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Kataragama temple

  Province Southern
  District Hambanthota
  Nearest Town Katharagama
  Period 161-131 BC
  Ruler King Dutugamunu


According to legendary history Ruhunu Kataragama Maha Devalaya (at right) was built by King Dutugemunu around 160 years B.C. in fulfillment of a vow to defeat King Elara in battle. It was endowed with large extent of land by King Dutugemunu for its maintenance and subsequent monarchs did likewise. Kataragama temple in Kataragama, Sri Lanka, is a Hindu and Buddhist temple complex dedicated to Skanda-Murukan also known as Kataragamadevio. It is one of the few religious sites in Sri Lanka that is venerated by the majority Sinhala Buddhists, minority Hindu Tamils, Muslims and the indigenous Vedda people.It is a collection of modest shrines, of which the one dedicated to Skanda-Murukan also known as Kataragamadevio is the most important. For most of the past millennia, it was a jungle shrine very difficult to access, but currently is accessible by an all- close to road. Almost all the shrines— and the nearby Kiri Vehera— are managed by Buddhists, apart from shrines dedicated to Tevayani, Shiva (Siva) and the Muslim mosque. Up until the 1940s a majority of the pilgrims were Hindus from Sri Lanka and South India, who undertook an arduous pilgrimage on foot. Since then most pilgrims tend to be Sinhala Buddhists, and cult of Kataragamadevio 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 also changing with the deities' burgeoning popularity with Buddhists, as the Buddhist ritual specialists and clergy try to accommodate the deity within Buddhist ideals of non-theism. With the change in devotees, the mode of worship and festivals has also 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 archeological 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 indigenous Vedda people. Veddas too have a claim on the temple, a nearby mountain peak and locality through a number of legends. There is a Muslim mosque and a few tombs of Muslim pious men buried nearby. The temple complex is also connected to number of other similar temples in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka dedicated to Murukan which are along the path of pilgrimage from Jaffna in the north to Kataragama in the south of the island.The vicinity of the temple complex is also used for secretive practices of sorcery and cursing peculiar to Sri Lanka. The entire temple complex was declared a holy place by the government of Sri Lanka in the 1950s, and since then various political leaders have contributed for its maintenance and upkeep.


There are number of theories as to the origin of the shrine. According to Heinz Bechert and Paul Younger, the mode of veneration and rituals connected with Kataragamadviyo is a survival of indigenous Vedda mode of veneration that preceded the arrival of Buddhist and Indo-Aryan cultural influences from North Indian in Sri Lanka in the last centuries of BCE, although Hindus, Buddhists and even Muslims have tried to co-opt the deity, rituals and the shrine. But according to S. Pathmanathan, the original Kataragama shrine was established as an adjunct Guardian deity shrine to SKANDA Kumara within a Buddhist temple complex. This particular shrine then became idealized as the very spot where Valli met Murukan amongst local Tamils and Sinhalese, and Kataragamadevio subsumed the identity of Skanda-Kumara and became a deity on his own right with rituals and pilgrimage. According to Pathmanathan, it happened after the 13th century CE when Murukan became popular amongst Tamils and before the 15th century CE when the poet Arunagirinathar identified the very location as a sacred spot.

Vedda legends

The Veddas who have kept out of the mainstream culture of Sri Lanka do not subscribe to Kataragamadevio as their deity. Unassimilated Veddas consider Kande Yakka or Gale Yakka (Lord of the Rock) as their primarily 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. Anthropologist Charles Gabriel Seligman felt that the Kataragamadevio cult has taken on some aspects of the Kande Yakka rituals and traditions. A clan of Veddas who lived near to the shrine was known as Kovil Vanam (Temple precincts). As a clan they are extinct but were to be found in the eastern province during the 19th century. Local Veddas believed that the nearby mountain peak of Vaedihitti Kande (The Mountain of Veddas) was the abode of the deity. The deity after coming over the shore married a local Vedda woman named Valli, a daughter of a Vedda chief and resided in the mountain. Eventually he was coaxed into settling down at the current location.