18 June, 2021

Blog

Sinhabahu The Paradigmatic Myth Of The Sri Lankan Oedipus

By Ruwan M Jayatunge

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge MD

The mythological Story of Sinhabahu describes the origin of Sinhala nation. According to the mythology, the Princess Suppadevi of Vanga Kingdom was kidnapped by a ferocious lion and took her to the wilderness. While living with the lion she became pregnant and had twins. The newly born son was named Sinhabahu and daughter was named Sinha Seevali. The lion kept them in a cave and used to cover the entrance with a mighty rock.

When Sinhabahu was sixteen years of age, he removed the megalith and escaped with his mother and the sister. They went to the Lala kingdom evading the lion. When the lion found that the family had escaped it became furious and attacked villages seeking Princess Suppadevi and two children. The desperate villagers pleaded the King to rescue them from the fierce lion. The king of the Lala kingdom requested Sinhabhu to stop the menace caused by the lion. Young Sinhabahu went in search of the lion and killed him with a deadly arrow. The people praised Sinhabahu for rescuing them from the evil beast. He was rewarded as a hero. Prince Sinhabahu built a city called Sinhapura and married his sister Sinha Seevali. They had a son named Vijaya. According to Mahawansa Prince Vijaya was the first recorded King of Sri Lanka from 543 BC to 505 BC.

The Sinhabahu mythology has a cultural significance and it describes the social taboos such as patricide and incest. Although its difficult to determine the authenticity of this fable, there are many speculations about the lion. The lion or the beast was the father of Prince Sinhabahu who kidnapped his mother from her clan. The lion could have been a metaphor for a strong man with a monstrous strength or a man with a Lion face (consider that fact that in Hansen’s disease lion-like appearance or leonine facies is evident)

One of the greatest Sinhala theatrical plays written by Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra's "Sinhabahu"

Prof Gananath Obeyesekere postulates that Sinhabahu myth is the paradigmatic myth of the Sri Lankan Oedipus. In his outstanding publication, The Work of Culture Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology Prof Obesekara states that the Sinhabahu myth is striking for the absence of reference to remorse or any ethical qualms for father killing.

There are many mythological stories like Sinhabahu that could be found in the ancient cultures. Dr Wijaya Dissanayaka – Consultant Psychiatrist and the eminent lecturer was on the view that most of these stories narrate the killing of the beast or the dragon by the hero, which truly depicts the oedipal conflict.

The ancient English poem Beowulf and Sinhabahu has some similarities. The Beowulf – the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language that was written in 700 AD evolved through many retellings before it was written down. Beowulf narrates an epic story of a prince who kills a terrible monster known as Grendel and frees the people. From Sinhabahu to Beowulf and to the modern day Star Wars (the clash between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader) symbolize the conflict between farther and son. All these stories have one thing in common. The son is challenging the father’s authority projecting his primal hate towards the father and eventually commenting a patricide.

Sigmund Freud was fascinated by the greatest works of world literature such as Oedipus Rex, the King, Hamlet, and the Brothers Karamazov that dramatically describe the unconscious motives of patricide. Oedipus Rex, written by the Hellenic poet Sophocles describes the patricide and incest motif. In the psychoanalytic perspective, it was transitional dynamic of the “ego” overcoming the “superego.

In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) Freud wrote that it is impossible to get “away from the assumption that man’s sense of guilt springs from the Oedipus complex and was acquired at the killing of the father by the brothers banded together.

Freud never had a chance to read the Sinhabahu legend, but Carl Jung might have read it when he came to Sri Lanka. However, there were no any psychoanalytical writings based on Sinhabahu by Jung.

Sigmund Freud expressed that parricide was the great crime at the base of all social evolution. In Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud’s cultural speculation on the Primal Father -the dominant male (The Lion in the Sinhabahu’s instance) Freud suggested that eventually the displaced sons of the primal father banded together and killed their oppressive patriarch. Freud was on the view that in primitive societies, the head of the family gave free reign to the instinctual manifestations of his aggression at the expense of all others. Freud luridly wrote about the patricide and its unconscious motive. He made an emphasis on the term “Vatermord” or murder of the father by the son. Freud further states that the hero commits the deed unintentionally.

Dr. Vamlk Volkan Professor of Psychiatry of the University of Virginia luminously writes on the killing of the totem animal or the patricide thus.

Long ago primitive people lived in small tribes led by despotic leaders. With his unlimited power, the leader or father considered all the women of the tribe his exclusive property. If the young men of the tribe, or sons, expressed jealousy, they were killed, castrated or excommunicated. Their fate unbearable, the young men joined forces, killed the father and ate him. But the father’s influence would not disappear. In death, he became more powerful. Haunted by the ghost of their father, the sons replaced him with a horrible and strong animal, a totem. It absorbed the sons’ ambivalence—the simultaneous hate and love they were experiencing for their dead father. Since the ghost of their father lived in the totem, however, the sons were still not free of his influence and their hate for him, as well as their love for him, continued. Totemism is thus both a religious and a social system” ( Hence, the totem animal was used to maintain two useful prohibitions—one against killing the totem animal (patricide) and the other against having sexual relations with women of the same totem or clan (incest).

(Totem and Taboo in Romania: A Psychopolitical Diagnosis – Dr. Vamlk Volkan)

In Totem and Taboo Freud, profoundly analyzed the incest in the ancient human societies and intricately discussed the emotional ambivalence associated with totem objects. He saw a similarity between the obsessional rituals associated with totem clanship and their taboos. According to the Sinhabahu legend, the Prince Sinhabahu violated two social taboos. He killed the Lion (totem animal / father) and had a sexual relation with Sinha Seewali – his sister the woman of the same totem that could be described as incest.

Freud hypothesized that the existence of a primitive horde whose father is omnipotent; the murder of the father by the group of brothers, leading to the growth of the totemic clan, and the conditions for this possibility of thought. The legend Sinhabahu gave the totemism, -system of belief in which the Sinhala Nation got a mystical relationship with a spirit being -the Lion and it became the eternal symbol of the Sinhala Nation.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    Good Article.

  • 2
    4

    The day that the Sinhalese wake up from these false myths and the Jathaka story mentality, it will do a world of good for them, the country and everyone else.

  • 2
    0

    Ruwan, Very interesting article. Can you educate us on the relationship with Vijaya Kuweni episode with Sihala nation?

    • 0
      0

      Lal Sumanaweera says:

      “Can you educate us on the relationship with Vijaya Kuweni episode with Sihala nation?”

      The very idea of nation didn’t exist until the 19th century. It is a western concept.

      Previously they were all kingdoms.

  • 1
    0

    Is the lion a “spirit being” for the “Sinhala Nation”? Do we have a “mystical relationship” with the lion? We don’t even have any lions in Sri Lanka except for the cubs of the clubs.

  • 2
    0

    In this day and age it is surprising how many Sinhalese people are living in true lalaland. Many of the racist Sinhala political leaders continue to quote this mythology to claim and assert Sinhala supremacy over all other races in Sri Lanka. Likewise many tamil political leaders are also doing the same on the other side. The end result is misery for both. Sad!

  • 1
    0

    Abduction,raping,bestiality,incest,patricide…..what a wonderful crime story
    Children are taught to be proud of this story.May be this is the reason for the present state of Sri lanka.

  • 0
    0

    King Kashyappa buried his father King Dhatusena alive,in a wall to ascend the throne to which he was not entitled,having been the son of a concubine. Mogallana his brother and the lawful sucessor,gathered an army and defeated him.
    The “lion” story is genetically impossible.
    Hence it is futile discussing it.

    • 1
      0

      Justice says:

      “Hence it is futile discussing it.”

      We need to discuss it for the sake of future generations.

      Vijaya came, saw concured the island without being invited. As far as my people are concerned Vijaya and his thugs were Kallathonies. If the Sinhala/Buddhist believe this story to be true they have no options but to pack their bags and go back to Sinhapura.

      If they don’t seriously entertain this myth they have an alternative. The Sinhala/Buddhist should remove this myth from school text books.

      The choice is theirs.

      • 1
        0

        Native Vedda,
        Brother & sister being born of a woman impregnated by a lion is not possible.
        Worse is this impossibly ‘genetically mixed’ couple procreating.
        Which means that there was NO Vijaya.
        He was a figment of imagination of Bhikku Mahanama, the supposed author of the Mahavamsa.

    • 1
      1

      WHAT IS THERE TO PREVENT A REPEAT OF HISTORY OF KING DHATUSENA AND SON??????????SUBHA ANAGATHEYAK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 0
    0

    In all primate communities, the leader has sole access to all the females and is, therefore, the father of all the young that are born. As the leader ages, one of the young males will eventually challenge him and kill or chase him off. He will then mate with all the females who will be his step sisters. This has been the pattern for millions of years.
    It is the same story!

  • 1
    0

    Siri

    Are you suggesting Sri Lankies are also monkies?

    I don’t believe it.

  • 1
    0

    Two sons, who pleaded guilty to the charge of beating their father to death, were sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment suspended for ten years by the Galle High Court Judge K.D.K. Hirimburegama.

    The two sons were accused of beating to death their father Hettihandi Dharmasena (57) with a machete and a club on May 5, 2004 at Kaduruwa in Boosa.

    The dispute was said to have been over a block of land. The sons were each fined Rs. 2,500.

    Seems to be a very lenient sentence? Throwback from ancient times?

  • 0
    0

    Bringing the totally discredited Freud’s sick theories to apply to Sri Lanka is typical of Obeysekera’s fantasies. If this MD Ruwan M Jayatunge were to practice psychiatry in the US, Freudian therapy would not be covered by medical insurance but vipassana (mindful) therapy transmitted partly from Sri Lanka would be covered.

  • 0
    0

    The Lion may be a very strong man who lived in the jungle. The rest of the story is up to the historian who wrote the history. Are there any evidence to find the civilization, was in Sri Lanka before Vijay’s arrival.

  • 0
    0

    Interesting to see that you are airing the old myths. I live in a village and you would notice that they are the bikkus who spread these stories in their ignorance. As they have a lot of influence over the people I wonder how many more generations are needed before the Sri Lankans come back to earth,without believing that gods are going to solve their problems? Tilak

    • 1
      0

      ONLY the gods can save us now! :-)

  • 1
    0

    Citizen

    You should be happy that these murderers were found guilty of parricide.

    If these two were political brats the judge would be rotting in the prison for the rest of his/her life or the arresting officer would have confessed to the murder.

  • 1
    0

    Well, Vijaya is supposed to have landed on the island of Lanka on the day of Lord Buddha’s death, as he predicted and also under the protection of the Gods as he requested to establish and spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Thus a connection is made in the Mahawamsa between the Sinhala Race and Buddhism, as Vijaya is supposed to have started the Sinhala Race on the island. On the other hand it is beleived that Lord Buddha visited the island three times prior to Vijaya’s visit. One of the visits was to Nagadeepa, a place close to where Vijaya is belived to have arrived and the purpose of the visit was to appeace a conflict between two princes Chulodara and Mahodara. Buddha not only appeaced the royal brothers but also they themselves bacame followers of Buddhism. In spite of this and also the three visits that Buddha is supposed have made before Vijaya’s arrival, there is no evidence of any contacts between Vijaya and the Buddhist princes and also any evidence of existence of Buddhism before the arrival of Mahinda from India via Soth India , almost 600 years later.
    All this and the story of Buddha’s life itself is full of contradictions. The fact is all this come down to the power of imagination of human mind .. in the case of Mahawamsa … the credit of imagination should go to Maha Thero Mahnama, the story of Leonine genesis in the Lala Land and the incestous origin of the Sinhala Buddhist ethnicity is nothing but wild imaginations of the monks at the Maha Vihara, where Mahawamsa was first created.

    • 1
      0

      ALL LEGEND. NOT HISTORICAL FACTS.
      EVEN NOW THE MAHAWANSA IS BEING REWRITTEN.

    • 0
      0

      Lankamithra

      “the story of Leonine genesis in the Lala Land and the incestous origin of the Sinhala Buddhist ethnicity is nothing but wild imaginations of the monks at the Maha Vihara, where Mahawamsa was first created.”

      You are eluding towards something that I am unable to fathom.

      Is it your understanding that Maha Thero Mahnama was a sexual pervert?

  • 1
    1

    THE PRESENT THEROS ARE CERTAINLY PERVERTS!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 1
    0

    Just saw this story of Vijaya,August 2014
    The story motifs are taken from Homers Odyssey
    please read the story Odysseus and Circe
    so are some other stories in the Mahavamsa!!!

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.