From Good Samaritan to Deity | Sunday Observer

From Good Samaritan to Deity

9 February, 2020
DEVOTIONAL FAITH: Ranwaladeve Sri Maha Viharaya, Hingurala in Puwakpitiya
DEVOTIONAL FAITH: Ranwaladeve Sri Maha Viharaya, Hingurala in Puwakpitiya

The gods and goddesses of Sri Lanka, known as Deviyo, are believed to have attained such status through merit in their past human lives. Apparently, they prefer not to have direct interaction with their devotees, but use the power of the mind to assist them, just as they do to create physical objects.

The valley of the Kelani Ganga from Seethawaka to Kelaniya is always enchanting and filled with fascinating mysteries. The 145 km long Kelani Ganga flows down from Horton Plains passing Maskeliya, Polpitiya to Ruwanwella, and again flows straight to Avissawella and then toward Ranwala, Kanampella, Hanwella, Kaduwela and Kelaniya finally ending at an estuary near Wattala.

Among the belief of gods in the historic kingdom of Seethawaka, the folklore of Ranwala Deviyo (deity) dates back centuries. According to folklore, Ranwala Deviyo is considered as a provincial deity who was deified after death. ‘Ranwala Deviyo’ is venerated by mostly Buddhist villagers living on the banks of the Kelani Ganga downstream from Seethawaka (Avissawella) to Kelaniya in an area called Siyane Koralaya in the Western Province.

We peep into the history of Ranwala Deviyo, travelling to the heart of Avissawella and its suburbs visiting major shrines on the banks of the Kelani Ganga. Most of the villagers in this area have had great devotion and faith in Ranwala Deviyo for centuries.

Our first visit was Ranwala Thotupala (ferry jetty) in the Kelani Ganga which is a historically significant place for this deity. To reach this ferry, we travelled around eight kilometres on the Aswaththa- Ranwala wooded narrow road turning left at Hingurala junction on the Kosgama-Avissawella-Ratnapura A4 highway.

Keeping many more tales to tell, the Ranwala ferry, today, is replaced by a new bridge called ‘Ranwala Palama’ across the river and joins two villages of Ranwala and Aswaththa. At the Ranwala ferry, the Kelani Ganga flows down making white fumes of waves across rocky boulders, a fascinating sight to behold. We saw villagers washing their linen and using this ferry jetty as a bathing spot when we visited it last week.

This section of the Kelani Ganga is geographically and historically significant as massive rocky boulders across the river are highly dangerous to the canoes and ferryboats which cross the river. Even though these rocky boulders are suitable to wash clothes and serves as a bathing spot to the villagers today, many centuries ago, it had been a sacred site and also a fatal barrier for ferrymen who ferried at night.

Ranwala Muththa would place lighted lamps made out of tender coconut leaves called ‘Puhul Pahana’, at strategic points at night on the Kelani Ganga to help the busy ferry traffic on the river and protect the ferrymen from danger. Thus, there is a hidden tale about this simple villager who was deified after death as ‘Ranwala Deviyo’.

Legend has it that a youth called Alawathure Rala lived in the village of Ranwala in Kegalle who was in charge of the paddy store of King Rajasingha II.

This youth was very honest and faithful to the King and later, left the palace to the Kelani valley near Avissawella where he had spent a happy life cultivating abundantly in the village as well as helping the villagers.

Having spent an honest and exemplary life, he used to light Puhul Pahan (oil lamps) in strategic points at night near the rocky boulders of Ranwala ferry to avert the disasters and danger faced by ferrymen who frequent the river at night.

He had done this meritorious deed in his entire lifetime because of his life-long love for the Kelani Ganga which had enriched the farming lands and paddy fields surrounding the river. On Poya days, he visited the Kelaniya Temple by canoe to observe Sil and became popular among the villagers as Ranwala Upasaka. Later on, when he grew older, people of the area used to address him Ranwala Muththa because of his sincerity and simplicity.

People believe that Ranwala Muththa, who wore a white turban on his head and a sarong, adopting a simple lifestyle became a deity after his death, constantly protecting ferrymen on the Kelani Ganga. The villagers built shrines dedicated to Ranwala Deviyo along the banks of Kelani Ganga and lit Puhul Pahana, Kelani Ganga even after his death.

Our next stop was one of the shrines of the Ranwala Deviyo known as Ranwaladeva Sri Maha Viharaya at Hingurala in Puwakpitiya on the Colombo-Avissawella road. Its origin dates back to four hundred years. A massive life-size statue of the Ranwala Deviyo has been erected inside a glass cubicle in Ranwala Devala shrine overlooking the highway. In the past, it is said that Alawathure Rala allocated a plot of land in this shrine premises for people to park their carts at night in safety and would light the oil lamp and drop a coin to invoke blessings. We learnt at the site that even today, it has become a custom, originally introduced by the carters. Thousands of vehicles passing the shrine stop at the tills conveniently provided on the roadside to ‘drop a coin’ and obtain the blessings of Ranwala Deviyo for a safe journey.

During our visit to the shrine, we met its chief incumbent, Ven. Madanwala Ananda Thera, who has a vast knowledge on Ranwala Deviyo. “Dashing coconuts and offering pooja baskets are not rituals of Ranwala Deviyo. The coconuts are collected and offered to the deity instead of dashing. The first coconut plucked from the coconut tree is offered to Ranwala Deviyo, where the deity is worshipped by villagers around the banks of the Kelani Ganga,” said the Thera.

“Lighting a Puhul Pahana on the banks of the Kelani Ganga is one of the main rituals performed by the villagers to worship the deity. Puhul Pahana is made with Gokkola (tender coconut leaves).

The coconut leaves are tied to a wooden circle to make an oval-shaped lamp. The oil lamp is placed in the centre. People make ten or more lamps and tie on a thread along the banks of the Kelani Ganga near a shrine dedicated to the Ranwala Deviyo as an offering,” the Thera said, showing me a row of lamps tied in front of the shrine.

“People come here with all kinds of prayers from Ranwala Deviyo– to build a new house, cultivate farmland, do well in business and get good health. It is all one’s belief. People have great faith in this Deviyo,” the Thera added. Statues of Ranwala Deviyo from miniature to life-size are found in the image houses on these wayside shrines from Kaduwela to Avissawella along the banks of the Kelani Ganga.