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Nawagamuwe Pattini devale

- Shrine steeped in Hindu-Buddhist folklore -

The Pattini devale at Nawagamuwa, situated about 20 km from Colombo, on the low-level road to Avissawella, is said to have been built by the apostate king Rajasinha I (1581-1593). He did so apparently having embraced Hinduism on the advice of Arittakivendu Perumal, a 'sannyasi', belonging to the Hindu religious order 'Andi' (a non-brahminical Saiva sect of South India), to escape from patricidal sin in killing king Mayadunne of Sitawaka (1521-1581). The king is also said to have built the Berendi kovil at Sitawaka.

Goddess Pattini

According to the late Dr. Senarath Paranavitana, Archaeological Commissioner, the stone pillars near the devale belong to the Portuguese period (1505-1658). The Franciscan friars who came to Sri Lanka at that time, opened a school at Nawagamuwa to teach Christianity to children and a seminary to train young boys to qualify for priesthood.

The name of the village Nawagamuwa is a later corruption of Nagomuwa, clustered with 'na' trees (Mesua ferrera), that provided shade to the devotees who flocked to the devale to make their benefactions to the holy shrine of the goddess. Some of these trees still could be seen adorning the sacred place. The Buddhist temple, which now stands near the devale, was the work of Ven. Katuwawala Sumanatissa Maha Thera, for the convenience of the Buddhists to pay homage to the Buddha.

Among the devotees who flock to the devale beseeching divine help, are pregnant mothers seeking divine blessings for a safe and easy delivery.

This devale is famous for something special unlike other devales. Males and females vouch their innocence of any suspected offence by swearing upon the 'divurumgala' (a stone pillar erected by the devale), which is believed to possess miraculous powers, in punishing liars who swear fraudulently.

When a husband files a case in court for a divorce from his wife for being unchaste in her character, or she having given birth to a child who does not resemble either the father or mother, she is made to swear upon the sacred stone pillar, in the presence of court officials, to prove her innocence, when such a thing cannot be ascertained by circumstantial evidence. In the event of her failure to swear or found recalcitrant, her guilt is established and divorce granted.

According to the Tamil classics Seelappadikaram and Manimekhalai, belonging to the Sangam Age of India, goddess Pattini was an ordinary woman called Kannaki and was married to Kovalan or Palanga, and they lived a contented life. With the passage of time, Kovalan developed a clandestine love affair with a temple dancing girl, who soon made him a pauper in want to money to redeem some debts. Kovalan now went in search of Kannaki seeking financial help.


Kannaki felt pity for her husband and gave one of her anklets of gold to sell and find the money required to settle his debts, and never grudged Kovalan nor Madhavi, the dancing girl, for their immoral intimacy. Kovalan went to meet a goldsmith and sold the anklet to him, raised the money to settle his debts.

A week later, an announcement was made by tom-tom beaters, that the queen of the palace had lost one of her anklets, and anyone who finds it would be rewarded. The goldsmith forthwith rushed to the palace and told the king that an anklet was sold to him by a person known to him, and produced it for examination. The queen, at once, said that it was her anklet. With no hesitation, the king summoned Kovalan to appear before him and asked him to give reasons why he should not be punished with death.

Whatever the outcome was, the king ordered the royal executioners to ruthlessly butcher Kovalan.

When Kannaki heard of the pathetic case, she rushed to the palace and told the king that the anklet was hers and she gave it to him to sell and find money to save from his pecuniary embarrassments. In anger, she pulled out one of the breasts and dashed it on the ground, immediately setting the palace on fire, killing the king and the inmates. This miracle elevated her to become deified in the name of Pattini (goddess of chastity).

The Pattini cult was brought to Sri Lanka from South India by king Gajabahuka Gamani (112-134), along with the gold anklet of the goddess, a statue of hers, together with the statues of gods Vishnu, Skanda and Natha, when he returned to Sri Lanka with 20,000 Cholians plus the 20,000 Sinhalese, taken as captives to India, by the Cholian king who invaded the island during the reign of Vankanasikatissa (109-112). King Senguttuvan compromised with king Gajabahuka Gamani, to send an equal number of Cholians together with the 20,000 Sinhalese.


The first devale dedicated to goddess Pattini was built at Mullativu, but it did not receive the benefactions of the Sinhala Buddhists, as the goddess did not fall in line with other gods propitiated by Buddhists. Nothing was heard about her before the Kotte period (1412-1580).

She came in to the limelight when the Malabari kings from South India, ruled the Kandyan provinces for 68 years (1747-1815). These kings, being Hindus, were instrumental in propagating the Pattini cult and with the result, god Saman, who was one of the four guardian deities of the island, was replaced by goddess Pattini. Today, the four guardian deities of the island are Vishnu, Kataragama, Natha and Pattini, and the Esala perahera in Kandy is made of the four devale peraheras, with the Dalada Perahera moving in front.

Vyanthimalaya is the first treatise written about the goddess. Vyanthi is another name for Madhavi who figures in the story.

The other literary works include Pattinihella, Pattini Sirasapada, Pandinaluwa, Pattini Malawa, palangahella, Salamba Santiya, Ambavidima etc., which have been written to accelerate the sentiments of the Buddhist towards an alien goddess and the miraculous powers attributed to her. The most popular work is the Pattinihella (nativity of the goddess pattini) which describes her birth in a mango.

The legend has it that there was a huge mango tree in the orchard of the Pandyan king of India. One day, one of the trees bore a huge fruit, bigger than a water pitcher, but none was able to pluck it. God Sakra alias Indra, having seen it, descended to earth in the guise of a brahmin and plucked it.

Accidentally, a drop of the lactiferous juice fell upon one of the three eyes of the god and, as a result, the eye disappeared. Worried over the loss, the god threw the mango fruit away and immediately a princess sprang from it.


There is another concocted story enjoining Buddha with a mango fruit. It says that the Buddha, while passing through the mango grove of the Pandyan king, saw a large fruit, and having eaten it threw the seed away, into the Kaveri river, from where sprang the gentle goddess. These are myths woven into the fabric of folklore, to be believed or not.

There is a fear among the Buddhists and Hindus that the wrath of the goddess is responsible for the spread of infectious diseases (now viral diseases), such as smallpox, chickenpox, measles, mumps, whooping couch etc., colloquially known as ammavarunge leda. The goddess is said to appear in seven manifestations, viz: Uramala Pattini, Karamala Pattini, Gini Pattini, Devol Pattini, Saman Pattini, Ayragana Pattini and Siddha Pattini, each representing a particular disease attributed to her malevolence.

Most of the 'kiri ammas' who participate in the offering of alms in the name of the goddess, are haggard-looking old women, past their 60s with drooping breasts and wrinkled faces.

Even today, the offering of alms to these old women, in their sunset of life, has not lost its hold among the Buddhists.

by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe
Sunday Observer, 11 January 2004

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Updated March 25, 2007
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