Kataragama Festival

Kataragama Festival

June-July; 10 days and nights prior to full moon day of Hindu month of Asadha
Kataragama is considered one of the 16 holiest pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka and is venerated not only by Hindus but by Buddhists and even Muslims. There is a shrine there dedicated to Skanda, the Hindu god of war, and his consort Valli. Their union is commemorated by taking the god's yantra, or icon, from his temple to the temple dedicated to Valli at the opposite end of the town square. It is carried on the back of an elephant to the accompaniment of conch shells and the clamor of thousands of pilgrims, both Hindu and Buddhist, who gather in Kataragama to watch and to undergo penances.
The climax of the festival is the fire-walking ceremony, where devotees walk across a bed of red-hot embers without burning their feet. Other pilgrims walk on shoes with interior spikes, pull carts with lines attached to hooks in their flesh, or dance until they are completely exhausted.
The festival, which is also known as the Perahära, concludes at the exact hour of the full moon with a water-cutting ceremony. The priest, along with Skanda's yantra, is lowered into the river. He draws a mandala in the riverbed with a sword and then bathes the god's image. After this symbolic exercise, the pilgrims plunge themselves into the sacred stream in the belief that it will wash away their sins.
CONTACTS:
Kataragama Devotees Trust of Sri Lanka
c/o Living Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka
Nuala, Koslanda
Badulla, Sri Lanka
94-11-69-8255
www.kataragama.org
SOURCES:
DictWrldRel-1989, p. 569
IntlThFolk-1979, p. 345
RelFestSriLank-1982, p. 302