The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 3 – Kuveni


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Yakka or yaksha is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots, but there is also a darker version of the yakkas, which is a kind of ghost (bhutha) that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers, similar to the rakshasas. The yakkas appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature. The feminine form of the word is yakshi or yakshini.

After Vijaya and his men landed at Tambapanni, there appeared a dog. Though Prince Vijaya had advised his men not to venture alone into the forest, one of them surmising that ‘dogs are found only in villages,’ followed the creature.

‘Kuveni’ portrayed by Dulani Anuruddha

‘Kuveni’ portrayed by Dulani Anuruddha (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

On entering the thick forest, he saw the mistress of the dog, a yakshini named Kuveni also known as Sesapathi or Kuvanna (in Mahavamsa), seated at the foot of a tree spinning as a woman-hermit might.

When the man saw the pond and the woman-hermit sitting there, he dived into the pond. When he came out of the pond, after his bath, Kuveni approached him and commanded, “Stay! You are my prey!”.

The man stood there, traumatized. Kuveni tried to devour him, but could not because of the power of the magic thread. Though she entreated him, the man would not yield up the thread. The yakshini then seized him, and hurled him into a chasm. Similarly, she hurled all seven hundred, one by one, after him.

When none of his men returned, fear came upon Vijaya. Armed with five weapons he set out to find them. When he came up to the beautiful pond, he saw no trace of any man having come there. Then, he saw the woman-hermit and thought: ‘Surely  this woman has seized by men.’

He asked her, “O woman, have you seen my men?”

“Why do you want your men, prince?” she replied. “First quench your thirst and bathe in the pond.”

Vijaya thought: ‘This surely is a yakshini! How else could she know my rank?’

Vijaya and Kuveni
Wijaya and Kuveni (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

Drawing his bow, he swiftly caught her in the noose about the neck, and seizing her hair with his left hand he lifted his sword in the right and shouted: “Slave! Give me back my men, or I will kill you!”

Fearing for her life Kuveni cried out, “Spare my life, sir. I will give you a kingdom and do a woman’s service and other services as you wish.”

He then asked her to swear an oath, and ordered her to bring his men immediately.

When she brought all his men to that place, he said, “These men are hungry.”

Kuveni showed them rice and other foods and goods of every kind that had been in the ships of those traders whom she had devoured. Vijaya’s men prepared food with the rice and the condiments provided by her.

Kuveni was well pleased when Vijaya handed her the first portions of the meal. She assumed the lovely form of a 16-year-old maiden and approached the prince adorned with all her ornaments.

She made an alluring bed at the foot of a tree and covered it with a tent adorned with a canopy. Vijaya’s men encamped around the tent.

Vijaya united with Kuveni and they blissfully spent the night on that bed.

In due course of time, Vijaya’s men spread throughout the region and established settlements.

One night, Vijaya heard music and singing, and asked the Kuveni, lying near him about the noise.

Kuveni said, “Here there is a yakka city called Sirisavatthu. A great multitude of yakkas has gathered here for the marriage of the daughter of the chief of the yakkas. The wedding festivities will last for seven days; hence this noise.”

Then she continued: ‘I will bestow kingship on you my lord if you would slay all the yakkas else they will kill me because it is through me that your men have taken up their dwelling here in this land which belongs to the yakkas. Today, you must kill all the yakkas participating in the festivities, else it will not be possible to destroy them later.”

Vijaya asked, “How can I slay the invisible yakkas?”

The yakkas because of their stealthy movement would have been invisible to Vijaya and his men who were newcomers to the island, and unused to its thick jungles. Even today, the veddas move about in the thick jungles almost invisibly.

Kuveni replied, “Wherever they might be, I will utter cries. When you hear my voice, strike! By my magic power I will direct your weapons to pierce their bodies.”

Vijaya listened to his consort. Directed by her, Vijaya fought fiercely and slew all the yakkas. He donned the garments of the chief of the yakkas and gave the other raiments to his followers.

Kuveni with Vijaya and his followers
Kuveni with the victorious Wijaya and his followers. (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

After spending some days in Sirisavatthu, Vijaya returned to the place where he and his men landed. There he founded the city of Tambapanni and dwelt there with Kuveni.

Kuveni bore Vijaya two children, a son named Jivahata and a daughter named Disala.

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← Previous: Part 2 – Vijaya                        → Next: Part 4 – Tamil Brides from Madurai

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