Ours is a country that has long been steeped in mysticism and folklore. Even in historical accounts, the line between supernatural and natural elements is often blurred, and the mystical and the magical weave seamlessly in and out of the stories that craft our country’s past. In this day and age, with all the development and urbanisation in progress, the days of yakas and spirits are now long gone, but for the most part, Sri Lanka is still a country caught between the times. For every citified tech-savvy teenager who scoffs at such stuff, there is probably another kid in some rural area who has spent his life looking out for Mohini; and exorcisms, rituals, and beliefs in the mystical still thrive in many corners of the island.
We once made a foray into some of the popular superstitious and supernatural beliefs that exist in Sri Lanka. This time, we have decided to delve a little further, and illustrate a few of the myths, spirits, and demonic entities that still haunt these shores.
If you hear a knock on your door in the middle of the night, your first thought would be of thieves or perhaps some random kudu karaya (drug addict) on a midnight jaunt. Old village folk however know better ‒ they could tell you all about Kinduri, a vengeful spirit in the guise of a pregnant woman who goes around knocking on doors in the dead of the night. If the door is opened by a woman, all is good; she will just fade into the darkness. If the door is answered by a man however, his fate is sealed; he’ll be dead before the night is out.
We are not very sure what her agenda is ‒ she might be a woman once scorned by her lover, a vicious succubus, or simply a hardcore spirit woman who hates all men ‒ all we can say is that guys had better be wary of any midnight door-knocking. In fact, with her maniacal hatred for the male species, Kinduri could be best friends with Mohini. Perhaps they hang out together in the netherworlds and paint their ghostly nails while discussing all the men they have exterminated over the years.
2. Kalu Kumaraya
Sri Lanka has got its very own Incubus ‒ and in our opinion, this guy is way cooler than the regular ones. Literally meaning ‘Black Prince’, the Kalu Kumaraya is believed to be an ancient Sri Lankan prince who plotted to steal his father’s throne. When his attempt failed he took his own life, but was punished by being restored to this world as a demon instead of being allowed to pass on. There is something slightly messed up with that logic ‒ a lifetime of seducing pretty girls hardly sounds like much of a punishment, and if you ask us, it is his victims who are actually getting punished, but that’s how the old tales go.
The Kalu Kumaraya is a mixture of stalker, seducer, and murderer, albeit a dark and handsome one. According to stories, he spends his days lurking in the shadows, emerging only to prey upon young girls and lone women. This sexy spook seduces his prey to the point where in ecstasy, they eventually beg him to slit their own throats ‒ a request to which he happily complies.
There is another tale that goes along the lines of a beautiful, dark medieval prince with an unhealthy aversion to attractive girls and pregnant women. In this version, he would hide in places like bathing areas and frighten his victims out of their minds. If he encountered pregnant women, he would touch their bellies, after which the baby was usually lost. As he grew older, he began to lay waste to the land he ruled with his destructive ways, until the people were forced to pacify him with various offerings.
The second version gets more points for creepiness, but quite frankly we prefer the first one ‒ he sounds much sexier in it.
3. Riri Yaka
The Riri Yaka or ‘Blood Demon’ is a popular local demon with an eternal thirst for blood; a sort of native vampire, but a hundred times more terrifying. One of Sri Lanka’s most spine-chilling demon entities, the Riri Yaka is believed to originate from Northern India, where he was born to human parents. However, as he grew up, he began to develop loathsome habits so blood-thirsty and revolting, that people began to suspect he was a demon.
Riri Yaka is known to have some pretty bloodcurdling depictions. The most terrifying is that of a four-armed, blood-smeared, monkey-faced little man who haunts graveyards and crematoriums. He is as strong as a bull, rides a pig, and carries a sword, a rooster, a parrot, and a human head in each of his arms; and really, the description itself is enough to scare anyone witless. Times being what they are however, he doesn’t do much graveyard-wandering these days; instead, he manifests his presence in illness and disease by possessing people and making them sick. Being a blood demon, he typically causes diseases related to blood, and a person possessed by the Riri Yaka is said to look pale, listless, and anaemic. Usually, a kattadiya (witch doctor) is required to perform an exorcism when this happens.
If you ask us, with the right kind of publicity, the Riri Yakka could definitely give Count Dracula a run for his money. As for the present day Edward Cullen-ish vampire stereotypes… well, we’re pretty sure he could mop the floor with them.
4. The Legend Of The Horned Jackal
Don’t worry, you read that right; we said horned and we are talking about the actual jackal. This is a little known fact, but some jackals are actually known to develop at the back of their skulls a small horny projection which ‒ quite inexplicably ‒ has hair growing out of it (you were probably expecting a horn that sticks out of their foreheads like a unicorn’s weren’t you?). Known as a nari comboo by Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese and Tamils, these “horns” are believed to powerful talismans possessing various magical properties that range from granting wishes and winning law-suits, to finding lost possessions.
India and Nepal seem to have some crazy stories regarding this too. Some people believe that it is only the leader of the jackal pack that possesses the “horn”, while others believe that the horn emerges when the pack is howling in chorus. Science is unable to explain how and why hair grows on this projection, but we are pretty sure there is a rational explanation for it ‒ one that doesn’t involve magic, that is.
If you Google the term, you will see that most of the search results that appear would be of people claiming to sell the jackal’s horn as a potent amulet. Half of them are probably phonies, but it does leave one wondering: what do these people do, go around scalping the unfortunate jackals?
5. Maha Sona
In a previous article, we briefly described Maha Sona as a powerful bear-headed demon entity who appears in the form of a black dog and kills his victims with a forceful slap delivered on the spine, usually leaving the imprint of his hand on their skin. This time however, we are digging a little deeper into his origins as well.
Maha Sona is believed to be one of the ten legendary warriors of King Dutugemunu, famed for their formidable strength and great feats. According to stories, he was decapitated in a fearsome duel, but being a bear hunter, was buried with the head of a bear. Since then, he has roamed these shores as a demon, often using black dogs as vessels for possession (which explains that local aversion to black canines) and murdering those who are unfortunate enough to cross his path. Some people believe that having a burial at high noon acts as a summons to him, while it is also rumoured that he has 30,000 minor yakas under his command, all intending to wreak havoc amongst men.
6. The Devil Bird
Many accounts, records, and books have spoken of the bone-chilling scream that haunts the forests of Sri Lanka ‒ the cry of the devil bird. Known as one of the most potent omens of death, the cry of the devil bird, or the ulama, has often been described as a hideous human-like wail that brings death to all those who hear it.
The stories surrounding Sri Lanka’s devil bird are just as terrifying as the cry itself. In one of them, a man who suspected his wife of infidelity, murdered their infant son in her absence and when she arrived, served her with a curry prepared with the child’s flesh. Not suspecting anything, the woman ate the gruesome meal, until she unearthed a finger of her beloved child. Frenzied with grief and horror, she fled screaming into the forest, where she was transformed into the ulama. As the tale goes, her anguished wails and screams still echo through the forest, terrifying villagers and bringing doom to all those who hear it.
What adds to the air of mystery surrounding the devil bird’s cry is the fact that no one is a hundred percent certain what the devil bird is. Ornithologists have placed their bets on the spot-bellied eagle owl as being the most likely candidate, but there are other possibilities flying around too, like the Ceylon highland nightjar, the forest eagle-owl, the hawk eagle, and the Ceylon honey-crested buzzard.
7. Maha Kola Sanni Yaka
Many people in rural areas have a simple (although questionable, to say the least) explanation for illness: demons. Eighteen of them in fact, all hell-bent on possessing people and making them sick. Who needs a doctor to diagnose a stomach bug? We all know that it’s the work of Amukku Sanni yaka (that’s sarcasm, folks). Hearing problems? Ah, don’t worry; it’s only Bihiriya Sanni Yaka possessing you. Temporary insanity? Too bad, it looks like Pissu Sanni Yaka is up to his tricks. And if you think that’s weird, there is even a yakk responsible for flatulence (Vatha Sanni Yaka)!
These disease-causing demons however, happen to be the small fry. Ruling over them all is their supreme leader, the King of all demons, the Maha Kola Sanni Yaka. Believed to be the worst of the whole lot, this formidable yaka is a force to be reckoned with, and he has some pretty gruesome folklore behind his origins too. According to legend, he was born during the time of the Buddha, when a Queen, condemned to death by her husband on suspicion of adultery, gave birth before she was executed. The child, who was said to have fed on his mother’s corpse (grisly, isn’t it?) grew up into the dreadful demon Kola Sanniya, who wreaked havoc upon his city in seeking vengeance from his father. It is he who created the eighteen minor demons of illness to aid him in his quest for revenge. Together, the terrifying entities proceeded to kill and devour thousands of people, until the Buddha convinced them to put an end to their murder spree. Unfortunately, they still seem to be pretty active in the disease-causing department, and give our kattadiya charlatans a steady stream of income.
All this said, we do know that blaming your horrible cold on a demon is much more interesting than thinking of viruses and mucus and such. However, we would advise you to go to a doctor. The syrup he prescribes can’t kill you, but a witch-doctor’s exorcism might.
Some of these concepts are terrifying, some gruesome, and some are plain weird, but they all certainly add some colour to things over here. Sri Lanka just wouldn’t be the same without a few Mohini sightings and devil dances every now and then, wouldn’t you agree?
Featured image courtesy: srilanka.for91days.com