Kathirgamam Temple

Kathirgamam Temple

Kathirgamam temple is a temple complex dedicated to Buddhist guardian deity Kataragama deviyo and Hindu War God Murugan. It is one of the few religious sites in Sri Lanka that is venerated by the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and the Vedda people. For most of the past millennia, it was a jungle shrine very difficult to access; today it is accessible by an all-weather road. The shrines and the nearby Kiri Vehera are managed by Buddhists, the shrines dedicated to Teyvāṉai and Shiva are managed by Hindus and the mosque by Muslims.

The shrine has for centuries attracted Tamil Hindus from Sri Lanka and South India who undertook an arduous pilgrimage on foot. Since the latter half of the 20th century, the site has risen dramatically among Sinhalese Buddhists who today constitute a majority of the visitors.

The cult of Kataragama deviyo has become the most popular amongst the Sinhalese people. A number of legends and myths are associated with the deity and the location, differing by religion, ethnic affiliation and time. These legends are changing with the deity’s burgeoning popularity with Buddhists, as the Buddhist ritual specialists and clergy try to accommodate the deity within Buddhist ideals of nontheism. With the change in devotees, the mode of worship and festivals has changed from that of Hindu orientation to one that accommodates Buddhist rituals and theology. It is difficult to reconstruct the factual history of the place and the reason for its popularity amongst Sri Lankans and Indians based on legends and available archaeological and literary evidence alone, although the place seems to have a venerable history. The lack of clear historic records and resultant legends and myths fuel the conflict between Buddhists and Hindus as to the ownership and the mode of worship at Kataragama.

The priests of the temple are known as Kapuralas and are believed to be descended from Vedda people. Veddas, too, have a claim on the temple, a nearby mountain peak and locality through a number of legends. There is a mosque and a few tombs of Muslim pious men buried nearby. The temple complex is also connected to other similar temples in Eastern Province dedicated to Murugan which are along the path of pilgrimage from Jaffna in the north to Kataragama in the south of the island; Arunagirinathar traversed this pilgrimage route in the 15th century.

Archeological Evidence

The vicinity of the temple has number of ancient ruins and inscriptions. Based on dated inscriptions found, the nearby Kiri Vehera is believed to have been built or renovated around the 1st century BCE. There is an inscription, a votive offering to the Mangala Mahacetiya, apparently the former name of Kiri Vehera on the orders of one Mahadathika Mahanaga, a son of king Tiritara who ruled in 447 CE. There is also an inscription of Dapula I dated to the 7th century CE who built a sanctuary for Buddhist monks, but the inscription does not mention Kataragama by name. Nearby Tissamaharama was a trading town of antiquity by the 2nd century BCE, as indicated by Prakrit and Tamil Brahmi legends in coins and potsherds unearthed on the site. The region was part of the ancient kingdom of Ruhuna which played an important role in the political history of the island.

Buddhist Legends

One of the Sinhala legends tells that when Skanda-Kumara moved to Sri Lanka, he asked for refuge from Tamils. The Tamils refused, and he came to live with the Sinhalese in Kataragama. As a penance for their refusal, the deity forced Tamils to indulge in body piercing and fire walking in his annual festival.[26] This legend tries to explain the location of the shrine as well as the traditional patterns of worship by Tamils. Another Sinhala legends attest that Kataragama deviyo was the deity worshipped by Dutugamunu in the 1st century BCE, before his war with Ellalan, and that Dutugamunu had the shrine erected to Skanda-Kumara at Kataragama after his victory. This legend has no corroboration in the Mahavamsa, the historic annals about Dutugamunu. Another Sinhala legend makes Kataragama deviyo a deification of a Tamil spy sent by Elara to live amongst the Sinhalese or a Tamil juggler who made the locals deify him after his death. Yet another legend says that Kataragama deviyo is a deification of the legendary king Mahasena, who is born as a bodhisattva or Buddha in waiting.

Vedda Legends

The Veddas who have kept out of the mainstream culture of Sri Lanka do not subscribe to Kataragama deviyo as their deity. Unassimilated Veddas consider Kande Yakka or Gale Yakka (Lord of the Rock) as their primary deity to be propitiated before hunts. They propitiate the deity by building a shrine made out of thatched leaves with a lance or arrow planted in the middle of the structure. They dance around the shrine with the shaman becoming possessed with the spirits of the dead ancestors who guide the hunting party in techniques and places to go hunt.


Although since the medieval period Hindus, Buddhists and even Muslims have tried to co-opt the temple, deity and its worship as their own, the rituals maintained by the native priests are still intact. The main festival is known in Sinhalese as Esela Perehera. It is celebrated during the months of July and August. About 45 days before the festival begins, the priests go into the forest and find two forked branches of a sacred tree. The branches are then immersed in the local river and kept at the shrines dedicated to Kataragama deviyo and Vali. When the main festival begins, the Yantra representing the deity is retrieved from its storage location, paraded through a street on top of an elephant, and carried to the Valli shrine. After two hours it is returned. On the last day of the festival, the Yantra is left overnight at the Valli shrine and brought back to the main shrine. The priests conduct the rituals in silence, covering their mouths with a white cloth. Associated with the main festival is fire walking arranged by a master of the ritual. Hundreds of devotees participate in fire walking, yet others participate in ecstatic dance forms called Kavadi and body piercing. Many of the pilgrims exhibit signs of being possessed.


Sri Lanka’s Four Guardian Deities Vishnu, Kataragama, Saman and Pattini have Banished the Known Goblin and Installed the Unknown Seraph as President

By Don Manu

 17 January 2015

A new dawn has broken upon these island shores. With the New Year, Lanka has a new president, a new prime minister, even a new saint; and reflected upon the now sunlit countenance of her people is a new air of freedom, a new smile of hope.


Though once trumpeted from the rooftop by the previous regime that it was the best of times, it was in reality the bleakest of times. It was an evil era when a nation’s brainwashed people were getting closer and closer to embrace the notion that the three blessings that historically protected Lanka did not emanate from the Triple Gem of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha but instead flowed from the triumvirate of the three Rajapaksa brothers whose attitude, action and conduct conveyed the impression, relentlessly fostered upon the mass Sinhala psyche, that they and their descendants were anointed by a divine right to rule the land forever; and that, if their omniscient, omnipotent selves were not omnipresent to wield the throne, the crown and the sceptre, then Lanka and her people would be condemned to a conflagration of terrible destruction.

Ramayana’s Hanuman, symbolising the foreign conspiracies said to be at work, would burn the house down; with Ravana vanquished, it would be curtains for Lanka, the prophecy held.

Unscrupulously exploiting the entire state propaganda machinery, this was the sinister message hammered home day in and day out into the collective conscience of the Sinhala masses. The war victory was wrung dry to its last remaining drops of glory; and even the tiniest rivulet that flowed bearing the splendour and the triumph was directed in the direction of one man who, claiming sole credit, publicly bathed in its waters, without a blush. While synthetic wreaths were laid to fade upon the grave of the Unknown Soldier, evergreen flowers freshly adorned and scented the towering pedestal of the kudos baggers.

Fortunately, the Four Guardian Deities of Lanka, Vishnu, Kataragama, Saman and Pattini seem to have exercised their benign influence by coming to the fore to banish the self-styled known goblin and instead instal the unknown seraph in the seat of Presidency through the power of the ballot last week. Thankfully, the 2,500-year-old status quo of Buddhism’s protection to the thrice-blessed land has now been restored. If more benedictions were called for, the nation’s talisman was further fortified with the welcome blessings of Jesus Christ brought aboard the Alitalia flight on Tuesday by His Holiness Pope Francis.

Now it’s time for the new President to start his own road show and keep the promises he made in his quest for the Holy Grail. Chief amongst the reason that led to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s downfall was the total breakdown of law and order and the odious practice of selective law enforcement.

This enabled corruption to rise to unprecedented levels. As long as it were the kith, kin and cronies plundering the nation’s coffers to finance the ruling elites’ orgy of lust and greed, power and gratification, the resulting debauchery hardly raised an eyebrow.

The Rajapaksa regime can boast of infrastructure development and ending the war, but what has it done to ensure law and order in civil society?

During the election campaign, Maithripala Sirisena painted the breakdown of law and order, selective law enforcement and gross corruption as the dominant stars that blazed on his flag of change. The opportunity has now dawned to keep his manifesto promise to the letter. The dynamics of politics may dictate to the present leadership to compromise on certain issues for political expediency. If so they would be committing the same mistakes as their predecessors and the promised change would be but another mirage in the oasis of a people’s hope.

Horse deals done behind closed doors to provide for any exception to the cardinal rule that the law is equal and that each one is levelled in its dust, cannot and should not be tolerated by the people who voted for genuine change in the belief that the pristine credentials of the new president made him the ideal harbinger of promised change. Each and everyone, no matter their exalted stations, against whom any allegation of corruption exists must be subject to the due process of the law and must, if a competent court finds the person guilty, receive the full punishment for the crime committed without any presidential clemency showed before or after the trial.

The charge against the Rajapaksa regime is not only for being responsible for the gross corruption that raged unchecked but also for being responsible for the debasement of the traditional values any society, if it wishes to exist and thrive, cannot do without, cannot afford to have trampled in the mud. At the heart of any society lies the fundamental foundation stone of law. All roads built, however well carpeted it may be, will not lead to prosperity but to anarchy for without the rule of law reigning supreme and applying equally to all, even platinum carpeted roads would lead to the chaos caused by social implosion.

The Rajapaksa regime can well boast that they built Chinese-funded roads, a Chinese funded harbour, a Chinese funded airport, a Chinese funded coal plant, that they ended a terrorist war by meeting force with an even greater force but what have they done to ensure law and order in civil society and to promote the respect that must be accorded to the rule of law for laws to have any efficacy? Did the Rajapaksa government even discharge its constitutional duty of promoting the Buddha Sassana when they turned a blind eye to the violent acts of a small group of renegade monks, the nefarious Bodu Bala Sena that degraded the sublime ‘ahimsa’ message of the Buddha and brought dissension within the Sassana itself?

Even communist China is stable and functions competently because it is governed by Chinese laws which, no matter its reddish hue or rancid taste, apply equally to all its citizens. There is no one law that applies to the followers of Chinese President Xi Jinping; and another that damns those who do not swear by him and hail him as God King of China. Today with the edifice of law brought to the ground and the respect lowered to its nadir it is vital, before all else, that the new government first resurrects it to its pristine state. In the long run, development depends on it. Thankfully the people had realised this salient truth; and, when they got the opportunity on January 8, demonstrated their conviction that what was indispensable was not a Rajapaksa to rule over Lanka but an impartial rule of law to preside over the affairs of all Lankans.

Maithripala Sirisena now faces the Herculean labour of cleaning up the Augean Stables. However hard it is, he must start at the beginning, from scratch. But this task must be done and shown to be done. During the election campaign, he and his fellow members alleged gross corruption in the Rajapaksa ranks. This was the signature tune of the entire campaign, the rhapsodic song which held the masses gripped in enthusiasm to dawn change when it sang of how a people, lashed to submission, were being systematically robbed and their legitimate inheritance blatantly used by their political masters to finance the stupendously luxurious lifestyles of an unworthy few.

And now, after the allegations had waxed lyrical and had become the moving music that served to bring down a falsetto regime from its prolonged crescendo, the demand must be made from the new government to produce the proof, to substantiate the charges made against the previous regime, to indict them in court and allow the due process to punish the guilty for the crimes committed under the existing laws.

If the Government fails to do so, for whatever reason, it will stand indicted before the bar of public opinion for making false allegations against innocent men, for deceiving the public by casting calumnies against their rivals and deceiving the masses to gain their votes to come to power. The absence of action to bring the culprits to trial will cast doubts on the Government’s own bona fides and enable members of the previous regime to later claim that they are innocent men whose innocence has been proved by the Government’s own failure to come up with a shred of evidence of corruption. If the Government does not pursue the investigations to its logical conclusions it will be indirectly handing over good character certificates to those whom they once labelled as rogues.

Secondly, it must apply to all. Maithripala Sirisena and the then opposition decried the breakdown of law and order and bemoaned the repugnant practice of selective law enforcement. With the former president dividing the nation into two communities, declaring there were only patriots and traitors it soon became apparent that the patriots were those who were loyal to the Rajapaksas while all those who showed even the slightest difference of opinion were branded as traitors.

The patriotic stooges could run amok, tie men to trees, storm media offices, kidnap suspects in police custody from police stations while the police looked askance, attack Muslims wantonly, attack Christian churches, kill a British tourist and gang rape his Russian girlfriend, brandishing pistols and run on public streets in broad daylight to attack visiting opposition Parliamentary members without the police conducting their duties of law enforcement which was a subject directly under the former president as Minister of Defence. They could amass large fortunes, buy up valuable properties, own expensive sports cars, flaunt opulence and display wealth far greater than their legitimate incomes revealed without the tax department, which came under the direct purview of former President Rajapaksa as Minister of Finance, being prodded to make even an inquiry, let alone ordered to take action.

The traitors or those not flaunting the Rajapaksa colours were, on the other hand, hounded repeatedly and were subjected to the full force of the law and faced its wrath repeatedly. White vans ceased to be identified as vehicles carrying children to schools in the morning but as phantoms of the night bearing another ‘traitor’ to meet an unknown tryst with the grim reaper. And very often the victim of an extrajudicial attack by a Rajapaksa patriot became persecuted. Many remained silent nursing their wounds rather than make complaints to the police and face even greater injury. Some even fled the country in fear of death whilst the patriotic cronies of the Rajapaksa clan ambled across the land as sacred cows of the Rajapaksa barn.

No wonder then that respect for the law, coupled with interference in the judiciary, became nonexistent in the eyes of all right-thinking men and women. Remember the famous President Rajapaksa comment when asked why he was taking action against a person who had turned against him when earlier he had appointed him to a top position in a bank even though he faced an allegation of corruption, “He was one of us then and I tried to ‘shape’ it up.” The efficacy of the law ceases to exist when people find that it is not their actions but their political colours that determine whether the law of the land applies to them or not.

In the event of the present Government taking action to prosecute those suspected of corruption and bribery, President Sirisena must not commit the same fatal error as Mahinda Rajapaksa did and spare those on the basis that immunity has been granted to them as a result of secret deals made to facilitate a smooth transition of government or to strengthen his position in the SLFP party as president of the party. He must ensure and publicly demonstrate by his action that in his legal textbook on criminal procedure no exception section or subsection exists to excuse anyone, however, exalted the position may be, from criminal prosecution for criminal acts done during the tenure of office. If Maithripala succumbs to the expediency trap and allows a few big sharks to slip through the net, he too will be guilty of selective law enforcement and will be no different from his predecessor.

Like the rain that falls, the provisions of the law must fall on all, with no umbrella offered for a still powerful few to shield themselves from the falling rain of justice. Lanka’s wealth is the property of her people, not the personal inheritance of even the president and thus no one has the right to grant a dispensation to those who stand in the dock, accused of plundering the nation’s coffers.

Thirdly the guilty must not go free if only to convey a potent message to the new ministers that their actions, too, will be minutely scrutinized and allegations of corruption and bribery will be effectively probed and charges filed against them in court by this government or by a future government. The precedent that will be set by prosecuting all the culprits in the Rajapaksa regime will bring about this change. The era when this land was treated as one furrowed and made fertile for the benefit of politicians on both sides of the fence will then be over.

Lanka’s first agriculturalist President Maithripala Sirisena must ensure that the field is not one used by the UNP in the Maha season and the SLFP in the Yala, with both expropriating the harvest with a mutual understanding not to reveal the others thievery on account of concealing one’s own fraud while the Lankan people, the true owners of the land are robbed of their dues and left with only a handful of grain.

Finally, it must be made clear that taking action against the traitors of Lanka, some of whom have already fled the country to take up residence in countries they are citizens of and to enjoy the spoils of their treachery undisturbed, is not one designed to wreak revenge but a vital necessary exercise to give justice to the victims of The Great State Robbery of all time, justice to 20 million victims, the hoodwinked, cheated pauperised citizens of Lanka who have had their treasure trove plundered in by those who paraded the roads as the true patriots of the nation. The Lankan Government must not rest until the last rogue in the cave of thieves is hunted down and swiftly brought to justice,and ensure that the last stolen cent is returned to the national coffers.

Until this Monday the entire facade of the ICC drug store building at Bambalapitiya junction in Colombo was covered with the billboard proclaiming in banner headlines the statement in Sinhala, “I awoke the nation – (sgn) Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Now that the former president has roused us from our deep slumber, it is perhaps time that the new President Maithripala Sirisena awoke us to the Truth.

Courtesy: Sunday Times

About editor 3020 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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