Locating Ravana’s Lanka - 1
by Jayasree Saranathan on 10 Jan 2024 1 Comment

The main purpose of Ramavatara was the killing of Ravana. Rama went to Ravana’s abode and destroyed him. That happened in Lanka, the city of Ravana. The location of Lanka was not in doubt at all until recently. It was common knowledge that Ravana’s Lanka was in Sri Lanka on the other side of the sea which can be reached by the Setu bund that starts from Dhanushkodi. Even Al Biruni, the Persian scholar had written that Setu was built by the Vanaras of Rama’s army to reach Lanka. This view changed after the arrival of the British who refused to believe that the Ramayana depicts the true events in the life of Rama and rejected it as a mythical story.


Following their footsteps, our countrymen also started exploring but ended up confusing the common man on the reality of Ramayana. In the name of ‘research’ they refused to accept that Ravana lived in today’s Sri Lanka. There are others who are willing to believe that Ramayana is true but locate Lanka in Bharat, not in Sri Lanka. So, the purpose of this article is to establish the location Ravana’s Lanka by addressing the three main issues raised by scholars. Let’s examine each of them.


1. There are many Lanka-s in India


Many places in our country bear the name Lanka. Some analysts say that one of them must have been Ravana’s Lanka. There is a Lanka located at Sonpur in the state of Orissa wherein a temple called ‘Lankeswari’ is situated on a hill in the middle of the river Mahanadi. It is also pointed out that Sonpur was once called ‘Paschima Lanka’.


Others claim that ‘Indrana’ mountain near Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh could have been Ravana’s Lanka. It is situated in the middle of river Narmada. Others say that ‘Amarkantak’, the place where the Narmada River originates, should be Ravana’s Lanka. And some researchers say that Bastar in Madhya Pradesh was the original Lanka occupied by Ravana. A place called Bhagatrav on the Gujarat coast is also not spared. This was identified as Lanka of Ravana by some other researchers.


Ravana is worshipped in places like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Many of these places end up with the name Lanka. Therefore, some people are of the opinion that Ravana must have lived in this area. Moreover, not many are ready to believe that Rama travelled all through the length of Bharat to reach the southeast shore of Bharat to cross the ocean. So, they take an easy route of believing that Rama crossed Narmada and ended up at some Lanka within Bharat.


2. Sri Lanka at a distance of one hundred yojanas


Another reason for locating Lanka within our country is based on a specific detail given by Sampati. When the Vanaras were dejected at being unable to find Sita, they met Sampati on the fringes of the Vindhya mountains. Sampati was aware of the abduction of Sita by Ravana and informed the Vanaras of Sita’s confinement in Ravana’s city, Lanka, which he said was a hundred yojanas away (V.R.: 4-58-20). From which place is Lanka 100 yojanas away?


According to some, it referred to the location of Sampati in the Vindhyas. They reason that Mahendragiri in Orissa is roughly 100 yojanas away from Lanka. Assuming that a yojana is 8 miles long, Mahendragiri is 1424 km (884 miles) from Colombo which is more than 100 yojanas. This calculation goes with the presumption that Hanuman jumped from Mahendragiri hill in Orissa to the location of Ravana in Sri Lanka, but never in the history of our country has there been a reference to Hanuman jumping from Orissa to Lanka. But this does not concern the researchers who are stuck with the 100 yojana distance mentioned by Sampati.   


3. Lanka on the equator


Thirdly, it is said that Lanka is not Sri Lanka because astronomical texts such as Surya Siddhanta and Siddhanta Shiromani say that the axis of the earth which passes through Kurukshetra and Ujjain touches Lanka on the equator in a straight line.


Another reason given is that the Ramayana refers to the building of Setu for a stretch of 100 yojanas (V.R: 6-22). It should be equivalent to 800 miles as per the conversion of 1 yojana equal to 8 miles.  But the Ram Setu is only 30 kilometres long. This makes certain researchers conclude that Ram Setu which connects Sri Lanka was not the original Setu built by Rama with the help of the Vanaras. According to them, it must be somewhere down south in the Indian Ocean on the equator. When calculated, the equator is more than 100 yojanas (800 miles) from the tip of Bharat. Where the imaginary line of the earth’s axis joins the equator there is deep sea, and no land mass is found. This doesn’t dampen the confidence of these researchers who claim that Lanka must have been submerged in the sea.


Let us see if these views are acceptable.


Meaning of Lanka


The term Lanka is found applied to many locations in Bharat. The mystery behind it is solved by Tamil dictionaries and thesaurus which define Lanka as a raised land in the middle of water. When a mass of land is left untouched by water that flows around it, the landmass is called ‘Ilangai’ in Tamil, which is also known as Lanka. Such a landmass appears like an island. A thesaurus called Senthan Divakara Nighantu states, “Lanka, Turutthi and Arangam” are the names of landforms created by the meandering of a river.


Another text called Bingala Nighantu repeats the same names as above, including Lanka for the raised land, formed by waterbodies running around them. Arangam appearing as one among them, we understand the name-cause for Sri Rangam, which is in the middle of river Kaviri. There are interpretations for what Srirangam means, but the name is basically derived from the landform created by a river winding around it. In most locations, such land deposits in the middle of water have been named as Lanka.


‘Lankeswari’ is derived from the fact that it is situated on a hill in the middle of the Mahanadi. Sonpur where it is situated is known as Paschima Lanka, which means western Lanka. The Ramayana does not say that Lanka existed in the West. Lanka is in the south and there are twenty-five hymns sung by Alwars that Ravana’s Lanka was in the South. They called it ‘Thennilangai’, meaning Southern Lanka. Therefore, Lankeswari is in no way related to Lanka of Ravana.  


Similarly, other places like Indrana and Amarkantak fall within the riverine system of ‘Lanka’. There are many Lankas in the Narmada, all of which are in the middle of the river. In the middle of the river Godavari too, there are Lankas. If we look at the origin of this name, it appears in the language of Munda, the indigenous tribal people of our country. In our country there are Lankas in the riverbed, in the middle of lakes, as islands, and even as mountains that stand alone in the plains. Tamil Sangam literature also speaks about a ‘Maa- Ilangai’. Thus, there have been sporadic Lankas from Assam to Tamilnadu that one should not be carried awy by the name Lanka found in Bharat.


Generality of the number hundred


Next, the hundred yojana distance given by Sampati is taken up for analysis. After saying that Lanka was 100 yojanas from his place in the Vindhyas (V.R: 4-58-20), he says after a few verses that one must cross a hundred yojanas in the sea (V.R: 4-58-24). By the reference to 100 yojanas in two different contexts in the same speech, it appears that it is given as a general number. 


The 100 yojana gets mentioned again when Hanuman crosses the ocean. Here, Samudra Raja asks Mount Mainaka to give Hanuman a place to rest and continues to say that Hanuman needs to take rest after having travelled 100 yojanas; only then he can cross the remaining distance easily, says Samudra Raja. This gives the opinion that the travelling distance across the ocean is more than 100 yojanas. But the total distance to be travelled across the ocean is 100 yojanas which Valmiki states after Hanuman crosses the ocean (V.R: 5-1-200).


In the meantime, it is said that Hanuman enlarged his body by the size of 90 yojanas when he entered the mouth of Surasa, the mother of snakes who intercepted Hanuman (V.R: 5-1-166). By having grown 90 yojanas in size, Hanuman could have crossed the sea from there with that body, but he didn’t or couldn’t. So, it seems that the number one hundred seems to have been used to denote larger size. It doesn’t represent the real term of 100 yojanas.


Sita, too, on receiving Hanuman as the emissary, was glad that at last her travails were coming to an end. This she said by stating that if only one survives, one will enjoy happiness even after a hundred years (V.R: 5-34-6). Therefore, 100 is expressed to denote a big number or a standard number which should not be taken at face value. Lanka is 100 yojanas away, could only express a long distance. That the sea was 100 yojanas long to reach Lanka, is meant to express a long distance to be crossed across the sea.


Lanka in Astronomy


Based on what we have already mentioned for the meaning of Lanka, it is understood that the Lanka on the equator must have been an island surrounded by sea. It could have been even a small land sufficient to hold an observatory in the equatorial region. On the world map, if a straight line is drawn by connecting Kurukshetra and Ujjain it touches the Maldives groups of islands in the equator. Today there is no land where the axis of the earth passes through. There is only sea water there but surrounded by small islands of Maldives.


Maldives was known as “Pazham theevu Panneerayiram” (12,000 Olden islands) in the inscriptions of Rajaraja Chola. Those islands were conquered by the Cholas a thousand years ago, but it is doubtful whether any island was on the equator on the line of axis of the earth at that time. Compared to the olden name of the Maldives having 12,000 islands, there are less than 1200 islands today, indicating the scope for loss of many small islands into the sea. The Astronomical point of Lanka also must have gone into the sea long before, for, there exists no record of that Lanka anywhere.   


That was not Ravana’s Lanka, but Maldives seems to have a connection to the Ramayana because the names sound like the names of Ravana’s maternal ancestors. Maldives and its capital Male are phonetically like the name of Mali, the younger brother of Sumali, Ravana’s maternal grandfather. Somalia on the eastern coast of Africa close to Maldives sounds like Sumali. Another place, Malawa in East Africa on the side of Maldives, reminds us of Malyavan, the brother of Ravana’s grandfather. It appears more appropriate to relate these places with the ancestral regions of Ravana and not as Ravana’s abode. From there, Lanka (Sri Lanka) is just across the sea and easily reachable. The Sumali brothers married their daughter, Kaikasi, to Pulastya, who lived in Lanka in the Sri Lankan region.


Southern Lanka


In 25 hymns, the Azhwars have mentioned ‘Southern Lanka’ to say that the Lanka ruled by Ravana existed only in Sri Lanka. Two hymns specifically state that Lanka is in the south. Thondaradipodi Azhwar in his composition Thirumalai (verse 19) states that Lanka is to the south of Srirangam.


Another Azhwar by name, Nammaazhwar, has also written that Ravana’s Lanka was in the south direction (Thiruviruththam -77). So, it is better not to be misled by researchers who are looking for Lanka in the Narmada and Godavari.


The Azhwars mention Lanka in 134 hymns, of which 22 hymns mention Lanka as being surrounded by sea water, making it clear that the various Lankas in Bharat have nothing to do with Ravana’s Lanka. Moreover, in the Ramayana itself, it is said that Lanka is on the opposite side of the sea. Ravana himself tells Sita that Lanka is in the middle of the sea (V.R: 3-47-29).


Yet, doubts are being raised on Ravana’s Lanka in Sri Lanka for various reasons. Is it Sri Lanka or Ceylon? Since Simhala also refers to Sri Lanka, how to justify that Lanka was there? Was the entire Sri Lanka known as Lanka or only a part of it? Since Sri Lanka was also mentioned as ‘Tambapanni’ in the past, how true is it that it was Ravana’s Lanka? Was the entire Sri Lanka occupied by Ravana in the Ramayana time? These questions must be answered before zeroing in on Lanka of Ravana.


(To be concluded…)

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top