Kataragama Pada Yatra pilgrims reach Trincomalee
Pilgrims bear with hardship to support reconstruction efforts
The Daily News (Colombo) article of June 28, 2004
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."
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.
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.
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