Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya


The history of the historical Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya goes back a long way. Although not archeological, traditional and imaginary theories contribute to this.
Kataragama, then known as Kacharagama in the Hela where the Supreme Buddha preached, was seated in a cedar forest in a cedar forest, and a sermon was preached to the Buddha while he was reciting the Dhamma.
The forerunner of this was arranged by a ruler named Mahasena, a pro-people philanthropist who was a local ruler at the time.
It is said that the ruler of Kataragama was born in the name of God Mahasen after worshipping the Buddha and receiving the fruits of the Sovan path on the same day.
According to Hindu mythology, the son of the parents of Shiva and Parvati, the great powerful god Skanda, who was the source of the Holy Spirit, came to Kacharagama during the historical period and found the present-day Sellakataragama in the forest.
There is another legend that Thevani Amma, the Indian goddess, followed her Vallabhayana and stopped here and that Skanda was the god of Kataragama.

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Lord Murugan and Hindu Worship

Lord Murugan is the presiding deity of the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya. Devotees worship him with utmost devotion and love. Lord Murugan is often depicted with six faces and twelve hands, representing his divine attributes and powers. Alternatively, he is shown with one face and four hands, radiating a sense of grace and serenity.

Various names such as Kandasamy, Katiradeva, Katiravel, Karttikeya, and Tarakajit identify Lord Murugan in Hindu texts. These names are derived from the root "Katie," which means formless light. Lord Murugan is highly regarded by Saivite Hindus of South India, who also call him Subrahmanya.

One unique practice associated with Lord Murugan worship is piercing cheeks and tongues with vels, a symbolic act to express devotion and seek blessings. Devotees also engage in kavadi, where they pull large chariots carrying the murthi (idol) of Murugan using hooks pierced through the skin of their backs. These acts of self-sacrifice and penance demonstrate the deep faith and commitment of the devotees.

Murugan's vahana, or divine vehicle, is the majestic peacock. A shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha, known as Sella Katirkamam, is also located nearby. Lord Ganesha is considered Lord Murugan's elder brother and is depicted with an elephant face.

The Sacred River and its Healing Properties

The local river, Manik Ganga or Manika Gangai, holds immense importance for the devotees of Kataragama. It is believed to possess high gem content and medicinal properties. Bathing in the river is considered a sacred act of purification and healing. Residents claim that the roots of various trees that line the river's course through the jungle contribute to its therapeutic qualities. A bath in the river is said to have the potential to heal ailments and bring solace to the seekers.

Kataragama as a Buddhist Pilgrimage Site

Kataragama is one of the sixteen principal places of Buddhist pilgrimage in Sri Lanka. According to the ancient chronicle Mahawamsa, when the Bo-sapling (pipal tree sapling) under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment in North India was brought to the city of Anuradhapura 2,300 years ago, the warriors or Kshatriyas from Kataragama were present to pay homage and respect. This historical event highlights the deep connection between Kataragama and Buddhism.

One of the prominent Buddhist structures near the Hindu temple is the Kiri Vehera Dagoba. Legend says that during his third and last visit to Sri Lanka, Lord Buddha met King Mahasena, who ruled over the Kataragama area around 580 BC. The king received the Lord's teachings with reverence and gratitude. In appreciation, a dagoba was constructed on the exact spot where the meeting took place, sanctifying the location.

Pre-Hindu and Buddhist Origins of Kataragama

The deity worshipped at Kataragama has indigenous roots and has been celebrated in Sri Lankan lore and legend for centuries. The temple is on Waedahiti Kanda, the "Hill Where He Was." This connection between God and his sacred domain has existed since ancient times.

Before the conversion to Buddhism, the local deity was associated with God Saman, who held significance for the Sinhalese people. In the Sinhalese tradition, local ancestors, rulers, and kings were revered as deities, including God Saman. King Mahasena, known for building the Kiri Vehera dagoba, came to be worshipped as God Kataragama.

Even today, the indigenous Vedda people, who reside in the nearby forests, pay homage to the temple complex. The annual festival held at the temple celebrates the courtship and marriage of God with a Vedda princess, serving as a link to the Vedda past. The temple complex also contains secretive shrines used for sorcery and cursing by local Sinhalese.

The Temple of Syncretism

Kataragama stands as a testament to religious harmony and syncretism. Besides the Hindu and Buddhist elements, the temple complex also houses an Islamic mosque with traditions of great antiquity. This unique coexistence of diverse religious practices within a single sacred city exemplifies the spirit of tolerance and unity among the Sri Lankan people.

The Significance of Kataragama for Devotees

Regardless of their caste or creed, many Sri Lankans revere God Kataragama. They consider him a powerful deity capable of granting divine assistance and intervention in times of distress or calamity. People approach him with faith and devotion, seeking help to overcome personal challenges or succeed in their endeavours.

The annual Kataragama festival is a remarkable and captivating experience. Unlike the grandeur of the Kandy Perahera, which features staged performances of dance, drumming, and a procession of caparisoned elephants, the Kataragama festival is characterized by the spontaneous worship of Lord Skanda by devotees. The festival displays fervent devotion and self-mortification to fulfil vows and express gratitude for the favours bestowed by the deity.

The penances undertaken during the festival range from minor acts to near-fatal ones. Devotees roll half-naked in the scorching sands around the temple, pierce their cheeks and tongues with tiny spears, or embed sharp hooks in their upper torsos. The most daring participate in the fire-walking ceremony, where they walk on scorching embers, believing that only the unbelieving will be burned. The Kataragama festival showcases the immense faith and dedication of the devotees, leaving a lasting impression on all who witness it.

Kataragama: A Sacred Sanctuary

Kataragama is significant in the rich tapestry of Sri Lankan culture and spirituality. Some argue that the sanctuary predates even the Sinhalese race, which traces its origins back to the 5th century BC. Others believe that Kataragama emerged as Buddhism took root in Sri Lanka a century later.

Nestled on the banks of the Menik Ganga, known as the "Gem River," near the Yala wildlife reserve in the country's southeast region, Kataragama was once a tiny jungle village. However, with the development of a motorable road, the introduction of electricity, and a reliable water supply, Kataragama has transformed into a bustling town. It attracts countless pilgrims and vendors, creating a vibrant atmosphere.

With its blend of religious traditions and the sincere devotion of its devotees, Kataragama continues to captivate and inspire. It remains a sanctuary where people from various walks of life seek solace, divine intervention, and a connection to the spiritual realm.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Can anyone visit the Kataragama temple complex, or is it only restricted to Hindus and Buddhists?

A: The Kataragama temple complex is open to people of all faiths and backgrounds. Visitors from different religions and cultures are welcome to experience the spiritual ambience and pay their respects to the deity.

Q2. What is the significance of piercing cheeks and tongues during the Kataragama festival?

A: Piercing the cheeks and tongues with vels (spear-like instruments) symbolises devotion and penance. Devotees believe that enduring this physical pain demonstrates their unwavering faith and dedication to Lord Murugan, seeking his blessings and protection.

Q3. How does the Manik Ganga River contribute to the healing process?

A: The Manik Ganga River is believed to possess healing properties due to its high gem content and the medicinal properties of the roots of trees that grow along its banks. Taking a bath in the river is considered a sacred act of purification and is believed to have curative effects on various ailments.

Q4. Are there any accommodations available for pilgrims visiting Kataragama?

A: Several accommodations are available in Kataragama to cater to the needs of pilgrims and tourists. These include hotels, guesthouses, and rest houses, ranging from budget to luxury options.

Q5. Is the Kataragama festival similar to other Hindu or Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka?

A: The Kataragama festival has unique characteristics and rituals that set it apart from other celebrations in Sri Lanka. While it shares some elements with Hindu and Buddhist festivals, such as processions and acts of devotion, the Kataragama festival is renowned for the intense penances and acts of self-mortification performed by devotees.

Q6. Is there a specific time of the year when the Kataragama festival takes place?

A: The Kataragama festival takes place annually in July or August, during the Tamil month of Aadi or the Sinhala month of Esala. The festival lasts for several weeks and culminates in the grand procession known as the Maha Perahera, attracting many devotees and spectators.

Q7. Can tourists participate in the Kataragama festival rituals?

A: While tourists are welcome to observe and appreciate the rituals and festivities of the Kataragama festival, active participation in the intense penances and practices is generally limited to devotees who have made specific vows or seek spiritual fulfilment through these acts. It is advisable to respect the cultural and religious significance of the rituals and engage in appropriate observance as an observer.



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