© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Deities Hierarchy Ceremonies Sakra Guardians Twelve Deities

Vibhishana (Bibisana) features prominently in the epic Ramayana  Iegend. He is the brother of Ravana, the wicked part demon ancient Lord of Sri Lanka who kidnapped Sita, the beautiful wife of the Indian King Rama, carrying her back to his kingdom in Sri Lanka. Rama was rightfully outraged and crossed the sea into Sri Lanka with his great army in pursuit of Ravana. There were many battles but Rama could not defeat Ravana. (Rama was attributed as an incarnation of the Deity Vishnu/Upulvan.)

Vibhishana was completely unlike his brother Rama. Encouraged by his gently mother. he had a pure mind and spent much time in meditation. He had been disgusted by his brother’s actions,  and with the encouragement of his mother, deserted his brother’s side to join King Rama. He revealed the secrets of his brother’s army to Rama and also the great secret of Ravana’s power - in order to kill and defeat him, Rama would need to capture and dry the nectar of Ravana’s immortality that Ravana stored in his stomach. Following many battles Rama finally managed to gain and dry this nectar of immortality thus killing Ravana and freeing his wife Sita. Vibhishana was rewarded by being made Lord of Sri Lanka by Ravana, in place of his wicked brother.

Tradition relates that on his second visit to Sri Lanka, Lord Buddha bequeathed his little finger and the holy bodhi-tree to Vibhishana whom he appointed to teach his people about Buddhism. Thus during his reign he led his people away from their evil, demonic ways on this path of truth and enlightenment. He rules over a number of minor Deities  and demon assistants.

An important shrine to Vibhishana  is within the Kelaniya Temple site near Colombo. This is one of the oldest sites in Sri Lanka although many of the buildings and shrines date from more modern times as at various times during Indian invasions and during the various colonial periods, the old buildings were destroyed by the Hindhu and later Christian colonists .

The temple is believed to have been built on the site near Vibhisana’s palace on the banks of the Kelaniya River. Some traditions relate that Vibhishana and his people provided a jewelled throne from which Lord Buddha preached the Dharma on the banks of the Kelani River. This throne together with  the sacred little finger of Lord Buddha is embodied within  the beautiful, shining white Buddhist Stupa fashioned like all Sri Lanka temples in the shape of a pile of harvested rice.

Vibhishana  at times has been  regarded as one of the Four Guardian Deities of Sri Lanka having been entrusted by Lord Buddha himself with the Dharma - the sacred Buddhist teachings. There are Shrines dedicated to him all over Sri Lanka. He is typically depicted in temple frescoes with “demonic tusks” due to his “demon” blood (see below).


Views of Vibhishana’s Shrine at Kalaniya Temple, near Colombo

Sculptures on the outside of the Shrine - the one in the middle depicts the coronation of Vibhishana.

Inside the Shrine are many frescoes. This one depicts Vibhishana being presented with the sacred bodhi tree.

The temple painting on the left is from Kelaniya Temple near Colombo. The one on the right is on the walls the one of the spectacular cave frescoes at Mulkirigala Rock Monastery, Mawella, near Tangalle, Southern Sri Lanka.

Much fuller details about Vibhishana traditions and shrines and Kelaniya Temple can easily be accessed on internet. Wikapedia is an excellent starting point, and there are some excellent articles by Sri Lankan historians and journalists (via a Google search).