A peak surrounded in mist and mystery
By D.B. Kappagoda
The Sri Pada Season began with Unduvap Poya last year. During this time of year pilgrims prepare to climb the peak before dawn. Their wish is to watch the sunrise appearing on the eastern horizon in the belief that the sun is paying homage to the sacred foot print of the Buddha.

From ancient times people have braved chilly weather to witness this spectacle, to the cries of Sadhu!, Sadhu! full of religious fervour.
Visitors from overseas have marvelled at this phenomenon and recorded their experiences in their writings.

There are many legends woven around Sri Pada and the discovery of the path to the summit. One such story relates how people worshipped the sun god who lived in this mountainous region. The legendary King Ravana after abducting Sita from India kept her in captivity at a secret place close to Sri Pada. The story relates Sita frequented Sitagagula where she had her baths in the cold water that flows down the mountain side.

The story is that the Sumana Saman deity whose authority prevailed in the area surrounding Sri Pada when the Buddha's third visit to Sri Lanka was made, invited the Buddha to visit his domain and requested Him to place His foot print on the summit of the peak.

The Samanthakuta Varnanava gives information of the religious beliefs of the people when Sri Pada Kanda became a sacred place of Buddhist worship. The Mahavansa, The Great Chronicle describes the visit of the Buddha during the 8th year of the Enlightenment on Vesak Full Moon Poya day. It was on this day that the Buddha placed His foot print to mark His visit.

The Rajavaliya which gives the history of rulers of Lanka, mentions how prince Vijaya who arrived on the Island with his 700 followers had sighted the mountain peak from the vessel in which they were sailing.

The writings by travellers to Lanka like Fa Hsien and Ibn Batuta had recorded how they climbed the holy peak. Our rulers built premises for those who visited on pilgrimage. Along with other places of Buddhist worship, Solosmasthana Sri Pada Kanda became accepted as one of the sixteen places steeped in history.
During the Anuradhapura period King Duttagamini Abhaya (Dutugemunu) promoted the cause of Buddhism by building shrines throughout the country and helped the Sangha to propagate the Buddhist faith among the people. People came to call Sri Pada Samangira according to the text Sahas Chatuppakarana.

One of king Duttagamini Abhaya’s giant warriors Theraputhabhaya had climbed Sri Pada and worshipped at the foot print. On his return, he met Elara's leader at Marukanda where he killed him. It has been said that there had been 900 bhikkus living around Sri Pada Kanda at that time.

During the Polonnaruwa period King Vijayabahu commissioned buildings at Sri Pada and gifted the Gilimale village for the maintenance of the sacred place.
The King made the Kehelgamuwa route more convenient for pilgrims. His charitable acts are mentioned in his Ambagamuva inscription. He built a separate terrace - Maluva for people belonging to low castes. This maluva is paved with sand and hence the name Veli Maluva. According to the Rajavaliya, King Parakramabahu had climbed Sri Pada Kanda and constructed the Saman Devalaya on its summit.

King Nissankamalla in 1187 AC had climbed Sri Pada and commissioned the construction of buildings for the convenience of the pilgrims which he had mentioned in eight of his inscriptions.

Later King Parakamabahu of Dambadeniya ordered the route to Sri Pada to be cleared and gifted a statue of the Saman deity which was kept at the premises of the sacred foot print. These donations we mentioned in the Chulavamsa.

The Asgiriya tudapata (Palm leaf decree) records that Parakramabahu IV, of Kurunegala had donated the income of Sri Pada for the welfare of the Sangha belonging to Asgiriya Viharaya. It was during the rule of king Parakramabahu VI of Kotte that monies were spent on repairs at Saman Devalaya.

Kings in the past provided necessary grants for the maintenance of Sri Pada but when King Rajasinha of Sitavaka ascended the throne, he handed over the control of Sri Pada to Saivite priests.

This continued till King Keerthisri Rajasingha when Ven. Vehelle Dhammadinna became the chief incumbent of Sri Pada. Endemic plants, creepers, insects, birds and reptiles can be seen on the path to Sri Pada. There are colourful flowers and foliage that meet the eye of the weary pilgrims.

Pilgrims greet each other with the words "Karunavai Karunavai" while descending or ascending the steep rocky steps. The verses from Tun Sarana fill the air with piety. The Buddhist thought, "May I never be subject to ailments and diseases. May I never be moved to anger and utter harsh words" show the way to overcome the vanity of life and lead one to the final salvation of attaining Nirvana.

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