Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kataragama…..what you did not see in this Land of the Deities?

Kataragama the town of Gods located in the South East  of Sri Lanka is woven in much folklore, through fear and faith in God Skanda.….Skanda is primarily venerated by the Dravidian Hindu’s of South India and Sri Lanka but his assistance is sort after by people of all faiths in this land.


However he is a God of difference. Skanda leaves behind his consort Thevani in Mount Kailasha in the Himalayas and comes over to this land in Sri Lanka. He falls in love with Valli, a beautiful maiden princess who had been raised by the indigenous Veddas. Later Valli became the second consort of God Kataragama and transfigured as a deity. Till today the indigenous Veddah people come to venerate Kataragama deviyo at the Kataragama temple complex from their forest abodes. His relationship to the Veddah princess Valli is celbrated during the annual Esala festival.

According to legends, the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya was built by king Dutugemunu around 160 B.C. as a fulfillment of a vow made before undertaking his successful military campaign against the Chola invader king Elara who was occupying the then Sri Lankan capital at Anuradhapura. King Dutugemunu is said to have obtained the blessings and guidance of God Kataragama before his expedition against king Elara. Upon victory Dutugemunu built the temple  to God Kataragama and appointed the officials to care for it.



In principle, the hero or god Kataragama is one who achieves his aim through deception, disguise, and stratagem. He is a god of wits and humanly accessible only to those who apprehend his modus operandi wit and deception….

This tells about where he is to be found, and who and the type of people that come here seeking his assistance.


My, being a non-believer in divinities is but unable to refrain from visiting these location as many a excursion or pilgrimage would touch Kataragama as many favour going into them shrines to fulfill vows and swears.

Panorama 3

My last visit to Kataragama was on December 27th in 2014, just after the whole country experienced  heavy rains and all the rivers swelled bring in destruction to life and property.  The weather gods did not spare these abodes of Gods in Kataragama either.


This inclement weather seem to have had no effect  on the numbers  visiting Kataragama.,  I’m sure even the Gods would have vacated their abodes until the floods subsided.


I was more a tourist in Kataragama this day and what I record here  shows a different world of activity…..many would not see these due to individual priorities being different.
Kataragama today is a thriving economy with the much of the fruit produced in the country coming over hear as gods food to be offered on the altar. Lorry loads of coconuts are smashed on the stone as promise and assurance.

The hospitality service provided to the traveler / pilgrim is thriving business not to mention the souvenir and sweetmeat industry.


Fruits…. the Gods food


King coconut is only for the Gods….my plea for one to quench my thirst was rejected - it’s not for human consumption  in Kataragama.


Lorry loads of coconut are smashed ….guess the kernel is dried and the oil extracted


The temple elephants over here are beggars…..they are tied up for the curious visitor to feed them on the fruits and other sweet goodies that are passed on to them after the god having had his share off the large fruit platters offered in veneration and fulfillment of vow agreements?


They are abused ? ……  tail fibers extracted for sale; they fetch a price in the ornamental market….


Elephants earn their  mahouts  their daily bread by letting people pass under their bellies for cures and well being…………guess they must be feeling ticklish and shy letting the women folk pass under so close to it?

Its LKR 150 for three passes……………….




Offerings & Incenses

These floral offering are to the Kirivehera…. a Buddhist Stupa in close vicinity and are sold by these  lasses on the way to the stupa. The inclement weather has filled all the water bodies dangerously full prohibiting the supply of water lilies.



Wildlife around Kiri Vehera

Grey Langur scavenging on the fruit waste. 

Birds, Cockerels consume the wax laden lamp wicks

Kiri Vehera

Kirivehera had been known the Magulmaha seya then and was built by King Mahasena [275-301 AD]. Buddha on his third visit to this land is said to have stopped over on the way to Thissamaharama. One of the eight bodhi saplings that accompanied the Sri Maha Bodhi is planted here which exist to this date.

Panorama 1


Lower below the salapathala maluwa [stone paved compound] is the ancient foundations of the stupa.


Kandian style flat clay tiles over the covered flower altars

Souvenirs for the taking

Places of pilgrimage the world over has had souvenirs for sale to be taken with you to remember the visit. Ancient Sigiriya  has had terracotta images of the figurines of the damsels in the stone crevice.
Kataragama also had hand made bead chains to be taken away as souvenirs in the past. Burnt clay tills turned out in the shapes of fruits and pets was for collecting coins. The idea behind being to save your expenses for the next visit. 

There are many who make their livelihood by selling souvenirs to visitor. I met this couple, Salitha and Indrani. They are of the lower tiers in this souvenir trade.. struggling for existence when compared to others thriving in business.


This rickety old tricycle that can never be ridden, counter balanced with rock stones is their possession and the mobile souvenir store 


Saltha & Indrani

The lucrative souvenir trade as seen through the  lens 




Panorama 2

Waiting for a tuk tuk ??
….the board says parking only for one tuk tuk


  1. Hi, an excellent travel account and similarly praiseworthy collection of 'birding eye' photographs, as usual to you! Undoubtedly should be esteemed. Thanks a lot.

  2. One thing...are you sure that it is mentioned in Mahawansa that King Dutugemunu had paid homage to the deity Kataragama at this devale? If not, better to release him from being a shareholder of the dark grandeur of this deity. On the other hand it would be a releasing of the submerging leg upon the effectiveness of Arhath monks. The statements like your attribute this king trust on the grandeur of a mortal tribal deity over the effectiveness of treating them righteously as a pooja. The king has seemingly waged war for the sake of 'Saasana' and that deed had been dedicated as a pooja to Arhath monks (as commonly accepted). So, the belief on the result of that merit would have been effective and protective for him than any lower scale blessing, unlike present day rulers. .....................Further, King Mahasen's reign was during 275-301 (another calculation mentions 277-304). 257 is an unseen mistake.