Pattini the Goddess of motherly protection

11th May 2018

Dear Pattini

3 days back when I was roaming in Kataragama Temple, little did I realize that these sub gods & the Goddess have so much legendary history about themselves which make the Devales of Srilanks probably the most mystic part of my journey to the island nation. On my bus ride back to the hotel, it was a sheer chance that I happened to read some small artcile on folk gods of Sinhalese Buddhism mentioning Vibhishana, Kataragama, Uppulvan, Dendamuni, Siddha Suniyam, Natha and yourself.

Pattini Image on Drapes with an anklet in one hand and pot of prosperity in other, Kataragama

While over the course of next few days, I would try to understand many of these folkgods to understand their character and what makes them worthy of worship for millenia, you will remain an enigma for me to understand. Every reading I would do regarding understanding you would just leave me more and more confused, more and more distraught.

Sculpture of Pattini in Pattini Devale, Kabulumulla

If I go by the popular version, I hear about you being the goddess Kannagi – the heroine of the famous Tamil epic Chilapattikaran (Tale of an anklet) who was imported into Srilanka from Kerala by the famous King Gajabahu I along with her  12000 devotees. Now I can understand why Kannagi was celebrated in Kerala a lot – given the arch rivalry of Chera kingdom with Pandyan Kingdom of Madurai and Kannagi being instrumental in causing the downfall of Madurai, it seems quite natural if Keralan royalty would patronize her. It sounds quite natural if on same lines, the Lankan kings who would feel the heat from Pandyan Kingdom would also start patronizng Kannagi. The only loose part is why rename the Goddess as Pattini.

Pattini Devale, Kabulamalle – One of the four ancient Pattini Devale which is unique for having a corresponding Bhairav

In this hunt to understand the rechristening of your name to Pattini, I came across a book on Folk Gods of Srilanka – “Discovery of Gods Unseen: Somapala Demapitiya”. It describes your origin as a chaste but virgin wife of a husband (Palanga) who could not consummate the marriage with you because of your consideration of sex and process of giving birth as impure. It kind of pushed him to look for extramarital affairs not just with prostitutes but with other men’s wives which landed him in trouble and eventually killed. There is some mention of him being resurrected for a while to have one last conversation with his wife, to get back to death. Apparently, this is the story which is played out in the Kandyan Dancing ritual like ‘Kohombo Kankariya’. The story emphasises on how you were a perfect committed wife – Patni in Hindi to your husband and hence this name.

Red Clothes tied on Pattini’s staff. There seem to be different colours for different gods – white for Samana, blue for Uppulvan, red for Pattini

The story also talks about how you were born as an illegitimate child to a Pandyan princess eventually to be abandoned into a lotus pond where the beings of lake took care of you. How you were adopted by the forest spirit Kali who used mango juice to feed you. Growing up, you were fed on diet of jungle fruits and honey and would wear jingling bangles to ornament your feet. Thus, these seven aspects became the seven factors of your birth – birth from Woman, Ltus, Lake, Mango, Rose-Apple, Coconut Flower, Bangles. And apparently, it is these seven factors of birth led to the cult of Sapta Pattini – where your seven incarnations are recounted.

A folk style wooden statue in the dias of Pattini in Kandy Temple

Speaking about your chastity and practice of recounting your seven births, it is quite amusing to note the ‘Sokari’ dance drama which is done in your honour. As I understand it talks about a certain person – Guru Hami from Kashi making a pilgrim trip to Lanka with his wife Sokari and a servant. How after landing in Tamraparni (Trinacomalee), he gets bitten by a dog while looking around for water. How the lady Sokari finds an amorous doctor Vedarala (who was left by his wife due to his loose character) to cure him, but in turn the doctor seduces her after curing the husband and she elopes with him. How she was not able to conceive the child so far, but got pregnant with the doctor and How the husband looks around for her eventually to get back her home after beating the doctor and also accept the child. Somewhere in this folk story I could sense similarities with that of the story of Tara who was torn between an aged Brihaspati and a young seducer Soma. Nevertheless, one will just keep wondering why will the story of unchastity be considered worthy to play  dance dramas in your temples across Lanka!!!

Stucco figures on Nagapushpa temple. There are 7 such couples on different layers

As I was browsing across the aspect of previous births and referring the main epic itself, the Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai seems to explain Kannagi that in her past life she was Nili born in Kalinga (Orrissa) and married to a government servant Paratan. There were times of war for the country and the kingdom had banned the entry of outsiders in the city. During that unfortunate time, a merchant named Cankaman and his wife had entered the city and Paratan carried his job of suspecting them and getting Cankaman executed. This angered his wife who cursed the pair of Cankaman and Nili to go through same ordeal. Well this story certainly equates the whole ordeal Kannagi had to go through.

Red Flowers in offering to the Goddess Pattini, Kandy Temple

In Prof. Somapala’s book, the Kapurala girl he talks to mention you being an ascetic minded girl named Malika once who happened to marry a man thinking it can help complete your feminity, just to realize he was looking around for other woman when he thought of you as below his class. This took me to a section called Malika Sutra of the Pali Canon where during the times of Buddha, a similar woman called Malika born to simpleton villagers & well on her ascetic path, was married by a King despite her humble background. However as expected later, she was sort of ignored by him. The hilight of the Sutra was when King asked her whom she loves most and she replies it was herself. This had upsetted the king  who was expecting Malika to be taking his name, and on enquiring with Buddha, he ellaborated:

“Though in thought we range throughout the world, We’ll nowhere find a thing more dear than self. So, since others hold the self so dear, He who loves himself should injure none”

This is perhaps one of the moments of truth where setting aside unnecessary tantrums we build around our relationships, there is an honest admittance of truth

Cieling Inscriptions in Devinuwara temple showing a couplet of Bodhisattav king with his wife on a discourse. Possibly Mallika??

Your blessings are especially invooked along with your God-Mother Bhadrakali to relieve the children of diseases. This sounds quite dramatically similar to Mariamma of South India. Interestingly, as per folk legends of South India, the male protector of Mariamma is this war hero Madurai Veeran whose first wife Bommi’s life seems to be so resonating with that of Kannagi or may be yours. As per the legends, Bommi was the daughter of a feudal lord around Trichy area and this hero (an abandoned prince raised by a family of Palace guard) was is the service. Depending on the lens we use, it seems like either Bommi was seduced or abducted by this hero who eventually kills off her father who came battling to take back his daughter. Later, the hero is seduced by the royal damseul Vellai in Madurai which lands him in trouble and he is executed. Bommi and Vellai both are devastated and choose death instantly. The parallels seem too many, may be there is a pattern of feeling similar pain in your lives one after the another

Flagpole showing lion in the Devi Pattini temple, Kandy

A further interesting aspect to note is that the Muneeshwarana temple of Chilaw – which probably has the most synchretic tradition of joint worship by Sinhalese and Tamils celebrates the goddess (Amba) as yourself. Rather as per the website, the festival gathers more momentum for your procession rather than for the Muneeshwar. So if you are the presiding Goddess there, I have got another contender as your plausible husband – Muneeshwar. This folk god of Tamil Nadu has its own intersting character but the most important of all is that there are 7 personalities of him:

  • As he appeared from Lord Siva’s face. He assumed the form of Shivamuni.
  • He became Mahāmuni who possessed immeasurable divine power.
  • Tavamuni removed all obstacles in the path of the Devas and Rishis during their Yajna.
  • Nāthamuni (Nādamuni) offered blessings to the Devas and Buddhaganas
  • Jadamuni grew trees and possessed Rudrakshamala Kātgar and the book.
  • Dharmamuni was the protector of the good and the destroyer of evil.
  • Vazhamuni is praised and worshipped by the Kapalis who live in the jungle.

It makes me wonder whether there is some coincidence in legend of 7 lives of Pattini and 7 versions of Muneeshwar and the fact both of them are celebrated together in the Chilaw temple.

Popular frames sold in Srilanka showing Pattini with anklets in both hands

Overall, I am just beginning to taste the depth of interconnections you have with so many legends across India and Srilanka, across Puranic , Buddhist & Sangams literature, across  Sinhalese & Tamil folk culture. Clearly you are not just another goddess in the multitude of the goddesses and gods we have around in the subcontinent. I am far more confused then ever before about interpreting anything about you, but am sure that you will keep enlightening at the right time whenever it is.IMG_0738

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