Today is Unduvap poya-start of the Sri Pada season
Holy trek
By Ariyadasa Ratnasinghe
The Sri Pada season when pilgrims begin to ascend the holy mountain, to pay homage to the sacred footmark, commences today on Unduvap full moon poya and ends on Vesak full moon poya next year. During the season, thousands of pilgrims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims, make the steep ascent with faith and devotion.

This holy conical mountain is 18 km north-east of Ratnapura and rises abruptly from the lower valley to an altitude of 2, 243m (7360 ft) offering an unobstructed view over land and sea. During ancient times, the visibility of this conical mountain, from vessels off the coast, was the landmark for Greeks and Arabians and Persian traders, who came to the island to trade in gems, spices, ivory etc.

Sri Pada is a World Heritage site, a site national or cultural, recognised by the international community, under the World Heritage Convention and by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as possessing universal value. Sri Pada was declared a sanctuary on October 10, 1940.

The summit of Sri Pada is a small plateau 74 ft by 24 ft (1,776 sq.ft.) At the apex of the mountain is a huge boulder, which stands in the centre, upon which is found the sacred footmark.

It is a superficial hollow, 63 ins. in length, and between 31 ins. and 29 ins. in width. It is a gigantic symbol of worship, and the cavity bears a coarse resemblance to the human foot. The belief is that the real footmark is beneath the boulder, hidden for safety, the miracle dedicated to God Saman, the deity of the mountain wilderness.

The original path to Sri Pada, following the Kalu Ganga, was the Ratnapura path, with Palabaddala being the last inhabited station. The Hatton path, following the Mahaweli Ganga became popular later as the Rajamawatha, with most kings ascending the holy mountain along it. Today, there are three paths from Ratnapura via Carney Estate (10 miles on foot); from Kuruwita via Malwala (12 miles on foot) and the Hatton path via Maskeliya (four miles on foot).

Buddhists believe the footmark is the Buddha's the Hindus that it is Siva's and the Muslims and the Christians that it is Adam's, the first man on earth. The Christian belief is woven into the fabric of mythology, where it is said that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden (Paradise) Adam fell on the mount, where he stood for 1,000 years on one foot, in penitence for having eaten the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17).

With regard to this belief, Sir John Maundeville (1320--1387) says: “In that yle (isle) there is a great Mountayne, and thei of the Countree seym that Adam and Eve wepten upon that Mount a hundred Zeer when thei were driven out of Paradys." Christians go on pilgrimage to the holy mountain "to worship the sepulchre of Adam".

William Cullen Bryant (1794- 1878), in his analysis of ancient mythology, lays great weight on the name Adam, when he says, "The Pike of Adam is properly the summit sacred to Ad Ham (Adam), the king or deity Ham, the Amon of Egypt". According to the Christian theologian Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus (160-220) "the sacred footprint of Adam is the greatest photoplast of the human race".

Today, most pilgrims travel by train to Hatton, 172 km from Colombo, and then proceed by bus up to Nallatanniya Estate (Delhousie Bazaar) via Maskeliya, where the transport halts. The balance distance is covered on foot up to Seetagangula (the stream of icy water) where the water falls over a tabular mass of rock from a wooded height. Pilgrims stop at this place to perform their ablutions, have their meals and to beseech divine help for a safe journey home.

From Seetagangula to the summit of the mountain the ascent is steep. The next stop is Indikatupana, where a few boutiques offer tea, coffee and meals, which are very costly. From Indikatupana, concrete steps, built for the convenience and safety of the pilgrims, lead to the top as they pass over the barren, rocky surface, where only tundra vegetation grows, due to dampness and heavy showers.

Below the sacred footmark, there is a small niche to enshrine the statues of God Saman and his divine vehicle symbolising a white elephant. During the off season these are kept secured at the Galpottawala Rajamaha Vihara at Pelmadulla. The vihara had been built by King Kirti Sri Rajasinha and the statues of the god presented by him to the devale.

Most pilgrims trek up Sri Pada on the full moon poya day in Medin (March).

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