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

Kataragama Pada Yatra pilgrims reach Trincomalee

Pilgrims bear with hardship to support reconstruction efforts

Pada Yatra pilgrims set out from Selva Sannidhi Kovil, Jaffna
Pada Yatra pilgrims set out from Selva Sannidhi Kovil, Jaffna.
Pada Yatra pilgrims at Ushan Kandaswamy Kovil, Jaffna
Pada Yatra pilgrims at Ushan Kandaswamy Kovil, Jaffna
Pada Yatra pilgrims walking through Kilinochchi District
Pada Yatra pilgrims walking through Kilinochchi District
Pilgrims at Vattrappalai Kannaki Amman festival
At Vattrappalai Kannaki Amman festival, more devotees joined the Jaffna party
Pilgrims cross long stretches of uninhabited countryside
Pilgrims cross long stretches of uninhabited countryside, as here south of Pulmottai.
'Let the Villagers be Heard'
'Let the Villagers be Heard' Project volunteers solicited villagers' own appraisals of local problems and ideal solutions, and encouraged open discussions. Here: at Tiriyay

The Daily News (Colombo) article of June 28, 2004
by Patrick Harrigan

(Trincomalee, June 23) Hundreds of Tamil devotees Tamil devotees from the North and East who assembled in Mullaitivu District at Vattappalai Kannaki Amman festival today reached Trincomalee on the first leg of the traditional two-month pada yatra or foot pilgrimage from Jaffna to Kataragama. The largest kuttam or party of pilgrims coming from Vattappalai already numbers over 300 and other kuttams are also starting and growing.

This year was the time since 1983 that a significant number of pilgrims are undertaking the arduous foot pilgrimage from Jaffna to Kataragama. Their colorful presence has been welcomed everywhere by villagers of all backgrounds, many of whom are astonished to see Sinhalese devotees and foreign pilgrims from Europe and America among the Tamil devotees.


On 21 May, pilgrims assembled at Jaffna Selva Sannidhi Murugan Kovil, recited their vows and proceeded south. Villagers in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu districts, who during decades of conflict had not witnessed the spectacle of Pada Yatra, welcomed the hearty pilgrims along the way with traditional offerings of refreshments and annadanam.

The pilgrims' first major destination was the grand Kannaki Amman festival at Vattappalai near Mullaittivu, where hundreds of thousands of devotees gathered on 31 May to offer pongal to goddess Pattini or Kannaki Amman. On 11 June they reached Trincomalee and worshipped at the famous Tiru Konamalai Sivan Kovil.

The Pada Yatra pilgrims walk from as far as Jaffna and Mullaittivu districts, taking up to two months to reach the sylvan shrine. All along the way, villagers wait for their chance to offer annadanam to the growing bands of swamis and swami ammas, who are mostly in their 50's, 60's and 70's-some even in their 90's.

Many villagers make vows to join the Pada Yatra as it passes through their own village, so the parties of pilgrims tend to grow from day to day. With weeks still remaining before the flag-hoisting ceremony on 17 July, thousand of pilgrims are expected to join or follow the bands of pilgrims as they pass throug Batticaloa and Ampara districts.

Kataragama Devotees Trust spokesman Manik Sandrasagra notes that it was last in 1988 that a few hardy pilgrims gathered in Jaffna District and proceeded to Mullaitivu to attend the grand Kannaki Amman festival at Vattappalai. At Trincomalee among distinguished observers were the then British High Commissioner David Gladstone, General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Admiral Clancy Fernando, who participated in special pujas conducted at Tirukoneswaram Temple.

"Pada Yatra is certainly not about mental or political agitation," notes Sandrasagra, adding, "The Kataragama God is hugely popular and respected today precisely because He is above all politics and artificial differences that divide peoples. Indeed, He is not just above sectarian politics-He is above sectarian religion itself for that matter."

Let villagers be heard

Setting aside politics for the sake of island-wide peace, justice and prosperity is exactly what the Pada Yatra pilgrims have been doing. Last year Kataragama swamis and swami ammas invited villagers all along the route of the Pada Yatra to articulate local development issues together with proposed solutions.

The project, called 'Let the Villagers be Heard', which interviewed hundreds of villagers in 40 villages in three districts, was conceived and coordinated by the Living Heritage Trust. The project was such a success that this year it is being expanded to cover up to 60 villages in seven districts, with thousands of villagers already having participated.

The project collects villagers' own appraisals of local problems and ideal solutions, and aims to stimulate open discussions, collect villagers' insights, and forward results to concerned ministries for consideration and incorporation into local development programs.

The pilgrim-interviewers include male pilgrims who interview men, and women pilgrims who interview women villagers. The project has both Tamil and Sinhala language volunteers. The project has been interviewing men and women of the East Coast's Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim communities.

Most villages in the North and East are populated by Tamils. The survey, however, also specially visits Sinhalese coastal enclaves like Seruvila.

Ancient Tradition

Since 1988 the KDT has annually coordinated the yatra by notifying devotees and temples all up and down the East Coast. It also helps to facilitate dana, the ritual sharing of food and hospitality, which remains essential to the pilgrimage even in times of peace, since most pilgrims are poor and none can carry food for months.

The age-old tradition fell into abeyance with the 1983 civil disturbances but was revived in 1988 under Kataragama Devotees Trust patronage. The number of pilgrims has grown steadily ever since, with over 10,000 pilgrims walking the last 100-kilometre stretch through the Yala East National Park in recent years.

This year is the 17th consecutive Pada Yatra sponsored by the Kataragama Devotees Trust since 1988 with the support of villagers and officials at the national, district and local levels.