Kataragama is a multi-religious sacred city as it contains an Islamic mosque within its temple complex as well. Kataragama is one of Sri Lanka’s holy places where Hindu, Buddhist and Muslims visit on religious pilgrimage. It is a large Complex with the ‘Mahadewala’ – Main Hindu shrine being the most important place. This shrine of God Skanda, the Hindu war God who is worshipped as the Kataragama Deviyo is venerated by pilgrims of all three religions.
It is believed that King Dutugemunu the warrior king and Sinhala folk hero built a shrine here for worship of the Kataragama God in the 2nd century BC. There is also a first century BC Buddhist Dagoba – ‘Kiri vehera’ at this site. According to the legend, Lord Buddha, on his third and the last visit to Sri Lanka, was believed to have met the King Mahasena who ruled over the Kataragama area in 580 BC.
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Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka and South Indian refer to the place as Kathirkamam and it has a famous Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Kathirkaman. The presiding Deity is Lord Murugan or Skanda. Out of love for Lord Murugan and to lessen bad fate, bhakters pierce their cheeks and tongues with vels, pull large chariots carrying Murthi of Murugan with large hooks that have been pierced through the skin of their backs. This practice is known as Kavadi. The annual Hindu Kataragama festival is held in July and August.
The local river namely Manik Ganga (River of Gems) is a sacred place where the pilgrims take a bath to purify oneself. Local residents declare that one can be healed of ailments by bathing in it not only from its high gem content but also the medicinal properties of the roots of various trees that line the river through the jungle.
In spite of the differences of caste and creed, many Sri Lankans show great reverence to God Kataragama. They honour him as a very powerful deity and beg divine help to overcome their personal problems or for success in business enterprise.
Things to do in Kataragama
- Visit the Kataragama Temple
- Visit the Kirivehera
- Visit the Maha Devale
- Take part of view the Kataragama Festival