Folklore and wildlife of Yala National Park
BY SURYA Kumara Jayalath
KALUGANGA in Kalutara and River Mahaveli and University of Peradeniya in Kandy were the boundaries within which the great extent of land of Ruhuna was.
Mahanagahula was the second capital of the Old Ruhuna. It was divided into two "Pattus". The Nagam Pattu was subdivided into "Dolos Rata" and "Atadahas Rata" which means land of 12,000 and 8,000. Situlpawwa, the forest temple, comes under the "Atadahas Rata" and Tissamaharamaya, the village temple in "Dolosdahas Rata" where many historical places are situated like Yodha Wewa (Giant Tank) Yodha Kandiya (Giant Bank), Degundara Wewa, Digan Wala, Kota Bendi Wewa, Athuru Mithuru Wewa, Buthuwa Wewa, Indigolla Wewa, Kiri Pokuna Rakina Wala, Wilapala Wewa, Dharshana Wewa, Bandu Wewa, Kirindi Viharaya Nimalawa and Gigumdara Hill near Situlpawwa.
Also the Akasa Chaithya, Gonegalla Chaithya, Padikema, Modaragala, Katagamuwa, Nandimittra Chaithya, Kanabisaw Galge, Goyamkola Maya Gala, Mandagala the holy place which is said to have been the temple of the great God Kataragama alias the residence of the God of Siyambalewa are located here.
The above places would reveal the historical background. The life sustenance plant which comes in the traditional medical prescriptions is a herbal plant with which even a patient in his last breath can be cured. This plant is found in the first stage of the great Yala forest.
There is folklore to the effect that Patangala was the place where cargo was loaded into ships.
Yala was proclaimed forestry land on March 23, 1900. A British prisoner of war by the name of Aengal Brake was brought to Ceylon in 1907. Subsequently he was appointed the first keeper of the Yala Park.
Later the first zone of the Yala National Park established on February 25, 1938 and was 14,101 hectares in area.
The second zone, opened in 1934, was 9.31 hectares. The third zone opened on April 28, 1967 was 40.775 hectares. The 4th opened on October 9, 1969 was 26,418 hectares the 5th opened in 1969 was 6.656 hectares and further 28,905 hectares were declared protected areas.
Kataragama sanctuary was proclaimed May 27, 1928. Katagamuwa area of 1003.6 hectares and Nimalawa area of 1065.8 hectares were proclaimed sanctuaries with effect from May 27, 1938 and March 18, 1993 respectively. Kudumbigala sanctuary hails in serenity and the fragrance of "Seela" spread over Kumana with the blessing of the Kudumbigala temple along with the Okanda devalaya.
The chief incumbent of the Kudumbigala temple says, that there had been some Kutumbi families in the Kudumbigala area in the past. Also the place where the Okanda Devale alias Murugan Devale is treated as the original holy land of the deity of Kataragama.
On February 25, 1938 the colonials announced Yala Park as the Yala National Park. The Department of Sanctuaries was established in 1938 and A.D. Wijewardane was appointed its caretaker.
The folk life of Yala is filled with lots of tales, and much literature can be seen both in the past and at present. The kings and the Ten Fold Skills Giants built various religious centres in the Holy Land. Situlpawwa, where 12,000 Arahants lived was one of them.
The fisheries wadies at Patangala and the hunters from Nimalawa Banduwewa, who reside in chenas close by are really a menace to this holy land.
Regarding folklore, folk life and wildlife, the dissertation (Project Report) written by me for my Masters Degree and an exhibition of photographs of folklore and wildlife will be held at the Harold Pieris Art Gallery of the Lionel Wendt Theatre on 2nd, 3rd and 4th September 2005.
In addition to the above there would be an exhibition of photographs depicting the places of archaeological and historical importance and different species of fauna and flora that feed wildlife.
Chance and tolerance are two important things that a photographer should possess while in the jungle. I realized it myself when I was engaged in taking the photographs of wild animals.
There are some folk stories in relation to names given to various wild animals. Indian Roller "Dun Bonna" (a Smoker) a name given to those birds who peck insects that are attracted to the rising smoke during the burning of chenas. "Sivuru Hora", "Diviya", "Ulama" too are subjects for such folk stories.
Especially the "White Elephant" which I came across in the Yala jungle, is a popular subject in folk stories. King Wessantara had given for alms a white elephant. Queen Mahamaya Devi too dreamed of a white elephant. God Saman is seen as riding white elephant.
The white elephant that was caught in my photographs was a unique situation. Minihagalkanda resembles a man and it has a long history coming down from Ravana's period. Those days the area had been thickly populated.
It is my belief that you would be able to witness many important items that emerge from Ruhuna during this exhibition.