Kingdom of Ruhuna through a wide lens | Sunday Observer

Kingdom of Ruhuna through a wide lens

30 April, 2023

Book: The Kingdom of Ruhuna, the Home of the Yala National Park

Writer: Suriya Jayalath Perera

The launch of The Kingdom of Ruhuna, the Home of the Yala National Park by Suriya Jayalath Perera took place during the opening ceremony of the ‘Focus Sri Lanka Photographic Exhibition’ at the Art Gallery of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) recently. The exhibition was organised to commemorate Earth Day 2023 and the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the United States.

The book on the ‘Kingdom of Ruhuna, the Home of the Yala National Park’ is indeed an impressive piece of work, that has been published as a coffee table book. The author’s collection of photography is rare with some hitherto unseen photographs that form a tapestry both pleasing to the eye and revealing technical perfection.

The book chronicles a journey of exploration to seek and to record Sri Lanka’s rich and diverse fauna and flora and the rich heritage surrounding the Ruhuna (Yala) National Park and its environs. The Author’s arduous quest for over two and a half years had taken him to locations across the region, some public and well known, others, hidden treasures from the time of the glorious days of the Ruhuna Kingdom.

During his long journey, Suriya Jayalath Perera was able to gather evidence to piece together a realistic image of the royalty, cities, villages, and roads, most of which have given way to the ravages of time, and also the lifestyles of the populace of the Kingdom of Ruhuna. He has vividly illustrated this glimpse into history both through the lens of his camera and the descriptive text in this publication.

In this initially written text in Sinhala for a master’s theses at the University of Kelaniya, the author has presented the reader with the history and serenity of the Ruhuna Kingdom in a unique style as seen through his creative eyes as an award-winning photographer, who took a painstaking journey of discovery through an area rich in archaeological sites, some of which are rarely visited and barely known even to historians. In doing so, he has depended on countless number of folklore within which the entire history and the geography of the region emerge. The reader will find a treasure trove of legendary stories in the author’s scholarly narration of the life and times of the Ruhuna Kingdom, the home of the Yala National Park.

Kingdom of Ravana

The book recounts that though Sri Lanka is an Island famed from antiquity as it was referred to about 4,000 years ago in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, as the kingdom of the demon king Ravana, the national importance of the Ruhuna region began to make itself felt in 205 (BCE) when Chola invaders, led by King Elara, conquered Anuradhapura. King Dutugamunu hailing from the Southern Kingdom of Ruhuna eventually defeated the invaders and became the greatest worrier king. His ancestors, who ruled the Ruhuna Kingdom, had established religious and royal complexes in Ruhuna resembling those of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the historic mega cities established between the 3rd century B.C. to the 13th century C.E. The author explores all the historical sites mentioned above in his publication.

The Ruhuna National Park is said to overlie the ancient boundaries of the Kingdom of Ruhuna and is also famed in the Sinhalese historical imagination as a place of sanctity where Arahants have taken refuge in meditation. Indeed, venturing into the area today, it is difficult not to experience a sense of sanctity and tranquility and a feeling that one has stepped into a sacred place, rich in history, as recorded by Suriya in his publication.

In addition to its historical associations, however, the Yala region was and remains home to an abundance of varied wildlife, including leopards, elephants, deer, monkeys, water buffalo, and a host of rare birds as illustrated by the stunning photography of Suriya. The Yala National Park is home to the highest density population of leopards in the world.

The author illustrates how the Ruhuna Kingdom is very rich in ruins of ancient temples, caves, meditation chambers, cloisters, pulpits, stone umbrellas, inscriptions, Buddha statues, moonstones, stone pillars, dagobas and assembly halls that are scattered throughout particularly Yala and its environs.

For example, he points out that there are many caves, dagobas, stone fences and inscriptions around an area known as Akasa Chaitiya (stupa), also known as Aligala, which belongs to the first sector of Yala as described in detail and equally well illustrated within the pages of this masterpiece.

The irrigation of Yala region signifies the creativity of our ancestors. Buthuwa Wewa and Athuru Mithuru Wewa, the tanks built to assist irrigated agricultural areas, are also locations radiating nature’s immense beauty of the region as depicted in this publication.

Beauty of Yala

The book also describes how small and large lakes and tanks around Manik Ganga and Kumbukkan Oya, and huge mountains such as Gal Kanda, which is formed in the shape of a human, add lustre to the beauty of Yala, while the ancient ruins such as the Akasa Chaitya enhance its unique charm.

You will see in this publication how the valley of Suduwelimulla and the fishermen’s huts along with the communities in the surrounding agricultural lands enhance the diversity of Yala. It illustrates how the temples located around the sanctuaries of Katharagama, Nimalawa, Kudumbigala; the magnificent paintings of caves around Yala are monuments to the richness of the civilisation of the Kingdom of Ruhuna.

The tranquil environment with a high level of biodiversity adds to its richness attracting many local and foreign visitors, which bestows a responsibility on the environmentalists, so that these unique attractions can be shared with the rest of the world in years to come.

The Yala National Park, an integral part of the Kingdom of Ruhuna, also has a population with an interesting ancestry. An ancient community of Nittaewo (hairy bodied people) and Mukkarawarun (short and dagger clawed people) is said to have inhabited the area. An account of these communities is narrated in the final pages of Suriya’s publication.

Folklore forms the basis of such accounts as much of the history and geography of the area. This publication, I believe, will serve to help preserve the ancient lore for future generations, instead of being buried under the sand with the passage of time.

The main objective of this publication, however, is to engage in a broad discussion about the Yala National Park, which has been designated as a World Heritage site. The author expresses the hope that it will encourage all concerned to make every effort towards conserving these unique national treasures, with a commitment towards conserving the ancient heritage established by his ancestors and ensure that we protect it for future generations as well as thousands of local and foreign visitors.

The writer is former Deputy Director-General, United Nations.