Jun 11, 2015

Kataragama, a Sacred City

The crowds, the color, the smell of camphor...what activity, what a sight!

This is the backdrop of the well-known Kataragama Festival held in the months of July each year.
Kataragama is located in the South-east of Sri Lanka and is home to the jungle shrine dedicated to God Skanda, son of God Shiva and the God of War and Wisdom. Legend has it that God Skanda rested on the Kataragama mountain after defeating an army of demons.

Although God Skanda is predominantly a Hindu God, the shrine is visited by Buddhists and Hindus alike as devotees usually visit to make supplication for safe journeys, and myriad other requests.

All year round, devotees flock to the temple to offer flowers, fruits and garlands for the evening pooja or service. Then comes the majestically-decorated elephant holding a single lotus flower in its trunk. At the mahout's command, the elephant kneels and places the flower at the foot of the statue of Lord Buddha. He does the same at the next shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesh.

The final shrine the elephant makes its way towards, is the Maha Devale, or the Large Shrine. Again the elephant repeats its ritual and then devotees are allowed to enter into the temple themselves.

It is only on the Esala Full Moon Poya day on the full moon in July that the usual rituals are set aside and the festivities begin. The sound of drums can be heard far and wide as elephants parade, and many feats are performed such as walking on coals, or swinging by hooks pierced through the skin. These are acts of faith performed by devotees to display their belief in the Gods of the shrine.

The end of the festival is signaled by what is called a ‘water-cutting ceremony' the following morning in the Menik River to bring rain for the harvests.

For anyone willing to take the journey to see this awesome event, it is a trip well worth the trouble; and as the local devotees believe, one that holds many blessings as well.