Kataragama a popular pilgrimage destination frequented by adherents of all religions in Sri Lanka.
The main shrine devoted to Skanda popularly described in eulogies as God having six faces and twelve arms whose assistance is sought for worldly gain. The history of the shrine dates back to 2 century BC. The annual procession held in July or August is the main event of the shrine with fire walkers and Kawadi dancers. Offering to the got are made at 4.30am 10.30am and 6.30pm daily.
Kataragama has a network of hotels, guest houses as well as free pilgrim rests.
19km inland from Tissamaharama lies the small & remote town of Kataragama. Kataragama is one of most popular & most sacred pilgrimages sites of Sri Lanka. Like Adam’s Peak, it attracts Sinhalese Buddhists as well as Hindu Tamils. The adored site is visited by Muslims & Christians too. Town:
Kataragama is a small town with clean, tree lined roads with rows of stalls selling garlands & platters of fruit-coconut, mango watermelon.
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Skanda, the Hindu god of war, aka Karthika Kumara, Shuba, Mahasena, Devasena, Kadira, Agnibhuwa, Shanmukha, Kartikama, Murugan & Subramanya. The god is said to have come to the island to fight an enemy of the gods & having defeated the demon Tharaka at Velapura, today’s Kalutara, settled down at Kataragama. The Hindu war god in spite of six-faces & 12 arms doesn’t look dusky & ferocious at all. If anything, he is fair & handsome. And he is pleasant to the boot. It is said he is bit of a Romeo too, a hero to the damsels in distress. Once he got his brother God Ganesh himself to create a distress to the damsel Valli, so that he could emerge at the nick of the time in grand style & save her with great valour & become her one & only hero. But then, to give the devil, sorry, god his due credit, we must hasten to add, the handsome god married both the girls, Walli & Pulli. Since monogamy is nothing but dull monotony (not let her hear!), the god seemed to have opted for bigamy. Polygamy is bound to become a hell of a headache even with a single head, not to mention six heads as of God Kataragama. But then, how would you know of divine endowments & faculties? They say divine ways are behind the means of mortals.
Beyond the Maha Devale is a meeting hall on the north side of the square. From the east gate, a Tulip tree avenue leads 500m past further lines of stalls selling lotus flowers to the Kiri Vehera dating from 1 BC.It is a milk white large stupa with a well maintained peaceful courtyard. The temple elephant is often seen shackled to the trees here, being fed a copious diet of palm leaves. Its only unusual feature being the two sets of square walls which enclose it. A modern statue of King Dutugamunu stands behind the dagoba.
Inside are three main shrines. Directly opposite the entrance gate is the principal shrine, that of God Kataragama, a simple quadrangular white building with carved wooden doors & walls decorated with pink lotuses, green Bo leaves & Elephants. The shrine is believed to contain the spear of the multi-visaged, 12-armed warrior deity.
The other two shrines are dedicated to God Vishnu, one of the supreme Hindu deities, & the elephant-headed God Ganesha, the god of prosperity & wisdom. To the side of three shrines stand two fine Bo trees, the larger surrounded by golden rails & an elephant wall.
Located 5km from Kataragama is the small town of Sella Kataragama. The tree lined, well sheltered road make the drive pleasant. Sella Kataragama is the place where god Kataragama first met his first consort Valli Amma.
The first building we’ll encounter is the Ul-Khizr that houses the tombs of Muslim saints from Kyrgyzstan India. It is a beautiful small mosque with coloured tile work wooden lintels. Next to the Muslim Ul- Khizar is Hindu temple of God Shiva. We continue up the main avenue, passing a string of minor shrines, to reach the main shrine, the Maha Devale. The main courtyard is surrounded by an impressive wall decorated with elephant heads, is entered through an ornate metal gate. The wall as well as the gate is decorated with peacocks, a symbol of the God Katargama.
Conch shells blow, trumpets blare & drums beat out as voices rise in unison to a chorus of chant of Haro Hara; Elephants parade, drummers drum & vows are made. Some devotees seeking favours demonstrate their devotion to the god by performing extraordinary acts of penance & self-mortification: tongues & cheeks are transfixed by spikes, or butchers’ hooks penetrating their skin. Some devotees are suspended up in the air by an array of hooks & mounted on ox-driven carts swing forth & backwards freely; others roll half naked over the hot sands near the temple. Parades of pilgrims take part in vibrant & vigorous Kavadi (peacock) dance: men, women & children holding decorated semi circular red arches made of wood & paper above their heads dance to the beat of drummers & trumpeters.
The ritual traditionally involves a bath in the Menik Ganga (The River of Gems), the wearing of clean white clothes & then a walk of several hundred meters along the wide avenue to the temple, bearing offerings of flowers & fruit. Each supplicant light a coconut, then holding it aloft while saying a prayer, before smashing it on the stony ground, hoping for it to split into two nice halves-auspiciously open-a good omen. It’s considered inauspicious if the coconut fails to split on the stone. Offerings are made to the god inside the shrine.
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