Sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims alike, Kataragama is one of the most revered places of pilgrimage in Sri Lanka. The town, named after the guardian deity of Sri Lanka, is busiest during the annual Kataragama Festival, but pilgrims come here year-round.
The sacred precinct, dotted with shrines and religious buildings, is located to the north of Kataragama. It is separated from the town by the Menik Ganga river, which is place of ablution where pilgrims purify themselves before continuing on their way. The streets surrounding the precinct are lined with stalls selling fruit platters, lotus buds and garlands to take to the temples.
On entering, visitors will first come across the ul-Khizr mosque,which houses tombs of Muslim saints. Adjacent to the mosque is a small kovil dedicated to Shiva. A series of other minor shrines line the avenue that leads to the Maha Devale– themain complex. Inside are three shrines, one of which is dedicated to the god Kataragama, also known as Skanda or Kartikeya. However, the god is not represented by an image but by his principal symbol, a vel (spear. The other adjacent shrines are dedicated to the Hindu deity Ganesha, and the Buddha.
The wall surrounding the main courtyard is decorated with impressive elephant heads and images of the peacock, Kataragama’s vahana (vehicle). According to legend, the peacock sprang from the body of a demon who was defeated but spared by the god, after which the bird promised to serve the merciful Kataragama as his mount.
The precinct comes alive during the evening puja,with queues of supplicants heading fruit platters and other offerings. more