Scattered across Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and other parts of the island, the architecturally noteworthy ruins left behind by the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka is a great indication of the influence and power they wielded over the country back in the day.
Despite the common belief that the landing of Vijaya and his people from India in Thambpanni located in the north-western shores of the island was the beginning of Sri Lanka’s history, the native tribes of the island – Yaksha and Naga had already been thriving for centuries at the time of their arrival. Although most of the country’s history was only documented after Vijaya’s arrival, the existence of these indigenous tribes has been chronicled by the great epics including Maharbaratha and Mahavamsa.
Historical records indicate that the tribes had a series of strong kings from 135 A.D and by the sixth century B.C. the Yaksha were confined to the center of the country, while the Nagas ruled the western and northern territories. Believed to be nature-spirits of sorts, the Yaksha were devil-worshippers while the Naga were serpent-worshippers, who were assumed to have had their head covered in the shape of a hood of a hydra-headed cobra. In spite of the graphic image historical documents suggest, the Yaksha and Naga were average farmers and cattle herders who also held a vast knowledge in Ayurveda and irrigation systems. These kingdoms would go on to build astonishing reservoirs such as the Giant’s Tank dam in Mannar located in the northern part of the island.
Although these tribes were decimated by the newcomers to the island, certain elements of the two native cultures have been inherited by the present day Sri Lanka from the use of devils in traditional masks to the significant role snakes play in Hinduism.
King Ravana, the primary antagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayana is one of the most notable descendants of the Naga tribe. Despite his portrayal as a vindictive king who kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita, Ravana was a capable ruler and a great scholar with an extensive knowledge on Ayurveda medicine and is even believed to be the island’s first alchemist.
Ravana’s prowess would also make him the first king to fly over the world with an air chariot he had designed. Evidence of the air chariot have been found in rock inscriptions, Jataka stories and ola manuscripts in several areas. In addition, places like Ravana Ella, Ussangoda and Konneswaram Kovil each have their own tales focusing different traits of King Ravana who was perhaps one of the greatest kings in ancient civilization.