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Kataragama Pada Yatra in the Parliament of Sri Lanka

Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) Official Report, Volume 52, Eighth session of the First Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Thursday 25th February, 1988. (Hansard pages 67-73)

Kataragama Pada Yatra map
Route of the Kataragama Pada Yatra traditionally begins in the Jaffna peninsula from where it takes nearly two months to walk to Kataragama.

Whereupon MR. SPEAKER left the Chair, and MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER [MR. NORMAN WAIDYARATNA] took the Chair.

"Lenin was once asked, what is important. He answered, ‘Above all let us have clarity.' It is perhaps more necessary today than it was in Lenin's time, since the situation that is upon us now is more critical than that which faced the Russian people. What we are facing today is the effect of the applications of commercial and political policies without their theoreticians being clear concerning both their effects or their magnitudes. What we need first therefore is a breathing space, within which we can evolve a new political theory, neither of the east nor of the west. Let us first face squarely the fundamental problems that confront us. Let us examine our resources and identify our options in the light of the new data now available to us, just as it is being presently done in Soviet Russia.

We would therefore like to bring to the attention of your readership a message we have received from the Kataragama Guru Paramparawa. To this end we would like to bring to their attention the attached documents.

We have been told that the months of Bak, Wesak, Poson and especially the festival at Kataragama and its associated pilgrimage from Nagadipa have been declared a period of peace by the God of Kataragama. It has also been said that anyone at all who breaks this peace would find themselves in conflict with the God, and will have no complaints as to the Justice of what follows.

It is suggested that this time be used to arrive at an understanding of what is possible, and that all such discussions, with weapons, threats and demands laid aside will have the blessings and protection of the Gods.

Yours in Dhamma,

"The God of Kataragama has made His Will known in a formal statement to His Guru Paramparawa.

Upon close study this document will be seen to separate those who believe in Divinity from those who disbelieve.

For those who believe, the Truth of this message will be cleared and its origins instantly recognizable.

It is hoped that even those who disbelieve, will recognize Wisdom when they see it and realize that this peace the God has declared may be the first, last, and only chance for them to intelligently discuss the future of our Common-Wealth.

There will not be another.

Those interested in aiding in this work in any way, and who are willing to undertake organizational work in their local areas, or provide specialist skills are requested to get in touch with the Secretary, Kataragama Devotees Trust, 392/2, Thimbirigasyaya Road, Colombo 5. Sri Lanka.

This letter is addressed to the true devotees of the Lord of Kataragama. To those whose faith and understanding is sure. To those who accept His guidance and His blessings.

The Kataragama Devotees Trust has been asked by the Rishis and Swamis of the Guru Paramparawa to convey the following message to those who believe:

It is the will of the Lord that the ‘PADA YATRA', the traditional pilgrimage from Nagadipa to Kataragama by His Beloved Devotees be undertaken in this year of 1988 and in the ages to follow.

It is His will that there be a complete cessation of all forms of hostility throughout the Island of Sri Lanka, from two (2) weeks prior to the commencement of the festival season (from Kap Hitanawa) until two (2) weeks after the end of the festival, (Water-cutting).

The Lord warns all those driven by political forces to use this period to discuss and reflect wisely, and refrain from polluting the God's peace." —(Interruption).

(Mr. Deputy Speaker)

Order, please! The Hon. Member has been given only 15 minutes. Please do not disturb him.

(A Member)

We would like to know from what document he is reading.

(Mr. S. D. Bandaranayake)

Let the PADA YATRA go forward with all due ceremony, and let the festival be celebrated un-marred by greed, hatred, delusion however rationalised.

The Kataragama Guru Paramparawa urge all devotees to use every effort to support the pilgrimage, and wherever possible join with it, even for a day.

As far as the Paramparawa is aware there is only one consensus in Sri Lanka, which is that there is a God at Kataragama, who in conjunction with other Divine Beings, guards the destinies of our homeland and its peoples.

This consensus extends, irrespective of individual political positions. It supersedes them.

It is to demonstrate this that the Lord wishes the Pilgrimage and festival be undertaken in an atmosphere of peace.

Before starting, let each pilgrim (whichever area he or she comes from), undertake a simple vow of self-denial for the course of the journey.

On the route of the PADA YATRA as in the past, let whole villages unite to offer food (Dana) and hospitality to the pilgrims.

Let the devotees throughout the Island assist and contribute to the Danas with a concordant mind.

Expect the arrival of the pilgrims. Let their numbers grow from day to day.

Let each pilgrim be honoured and addressed as ‘Ayah' (brother) or ‘Amma' (mother)."

(A Member)

From what document is the Hon. member quoting?

(Mr. Deputy Speaker)

He is quoting from his own document.

(Mr. S. D. Bandaranayake)

"Let this flow of dedicated participants of all communities be seen as a flood of cooling. Grace (Tamil: Arul), or an anointment (Sanskrit: Abhisheka), that envelopes our entire land from North to South, or top to bottom.

Do this and be Fearless and Blessed.

This has been set down for the benefit of good people everywhere;

And the serene joy of the pious. May it be for all auspiciousness.

Ruhunu Kataragama Maha Devale,
Nawam Poya 1988


The importance of the ancient rite of pilgrimage in ensuring good mental health to both the individual, and the society in which he lives, is not fully understood by many sociologists in our present age. The anthropologists and some modern psychological schools understand it very well.

Invisible currents flow like mighty rivers along the paths of every pilgrimage, and borne along by these currents the pilgrims move in their millions, from one spiritual center to another. So it has always been from as far back as the mind of man can reach. It would not be too much to say that pilgrimage plays a vital role in expressing and developing our fundamental humanity. From its central position in human affairs, pilgrimage can be seen to be the circulatory system of a greater consciousness with which humanity seeks to align itself.

Of all the pilgrimages in Sri Lanka and India, the PADA YATRA from Nagadipa to Kataragama in the months of June and July, is considered to be exactly on par with making a pilgrimage to Mount Kailas, in remote Tibet, considered by both Buddhists and Hindus to be of the highest merit. Indeed Kataragama is called southern Kailas. It has existed from time immemorial as the goal of those in search of wisdom and liberation. This is especially true for Muslims, and in their pilgrimage to Kataragama, they renew in their own experience the journey of prophet Moses — (SAL) who in the Holy Qur'an goes in search of his Teacher. It is the view of the Muslim community that Kataragama is the very place that prophet Moses (SAL) made his way to; and the mosque of the Holy Madhi (SAL) there; the traditions and teachings; are all part of. Allah's Higher Revelation, which has existed exclusively in Sri Lanka since the time of prophet Adam (SAL). Even today the same revealing Angel is to be found there, at the place where the two rivers meet. (Surah 28, xviii verse 61).

So it is that pilgrims from every faith and community begin gathering in Nagadipa in the Jaffna peninsula some two weeks before the Kap Hitanawa ceremony in Kataragama. At the auspicious time they set out on foot, on a journey that will last for forty-five days. Nagadipa, Vallipuram and Trincomalee are the places from which the pilgrimage has commenced for the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslim and Christian devotees who converge on Kataragama; keeping the rising Sun on their left; following the ancient tracks made by the Elephant clan, who first formed the path, as they circumambulated Śrī Pada (Adam's peak).

The route carries them down the east coast as far as Pottuvil, where it then turns inland to cross the 60 miles of jungle which separates it from Kataragama. All along the route which they cover at the rate of 5 or 6 miles per day, the pilgrims halt at the traditional places of worship, where they receive Dana. In all some 73 temples are visited and at each place hospitality and alms food is offered to the pilgrims. The pilgrims themselves are representatives of the complete spectrum of society, and there are no lords or masters on the pilgrimage" (Interruption)

(Mr. Deputy Speaker)

Order, please! I am helpless in this matter. You have two more minutes.

(Mr. S.D. Bandaranayake)

Yes, Sir. Please give me five minutes more.

"Poets, Singers, Musicians, Dancers and Ecstatics are spread like a leaven through the concourse, as it moves in groups, often separated from each other, and appearing to walk alone; along the glorious, and often awe-inspiring landscapes of Sri Lanka. At night there is the glow of campfires, much sharing of food, continuous chants of praise from the various pilgrim groups, and of course the wisdom teachings of our traditions are rehearsed by the elders. All these factors combine to bring an atmosphere unique and unforgettable to those who have experienced it. One has returned to ones source. One attains to timelessness—an eternal now—such as our recent ancestors seem to know so well, and which in our own day becomes increasingly difficult to find.I

On the day before the Flag Hoisting ceremony at the mosque in Kataragama which opens the festival, the pilgrimage arrives in the Sacred City. Here they remain for the duration of the event; still keeping together while interacting with all of those who seek their blessings. Although all are pilgrims at the festival, those who have made the pilgrimage by foot have the power to bless those who have not. Their presence is an ornament to the gathering, and they perform several important functions in the Perahera.

With the conclusion of the festival the Yatra pilgrims return to their homes, like everyone else; but no one who has taken part in the pilgrimage is ever quite the same again.

"May God be praised."

(Mr. Deputy Speaker)

Order, please! Please conclude your prayer.

(Mr. S. D. Bandaranayake)

Yes, Sir. I have four more minutes.

"The Kataragama Devotees Trust exists to bring before the devotees of Lord Kataragama in Sri Lanka and in India; as well as the World in general, the functional aspects of the religious traditions which are represented there. Functional in the sense that these teachings point directly to the means of alleviating, modifying or eradicating the mental and physical suffering (dukkha) which this age lays upon us.

The Trust uses traditional modes of communication which are found inherent in pilgrimage, in dance, in song, in poetry and in metaphor.

In addition to this the Trust uses the modern approach to mass communications, and has already produced several multi-language film and television programmes, and, has published widely, on aspects of our tradition as it is applied to the solution of social problems on a practical, rather than theoretical level.

The companionship of the Trust invites all fellow devotees and Dhamma workers to join in the work of making known the nature of the God of Kataragama.

The Kataragama Devotees Trust is a non-political, non-profit making, non-governmental organization supported by voluntary contributions in cash and in kind.

(Mr. Deputy Speaker)

Please conclude your speech.

(Mr. S. D. Bandaranayake)

I want a few minutes more, Sir.

"The objectives are:

  1. Promote and foster harmony and unity in Sri Lanka and the World through an understanding of common cultural and transcultural origins. In Sri Lanka, and perhaps India, only the teachings of the Kataragama Tradition makes this possible.
  2. Articulate the views of the traditional communities in Sri Lanka.
  3. Initiate and stimulate the study of traditional practices and beliefs and help preserve them.
  4. Stimulate indigenous and worldwide contact between all those concerned with traditional cultures.
  5. Initiate dialogue and offer guidance, information and assistance between those who live the traditional life and students from all parts of the world.
  6. Compile and publish literature and videotape, film and record the ‘living traditions' and articulate this understanding to the world.
  7. Collect information on prominent teachers and places of learning and provide access for study."—

(Mr. Deputy Speaker)

And let this be your last point.

(Mr. S. D. Bandaranayake)

Just two more points, Sir.

  1. Encourage pilgrimages and help maintain places of pilgrimage.
  2. ix. Establish and support villages, monasteries, temples, hermitages, libraries and schools of native arts and sciences.

  3. Help protect ancient buildings and works of art and monitor repairs.
  4. Study and encourage the study of traditional art.
  5. Produce and encourage traditional, organic and hand crafted products.
  6. Grow forest gardens and protect natural habitats.
  7. (Mr. Deputy Speaker)

    Hon. Member, how many more points are you going to make?

    (Mr. S. D. Bandaranayake)

    One more point, Sir.

    1. Invite membership from those who recognise the essential unity of all humanity to join the Trust, and confront human differences with the power of truth
    2. Carry out all measures necessary or conducive to the attainment of the above objectives."

    (Mr. Deputy Speaker)

    Thank you very much! Hon. Member, you have exceeded your time by six minutes.

    (Mr. S. D. Bandaranayake)

    Sir, in view of the importance of this proposal I request you to include the Sinhala and Tamil translations of this text to be included in the Hansard as having been read.

    Is that allowed. Sir?

    (Mr. Deputy Speaker)

    No, please.

    The above is an extract from the Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) Official Report, Volume 52, Eighth session of the First Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Thursday 25th February, 1988. (Hansard pages 67-73)

    Go to Kataragama.org official website of the Kataragama Guru Paramparā