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Kataragama Devale - Kandy

Kataragama Devale in Kandy
image from www.kandycity.org
A little away from the other Devalayas (Shrines) Kataragama Devale (shrine) lies in the commercial area of Kandy in "Kotugodella Vidiya". This was known as "kavikara Vidiya" in the ancient times. This is one of the Hatara Devale in the Kandy, the other three being the Natha, Vishnu and Patini. These four Devalayas have a long association with the Royal Palace ( Maha Vasala) and the Temple of Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) and has been venerated by Buddhists and Hindus alike from the inception.

Deity Kataragama is one of the most popular deities of Sri Lanka. His main devale (shrine) lies deep down in the Southern part of the country in the town of Kataragama and generally is called by the name of this town, Kataragama.

Statue of King Mahasena
from www.kataragama.org

The origin of this deity is as a mystery as him. Some legends consider the Kataragama Deviyo (deity) as the powerful regional warrior king Mahasena who ruled the Kataragama area when the Buddha made his 3rd visit to Sri Lanka in the 8th year of his enlightenment ( 580 BC). This warrior king took to Buddhism after meeting the Buddha and was elevated to a deity by the community after his death.

Some believe he is a spy master called Kadira of Tamil invader Elara. After the defeat of Elara he became a principle benefactor in the area and earned respect from the local Singhalese community who deityfied him after his death. Kadira is said to have operated 6 spy rings again sub divided in to 12 groups and based himself in the Kataragama area. It was these groups which later was transformed in to six heads and 12 arms of the Kataragama Deviyo. Kadira was known as the “Kadira Deviyo” who later became Kataragama Deviyo. But the Tamils in Kataragama never accepted him as a deity and ignored him. Those Tamils who worshipped at the shrine introduced their own god Skanda Kumar as the reigning deity of this shrine.

God Kataragama with six heads and 12 arms on the official vehicle, the peacock

According to Hindu beliefs deity Skanda is also known as Murugan, Arumugam, Kandasami (Skanda Swami), Subrahmanya, etc. According to Hindu legends deity Skanda came to Sri Lanka after a row with his wife Thevani and landed in the southern part of the island. He made "Vedihiti Kanda" near Kataragama his adobe and later married a 16 year old girl from the area called "Walli".

The deity Kataragama seems to have come in the popularity in 14th century and increased further since 16th century.

The Kataragama Shrine at Kandy is run by Hindu priests unlike the other 3 devales in Kandy. The entrance to the main shrine faces the main street through a colourfully ornamented vahalkada. The devale building is more or less the same as the others and has the upper stories square like lantern or tower over the sanctum, with a balcony. It consists of four compartments, the innermost or western one forming the sanctum with an image. In the next compartment also is an image where the officiating priests perform their rites. The third has the palanquin used in the Perahara, and the fourth is the drummers' quarters. To the north is an extra building attached to the main shrine and dedicated to the planetary gods.

Primary Source : "Kandy"
By Central Cultural Fund





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Updated July 21, 2007
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