takes you on a pilgrimage
Time to climb the holy peak
In Sri Lanka, the different religious groups celebrate the
numerous religious festivals and observances during specific periods
of the year. For Buddhists it is now the season to visit Sri Pada,
the holy peak where it is believed that the Buddha left His footprint
during His third visit to Sri Lanka. Thus it is one of the sacred
places of worship mentioned in the ‘Solosmasthana’ –
the 16 places of veneration mentioned in the chronicles as places
hallowed by the Buddha.
Pada is 2,243 m (7,350 feet) high – the fifth highest mountain
in Sri Lanka. Ahead of Sri Pada are Pidurutalagala (2,524 m), Kirigalpota
(2,395m), Totapolakanda (2,357m) and Kudahagala (2,320m).
is possibly no mountain more famous than Sri Pada. The depression
right on top is being interpreted by at least three religions as
being sacred to them. To the Buddhists, it is the footprint of the
Buddha. For the Muslims, it is Adam’s Peak. They believe that
Adam stood there for an age, on one foot to get over his disobedience,
thus creating the depression. The Hindus call it ‘Sivam Adi
(oli) Padam’. It is the Creative Dance of Siva that the ‘print’
calls to remembrance.
Pada is also considered as the abode of Saman, a pre-Buddhist god,
one of the four guardian deities of the country. The peak is called
Samanala Kanda, which also means the mountain of the ‘samanalayo’,
the butterflies. It is a well known fact that during the pilgrim
season, clouds of yellow butterflies appear in the area converging
from every possible direction upon the holy mountain.
climbing the peak is simple today, in the old days it was a very
strenuous and hazardous journey. The devotees always went in groups.
Preparations were made months ahead and a seasoned pilgrim who had
done the trip earlier (he was called the ‘nade gura’-
group leader) advised the devotees and planned the whole trip. There
was so much fear that when pilgrims set forth on the pilgrimage,
there were intense preparations. Some went to the extent of handing
over their title deeds of the properties that belonged to them to
a dear relative for fear of not being able to return due to the
severe cold and strenuous climb. It was with great devotion that
the pilgrimage was undertaken.
today, the villagers would prefer to be guided by an experienced
hand and the devotees would strictly adhere to his advice. He warns
them to guard their tongue.
are going to the country of the gods. You have to be careful not
to annoy them. Otherwise the repercussions will be terrible”,
is his advice. The first-timer is a kodu-karaya’ and he is
given strict instructions to be extremely careful in what he does
and what he says during the climb. “Kata varaddaganna epa”,
is the warning given to him. In fact, in the early days a novice
is not allowed to look either side lest he feels nervous when he
sees the precipice. That was the era when there were no steps but
only a pathway. Things are different today and the climb is pretty
is the word one hears from the time you start the climb. ‘Karunavai,
karunavai – Saman devindu karunavai’ is the constant
chant. A party going up would chant ‘Negala bahina me nadeta
– Sumana saman devi pihitai’ to which those coming down
would reply ‘ Vandinta yana me nadeta – Saman devindu
karunavai’. Often the chant is aimed at ‘nangi’,
‘malli’ ‘aiya’,’akka’ in place
are at least three routes to Sri Pada. One is from Ratnapura via
Carney Estate. Those who take this route have to walk about ten
miles. The second from Kuruvita involves 12 miles on foot. It joins
the first for the last three miles. The third is from Hatton via
Maskeliya and the walk is only about four miles. There are steps
throughout the route and is the most popular.
common for the pilgrims to bathe at ‘seetha gangula’.
As the name suggests, the water is quite cold but everyone feels
the need to bathe and wear fresh white clothes before proceeding.
pilgrims try to reach the summit to watch the ‘ira sevaya’
– the dawn of the sun. One has to be lucky to have a clear
sky without clouds to get a perfect view, which is a remarkable
sight. If it is a full moon day or a weekend, there may be heavy
crowds and one may not be able to reach the top in time. When the
crowd is large, movement is very slow.
on top, everyone’s wish is to worship the sacred footprint
– ‘sri pathula’ - by keeping one’s head
on the slab, which covers the footprint. Though crowds gather, everyone
gets a chance of doing it spending a few minutes chanting the ‘gathas’.
Flowers are offered and oil poured to the ‘dolos mahe pahana
- the eternal flame or the lamp which lights throughout the year.
Once the ritual is over, each pilgrim rings the bell. The novice
would ring it just once to indicate it’s his first visit.
Others vary according to the number of visits.
might feel exhausted during the return trip due to the climbing
as well as the sleepless night spent on the way up. So it’s
a slow trek to reach the bottom and return home.