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Kataragama

Kataragama is a sacred town in Sri lanka for Buddhist, Hindu, Muslims and indigenous Vedda people of Sri Lanka. The town has the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama devalaya, a shrine dedicated to Skanda-Murukan also known as Kataragamadevio, while Muslims believe it is the place where the Khizir Alaih Assalam had appeared and once Hamil & Kabil lived here. Kataragama is in the Monaragala District of Uva province, Sri Lanka. It is 228 km ESE of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

Kataragam has venerable history dating back to the last centuries BCE. It was the seat of government of many Sinhalese kings during the days of Rohana kingdom. Since the 1950s the city has undergone many improvements with successive governments investing in public transportation, medical facilities, and business development and hotel services. It adjoins the popular Yala National Park.

In the earlier times Kataragama was a small village in with small population of Hindus and Muslims only but in the year 1994 Prime minister Chandrika Kumari Badranaike gave it a status of sacred city which made Buddhist also flock to this city and now it has become one of the most holy and lively places for all faiths of Sri Lanka.

Kataragama today is a fast-developing township surrounded by jungle in the southeastern region of Sri Lanka. It is also the starting point for Jungle Safaris in Yaka. The area has many fine hotels and lodges whch can be booked thru us

Hotels in Kataragama

 

Early history

The general vicinity of Kataragama has yielded evidence of human habitation at least 125,000 years ago. It has also yielded evidence of Mesolithic and Neolithic habitations.

Historic period

During the historic period, the general area was characterized by small reservoirs for water conservation and associated paddy cultivation. Kataragama village is first mentioned in the historical annals known as Mahavamsa written in the 5th century CE. It mentions a town named Kajjaragama from which important dignitaries came to receive the sacred Bo sapling sent from Asoka’s Mauryan Empire in 288 BCE.

It functioned as the capital of number of kings of the Ruhuna kingdom. It provided refuge to many kings from the north when the north was invaded by South Indian kingdoms. It is believed that the area was abandoned around the 13th century.

Based on archeological evidence found, it is believed that the Kiri Vehera was either renovated to build during the first century BCE. There are number of others inscriptions and ruins. By the 16th century the Kataragamadevio shrine at Kataragama had become synonymous with Skanda-Kumara who was a guardian deity of Sinhala Buddhism.

The town was popular as a place of pilgrimage for Hindus from India and Sri Lanka by the 15th century. The popularity of the deity at the Kataragama temple was recorded by the Pali chronicles of Thailand such as Jinkalmali in the 16th century. There are Buddhist and Hindu legends that attribute supernatural events to the locality.[2] Scholars such as Paul Younger and Heinz Bechert speculate that rituals practiced by the native priests of Kataragama temple betray Vedda ideals of propitiation. Hence they believe the area was of Vedda veneration that was taken over by the Buddhist and Hindus in the medieval period

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 indigenous Vedda people.[3] 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.[4]

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 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.[5] 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.
 

Muslim legends
People of Coast Vedda descent taking a pilgrimage on foot (Pada Yatra) from the town of Muttur in the east of Sri Lanka to the templeMuslim or Islamic legends about Kataragama are relatively newer. According Muslims Kataragama is referred to as al-Khidr or land of Khidr.[30] A number of Muslim pious and holy men seems to have migrated from India and settled down in the vicinity. The earliest known one is one Hayathu, whose simple residence became the mosque. Another one called Karima Nabi is supposed to have discovered a source of water that when drunk provides immortality. [31] Historic figures such as Jabbar Ali Sha (died 1872) and Meer Syed Mohhamed Alisha Bawa (died 1945) also have mausoleums built over their tombs.
 

History[edit] Origin theoriesThere are number of theories as to the origin of the shrine. According to Heinz Bechert[6] and Paul Younger,[7] the mode of veneration and rituals connected with Kataragama deviyo is a survival of indigenous Vedda mode of veneration that preceded the arrival of Buddhist and Indo-Aryan cultural influences from North India in Sri Lanka in the last centuries BCE, although Hindus, Buddhists and even Muslims have tried to co-opt the deity, rituals and the shrine. But according to S. Pathmanathan,[1] 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 Kataragama deviyo 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.[1]

[edit] Literary evidenceThe first literary mention of Kataragama in a context of a sacred place to Skanda-Murukan is in its Tamil form Kathirkamam in the 15th-century devotional poems of Arunagirinathar. Tradition claims that he visited the forest shrine when he composed the poems. According to his poems, the deity dwelt on top of a mountain.[1] The first mention of Kataragama deviyo in the form Khattugama, as a guardian deity of Sri Lanka and its Buddhist relics, was in the Pali chronicle of Jinakalamali written during the 16th century in what is today Thailand.[8][9] (see Jatukham Rammathep a popular Thai amulet, based on Khattugama, a deity from Sri Lanka) Kataragama village is first mentioned in the historical annals known as Mahavamsa written down in the 5th century CE. It mentions a town named Kajjaragama from which important dignitaries came to receive the sacred Bo sapling sent from Asoka’s Mauryan Empire on 288 BCE.[10] (According to Ponnambalam Arunachalam Kajjaragama is derived from Kârttikeya Grâma ("City of Kartikeya")[11] shortened to Kajara-gama[11])

[edit] Archeological evidenceThe vicinity of the temple has number of ancient ruins and inscriptions. Based on dated inscriptions found, the nearby Kiri Vehera is believed to be have been built or renovated around the 1st century BCE.[12] 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.[13] 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. [14] The region was part of the ancient kingdom of Ruhuna which played an important role in the political history of the island.[7]

[edit] Role of Kalyangiri SwamyThe medieval phase of the history of the shrine began with the arrival of one Kalyanagiri Swamy from North India sometimes during the 16th or 17th century. [15] He identified the very spot of the shrines and their mythic associations with characters and events as expounded in Skanda Purana.[15] Following his re-establishment of the forest shrine, it again became a place of pilgrimage for Indian and Sri Lankan Hindus. The shrine also attracted local Sinhala Buddhist devotees. [15] The caretakers of the shrines were people of the forest who were of indigenous Vedda or mixed Vedda and Sinhalese lineages. The shrines popularity increased with the veneration of the place by the kings of the Kandyan kingdom, the last indigenous kingdom before colonial occupation of the island. When Indian indentured workers were brought in after the British occupation in 1815, they too began to participate in the pilgrimage in droves,[16] thus the popularity of the shrine increased amongst all sections of the people
 

History[edit] Origin theoriesThere are number of theories as to the origin of the shrine. According to Heinz Bechert[6] and Paul Younger,[7] the mode of veneration and rituals connected with Kataragama deviyo is a survival of indigenous Vedda mode of veneration that preceded the arrival of Buddhist and Indo-Aryan cultural influences from North India in Sri Lanka in the last centuries BCE, although Hindus, Buddhists and even Muslims have tried to co-opt the deity, rituals and the shrine. But according to S. Pathmanathan,[1] 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 Kataragama deviyo 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.[1]

[edit] Literary evidenceThe first literary mention of Kataragama in a context of a sacred place to Skanda-Murukan is in its Tamil form Kathirkamam in the 15th-century devotional poems of Arunagirinathar. Tradition claims that he visited the forest shrine when he composed the poems. According to his poems, the deity dwelt on top of a mountain.[1] The first mention of Kataragama deviyo in the form Khattugama, as a guardian deity of Sri Lanka and its Buddhist relics, was in the Pali chronicle of Jinakalamali written during the 16th century in what is today Thailand.[8][9] (see Jatukham Rammathep a popular Thai amulet, based on Khattugama, a deity from Sri Lanka) Kataragama village is first mentioned in the historical annals known as Mahavamsa written down in the 5th century CE. It mentions a town named Kajjaragama from which important dignitaries came to receive the sacred Bo sapling sent from Asoka’s Mauryan Empire on 288 BCE.[10] (According to Ponnambalam Arunachalam Kajjaragama is derived from Kârttikeya Grâma ("City of Kartikeya")[11] shortened to Kajara-gama[11])

[edit] Archeological evidenceThe vicinity of the temple has number of ancient ruins and inscriptions. Based on dated inscriptions found, the nearby Kiri Vehera is believed to be have been built or renovated around the 1st century BCE.[12] 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.[13] 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. [14] The region was part of the ancient kingdom of Ruhuna which played an important role in the political history of the island.[7]

[edit] Role of Kalyangiri SwamyThe medieval phase of the history of the shrine began with the arrival of one Kalyanagiri Swamy from North India sometimes during the 16th or 17th century. [15] He identified the very spot of the shrines and their mythic associations with characters and events as expounded in Skanda Purana.[15] Following his re-establishment of the forest shrine, it again became a place of pilgrimage for Indian and Sri Lankan Hindus. The shrine also attracted local Sinhala Buddhist devotees. [15] The caretakers of the shrines were people of the forest who were of indigenous Vedda or mixed Vedda and Sinhalese lineages. The shrines popularity increased with the veneration of the place by the kings of the Kandyan kingdom, the last indigenous kingdom before colonial occupation of the island. When Indian indentured workers were brought in after the British occupation in 1815, they too began to participate in the pilgrimage in droves,[16] thus the popularity of the shrine increased amongst all sections of the people
 


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