The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Kataragama (Sinhala: කතරගම (katharagama), Tamil: கதிர்காமம் (katirkāmam)) is a pilgrimage town sacred to Buddhist, Hindu and indigenous Vedda people of Sri Lanka. People from South India also come there to worship.
The town has the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama devalaya, a shrine dedicated to Skanda-Murukan also known as Kataragamadevio. Kataragama is in the Monaragala District of Uva province, Sri Lanka. It is 228 km ESE of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.
Although Kataragama was a small village in medieval times, today it is a fast-developing township surrounded by jungle in the southeastern region of Sri Lanka. It houses the ancient Kiri Vehera Buddhist stupa.
Since the 1950s the city has undergone many improvements with successive governments investing in public transportation, medical facilities, and business development and hotel services. It adjoins the popular Yala National Park.
The popularity of the deity at the Kataragama temple was recorded by the Pali chronicles of Thailand such as Jinkalmali in the 16th century. There are Buddhist and Hindu legends that attribute supernatural events to the locality.
Main article: Kataragama temple
Temple of Syncretism
They honor him as a very powerful deity and beg divine help to overcome their personal problems or for success in business enterprises, etc., with the fervent hope that their requests will be granted.
The Deity is depicted with six faces and twelve hands or one face and four hands.
Out of love for Lord Murugan and to mitigate bad karma, bhaktars pierce their cheeks and tongues with vels, pull large chariots carrying murthi of Murugan with large hooks pierced through the skin of their backs.
Many Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka believe that Kataragama deviyo is a guardian deity of Buddhism and he is the presiding deity of Kataragama temple. Kataragama is one of the 16 principal places of Buddhist pilgrimage to be visited in Sri Lanka.
According to the chronicle of Sri Lankan history, the Mahawamsa, when the Bo sapling of Bodhi Tree, under which Gotama Buddha attained enlightenment in North India was brought to the city of Anuradhapura 2,300 years ago, the warriors or Kshatriyas from Kataragama were present on the occasion to pay homage and respect. The Bo tree behind the Kataragama temple is one of the eight saplings (Ashta Phala Ruhu Bodhi) of Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradapura, Sri Lanka. This tree was planted in the 3rd century BC.
It is said that King Mahasena met Lord Buddha and listened to his discourse. As a token of gratitude, the Dagoba was built on that exact spot where it now stands. Thus the local Sinhalese Buddhists believe that Kataragama was sanctified by Lord Buddha.
Pre-Hindu and Buddhist origins
The deity at Kataragama is indigenous and long-celebrated in Sri Lankan lore and legend, and originally resides on the top of mountain called Wædahiti Kanda (or hill of the indigenous Vedda people) just outside of the Kataragama town. Since ancient times an inseparable connection between the Kataragama God and his domain has existed.
Since its abandonment, during the 1800s the population of the village did not exceed over a few dozen.
Since the 1950s the town has experienced and increase in population.
|Ethnicity||Population||% Of Total|
|Sri Lankan Tamils||921||4.40|
|Sri Lankan Moors||108||0.51|
|Others (including Burgher, Malay)||38||0.18|
Most of the many thousands who visit Kataragama travel by vehicles.
In 1992, it was proposed to extend the railway from Matara to Kataragama and beyond.
The first phase has begun and will consist of the 27 km stretch from Matara to Beliatta costing 60 million rupees; construction has already commenced on the bridge over the Nilwala River by the State Engineering Corporation.
The entire project is expected to take six years to complete and will cost around 3 billion rupees.
The project is funded by the Chinese government and it is expected to be completed by 2015.