Plane truth or flight of fancy?
Sri Lanka to resume research on 'Aviator' Ravana, India invited to join
By D. P. Satish
BENGALURU – Sri Lanka wants to reclaim its ancient glory by conducting a detailed scientific research into its aviation past. Many Sri Lankans believe that King Ravana was the world’s first seasoned aviator and that during his days, the island had aircraft and airports. Dismissing the argument that these are mythological beliefs with no scientific backing, some enthusiasts have gone ahead researching on their own.
Two years ago, a conference of civil aviation experts, historians, archaeologists, scientists and geologists was held in Colombo to give a push to the idea. The conference had concluded that Ravana first flew his aircraft from Sri Lanka to India and back.
After the conference, the then Sri Lankan government had sanctioned an initial grant of SLR 5 million to start the research. “The research was stopped due to COVID-19 lockdowns. The current government of the Rajapaksas is also interested in it. They have agreed to continue the project as an initiative of national importance.
“I expect the researchers to resume work by early next year,” said Shashi Danatunge, former vice chairman of the Sri Lankan Civil Aviation Authority.
Shashi, a history buff and also former CEO of Sri Lanka Cricket Board, has travelled across the island looking for traces and evidences of the country’s civil aviation past.
“I am convinced that Ravana is not a mythological figure. He was a real king and he indeed had aircraft and airports. They may not be today’s aircraft and airports. Certainly, the ancient Sri Lankans and Indians had access to superior technologies. We need to conduct an objective research into it,” Danatugne said.
He has also requested the Government of India to join the project believing it to be an important research for both countries to assert their ancient achievements.
Shashi is not alone in advocating for a research on this. Sunela Jayewardene, Sri Lanka’s leading environmental architect, in her book ‘The Line of Lanka – Myths & Memories of An Island’ writes passionately about Ravana’s aviation.
“In the adult world, Ravana’s flight is fictitious, as any educated adult knows that the American Wright brothers invented flight as recently as the last century. But that belief stems from a few centuries of mental conditioning that the West has the most sophisticated technology,” she said.
She also argues that descriptions in the ancient texts of the Vimana or aircraft are too detailed and technical to be labelled as myth. Her uncle, the late Ray Wijewardene, a Sri Lankan pioneering modern pilot, had also backed this theory, she says.
“If I had doubts about ancient flights, they were swept away in a gust of excitement when he told me that he believed the Mayuranga kings (Ravana’s dynasty) had aircraft and even airports. They would have had gliders he said, and look for water nearby, not necessarily runways,” she writes.
According to her, there are places associated with aircraft landing such as Thotupolakandha and Ussangoda, Weheranganthota, Rumassala and Lakegala in Sri Lanka.
There is a renewed interest in Sri Lanka about Ravana and his kingdom. The island nation has also sent a satellite called Ravana to the outer space to honour him.