Sri Lanka Map
Site Index
Contact
Random
Our Travel Books
Advertising / Press

The Temple Town of Kataragama

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Our Latest Travel Book: Palermo, Sicily

A major center of Sri Lankan pilgrimage for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, Kataragama is a normally sleepy village which completely transforms every evening when a riotous spectacle of color, fire, music and worship gets underway.

Waiting Kataragama

We planned on taking the bus from Ella to Kataragama, but the tuk-tuk driver taking us to the station offered such an unbelievable price for the entire 2.5 hour journey, we couldn’t say no. Sampath had a brand new, comfy, large tuk-tuk, which he drove safely and sanely — a rare combination! We talked a lot during the trip. He’s a big fan of American wrestling, and forced me to promise that I would get him John Cena’s email address (reasoning, I think, that we’re both Americans and likely to know each other). Sampath had been a soldier for twelve years, and was the most genial driver we could have hoped for. If you’re in Ella and need a tuk-tuk for a long haul, he’s worth hunting down.

Our Tuk Tuk Driver
Sampath the Man! Mr. Cena, if you’re reading, contact us for his email address

We arrived in Kataragama at 1pm and while Sampath went straight to the temple to pay his respects, we checked into our hotel: the Ceybank Rest. Though intended for Ceybank employees, they also rent rooms to travelers, and we can recommend it. Not only were the rooms cheap, clean and comfortable, but the vegetarian rice & curry buffet dinner was fantastic, and cost just 250 rupees per person.

Kataragama is a strange town, existing almost entirely for the benefit of pilgrims. Most of the town’s shops only sell offerings for the gods. I tried to buy a coconut from one of the vendors without realizing it was part of a fruit platter meant for Buddha.

The sacred precinct is large and contains nods to all of Sri Lanka’s major religions. We first visited a green mosque and then a small Hindu Kovil dedicated to Shiva. To the north, we found a stupa and a statue of Dutugemunu. The centerpiece of the complex, though, was the Maha Vihara: a set of Buddhist temples in a round enclosure. As the sun disappeared, we joined a crowd gathered around the door of the Kataragama temple and got ready for the puja (the gods’ feeding hour). The number of other people wasn’t overwhelming, but this was a rainy Monday night, immediately following a holiday weekend. Usually, it’s a crush.

Eventually the bells began to ring, and temple doors opened. A parade of pilgrims marched in, presenting plates of fruit to Kataragama. This blue-skinned multi-armed deity is actually Hindu, but has long been worshiped by Buddhists as one of the island’s principal guardians. The puja ceremony was a confusing mish-mash of activity, and I had very little idea what was going on around me. Monks bringing pillows to the gods. People consulting a shaman in the Ganesh temple. Coconuts being lit on fire, then smashed against stones. Then, worshipers eating the offering fruits after Kataragama had had his fill. Especially with the light rain and mind-shaking droning of the bells, it was a surreal experience.

I wish we could have timed our visit for one of the island’s poya days, because that must be a gathering to behold. But regardless, Kataragama provided a unique look into a fascinating bit of culture.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map
Sampath the Tuk-Tuk Driver can be contacted here: sampath_wa@yahoo.com

Insect Shield T-Shirt

Kataragama Flood
Good Luck Banana Stand
Vishnu-Buddha
Good-Luck-License-Plates
Muslim-Temple-Kataragama
Muslim in Kataragama
Only For Muslim Prayers
3-in-One-Palm-Tree-Wonder
Doctor Monkey
Sri Lanka Thunder
Fire Dragon
Cricket Religion
Bucket Flower
Offering Flowers
Temple Cows
Storm Dagoba
Presents-For-the-Buddhist-Monks
Elephant-Tissue
Buddhist Fountain
Kataragama-2012
Kataragama-Sri-Lanka
Kataragam-Cock
Rolling-in-Sri-Lanka
Good-Times-Kataragama
Handsome Hindu Monk
Rain-Kataragama
/Reflecting-Stones
Dinner Is Ready
Secrets-of-Buddhism
Reflecting-Peacock
Face-of-Kataragama
Holding Flames
Golden-Gate-Kataragama
Waiting-For-Buddha
Security Peacock
, , , , , , , , ,
April 20, 2012 at 10:24 am Comments (3)

Poya Days

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Twelve times a year, and occasionally thirteen, life in Sri Lanka grinds to a halt for the observance of a Poya Day. Sri Lanka’s brand of Buddhism follows a lunar cycle, and full moon days are especially meaningful. These poya days are public holidays, allowing the faithful to visit their favorite temple and take a break from work. It’s forbidden to sell alcohol and, to a lesser extent, meat.

Poya in Sri Lanka

Today’s a Poya Day. April 6th, 2012 is the Bak Poya, commemorating the Buddha’s second visit to Sri Lanka at Nagadeepa (on the Jaffna Peninsula’s Nainativu Island). Each of the year’s full moon days has its own name and significance — here’s a full list. This is the third Poya during our stay in Sri Lanka and, for the third time, we only remembered it after trying to order a beer.

Buddhists in Sri Lanka live by five holy precepts. (1) Don’t kill. (2) Don’t steal. (3) Don’t be a pervert. (4) Don’t lie. (5) Don’t be a drunk. (Exactly two of these holy tenets preclude me from being a Buddhist). And on Poya Days, the pious abide by an extra three rules: (6) No food after midday. (7) No music or perfume. (8) No fancy beds or chairs.

So even on the holiest of days, Buddhists only have eight commandments to obey as opposed to Christianity’s ten. And I don’t see anything on the Buddhist list about “honoring thy parents” or blaspheming against God, which are the two I most routinely break. Goddamn parents should have raised me a Buddhist!

We always enjoy Poya Days, when all Sri Lanka shifts into vacation mode. Temples fill up with white-clad worshipers, and hotels are packed with families on mini-vacations. And the country’s best festivals fall almost exclusively on full moon days. I especially like the fact that Buddhism places so much value on a natural lunar cycle, which lends a beautiful bit of mysticism to the ceremonies.

, , , , ,
April 6, 2012 at 10:14 am Comments (2)
The Temple Town of Kataragama A major center of Sri Lankan pilgrimage for Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists, Kataragama is a normally sleepy village which completely transforms every evening when a riotous spectacle of color, fire, music and worship gets underway.
For 91 Days