Mala yakkas and Nomala yakkas who throng our island
Just listen to a typical conversation in a Sri Lankan village, be it
a tea kiosk or a forsaken ambalama. Just count the number of times the
term Yakka creeps into the cacophony of talk, indulged in for the mere
sake of satiating leisure hours. Of course the participants have to be
all-male caste. No woman, however much she is for the banner of feminism
trying to oust superior male power, will rattle off terms such as Ara
Yaka, Me Yaka and mala yaka, unless she has taken an overdose of the hot
A devil dancing ceremony
By the way, though no one has really seen the like of a Yakka or
devil in real life, they seem to bear a close connection to the Sinhala
race. They are all over, usually in pursuit of young women or those
close to puberty. In fact, my first contact with a devil was staged due
to a rendezvous between a buxom servant in my primary household and a
She, Bala Menike, had been assigned the task of bringing over my
lunch to the school, I temporarily attended when my mother was
delivering a sibling after coming to the Maha Gedera. One day she never
turned up in school, for my rather unconventional mother had put in a
fried egg into the packet and a devil smelling it had taken it away
after throwing Bala Menike into a swoon.
No amount of drum beating or shaking of buttocks of the kapuwas could
get rid of the devil who had possessed the girl till midnight came on
and the devil departed in a big hullabaloo of a collapse of a branch of
a tree. I forget what tree. These devils coming down faithfully along
Lanka’s saga are always naughty but not always nice. In fact, they are
more vicious than nice and frighten the females more especially when
they go about their hair let loose,. Since 90 percent of our females now
romp about with loose hair, even in cemeteries, one cannot cease to
count the throng of devils behind them.
Do you like to see devils in person or nearly new? Then visit
Kavayamuna temple off Matale. There is a multitude of them. I remember
visiting this place rather overshadowed by Alu Vihara or Aloka Vihara of
Matale in the proximity, where the Tripitaka was committed to writing.
If the rocks at Alu Vihara earned much fame via this feat
Kavatayamuna temple bid for it in a novel way. It owned a manufactured
Hell. Very creative. Anybody who visited it would think twice before
flouting the Five Precepts or Panchaseela. Fear of Hell, cynics say help
in running a country. This one does it with perfection.
There were set departments for the mélange of punishments meted for
the different sins committed by humans. The section allotted to those
who committed adultery was indeed very imaginative.
There were men (dead and born again in hell after an incestuous life)
climbing the Katu Ambul tree, the prickly thorns eating into their flesh
and unfaithful women boiling in pots of a red hot sizzling concoction
and screaming loud ,hair all dishevelled.
The Golayas of king Yama were in a sprightly mood as they attended to
the tortures, tongues hanging out, large eye balls rolling and huge
teeth flashing in deadly grimaces. At a corner sat the mighty king Yama,
overseeing it all with macabre glee.
My eldest son, as always had an irritating list of questions a few of
which I remember.
“Amma, was God Yama a Buddhist? “
“Hm. I am not sure of that”.
“If he was not a Buddhist to what religion did he belong?’
“Putha , will you be silent now without disturbing other devotees?”
The bland truth was that I did not know the answer to that one. Was I to
identify him with Satan, the head of evil in the Christian world?
No.That would not be very accurate. Talking of Satan a very virtuous
Veda Mahattaya (physician) in my village had been mis-named Satan by his
parents. Even after he became the chief Dayaka (benefactor) of the
temple he was called Satan !
Now back to my son’s queries.
“From where did they get the design of this hell? Did those who
created this do it after a visit there?”
“.It is all imagination, putha” There lies the truth.
All the gods and devils we see in our places of religious worship are
but products of the imagination of the great creator, the human. Excuse
me, before God created him, he created god. If I sound irreligious, read
this from an internet user. A question had been posed for comments, as
to how the picture of Almighty god was obtained or was it obtained at
Here is one, “At the beginning were the Greeks. They had thousands of
gods and goddesses ,that eventually they did not know what to do with.
So they put them all in one room. Then came a new God , but no one had
seen Him nor even got a general description of him except that he was
the epitome of good. Well. That was very difficult and too abstract to
draw. So they left a little space empty to symbolize him.”
I have forgotten all about the devils or the Yakkas, in my
preoccupation with the good souls. In Sri Lanka Yakkas provide a
conundrum of sorts due to the fact that a human clan carrying the name
Yakka seems to have existed.
The famous Kuveni had belonged to a Yaksha clan who lived in a
kingdom ruled from Sirivasthupura. Yakkas had even held posts in King
They being rather high and mighty we will leave them out and deal
with the general yakkas They too, nobody has actually seen except in
temple murals. Of massive built and black in colour their tongues hang
out and teeth flash. But some of them get out of the temples and play
havoc with the lives of unsuspecting men and women.
When a person dies suddenly, and no specific cause can be attributed,
in those days when coroners were unheard of, the yakka comes in handy.
“Eya yakek gahala (He was killed by a blow from the devil)
Yakka is also used in an endearing way. When friends meet after a
long time, one will say to another, “Yakka, where were you all this
time?”. Strangely it is also used in an appreciative way. “Moo nam mala
yakek” means that ,that person is very clever.
Yakkas had also been used as servants by humans.
Yakkas, the real ones carry terrifying names as Maha sona, Reeri Yaka
(who draws blood from humans) while some carry genteel names as Jayasena
who is said to wander from one hill top to another taking devilishly
The term Yaka is also used for any one not “tangible”. “Anna ara yaka
avith” does not mean that an actual devil has metamorphosed but an
“unsavoury” visitor has arrived.
Anyway devils and even gods have become an inevitable part of our
very imaginative society though so far no one has ever seen them in
flesh and blood.