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Seetha Amman Temple, Sri Lanka


NUWARA ELIYA, the picturesque Sri Lankan hill station known for its fine quality tea, has seen a growing traffic of visitors to what tourist brochures term “the only Sita temple in the world”. The recently constructed complex, which is patterned on the m odern south Indian temple, is set in idyllic countryside beside a clear stream. Adjacent to it is another new temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey-god, who according to mythology was instrumental in rescuing Sita from Lanka. The location and historicity of the temples situated in the country’s plantation heartland has in recent years given rise to a controversy, which is taking on some divisive overtones in this island nation already torn by ethnic strife.The Seetha Amman Temple Trust decided some two years ago to build a Sita temple at a spot believed to be the exact place where Sita was held captive by the demon-king Ravana in the Lanka of the epic, Ramayana. Myth has it that Sita, the wife of King Rama , was imprisoned in the Ashoka forests of the region. The temple trustees believe that this is no myth and that Sita’s imprisonment at this spot is a historical fact.Realising the tourism potential of such a temple, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Tourism plans to make it the centre of a sacred site cum pilgrim complex. It earmarked 12.8 hectares around the temple for further development. The move was held up following strong objections by Buddhist organisations and environmental groups. Both sections have their reasons to oppose the temple, but they agree that there is little historical basis to the story of Sita’s imprisonment in these forests.The president of the Seetha Amman Trust and Central Province Minister for Tourism, V. Radha Krishnan, however offered the following as evidence that Sita once stayed in these parts: the concentration of Ashoka trees – various versions of the Ramayana sta te that Sita’s home in Lanka was inside a thick Ashoka forest (Ashoka Vana) – and the discovery about a century ago of three idols, one of which was that of Sita. It is believed that the idols have been worshipped at this spot for centuries.

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