Lanka (/ˈlʌŋkɑː/) is the traditional name of the main island of Sri Lanka[1] meaning "island"; the honorific "Sri" is added to the term in the official name of Sri Lanka.[2] It is widely known in the Hindu communities of India as the name given in the ancient epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.


Lanka was the classical name bestowed on the island by the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic.

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.

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. 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.[3] However, the Ramayana clearly states that Ravana's Lanka was situated 100 Yojanas (roughly 800 km or 500 miles) away from mainland India.[4][5] 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.[6][7] 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.[8][9]

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.[10][11][12][13] Sumatra has also been suggested as a possibility.[3]


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. [14][15][16]

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

Lanka king is listed as present in the conclave of kings present in Pandava king Yudhishthira's Rajasuya sacrifice.

.. 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).

Ahi-Langkaa (Maldives)

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".[17]

See also


  1. "sri lanka | Origin and meaning of sri lanka by Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 21 December 2018.
  2. Skutsch, Carl (2005). Encyclopedia of the world's minorities. Routledge. ISBN 9781579584702.
  3. Braddell, Roland (December 1937). "An Introduction to the Study of Ancient Times in the Malay Peninsula and the Straits of Malacca". Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 15 (3 (129)): 64–126. JSTOR 41559897.
  4. Valmiki Ramayana 4.58.20
  5. Valmiki Ramayana 4.58.24
  6. The Indian calendar, with tables for ... – Google Books. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  7. "Bharath Gyan". Bharath Gyan. Retrieved 26 January 2011.
  8. Valmiki's Ramayana
  9. Vālmīki; Venkatesananda, Swami (1 January 1988). The Concise R_m_ya_a of V_lm_ki. SUNY Press. ISBN 9780887068621.
  10. The Hindu Pantheon - Edward Moor - Google Books. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  11. Excerpta Máldiviana - H.C.P. Bell, Harry Charles Purvis Bell - Google Books. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  12. Ravana - The Great King of Lanka - M.S. Purnalingam Pillai - Google Books. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  13. "Situation of Ravana's Lamka on the Equator". The Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society. XVII (1). 1926.
  14. "Valmiki Ramayana - Sundara Kanda - Sarga 9". 7 December 2008. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  15. The Society of the Rāmāyaṇa - Ananda W. P. Guruge - Google Books. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  16. Srimad Valmiki-Ramayana - Vālmīki - Google Books. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  17. TamilNet. "TamilNet". Retrieved 21 December 2018.
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