Kataragama Pada Yatra in Yala 2015
Vel, Murugan's weaponKataragama Devotees Trust logo in English, Sinhala and Tamil

Sri Lanka's Oldest Pilgrimage Tradition

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.

One of Lanka's oldest traditions is the Pada Yatra foot pilgrimage from Jaffna to Kataragama along the East Coast. The origins of the Yatra are shrouded in myth. Several versions declare that it began with God Kataragama himself when he landed somewhere on our shores and walked to Kataragama.

Over the centuries this multi-religious 45-day (from Mullaittivu) pilgrimage to Kataragama has become a Sri Lankan institution. Villages en-route participate by providing refreshments, meals, hospitality and accommodation to the pilgrims, whom they regard as the god's messengers. For centuries pilgrims from India and beyond have also been 'called' to Kataragama. Recently even The Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel have expressed interest in the Yatra.

In 1988 the Kataragama Devotees Trust and Cultural Survival revived this ancient tradition that had gone into abeyance since 1983. That first year a mere 60 pilgrims dared to walk on this historic revival that has now swelled to over 10,000 annually. No innovations have been tolerated by these pilgrims who insist that the only way to know the tradition is to live the tradition.

Swamis, swami ammas, Buddhist monks, Muslim sufis, Christian clerics, lay people and even the one time British High Commissioner's wife April Gladstone have joined the Yatra in the past in a spirit of humility, becoming a part of a unified chorus for human unity. 'Peace and Reconciliation' is the core teaching of every religion and the Pada Yatra exemplifies this tradition through Dhamma discussion en route with the elders' participation in every village along the way. The Pada Yatra reminds one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and is living proof of the enlightened state of Sri Lanka's village culture. It is this culture that deserves amplification in a society politicized and corrupted by alien ideologies.

This year as the nation looks toward a lasting peace, the friends and patrons of the Pada Yatra welcome the peace-loving public of Sri Lanka to participate in this initiative by showing their support. We have seen news commentators on television, heard them on the radio and read of their deliberations in the print media. All these talks are dominated by political interests and individuals seeking name and fame. The Yatra on the other hand is a tradition of poor devotees who seek nothing in return for the wisdom they inherit and transmit. This is the real Arya Sangha our culture speaks of.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under the Hon. Tyronne Fernando, is publicly endorsing this year's Pada Yatra and urging all sections of society in Sri Lanka and abroad to support this 45-day pilgrimage based on Sri Lanka's age-old status as Dhamma Deepa, the ‘Island of Righteousness'. Sri Lanka has throughout history and prehistory been known as the island of the blessed. Yet in the past twenty years divisive politics have turned it into a bloody battlefield where materialism replaces spirituality.

This repositioning of Sri Lanka will present the essential contribution of our people and our culture to a world that currently sees us as a war-torn, intolerant, even violent people. A reversal of this trend is the need of the hour and the Pada Yatra pilgrims are qualified, each in their own way, to articulate this message.

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