‘The Temple of the Tooth, Kandy – Interior’ by Alexander…
Maha Sohona (Sinhala: මහ සොහොනා) is a demon (yaka or yakseya) in Sinhalese folklore, who is said to haunt cemeteries. The name Maha Sohona means “great graveyard demon” or “demon of the cemetery” in the Sinhala language. It is one of the most feared demons in Sri Lanka. Originally a giant who had been defeated in a duel, Maha Sohona has had his head replaced with that of a bear since he lost his head in the duel. He is believed to kill people and afflict them with illnesses. Traditional exorcism rituals are performed to repel the demon in such cases
Maha Sohona was originally a giant named Jaya Sena, who had offended Gotaimbara, one of the ten giant warriors of Dutthagamani. Jaya Sena had never been defeated in battle before, so he accepted Gotaimbara’s challenge to a duel. However, Gotaimbara easily defeated him and kicked his head off. Upon seeing this, the planet god Senasura (Saturn) took off the head of a bear and fitted it onto Jaya Sena’s body, bringing him back to life. However, Jaya Sena returned from the dead as a demon and took to haunting graveyards, and was thereafter called Maha Sohona, meaning “great graveyard demon”.
Maha Sohona is believed to haunt graveyards, looking for human prey. He also haunts large rocks and hills, surrounded by human corpses. Human entrails are said to be the demon’s favourite food. Junctions where three roads meet are other haunting grounds of this demon, and he is able to spread cholera and dysentery. Maha Sohona is chief to 30,000 demons, and often uses various disguises, each time riding a particular animal such as a goat, deer, horse, sheep and elephant.
The 122-foot (37 m) tall demon has three eyes and four hands and his skin is red in colour. He has the head of a bear, rides a pig and drinks the blood of an elephant he carries in his right hand. He is also armed with a pike in his left hand
Maha Sohona kills people at night by striking them between the shoulders. The mark of a hand will be embossed on the flesh of the body after this. Apart from killing, he is also able to possess humans. People possessed by Maha Sohona will become boisterous and violent.
In traditional exorcism rituals, dancers dressed as Maha Sohona perform to cure patients of illnesses that are believed to have been afflicted by the demon. A traditional mask depicting the face of Maha Sohona is used in these rituals. In these rituals, Maha Sohona’s defeat at the hands of Gotaimbara is described, and he is threatened with “further vengeance” unless he releases his hold on the patient.
Coincidently Sri Lanka Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol units are popularly known as the “Maha Sohon Brigade”, named after this demon.