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Lanka (//) is the traditional name of the main island of Sri Lanka meaning "island"; the honorific "Sri" is added to the term in the official name of Sri Lanka. It is widely known in the Hindu communities of India as the name given in the ancient epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Ramayana and Mahabharata
- 3 Ahi-Langkaa (Maldives)
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Lanka was the classical name bestowed on the island by the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic. A possible theory is that the name Lanka is derived from the Tamil word "ilanku" (இலங்கு), which means "to shine" or "to glitter", thus making Lanka a name that means "that which glitters". It earned this name on account of the glittering of the gold and gems found on its surface.
Another theory states that the word Lanka simply means any island. It is still widely used by the aborigines of Central and Eastern India to mean an island and especially an islet in a river. The word is considered as belonging to Austro-Asiatic languages. The Veddas, the aborigines of Sri Lanka who might be of Austro-Asiatic origin, might have rendered the name Lanka to the island. As it is the biggest island in the South Asian context, Lanka probably became an exclusive term for it.
Lak-vaesiyaa in Sinhala means an inhabitant of the island of Lanka. Lak-diva in E'lu (old Sinhala) means the island of Lanka. Another traditional Sinhala name for Sri Lanka was Lakdiva, with diva also meaning "island". A further traditional name is Lakbima. Lak in both cases is derived again from Lanka. The same name could have been adopted in Tamil as Ilankai; the Tamil language commonly adds "i" before initial "l".
Ramayana and Mahabharata
The island was situated on a plateau between three mountain peaks known as the Trikuta Mountains. The ancient city of Lankapura is thought to have been burnt down by Hanuman. After its king, Ravana, was killed by Rama with the help of Ravana's brother Vibhishana, the latter was crowned king of Lankapura. The site of Lankā is identified with Sri Lanka. His descendants were said to still rule the kingdom during the period of the Pandavas. According to the Mahabharata, the Pandava Sahadeva visited this kingdom during his southern military campaign for the rajasuya of Yudhishthira.
Rulers of Lanka
According to both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Lanka was originally ruled by a rakshasa named Sumali. According to Uttara Kanda, Lanka was originally built by the divine architect Vishwakarma for the gods, but was seized by the brothers, Malyavan, Sumali and Mali. The brothers ruled for years and invaded the heavens. After suffering a humiliating and disastrous defeat at the hands of Lord Vishnu, the brothers were too ashamed to return to Lanka. Kubera seized control of Lanka and established the Yaksha Kingdom and his capital was guarded by rakshasas. His half-brother Ravana, son of the sage Vishravaya and Sumali's daughter, fought with Kubera and took Lanka from him. Ravana ruled Lanka as king of the Rakshasa Kingdom. The battle in Lanka is depicted in a famous relief in the 12th-century Khmer temple of Angkor Wat.
After Ravana's death, he was succeeded by his brother, Vibhishana.
Location of Ravana's "Lanka" according to Ramayana
The Lanka referred to in the still-extant Hindu Texts and the Ramayana (referred to as Ravana's Lanka), is considered to be a large island-country, situated in the Indian Ocean. Some scholars asserted that it must have been Sri Lanka because it is so stated in the 5th century Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa. However, the Ramayana clearly states that Ravana's Lanka was situated 100 Yojanas (roughly 800 km or 500 miles) away from mainland India. Some scholars have interpreted the content of these texts to determine that Lanka was located at the point where the Prime-Meridian of India passes the Equator. This island would therefore lie more than a hundred miles South-west of present-day country of Sri Lanka. The most original of all the existing versions of Valmiki's Ramayana also suggest the location of Ravana's Lanka to be in the western Indian Ocean. In fact it indicates that Lanka was in the midst of a series of large island-nations, submerged mountains, and sunken plateaus in the western part of the Indian Ocean.
There has been a lot of speculation by several scholars since the 19th century that Ravana's Lanka might have been in the Indian Ocean around where the Maldives once stood as a high mountain, before getting submerged in the Indian Ocean. Sumatra has also been suggested as a possibility.
Ravana's Lanka, and its capital Lankapuri, are described in a manner that seems superhuman even by modern-day standards. Ravana's central palace-complex (main citadel) was a massive collection of several edifices that reached over one yojana (8 miles or 12.88 kilometres) in height, one yojana in length, and half a yojana in breadth. The island had a large mountain range known as the Trikuta Mountain, atop which was situated Ravana's capital of Lanka, at the center of which in turn stood his citadel. 
References to Lanka in the Mahabharata
Many of the references to Lanka in the Mahabharata are found in sage Markandeya's narration of the story of Rama and Sita to king Yudhishthira, which narration amounts to a truncated version of the Ramayana. The references in the following summary are to the Mahabharata, and adhere to the following form: (book:section). Markandeya's narration of the story begins at Book III (Varna Parva), Section 271 of the Mahabharata.
Sahadeva's expedition to South
Sahadeva, the son of Pandu, conquered the town of Sanjayanti and the country of the Pashandas and the Karanatakas by means of his messengers alone, and made all of them pay tributes to him. The hero brought under his subjection and exacted tributes from the Paundrayas (Pandyas?) and the Dravidas along with the Udrakeralas and the Andhras and the Talavanas, the Kalingas and the Ushtrakarnikas, and also the delightful city of Atavi and that of the Yavanas. And, He having arrived at the seashore, then dispatched with great assurance messengers unto the illustrious Vibhishana, the grandson of Pulastya and the ruler of Lanka (2:30).
Presence of the King of Lanka in Yudhishthira's Rajasuya
.. The Vangas and Angas and Paundras and Odras and Cholas and Dravidas and Cheras and Pandyas and Mushika and Andhakas, and the chiefs of many islands and countries on the seaboard as also of frontier states, including the rulers of the Sinhalas, the barbarous mlecchas, the natives of Lanka, and all the kings of the West by hundreds, and all the chiefs of the seacoast, and the kings of the Pahlavas and the Daradas and the various tribes of the Kiratas and Yavanas and Sakras and the Harahunas and Chinas and Tukharas and the Sindhavas and the Jagudas and the Ramathas and the Mundas and the inhabitants of the kingdom of women and the Tanganas and the Kekayas and the Malavas and the inhabitants of Kasmira ... (3:51).
Other fragmentary references
- Lanka, with its warriors, and horses, elephants and chariots (3:149).
- Lanka with its towers and ramparts and gates (3:147)
- The walls of Lanka (3:282).
The term "Ahi-Langkaa" is used in the Maldivan language to refer to their collection of islands, and Mahi-Langkaa to refer to foreigners' islands, transmitting the idea that the term "lanka" should be translated as "island".
- Sri Lanka
- Kingdoms of Ancient India
- Ancient clans of Sri Lanka
- Naga people (Lanka)
- Sinhala Kingdom
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