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Taprobane Island: Part 3 – Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande’s Island Home in Ceylon


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande travelled several times between Hampshire and Colombo during and after the Great War.

When the First World War ended, he came to Ceylon on a mission to find the spot which, by its sublime beauty, would fulfil his dreams and hold him there for life.

His skills as an expert furniture maker and a gardener in Ceylon, and, later on, his writings, may have provided him with the necessary finances to supplement his travel and living. There are accounts from people who knew him in Ceylon that he also used to receive remittances from overseas, probably sent by his wife, Lady Mary, from time to time for his upkeep and living.

Ferguson’s Ceylon Directory for 1920-21 listed him as residing with his 21-year-old son Victor Alexander at ‘Ascot‘, Albert Crescent, Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7; the very élite and high-society area of Colombo.

Maurice had a furniture factory and workshop in Colombo. The furniture crafted most admirably had the designs of French styles of that period. A number of de Mauny-Talvande furniture pieces that survived in the hands of private owners are now highly valued and cherished in Sri Lanka.

In 1925, Maurice launched the “Weligama Local Industries” in Weligama. He claimed that he gave employment to over 200 carpenters, carvers and inlayers. By 1930, the enterprise succumbed to depression. However, Maurice restarted it in 1936.

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Taprobane Island (Source: taprobaneisland.com)
Taprobane Island (Source: taprobaneisland.com)

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Though Maurice had first visited Ceylon in 1912 it was in September 1927 that he saw for the first time and quite by chance, the rocky outcrop covered with lush foliage rising out of the sea, just beyond a broad sandy beach, at the centre of the arc of the Weligama Bay. It was the Galduwa islet. Ten years later, he recalled: “a red granite rock, covered with palms and jungle shrub, rising from the Indian Ocean – an emerald in a setting of pink coral.”

Entranced by the site, he waded across the sparkling clear waters to the islet. Ten years later, he recalled:

“There was nothing between me and the South Pole … I sat for a long while on a boulder overlooking the sea wishing that this island lost in the Indian Ocean were mine; picturing and planning what I should do with it. … I felt my heart beating with the overwhelming desire to find peace in it, the nearest thing to happiness. Yes, it must be the home which I had dreamt of so many years past.”

Having found his own island paradise, he chose to build his house on the islet and live his dream of peace and tranquillity, close to nature.

Local records show that Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande purchased the island in 1925 for a sum of Rupees 250 in the name of his son, Victor Alexander. It remained in Victor’s ownership until it was sold by public auction, in 1942, for Rupees 12,000.

Maurice named his private island “Taprobane” based on the ancient name for Ceylon given by the Greeks and also because of the island’s similarity in shape to Ceylon.

The foundation stone was laid on February 1, 1927, for an octagonal fantasy stone mansion in pseudo-Pompeian style with five en-suite bedrooms, and verandahs in every direction. Small gardens extending through the foliage to the overhanging edges, fully occupied the crest of the island.

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Infinity Pool at Tabrobane Island
Infinity Pool at Taprobane Island

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The spilling out verandahs that embrace the landscaped garden, stepped terraces hovering over the ocean, and a stunningly clear ‘infinity pool’, create a sensation of living on a landscaped cruise boat.

Maurice encouraged people to visit his islet. He received a constant stream of visitors. He has hosted heads of state, famous authors, and many business elites. His historical visitor’s book was filled with names of Kings, Princes, Dukes, Duchesses, aristocrats, Prime Ministers, and other famous personalities who visited Taprobane Island.

In the 1930s, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande served as a member of the Weligama Urban Council. Though he possessed a natural skill to cultivate the friendship of the rich and famous, his penchant for grandiose, as well as his conscience-free disposition to marshal the financial resources of other people, whether morally acceptable or otherwise surfaced very often. Writer Joe Duncan wrote about his negative trait:

During a visit to Sri Lanka last year (2002), I came across a reference to ‘Count de Mauny’ in an as-yet-unpublished family memoir. The late writer, a prominent Ceylon civil servant during the 1930s and 1940s, mentions encountering the 73-year-old Maurice in his bathing shorts at Weligama early in 1940 and recalls having ‘fallen out’ with him on an earlier occasion. The memoirist had refused permission to the local Government Headman to decorate the Weligama beach with lighted coconut shells and to hold a procession of dancers and fireworks, all at government expense, to entertain Governor Caldecott on a private visit to ‘Taprobane’. If Count de Mauny had himself offered to pay the villagers to put on such a display, comments the memoirist, there could have been no objection, but instead, he had expected the local taxpayers (in effect) to cover the cost of what was strictly a private visit.

The above anecdote certainly ties in with certain less attractive characteristics mentioned in Count de Mauny – Friend of Royalty, by Seweryn Chomet.

In 1931, the Count was residing at Weligama, and his son, Victor Alexander, was residing at “Boxmead“, Turret Road (now Dharmapala Mawatha), Colombo.

The book, “The Gardens of Taprobane” by The Count de Mauny, edited by Bernard Miall, was published in London in 1937 by Williams and Norgate. This book is all about his Taprobane Island home and includes several black and white photos of the villa and the gardens. He has also the authored two other books titled “The Peace of Suffering 1914-1918” and “Gardening in Ceylon.”

Many renowned writers such as Paul Bowles, Robin Maugham, Shaun Mandy and Norah Burke have also given graphical accounts of the Taprobane Island.

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Taprobane Island: Part 1 – Tambapanni the Island Paradise


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Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The ancient historical poem Mahavamsa or the ‘Great Chronicle’ of Sri Lanka, tells that the cruel and callous Prince-regent, Vijaya, and his unruly companions, after being banished from Sinhapura in India, landed on the shores of an island. After disembarking from the ship they sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So, they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Prince Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.

As time wore on, the exact location of Tambapanni as described in Mahavamsa became obscured to the world.

Ancient Greek texts describe an island nation of perfect beauty where people lived in communal peace and in perfect harmony with nature, amid tropical gardens and idyllic seas. Around 290 BC, the Greek geographer Megasthenes reported first about this island to the Europeans.

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Map of Taprobana- 1588
Ptolemy’s Map of Taprobana

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The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) drafted a map of the island. He identified it as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from the then prevailing name Tambapanni. His map carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering top.

The whereabouts of this mythical island nation were fiercely debated for centuries. Adventurous seafarers chased the dream of finding this fabled land, and a few landed at Bali islands, Madagascar and the Maldives.

Eventually, the long-sought Taprobana was identified with the exotic tropical paradise, the island of Sri Lanka, a pearl in the Indian Ocean, lying south-east of India.

Weligama

Stilt Fishing in Weligama, Sri Lanka
Stilts fishermen, Sri Lanka (Source – Написал Fergan_Trop)

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Weligama is a town on the southern coast of Sri Lanka in Matara District, 89.48 miles (144 km) from Colombo. In Sinhala, the term ‘Weligama‘ literally means “sandy village” derived after the area’s sandy sweep bay. Fishing is the main occupation of the region. It is most famous for its distinct stilt fishermen.

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The Taprobane Island

Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)
Tabrobane Island on the shore of Weligama. (Source: Google Maps)

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A hundred yards offshore in the Weligama Bay is an islet whose traditional name is “Galduwa” meaning “Rock Island” in the Sinhalese language. In ancient times, the islet may have been a part of the mainland as it is not shown in maps of the Portuguese Colonial era. This Islet comprises 2½ acres of sheer tropical fantasy with nothing between it and the South Pole.

A hunt for an earthly paradise inspired a self-styled French aristocrat, Count Maurice de Mauny-Talvande (1866-1941), a gentleman of leisure, and furniture maker, to transform Galduwa into a privately owned islet called “Taprobane Island,” which is now one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned luxury destinations.

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Tabrobane Island
Tabrobane Island

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While travelling on the Weligama By Pass road a partly hidden octagonal villa could be seen through the dense foliage atop the rocky island.

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Next → Taprobane Island: Part 2

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 5 – Panduvāsudeva


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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During the last years of his life Vijaya lamented that he had no male heir of royal blood to succeed him to the throne. He wished to bring his twin-brother Sumitta from Sinhapura and handover his kingdom to him. Consulting his ministers Vijaya sent a letter to Sumitta. After some time Vijaya died.

After Vijaya’s death which ended the Kingdom of Tambapanni, his chief minister a Brahmin chaplain named Upatissa became regent. While the wait was on for the coming of prince Sumitta, Upatissa ruled the kingless kingdom for a year from Upatissagama (or Upatissa Nuwara) founded by him in 505 BC on the bank of river Gambhīra, about 8 miles north of Anuradhagama.

Other noteworthy establishments around Tambapanni were Anuradhagama and Vijitagama.

Anuradha, a minister of Vijaya, founded Anuradhagama (‘Anuradha’s village’) near the Kadamba river, the present Malwatu Oya. In later years, it became the capital of Rajarata for over a thousand years under the name Anuradhapura (Anuradha’s city).

Vijitha, one of Vijaya’s chief followers, founded Vijithagama also known as Vijitha Nagara or Vijithapura, a fortress-city. Historians believe that the city may have been an important trade center during the early stages of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, connecting several trade routes.

When Vijaya’s letter arrived at Sinhapura, Sumitta after the death of his father king Sinhabahu was already enthroned as king of his country. Sumitta had three sons by the princess of Madda. When he had heard the letter he was unwilling to leave his native land. So, he spoke to his three sons: “I am old, dear ones; one of you must depart for the greatly favoured and beauteous island of Tambapanni belonging to my brother, and there, after his death, assume, the sovereignty of that fair kingdom.”

Sumitta’s youngest son Panduvāsudeva consented to sail to Tambapanni. After being empowered by his father for the success of his journey, Panduvāsudeva took with him thirty-two sons of ministers and sailed with them in the disguise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara river.

Panduvāsudeva and his companions in the disguise of mendicant monks

Sri Lanka’s foremost historian and pre-eminent archaeologist Dr. Senarath Paranavithana, in his essay “Aryan settlements and early kings” published in the Concise History of Ceylon wrote: “Panduvasdeva with thirty two followers, it is said, arrived in Ceylon in the guise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara River at the port of Gokanna, the modern Trincomalee according to the commentator of the chronicle (Mahavamsa).”

When people saw these mendicant monks they received them with due respect. Panduvāsudeva after inquiring about the capital, reached the city of Upatissagama, with his 32 followers.

The ministers at Upatissagama saw the mendicant monks arrive there, after questioning they recognized them, as prince Panduvāsudeva and his retinue from Sinhapura. The ministers entrusted Panduvāsudeva with the sovereignty of the kingdom left by Vijaya. Since Panduvāsudeva lacked a consort he was not solemn consecrated as their ruler.

In the meantime, Sakka Pandu, a Sakya king, who lived on the farther side of the river Ganges, in India, had seven sons and a daughter named Bhaddakaccānā. The princess was beautiful as if made of gold. The soothsayers had predicted that an auspicious journey would come her way that would result in a royal consecration. Seven kings competed in wooing princess Bhaddakaccānā. They sent precious gifts to king Sakka Pandu.

These seven rivals appeared so likely to fight among themselves, for the hand of the gorgeous princess. Unable to decide between her suitors, king Pandu after placing his daughter on a ship, together with thirty-two women-companions launched the vessel upon the Ganges, saying: “Whosoever can, let him take my daughter.”

None of the wooers was able to overtake her ship that sailed swiftly down the Ganges river and reached the ocean.

After a few days of sailing on the ocean, their vessel reached the haven called Gonagamaka (present Trincomalee harbour) on the east coast of the island where they landed, dressed as nuns.

In due course, princess Bhaddakaccānā and her companions reached Upatissagama, where prince Panduvāsudeva, who had heard the saying of a soothsayer, awaited their arrival.

Panduvāsudeva’s ministers, full of pious understanding, consecrated him as their king. He married princess Bhaddakaccānā and gave her women-companions to his
followers who had come with him from Sinhapura.

Panduvāsudeva reigned for thirty years from 444 BC to 414 BC.

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 4 – Tamil Brides from Madurai


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Vijaya’s ministers were quite intrepid in founding their own villages around Tambapanni. After they had founded settlements, the ministers spoke to prince Vijaya.

“Sire, please consent to be consecrated as the ruler of this land,” they said.

In spite of their request, the prince refused the consecration for want of a maiden hailing from a noble house to be consecrated as his consort at the same time.

The ministers, sent emissaries entrusted with many precious gifts, jewels, pearls, and other valuables, to the city of “Then Madurai” (the modern-day city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu), in the Pandya kingdom of the Tamils in southern India, to woo the daughter of the Pandya king for their lord, and the daughters of others for his ministers and retainers whose wives got separated from them during their voyage from the Lála country.

Since then, there are several recorded instances of intermarriage between ruling families of Sri Lanka and the major royal South Indian Dynasties, in particular, the Pandya, Chola, and the Chera.

The messengers from Tambapanni, on reaching Then Madurai laid the gifts and letter of request before the Pandya king. After consulting his ministers, the king agreed to send his daughter to the island of Tambapanni to become the consort of Vijaya. So, he proclaimed with the beat of drums:

Those citizens who are willing to let their daughter depart to the island of Tambapanni shall provide their daughters with a double store of clothing and place them at the doors of their houses. By this sign we will know that we may take their daughters to ourselves.”

The Pandya king thus obtained a hundred maidens. After compensating the families of the maidens, he sent his daughter, bedecked with all her ornaments and all that was needful for the voyage, the maidens whom he had fitted out according to their rank, elephants, horses, waggons, an so forth as dowry. He also sent craftsmen and a thousand families belonging to the eighteen trade guilds.

This multitude from Then Madurai disembarked at the port of Mahatittha (Mantota or Manthotam).

When Vijaya heard that the princess from the Pandya kingdom had arrived at the port of Mahatittha with her retinue he said to Kuveni: “Go thou now, dear one, leaving the two children behind; men are ever in fear of superhuman beings.”

When Kuveni heard this, seized with mortal fear of the yakshas she started wailing.

Vijaya then told her, “Delay not! I will give you a thousand (pieces of money).”

Kuveni leaving Tambapanni with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala
Kuveni leaving Tambapanni with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

Kuveni implored again and again, but Vijaya did not relent. Outraged, Kuveni scorned Vijaya with words of wrath and cursed him and his city of Tambapanni. She then departed from the city with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala, for Lankapura, the capital of the yakshas, knowing very well that evil would befall her.

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

On reaching Lankapura, she left the children outside the city in the forest glades and went alone into the city. The yakshas in the city on recognizing her took her for a spy, and a violent yaksha killed Kuveni with a single blow of his fist.

yaksha, an uncle of Kuveni on her mother’s side, saw the children waiting in the glades for the return of their mother. On learning that they were Kuveni’s children, he said: “Your mother has been slain, and if the other yakshas see you they will kill you also. So, go away immediately from here!”

Sripada also known as Adam's Peak
Sumanakuta (modern Sripada / Adam’s Peak in the Ratnapura District)

They children trekked towards Sumanaküta (Adam’s Peak in the Ratnapura District). When they grew up Jivahata took his sister Disala for his wife. Their offsprings are the Veddhas of Sri Lanka.

The envoys of the Pandya king delivered their princess, the maidens, and the dowry to Vijaya. The prince offered his hospitality and bestowed honours on the envoys of the Pandya king. He distributed the maidens to his ministers and retainers according to their rank.

Prince Vijaya marries Pandya princess
Vijaya marries the Pandya princess(A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

The ministers solemnly consecrated Vijaya as their king and the Pandya princess as their queen. King Vijaya bestowed wealth on his ministers. Every year he sent a valuable pearl to his father-in-law, the Pandya king.

Vijaya forsook his former evil way of life. He reigned Tambapanni for thirty-eight years from 543 BC – 505 BC, in peace and righteousness.

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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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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 2 – Vijaya


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Prince-regent Vijaya, the eldest son born to Sinhabahu and his twin-sister Sinhasivali, was cruel and callous – an embodiment of evil – and likewise were his friends. Angered by the many intolerable deeds of violence executed by the prince-regent and his followers, the subjects of Sinhapura brought the matter before the king. However, the king took no action against the prince-regent. The angry subjects finally asked the king to kill his evil son Vijaya.

The exasperated king arrested his eldest son Vijaya, the prince-regent, and seven hundred men who were his followers. After disgracing them by shaving off half the head of each person, he banished them from Lála country by loading the men, their wives, and their children on separate vessels and set them afloat on the sea.

The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.
The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.

The children landed on an island called Naggadipa or the ‘island of the naked’ (Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka).

The women landed on an island called Mahiladipaka or ‘islet of women’ in the Maldivian Islands.

Prince Vijaya and his unruly followers landed first at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sopara, in Thana district north of Mumbai. However, the hostile reception by the natives, and also dissidence and violence among his men, forced Vijaya to embark again. The second time, their vessel driven by the violence of the wind, they landed on the island of Sri Lanka.

Vijaya and his companions landing at Tambapanni

Vijaya and his men after disembarking from the ship sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So,  they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.

Map of Taprobana- 1588

The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) identified the Island as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from Tambapanni, when he drafted his map of Sri Lanka. It carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering tip.

At the place of their landing they saw a wandering ascetic seated at the foot of a tree. They approached him and asked him: “What land is this, sir?”

“The island of Lanka,” the ascetic answered.”There are no men (humans) here, and here no dangers will arise.”

The ascetic blessed them by sprinkling on them water from his kamandalu (Tamil: kamandalam). After winding a thread about their hands he disappeared.

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