Katharagama

Kataragama is a pilgrimage town sacred to Buddhist, Hindu and indigenous Vedda people of Sri Lanka. People from South India also go there to worship. The town has the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama devalaya, a shrine dedicated to Skanda-Murukan also known as Kataragamadevio. Kataragama is in the Monaragala District of Uva province, Sri Lanka. It is 228 km east of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Although Kataragama was a small village in medieval times, today it is a fast-developing township surrounded by jungle in the southeastern region of Sri Lanka. It houses the ancient Kiri Vehera Buddhist stupa. The town has a 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.

Kataragama is a multi-religious sacred town as it contains an Islamic Mosque within its temple complex as well. In spite of the differences of caste and creed, many Sri Lankans show great reverence to God Kataragama. They honor him as a very powerful deity and beg divine help to overcome their personal problems or for success in business enterprises, etc., with the fervent hope that their requests will be granted. They believe that God Kataragama exists and is vested with extraordinary power to assist those who appeal to him with faith and devotion in times of distress or calamity.

The Bo tree behind the Kataragama temple is one of the eight saplings (Ashta Phala Ruhu Bodhi) of Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradapura, Sri Lanka. This tree was planted in the 3rd century BC.

The Buddhist Kiri Vehera Dagoba which stands in close to the Kataragama devalaya was built by the King Mahasena. According to the legend, Lord Buddha, on his third and the last visit to Sri Lanka, was believed to have met King Mahasena, who ruled over the Kataragama area in 580 BC. It is said that King Mahasena met Lord Buddha and listened to his discourse. As a token of gratitude, the Dagoba was built on that exact spot where it now stands. Thus the local Sinhalese Buddhists believe that Kataragama was sanctified by Lord Buddha.

The deity at Kataragama is indigenous and long-celebrated in Sri Lankan lore and legend, and originally resides on the top of mountain called Wædahiti Kanda (or hill of the indigenous Vedda people) just outside the Kataragama town. Since ancient times an inseparable connection between the Kataragama God and his domain has existed. At one time the local deity was identified with God Saman, a guardian deity of Buddhism and Sri Lanka.

As was the Sinhalese tradition, local ancestors, rulers and kings, who did a great service to the country or community were ordained as deities. According to the legendary hisrtory, God Saman was an ancient ruler of the Deva people in the Sabaragamuwa area of Sri Lanka. Therefore, some believe that King Mahasena, who built Kiri Vehera in Kataragama later came to be worshiped as God Kataragama.

Till today the indigenous Vedda people come to venerate at the temple complex from their forest abodes. As a link to the Vedda past, the temple holds its annual festival that celebrates the God's courtship and marriage to a Vedda princess in July to August.

 

 

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