8th May, 2018
So today I have come to your town where you won over the one warrior who had been the God of the wars, the one who kept winning wars over war all over the Indian subcontinent and never tasted defeat – Karthikeya aka Murugan – our hero God.
As I was heading from Tissa to Kataragama, started noticing the sudden change of the surroundings into thick green forests. A bit far away from the urban centres of the coastal belt of South Srilanka (also called Ruhunu by Lankans), the forests contribute to making this region one of the greenest area in the island nation. I could recall my trip to Udaya Waliya National Park almost 2.5 years back which is not very far away from here. These holy jungles used to provide the right meditative climate to the ascetics who had been choosing this region for their Sadhana to receive the spiritual currents. It is said that there are many such ascetics even now in the vicinity.
It is interesting to note that how this most revered Devalaya (the house of gods) which is venerated by both Tamil Hindus and Sinhalese Buddhists in equal measures has given the name ‘Kataragama Deviyo’ technically meaning “God who resides in the village of Karthik” rather than ‘Karthikeya’ itself. It definitely points out to the supreme sacredness with which this place is recalled in the collective consciousness of the island nation
As I entered inside the temple premises, I felt a strong undercurrent of affection hitting me on the face. A Tamil lady whose pic I failed to take asked my whereabouts and hearing about someone who is coming from as far as UP in India, she took special interest to guide me on the proceedings and legends of the temple. She told me with special emphasis on how Karthikeya had come to Lanka to defeat Soorapadma and ptotected the worshippers of Mayon/Thirumal/Vishnu at Devinuwara. After that when he was roaming around in the countryside, he got love stuck on seeing you and used the help of Ganesha who came in the form of elephant to scare you and eventually you came to the arms of the warrior God to escape the wrath of elephant and your love affair started.
This temple like its peers across the island has the custom of keeping the main idols away from the sight of devotees by using a curtain on which the the God’s image is drawn. At least here, the logic given is that the lord is meditating here and doesn’t want to be disturbed by the lady devotees (cuz of history of falling in love with some beautiful damsels). On same note, actually woman devotees are not even allowed in North Indian temples of Karthikeya, this concept seems like a midpoint compromize. Perhaps this concept of keeping the god behind the curtain became so important that almost all Devales of the island do the same wrt their gods & goddesses. The six faces of the lord was celebrated representing the beauty, valour, love, knowledge, youth and happiness.
As I understand from my online search, there are 2 most scared shrines here one to your beloved husband Karthikeya and next to him to Ganesha your brother in law who played crucial role in getting you guys married. Unlike India where there is a history of destroying each other’s Gods’ shrines, Lankans have a different way where they claim each other’s Gods as their own. Thereby there has been a healthy tension between Sinhalese Buddhist and Tamil Hindus to claim the rights to manage the sacred shrine as their own with a final settlement where Karthikeya temple went to Sinhalese Kapuralas and the Ganesha temple being retained by Tamil Hindus.
Looking at this temple premise which seems to have representation of every ancient God & Goddess of the island nation along with the Buddhist Stupas, one can almost feel as if this place was as thriving as right now for years across. The temple priest from UP showed me the actual picture of the place almost 2 centuries back when it was only the duo of these two temples which marked this territory.
As I have come here right after the holy month of Vaishakh, the white chandeliers as seen all around the island are visible on the temple compounds as I stroll along to reach your isolated temple
If the local legends are to be believed, you belong to the local tribes known as Veddah who were perhaps the most indigenous settlers of the island. It reflects in terms of the tribal styled Saree draped around yourself rather than that of the well settled urban Goddesses like Devayani. It clearly resembles your style of being the raw untamed seducing nature who is in contrast to the more domesticated and ‘cultured’ Devayani – the daughter of the Gods.
While the place recalls the sacredness of this spot primarily due to love affair between yourself and Karthikeya,I was rather surprized to notice how your temple lies in a relative isolation from the main temples even though your shrine remains in a straight line view of the shrine of your husband who doesn’t want to let go of your sight. It is amusing to hear another story of how Devayani was stressed out for the Karthikeya not coming back to India after falling in love with you, that eventually her shrine was brought here by a certain ascetic Kalyana Giri to reunite the goddess with her husband.
A detailed reading of the history of the fight for the rights over the temple management often gives an impression of the reflections of Sinhalese-Tamil fight ranging frm LTTE days. But when one actually goes to the temple and see around how much synchretically both Sinhalese and Tamils are celebrating their God, these differences seem so insignificant for a minor purpose.
It is interesting to see the healthy dose of rich fruits offered here in the temples – the fresh fruits freshly picked up from trees cleaned with fresh water to be offered to divinity. The kind of Prasadham which even the most diet conscious devotees can happily take.
As I depart away, I say my photo salute to River Manika Ganga the holy Tirtha River here in which you would be taking your dip when you saw the elephant who was chasing you and eventually you went to the arms of the Lord to begin an eternal love story!!!