Visiting the Rising Land – Discover and Tour the South Coast Province of Sri Lanka
As tourists flocked to this island paradise over the last few decades, the ease of travel and development forced many a visitor to head sound of the commercial capital and head towards the pristine beaches off the Indian coast. Today the South Region of Sri Lanka remains the most visited areas and is still popular amongst the holiday planners, honeymoon couples and beach loving travelers. As the region is mostly popular for the beach hot spots, many travelers are not aware of the steeped history and historical sites this region has to offer. Over the next few articles I will aim at covering a few historic sites and more details of the region, enticing more and more travelers to explore the deeper side to our beloved Ruhuna Kingdom.
Entrance to the south region is at the mouth of Aluthgama “The New Village”. At the entrance to this town you will see a new bridge but it is the successor to one of those picturesque bridges in two spans,first built by the British in 1870 to cross a beautiful river only a mile before it reaches the Indian Ocean.From ancient times and till date the locals refer to this region as Ruhuna. Legend has it in many ways,but all versions lead to the ancient name, Rohana. One version has it that the vast stretch of low-lying land between the curving crescent of the shoreline and the central hills which could be seen from all points, was a kingdom founded by an Indian prince by the name of Rohana. Another interpretation is that the Sanskrit meaning of the world being “to ascend”, the name implies “the land which rises”. The land does rise throughout the arc semi circling the sea and it rises gently almost imperceptibly at first and then in dramatic leads like a giant terrace through hills and valleys clothed in the most affluent tropical green.
Ancient chronicle record the boundaries of this historic region as reaching the North Central plains on the north and the west and skirting along the great river Mahaweli on its eastern course from the central hills, touching the east coast of the island at Trincomalee, to descend through the tropical rain forest of Sinharaja and the spare wilderness of Yala – the finest wild-life reserve in Sri Lanka and founded when Leonard Woolf was the resident British Government Agent of the deep south. From there a might curve around the legendary port city, Point-de-Galle, to reach the Kalu Ganga – the “Black River” – at its mouth on the west coast a few miles south of Colombo. It is a complete and clearly defined crescent, and despite the boundaries withdrawing considerably through time, still retains its original shape and form.
Today its western boundary begins, as we began our story, at the Bentota river, one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beach destinations for honeymooners and beach lovers. Moving along the coastline and taking the eastward curve at Dondra – At the furthest southernmost tip of the island you will find the famous lighthouse built by the British to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.The land moves up to the beach head at Kirinde. Here is where you will find the roots to the Malay community of Sri Lanka. The Malay’s is the island trace their ancestry to the pirates and seafarers from Java, Borneo and Sumatra, who ruled the waves on an ancient sea route from the Straits of Malaya to the east coast of Africa. Kirinde is also steeped in legend as the point where the beautiful princess from the city of Kalyani (today known as the Kaleniya Kingdom) of the Maya Rata in the west of the island, set afloat by her father as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of the sea gods, was delivered safely to become the queen of another king who ruled here and to bear the warrior prince Gamini Abhaya who liberated the Anuradhapura kingdom from a South Indian invader.
The eastern end of the land today is Pottuvil, miles below Trincomalee and the right bank of the river Mahaweli. This is sunrise country looking up towards Adam’s Peak, the Holy Mountain revered mostly by Buddhists, as a point where a sacred footprint of the Buddha is, imprinted on a stone. This is a significant Buddhist Pilgrimage site. It also draws importance to Muslims, as they too believe it is the footprint of Prophet Mohamed and popularly visited by Halal Friendly Tourists to Sri Lanka. All this covers an area of around 1600 sq km of the most amazing variety in climates and topography, in flora and fauna. It is no wonder that the South Province is today the most popularly visited tourist region of Sri Lanka. But its important to realize this is not just a standard beach destination. The land holds within itself rich and proud cultural heritage. In ancient ruins and historic sites, some dating back to the 02 nd century BC, there is eloquent testimony to the region having been a highly developed domain.Perhaps the pendulum of political and cultural hegemony swung to Raja Rata – The Kings Country – in the north-central plains, and Ruhuna was eclipsed. But throughout a chequered history it played a central role in providing a safe refuge to ruling monarchs fleeing before invaders from the South of India, and time to repair and rebuild liberation campaigns. It was during such intermissions and even in the victorious aftermath, that kings and princes built monuments. They were restorations of existing places, new edifices built during temporary exile, or those built after regaining lost kingdoms in gratitude for providing shelter. Hence there had been contiguous activity and growth, both cultural and socio-economic, though the ancient chroniclers shifted narrative emphasis to the Anuradhapura Kingdom and its success.
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