ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 27

Paradise at peak

Sri Pada: Back to life with pilgrims

By Malaka Rodrigo

We were about an hour away from the summit of Adam's Peak. Thousands of stars were peeping out of the clouds, promising a clear sky for the 'Ira Sevaya' — the sunrise from the summit. The path to the summit was well-lit, however the going was getting tougher as we were reaching the 'mahagiridamba'; the final part of the climb.

"Saranai.. saranai… buddan saranaai…! saranai… saranai… dhamman saranaai…!" The 'thun-saranai'; the traditional hymns chanted by seniors in our team helped ease the fatigue of the now nearly 5-hour climb from Nallathanniya. According to frequent Sri Pada climbers, we had enough time to reach the peak before daylight but the climb was slowing. I raised my head to check what the block was and couldn't believe my eyes. Hundreds of people were ahead of us… I looked back… Thousands more lined up behind… We were stranded in the middle of a river of humans!

The human chain

It was a long weekend in February last year and thousands of people were visiting Sri Pada, causing this lengthy human chain. All started their climb around midnight, trying to reach the peak in time to watch the sunrise. The footpath got narrower at the last part of the climb and the people who reached the summit stayed at the Maha Maluwa waiting to witness the sunrise. Until they descended, no one could climb further, so we had to line up facing the gusty winds at Mahagiridamba.

Sri Pada: Sacred pilgrimage for some and fun trip for others

As the frustration grew, groups of people jumped onto the other side of the railings, meant for those descending the peak. They came face-to-face with the descending crowd and soon both sides got jammed, causing a deadlock. A group of youngsters started climbing through the jungle, risking their own lives. One wrong step would mean they end up at the bottom of the steep cliff…

We missed seeing the sunrise, and waited anxiously in the queue, sometimes spending over 20 minutes on one step. We managed to reach the peak only around 9.30 a.m., which meant we had been stranded more than three hours.

After worshipping at the holy peak, we started descending. Only then did we realize we could still consider ourselves lucky. The queue only grew longer and some faced a worse fate. There were parents carrying their babies. It was obvious that there was no planning to control the crowd.

We experienced more frustration when we were leaving Nallathanniya. The traffic blocks were so severe that it took around two hours to pass the initial one kilometre stretch. It highlighted the need for implementing clear strategies to control the crowd on days like this.

The majestic mountain

But what is the secret of such a huge crowd gathering at Adam's Peak during the pilgrimage season? Is it simply a religious journey or is there more to explore?

Sri Pada is the fourth highest mountain in the country after Piduruthalagala, Kirigalpotta and Thotupola. Situated in the Sabaragamuwa Province, it is within the borders of Ratnapura.

Since it rises from the lower valleys, this conical shaped mountain looks taller. It has a cooler climate and it can get extremely chilly near the peak due to elevation and gusty wind.

It is indeed rare that a mountain is considered sacred by people of many religions. Legend has it that Lord Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka set his footprint on the summit of the mountain, hence it was given the Sinhala name "Sri Pada".

The real footprint is however, believed to be marked in a blue sapphire and kept under the rock. Another belief is that the footprint belongs to Adam — the first man of the human race. Christians, Hindus and Muslims together consider this mountain sacred. The guardian of the mountain is god Sumana Saman, to whom pilgrims pay homage during the journey.

(Next week: More from the Peak)

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.