Pada Yatra, a Symbol of Faith
Colombo: Ceylon Daily News of Friday 26 April, 2002
The annual Kataragama Pada Yatra will start its foot pilgrimage from Jaffna for the first time in nineteen years. This will begin on May 26 with the pilgrims reaching Kataragama on July 10. This 45-day foot pilgrimage will host participants from all religions. It is a "spontaneous out pouring of faith," said Manik Sandrasagara, chairman of the Cultural Survival Trust.
Foreign Affairs Minister Tyronne Fernando facilitated the launch of this pilgrimage. He says that the Pada Yatra is "a symbol of Sri Lanka's living heritage and, moreover, is a traditional teaching instrument, where the elder pilgrims become the storytellers".
This ancient tradition was restored after five years, in 1988 by the Kataragama Devotees Trust and Cultural Survival Trust. This break from 1983 was caused by the conflict and when it was finally revived the march started from Trincomalee. In 2001, there were 10,000 pilgrims who participated. This year due to the peace process a higher number is expected, perhaps even 40,000.
The origins of the Yatra have several versions, some declaring that God Kataragama himself was the first foot pilgrim when he landed on the shores and walked to Kataragama. This pilgrimage is no easy feat as it involves walking in the scorching sun, sleeping on the ground at night and depending on the hospitality of villagers en route. There are also guidelines to follow, one being that traditional dress must only be worn with slippers being the only acceptable type of footwear.
This walk for peace and reconciliation with the participation of the devotees of four of Sri Lanka's major religions highlights what every religion has as its core teaching. For Hindus the Pada Yalta is a method of gaining the grace of Lord Kataragama-Skanda. The Buddhists are presented with the opportunity to acquire and dedicate merit at temples on the journey. Muslims and Christians have also walked in the past and are expected to do so again this year along with devotees from South India.
The media and the public, to name a few, were invited to join this communications campaign by Foreign Minister Tyronne Fernando and advised that "all of us could help in some way". This event deserves the public's recognition and support because, as the minister said, "One of the blessings of peace is that pilgrimage can once more become the glue that bind us as a multi-cultural society."