Maha Sona – the demon of graveyards

In her account of the Tsunami of December 2004 on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sunali Deraniyagala describes the first moments after she had almost drowned and was seperated from her family in the deluge:

“I heard voices. Distant at first, then close. It was a group of men, shouting to each other in Sinhala. They couldn’t see me, or me them. One of them said, “Muhuda goda gahala. Mahasona avilla.” The ocean has flooded. Mahasona is here. Mahasona. I knew the word, but what was he saying? I had last heard that word when I was a child and our nanny told us stories about ghouls and demons. Mahasona, he is the demon of graveyards. Even in my complete bewilderment, I understood. Something dreadful had happened, there was death everywhere, that’s what the man was shouting about.”

According to a Wikipedia article, “Maha Sona or Maha Sohona (Sinhala: මහ සෝනා, මහ සොහොනා) is a central demon in Sinhalese folklore, who is said to haunt afterlife. The name Maha Sona means ” the greatest demon” or “god or demon of the cemetery” in the Sinhala language. It is the most feared god or demon in Sri Lanka. Originally a giant who had been defeated and decapitated in a duel by another giant named Gotaimbara (lived in the 1st century BC), Maha Sonaa has had his head replaced with that of a bear or tiger. He is believed to kill people by crushing their shoulders and also by afflicting illnesses. Traditional exorcism rituals are performed to repel the demon in such cases.”

image from a video on:

Maha Sona seems not to be connected to the sea, to water or to extreme weather. However, the same Wikipedia article also notes that the very group of people who were traditionally called upon to perform these exorcism rituals in Sri Lanka were also the ones most severly hit by the Tsunami: “Exorcists are of a particular caste, the Berawayas, of whom the majority perished in the Boxing Day Tsunami.”

I am not sure, how accurate this is, but I find it noteworthy, that the Tsunami in Deraniyagalas account did not only turn the landscape into a graveyard, haunted by Maha Sona, but also destroyed the tradition of exorcising the demon.

Exorcisms also play a major role in the aftermaths of the 2011 tsunami in the rural society of Tohoku, as reported by Richard L. Parry. (See my post on his book.)

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