WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


Bahirawa: Legend of a dreaded demon

by S. S. M. Nanayakkara

Bahirawakanda 'the hill of Bahirawa' with its breathtaking panoramic view of he hill capital is today a far cry from what it was a few generations back. it was then a jungle encroached green belt where lesser denizens of the wilds roamed at will. During Kandyan regime and as late as the early British period the area earned a chilling reputation as the abode of Bahirawa, an elusive demon who, it was believed, preyed upon humans.

z_p33-leg.jpg (22986 bytes)Folk in the hinterland village held the locality under taboo, not even the most daring of poachers would venture alone into the precincts. Many were cautious in speaking of the faceless terror.

Gentrification of the area and its burgeoning development over the last 50 years or so has altered its original semblance so dramatically that today it is to Kandy what Cinnamon Gardens is to the metropolis, one of the most coveted pieces of real estate that the Kandy city boast of.

The Bahirawakanda heights command a breathtaking Disneyland view of the Kandy town in the nights when the place is lit up in all its chromatic splendour of glittering city lighting. Feast your eyes for once on this ethereal wonderland you remain transfixed for ever!


The earliest reference to Bahirawakanda by its chilling name, 'the hill of Bahirawa' is recorded in a late 18th century ola scroll - 'The Asgiri Talpotha'. It chronicles that King Parakramabahu 1 (1164-1197) honoured by his King Parakrama Bahu the Great founded hereabouts a monastic sanctuary for Buddhist priests. The southern boundary of this refuge is identified as Bahirawakanda.

It can be surmised that the name Bahirawakanda was extent prior to the early 12th century, but from what period earlier evidence is scanty.

Tradition recounts that during the Kandyan period human sacrifices were made to propitiate the demon of Bahirawakanda. The first such sacrifice is credited to the fancy of a 17th century childless queen. The queen dreamt that Bahirawa manifested himself to her in a dream and demanded a human sacrifice if she were to be with child. The king in his anxiety to beget an heir soothsayer the king decreed that a virgin of noble birth be selected as the victim.

On the evening of the appointed day the young girl was led up in a procession to a clearing in the wilderness of Bahirawakanda and left there secured to a stake. Their gruesome task accomplished the crowd deserted the place leaving the girl to her fate. Morbid terror, exhaustion and exposure to the chilly mountain air had done the work that Bahirawa was supposed to have done to her. The following morning her remains were found with the lower portion of her body severely mauled and partly eaten by those relentless scavengers of the jungles - jackals.

Last human sacrifices

The last human sacrifice to Bahirawa was in the reign of the last king of Kandy, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe. During the latter period of his rule he was in the doldrums. Political intrigues of his ministers from within and the threat to his kingdom from without had goaded on the irascible potentate to desperation on the advice of his soothsayers he decided to review the now defunct traditional practice of the grisly sacrifice to appease the wrath of Bahirawa which he opined was the cause of his predicament.

The object of sacrifice,a comely young wench, daughter of a lesser chief was taken in a procession to the selected spot of immolation and in accordance with the traditional custom was left there secured to a stake.

This time Bahirawa was baulked of his victim. The hinge of fate turned in favour of the girl. No sooner than the crowd deserted the arena of sacrifice, the girl's suitor disguised as a woodcutter secretly stole up to her and freed his love.

The king who slept well that night comforted by his surmise the Bahirawa was appeased and the future would augur well for him was taken by surprise when he was informed by his ministers the next morning that the girl was well and alive. He considered the event a propitious omen and offered her a golden handshake in anything she desire. She preferred her saviour who had by now fled the king's territory fearing royal wrath. The king granted her wish.

According to one tradition the girl was rescued by one of the king's young courtiers. Enraptured by the ravishing beauty and charm of the young girl is disguised himself as a woodcutter, crept up to her immediately after the assemblage deserted the locality and freed her. His daring feat accomplished, the gallant Lochinvar fled to Colombo with his love. He returned to his native Kandy after 1815 when the kingdom was ceded to the British.

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka