July 2019


Kataragama Perahera: Celebration of Faith
July 2019




Pada Yatra is a devotional journey from Jaffna to Kataragama.

A cultural pageant like no other spans the month of July in Kataragama, the abode of God Skanda or, Kataragama Deviyo. For centuries, God Skanda and these sacred grounds have been revered by devotees, their faith profound and unwavering.

Words: Roomini Wijayarathne.
Photography: Sandima Dewapriya.

God Skanda is revered as the God of War, Love, and Beauty, his story dating back millennia. Legends narrate that Skanda, son of Lord Shiva and Parvati left his home in Kailasa, India after a dispute with his brother, Ganesha. He had then walked to Kataragama, defeating ‘Asuras' (demons) on his way. Falling in love with ‘Valli,' the daughter of a Vedda Chieftain, Skanda made her his second consort, his first wife being Devayanai.

God Skanda made Kataragama his abode, living in Wedahiti Kanda with his two consorts. Kalyanagiri, an emissary, built the ‘Kalyana Mandapa' enshrining the ‘Shatkona Yantra' that is believed to be infused with the mantra of God Skanda. It is this Yantra that is fervently worshipped today at the Maha Devale, receiving homage from devotees all over the country. The Esala Perahera lights up the holy town's streets once a year, in honour of the Kataragama Deviyo, God Skanda. In July, tradition and heritage give way to a colourful procession with elaborate cultural dances and age-old rituals, sacred in the hearts of the devotees.

The two-week long rituals begin at an auspicious time in July, with the flag hoisting ceremony. Then fire-walking, perhaps the most mystical and awe-inspiring of Kataragama rituals, serves as a means of paying penance by the devotees. A bed of tamarind firewood is lit and as the embers glow red and gold in the dark of the night, the devotees tread the fire. It is said that those of the purest faith never get burned.

On the day of the main pageant, colour, light and sound engulf the streets. Beautifully caparisoned elephants enchant the spectators...

On the day of the main pageant, colour, light and sound engulf the streets. Beautifully caparisoned elephants enchant the spectators and a Tusker bears the revered ‘Yantra.' Alatti Amma - women who perform the daily pooja of lamps before God Skanda, walk in front of the tusker, clad in their traditional attire. Amidst the chants of ‘Haro Hara' from the spectators, traditional dancers step forward to the beat of the drums, their anklets clinking and costumes glinting. Dances inspired by the vibrancy of the peacock take centre stage, as the vehicle of God Skanda is a peacock. Fumes of camphor fragrances the night air, and in that trance-like atmosphere, devotees themselves join the pageant, chanting fervently. A month before the Perahera, pilgrims travel on foot on a devotional journey - Pada Yatra - from Jaffna to Kataragama, braving harsh weather and unfavourable conditions. They walk the route taken by God Skanda, as penance and in prayer. As the pilgrims travel South, more join the walk of devotion, amounting to more than 30,000 on the final days as they reach Kataragama in time for the Maha Perahera.

The water cutting ceremony marks the end of the two-week celebration of God Skanda's prowess and blessing. The casket bearing holy Yantra is taken to the Menik River and immersed in water, as the high priest strikes the river with a sword. Chanting prayers, devotees submerge in the holy waters in a cleansing ritual. The exquisite celebration of faith, culture and tradition comes to a conclusion, only to be repeated year after year.

Kataragama Perahera

Flag Hoisting Ceremony
July 3, 2019
Fire Walking Ceremony
July 12, 2019
Main Pageant
July 16, 2019
Water Cutting Ceremony
July 17, 2019

 

 

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    Lay priests of the Kataragama Devale offer homage to 'Shatkona Yantra' .

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    The Yantra is borne upon a majestically caparisoned tusker.

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    Alatti Ammas offer daily Pooja to God Skanda.

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    The pageant enters the street from the Maha Devale.

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    Fire-walking is an act of profound faith.

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    Kavadi music enlivens the pageant.

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    Peacock-inspired dances take centre stage.

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    Water-cutting ceremony concludes Kataragama Perahera.

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