Sri Lanka is an island famed for its beautiful tropical beaches. Of the coastal cities in Sri Lanka, Unawatuna is especially renowned for its sunny climes, white beaches, and fun parties. What is not very well-known about this place, is that it is also a place of many folktales and legends.
Amongst these, one of these is the legend of Rumassala Hill.
The famous Sanskrit epic Ramayana, written by the Hindu saint Valmiki, is a brave tale for all ages with philosophical and ethical elements interspersed in between. In the story; the reincarnated god, Prince Rama’s wife Sita was kidnapped by the Asura King Ravana while they were exiled to the forest though a deceitful betrayal.
After months of searching, Rama and his younger brother Lakshmana (who also joined him in exile) were able to trace Sita to Sri Lanka with the help and powers of the immortal monkey demigod Hanuman. After establishing contact with her, Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, and whole army of humans and monkeys waged war on the Asuras to rescue the princess.
During the war, Lakshmana was fatally wounded and reached the brink of death. With Rama feeling crushed and greatly aggrieved, Hanuman swiftly to the Holy Sanjeevi (Immor Mountain in the Dhronagiri range which was supposed to be a paradise for every type of miraculous herb on earth. But, when faced with the thousands of herbs, Hanuman lacked the knowhow to find the right herb. So, he used his godly strength to lift the entire mountain from its roots and took it to Rama so that Lakshmana could be healed.
When Hanuman was flying back to Sri Lanka, it is said the mountain overbalanced slightly and a piece broke off and fell, landing on the southern end of the island. There were also four other pieces that broke off to the north, the center, west and north west of Sri Lanka. There were pieces that fell in India as well. The rest of the mountain was safely carried back to Rama and was used to heal Lakshmana back to full health. Later the war was a victory and Princess Sita was rescued. This is what the epic says.
Most of you might think that this is just a story. It is obviously religious fiction, right? That’s what researchers thought too until they started finding actual Ramayana event locations and strange landmarks, that were supposed to have not existed, all over India and Sri Lanka. Amongst the landmarks in Sri Lanka are Thirukoneswaram, the Shiva temple worshipped by King Ravana; the location of the grove where Princess Sita was initially imprisoned; the cave above the waterfall where she was later imprisoned, that still even has heavy ancient shackles and other remnants; the locations where pieces of Sanjeevi mountain fell; the bald burnt place that was supposed to be the takeoff location of Ravana’s flying Pushpaka vehicle; and much more.
Amongst these is the Southern location where the piece of Sanjeevi fell. This place is now called Rumassala.
What is in a Name…
In his book ‘Traditions of Sri Lanka’, renowned Sri Lankan historian and folklorist C. G. Uragoda mentions that the name Rumassala is a corruption of the Sanskrit word ‘ramsaala’, which translates to ‘Rama’s hall’. He also mentions that the name Unawatuna, too, draws from the Ramayana as it is a derivative of the Sinhalese phrase ‘onna wetuna’, which translates to ‘there, it fell’. He believed that this latter phrase referred to the fall of the piece of Sanjeewi mountain that fell at Rumassala.
Despite the growth of modern science, Rumassala still holds several unexplained mysteries.
The History of the Location
In the past, Rumassala was known as ‘Buono Vista’. The name dates back to the colonial period, and most likely comes from the word ‘Buena Vista’ – Spanish for ‘pleasant view’. The name is indeed an accurate description of the place, for the top of Rumassala hill offers what are arguably the best coastal views along the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
The calm waters of Galle bay provided safe anchorage for numerous ships that plied the Indian Ocean maritime routes, transporting vast quantities of spices, minerals and precious stones. During this period, ships used the southern end of Rumassala, known as Watering Point, to stock up with fresh water before setting off on long voyages. Remnants of the old jetty can still be seen today, although it’s now used by local children as a diving platform instead of a service point for ships.
The small cemetery along the road contains the final resting places of many British civil servants and sailors, some lost in tragedies at sea and some in wars. Reading the inscriptions on the headstones provide an interesting insight into the past of Galle and Unawatuna, and the people who lived there.
Things to See
Taking a couple of steps off the beaten path on Rumassala Hill will reveal a fascinating world of marvelous nature. Both the forests and the ocean around Rumassala are rich in biodiversity. The forest is home to many species of birds, reptiles and mammals (including several endemic species), as well as rare medicinal plants. Groups of purple faced leaf monkeys can be seen playing on the trees while white-bellied sea eagles soar above the water looking for a midday meal.
At the base of the cliff and beneath the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean are coral and rocky reefs which are home to a number of sea life. Although the reef has been negatively affected over the last decade due to both human and environmental factors, it still provides interesting place to snorkel for those who care to don a snorkeling mask and fins and venture out to explore the underwater world. The entire Rumassala area, including both the forest and coral reefs, are now protected as a sanctuary.
An amazing Buddhist Theme Park has quite recently started developing around an Elders Home in the Rumassala area over the years. The theme park is the brain child of Buddhist activist and community leader Sarath Dias. Amongst the attractions are a large statue of Buddha, edifices depicting the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the bringing of the Sacred Bo Tree from India, a statue of Anagarika Dharmapala and more. New features continue to be added. While in the village don’t forget to stop by the cemetery mentioned previously.
There is also a very old institution of learning, that you must make sure to visit. The Buono Vista School possesses an impressive history, and was extremely popular both amongst locals and expatriates in its heyday during the British rule. Among its alumni are renowned figures such as Sir Oliver Goonetileka, Prof. Senarath Paranavithana and Martin Wickremasinghe.
At the top of Rumassala Hill is Sama Cetiya, a Peace Pagoda built under the guidance of the Japanese monk Nichidatsu Fuhi (1885-1985) – the founder of the Nipponzan Myohoji Nikaya in Japan. It was completed and gifted to Sri Lanka by the Nikaya on the 23rd February 2004. This pagoda is one of the five Peace Pagodas built in Sri Lanka. Inside is a work of art filled with clean lines and white walls. The perfectly sculpted statues and edifices are either fully gold, or multicolored. Around the pagoda are four Buddha statues housed in little stone niches, and represent the four stages of Buddha’s life. As a commemoration to the Ramayana, the pagoda also bears a statue of Hanuman holding the Sanjeevi Mountain.
For those who would prefer some sunbathing, Rumassala has a nice tucked-away bay area and sunny beach better known as ‘Jungle Beach’. It is right next to the forest covered hill of Rumassala and is an extremely sought for place to visit on the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka. You can walk directly up the hill for some awesome photographs of the Galle harbour too.
Visiting Rumassala is quite easy, as you just need to drive east along the main road from Galle for around 10 minutes to reach it. Hence, it is highly recommended.