Kataragama Pada Yatra in Yala 2015
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When Humanity Heeds an Inner Call

by Sam Wickramasinghe

"Fire Walking.." in The Sunday Times revived memories of a close friend and mentor of mine, known to all as German Swami Gauribala. Before his demise in Jaffna in 1984, he was one who did the fire walking at Kataragama annually during the July Festival for over ten years, walking barefoot from the North, along the coast line via Batticaloa, Pottuvil and the Yala Sanctuary to this southern jungle shrine.
1960 photo left to right: Anaikutti Swami (Lord Soulbury's son), Australian Narikutti Swami, unidentified swami, and German Swami Gauribala

German Swami, with whom I was associated very closely as a member of a group of six, including the one-time Governor-General's, son, Soulbury, better known in Kataragama and elsewhere as Soulbury Swami, alias Annaikutti and Sandasawami, two Australians, a Tamil, Swami Gauribala and myself - often told us that the walkathon pilgrimage to this place corresponded to the Biblical return of the 'Prodigal Son' to his Father's Home, after his wanderings in the temporal world, sans anyone organising the journey back or telling him to do so.

The direction was expected to sprout from within each individual's heart impelled by an inner spiritual call. The Journey is analogically parallel to the return from the periphery of mortal samsara to the Centre of spirituality in one's own self. Kataragama was said to symbolically signify this in a spatio-temporal-experiential manner. It was a ritual of self-abnegation and mortification, in a sort of puja as an offering of one's karmically earned, mortal self to the Unknown.

German Swami performed this 25 times in his lifetime, and when he started on this pilgrimage, others, who had a similar 'inner call' joined him (or he joined them) on the way and their numbers grew, until the whole show became one seething mass of pilgrims, carrying packs on heads and shoulders, by the time the concourse reached Kataragama before the festival, partaking alms doled out to them en route by householders by way of sustenance.

Having reached the sacred destination, some performed other modes of penance like rolling half-naked on the scorching sand, skewing their tongues and cheeks with spikes and dangling, roped on hoists, etc. German Swami told us that all such acts are possible owing to a dramatic transformation of our normal, familiar, mind-consciousness to a supra-mental state, triggered by intense faith and devotion, similar to the states attained by saints in ancient times when they were tortured or burnt at the stake.

In this state of self-hypnosis the conventional consciousness within Time/Space/Experience reaches a Bindu state of one-pointedness and other forms of awareness (or non-awareness) takes over, very much like one under an anaesthetic. This is where, perhaps, the activation and attributes of the pineal gland comes into play.

Sam Wickramasinghe (also known as Pulikutti among Yogaswami's disciples) may be contacted at:

37/1, Station Lane
Nugegoda, Sri Lanka
Tel: (+94) 11 283-5522

2003 The Sunday Times (Colombo) of 26th January 2003

Sam Wickramasinghe, ca. 1987
Other articles by Sam Wickramasinghe
 Yoga Swami the Image-Breaker
German Swami the Bohemian Swami of Jaffna
German Swami Gauribala: Walking the Razor's Edge
Ramana Maharshi: How the Guru called me
Babylon, the Cross and the Cruxificion
Leaves of Life: Journey of Past, Present and Future
Elephant Lore
Kebbilitte: Where Veddahs Cursed and Leopards Dispensed Justice
Six Weeks in a Cave amidst Leopard, Bear and Elephant