Gayathri Peetam in Nuwara Eliya
  4. Ravana’s WaterFall and Ravana’s Cave at Ella
  5. Ussangoda Ramayana site
  6. Kelaniya Buddhist temple in Colombo
  7. Divurumpola Temple
  8. Muneeswaram Temple
  9. Manavari temple
  10. Thiru Koneswaram kovil
  11. Kothmale 
  12. Sita Kotuwa
  13. Nilavarai
  14. Ram Setu at Thalaimannar

Apart from these Ramayana sites in Sri Lanka, there are five mountains in Sri Lanka that are believed to have sprung up from the chunks that fell from the Sanjeevani mountain, when it was being carried by Hanuman:

  1. Dolukanda in Kurunegala district
  2. Ritigala Nature Reserve in Habarana
  3. Rumassala rock at Galle 
  4. Kachchativu island off the Jaffna peninsula  
  5. Thalladi in Mannar

So, the next time you are travelling to SriLanka, explore the island beyond its white-sandy beaches for a few days, and visit at least a few of the Ramayana sites, especially the Ashok Vatika in Sri Lanka. I guarantee that it would be a good fuel for your soul!

In conclusion, I hope you found this guide to visiting Ashoka Vatika as part of the Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka, informative and useful.

Do you know any other places that could be added to the above list of the Ramayana Sites in Sri Lanka? Have you visited them? Also, any other additional interesting information on the Ashok Vatika in Lanka? Do let me know in the comments sections.

Until then, Jai Shri Ram _/\_

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2 thoughts on “Ashoka Vatika in Sri Lanka : On a Ramayana trail”

  1. Very informative blog. Nicely written too. I had just one comment. In the section ‘Ravana Boda’, you have written “….. the triumph of adharma over dharma…”. I’m sure you wanted to say the opposite.

    1. My apologies for having overlooked the draft during my editing process. That said, thank you so much for diligently reading through the post, and bringing the goof-up to my notice. Have rectified it. Thanks again!

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