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Kataragama Pada Yatra pilgrims cross Batticaloa district

Colombo: Ceylon Daily News article of June 24, 2002

Kataragama Pada Yatra pilgrims at Sitthandi Murugan Kovil
Kataragama Pada Yatra pilgrims set out from Sitthandi Murugan Kovil on 16 June 2002.

(Batticaloa, June 17) Sinhalese and foreign devotees as well as hundreds of ardent Tamil devotees from Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya and Trincomalee districts today reached Batticaloa in the middle of the traditional six-week pada yatra or foot pilgrimage to Kataragama. The pilgrims started from Mullaitivu on 27 May and will reach Kataragama in time for the Esala Festival flag-hoisting ceremony on 10 July.

Sri Lanka's ongoing peace process has this year made it possible for devotees to walk to Kataragama from the traditional rendezvous point at Vattappalai in Mullaitivu district. The very sight of traditional Pada Yatra swamis and swami ammas walking from Vattappalai once again for the first time since 1983 has been widely welcomed by villagers of all communities all up and down the East Coast.

The offering of dana or the sharing of food and hospitality to pilgrims is as ancient a tradition as the Kataragama Pada Yatra itself. At Chenkaladi, for instance, the Jaffna-based Sivathondan Society offers sumptuous annadanam to Kataragama foot pilgrims on the explicit instruction given fifty years ago by Nallur Yogaswami, who himself was among the anonymous pilgrims who walked from Jaffna in 1911.

According to representatives of the Kataragama Devotees Trust who have been organizing the traditional pada yatra annually since 1988, peaceful conditions are encouraging more devotees to walk than ever before. Government security forces and LTTE cadres alike have extended their support to the centuries-old tradition that has long been a symbol of ethnic harmony and reconciliation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been facilitating the traditional Kataragama Pada Yatra as part of the Government's wide-ranging support for the peace process.

During the first segment of their six-week trek from Mullaitivu to Kataragama, the pilgrims faced the dilemma of how to cross the landmine-strewn no man's land between LTTE and Government forces. Happily, both sides consented to the pilgrims' proposal to cross from LTTE-controlled territory to Government-controlled Pulmodai by boat and the crossing was undertaken on 31 May. It was the first-ever public crossing by sea from LTTE territory to Government territory in years and, as such, was yet another small step in Sri Lanka's the long march back to peace and prosperity.

Since reaching Trincomalee on June 6, the pilgrims have followed the coast via Verugal and Kathiraveli to Sitthandi and Mamangam Kovils in Batticaloa District. While most pilgrims are Tamil Hindus, there is also a large contingent of East Coast Veddas this year, as well as Sinhalese and foreign devotees, including two Indian sadhus, Vallimalai Balananda Swamigal and Muttu Irulāyi Swami Amma, lending yet more colour and musical exuberance to the pada yatra.

The Kataragama Pada Yatra, Sri Lanka's oldest surviving tradition of foot pilgrimage, went into abeyance in 1983 with the onset of ethnic conflict. It was revived in 1988 by the Kataragama Devotees Trust, which has annually provided support and encouragement for devotees of all communities and walks of life to experience Kataragama's traditions first hand. Full details about the Pada Yatra and other Kataragama traditions may be had at www.PadaYatra.org and www.Kataragama.org.

2002 Pada Yatra report #1: Mullaitivu to Trincomalee
2002 Pada Yatra photo gallery
Kataragama.org official website of the Kataragama Guru Paramparā