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Local Myths and Legends of Colombo, Sri Lanka
Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, is a city steeped in rich history and culture. As with any ancient city, Colombo has its fair share of myths and legends that have been passed down through generations. These stories, often intertwined with religious beliefs and folklore, add to the mystique and allure of the city. In this article, we will explore some of the fascinating local myths and legends of Colombo.
The Origin of Colombo
- Portuguese Influence: According to local legend, the name “Colombo” is derived from the Sinhalese word “Kola-amba-thota,” which means “port of mangoes.” This name is said to have been given by Portuguese explorers who were enchanted by the abundance of mango trees in the area.
- The Koneswaram Temple: Another myth suggests that the origin of Colombo dates back to ancient times when a powerful king named Ravana ruled Sri Lanka. It is believed that Ravana built the Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee, which became the spiritual center of the island. Over time, the influence of the temple spread to Colombo, leading to its development as a significant city.
The Legend of Gangaramaya Temple
- Ancestral Connection: The Gangaramaya Temple, located in the heart of Colombo, has a captivating legend associated with its establishment. It is believed that a wealthy trader named Don Bastian Andrado, who lived during the 19th century, discovered a small statue of Lord Buddha while fishing in the Beira Lake. This event inspired him to build the temple, which has since become one of the most prominent Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.
- The Sacred Bo Tree: Within the premises of Gangaramaya Temple, there is a sacred Bo tree that is said to have been grown from a sapling of the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, India, under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. This tree is believed to possess immense spiritual significance and is revered by devotees who visit the temple.
The Haunting of Wolvendaal Church
- Colonial Ghosts: Wolvendaal Church, built by the Dutch in the 18th century, is said to be haunted by the spirits of Dutch colonists. According to local folklore, the ghosts of these colonists can be seen wandering the premises of the church, dressed in traditional Dutch attire. Some visitors claim to have heard eerie whispers and felt a chilling presence while exploring the church.
- The Mysterious Well: Another legend surrounding Wolvendaal Church revolves around a hidden well within the church grounds. It is believed that this well possesses mystical powers and is connected to supernatural occurrences in the area. Locals often visit the well to make offerings and seek blessings.
The Tale of the Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya
- Divine Intervention: Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya, a Buddhist temple situated in Colombo, has a captivating legend associated with its establishment. According to the myth, a deity known as Ganga Devi appeared in a dream to a villager and instructed him to build a temple on the exact location where he found a sacred Bo sapling. The villager followed the divine instructions, and the temple was constructed, eventually becoming a revered religious site.
- The Floating Rock: One of the most intriguing aspects of Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya is a massive rock that appears to be floating above the ground. According to legend, this rock was brought to its current position by divine intervention and is believed to possess supernatural powers. Devotees visit the temple to seek blessings and make offerings to the rock.
The Legend of the Old Parliament Building
- A Cursed Land: The Old Parliament Building in Colombo, which now houses the Presidential Secretariat, has a legend associated with its location. It is said that the land on which the building stands was cursed by a powerful priest due to an injustice committed against him. The curse was believed to bring misfortune and destruction to anyone who occupied the land. Despite the curse, the building was constructed, and it continues to be an iconic landmark in Colombo.
- Spiritual Cleansing: To counteract the negative energy associated with the curse, regular rituals and ceremonies are conducted in the vicinity of the Old Parliament Building. These rituals aim to cleanse the land and appease any lingering spirits or negative forces.
The Mystery of the Dutch Hospital
- A Haunted Past: The Dutch Hospital, a historic building in Colombo that has been transformed into a shopping and dining complex, is said to have a haunted past. According to local stories, the building was once a hospital during the Dutch colonial era and witnessed numerous deaths and suffering. It is believed that the spirits of those who perished in the hospital still linger within its walls.
- Ghostly Apparitions: Visitors and staff have reported encountering ghostly apparitions and experiencing strange occurrences within the Dutch Hospital. Some claim to have heard disembodied voices and footsteps, while others have witnessed flickering lights and objects moving on their own.
The Folklore of Mount Lavinia
- The Forbidden Romance: Mount Lavinia, a coastal suburb of Colombo, has a romantic legend associated with its name. It is said that a British governor named Sir Thomas Maitland fell in love with a local dancer named Lovina, who performed at a nearby tavern. Their love affair was forbidden, and they were unable to be together. In honor of his beloved, Sir Thomas named the area “Mount Lavinia.”
- The Haunted Mansion: The Mount Lavinia Hotel, a grand colonial-era mansion, is believed to be haunted by the spirit of Lovina. Guests and staff have reported seeing a ghostly figure resembling a woman in a white dress roaming the hallways and disappearing into thin air. The legend of Lovina adds an air of mystery and intrigue to this iconic hotel.
The Enigma of Colombo Dutch Museum
- A Glimpse into the Past: The Colombo Dutch Museum, housed in a colonial-era building, offers a glimpse into the city’s Dutch colonial history. The museum displays a collection of artifacts, furniture, and artwork from the Dutch period, providing visitors with insights into the cultural and historical heritage of Colombo.
- The Ghostly Guardian: According to local tales, the Colombo Dutch Museum is guarded by the spirit of a Dutch officer who once resided in the building. Visitors have reported encountering an otherworldly presence and feeling a sense of being watched as they explore the museum.
The Legend of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya
- Ancient Origins: The Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, located on the outskirts of Colombo, has a history dating back over 2,500 years. According to legend, Lord Buddha visited the site during his third visit to Sri Lanka and preached a sermon to a gathering of divine beings. The temple is considered one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the country.
- The Sacred Stupa: The highlight of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya is its magnificent stupa, which is believed to contain relics of Lord Buddha. Devotees visit the temple to pay homage to the stupa and seek blessings for prosperity and well-being.
The Mythical Beira Lake
- A Serene Oasis: Beira Lake, located in the heart of Colombo, has a serene and tranquil ambiance that offers respite from the bustling city life. According to local folklore, the lake is said to be inhabited by a mythical creature known as the “Naga,” a serpent-like being associated with water bodies in Sri Lankan mythology.
- Boat Rides and Festivals: Visitors can enjoy boat rides on Beira Lake, immersing themselves in the scenic beauty and peaceful surroundings. The lake also serves as a venue for various cultural and religious festivals, attracting locals and tourists alike.
Colombo, Sri Lanka, is not only a city of bustling streets and modern developments but also a city deeply rooted in legends and folklore. The local myths and legends add a touch of mystery and enchantment to the historical and cultural tapestry of Colombo. From ancient temples to haunted buildings, these stories shape the collective imagination of the city’s residents and visitors.