Kataragama temple

220px-Kataragama_Maha_Devale

Kataragamam temple (Sinhala: කතරගම, Tamil: கதிர்காமம் Katirkāmam) in Kataragama, Sri Lanka, is a Hindu and Buddhist temple complex dedicated to Skanda-Murukan also known as Kataragama deviyo. 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 Vedda people. It is a collection of modest shrines, of which the one dedicated to Skanda-Murukan, also known as Kataragama deviyo, is the most important. For most of the past millennia, it was a jungle shrine very difficult to access; today it is accessible by an all-weather 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 Tamil 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 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 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 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 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 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; Arunagirinathar traversed this pilgrimage route in the 1400s.The vicinity of the temple complex is 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; since then political leaders have contributed for its maintenance and upkeep.

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