Chronicle of a chariot | Daily News

Chronicle of a chariot

It is interesting to note that ancient Sri Lanka is deeply linked with Hinduism. It is called by numerous names connected to Hindu religious faith. Sivaboomi, Iswaraboomi and Kuberaboomi are some of the ancient names connected to the ancient Sri Lankan land. Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo is a metropolitan city. Colombo is blessed with an important seaport. The Colombo seaport occupies a crucial place in the world. This seaport attracted numerous alien citizens to Sri Lanka.

This seaport served as one of the seaports of Sri Lanka for the Tamil population to migrate from South India to this country. The Nattukottai Chettiar community also migrated to Sri Lanka through the seaport. They introduced the Adi Vel festival to the capital Colombo.

Kataragama festival

This is one of the foremost Hindu festivals, widely celebrated in Colombo. It is known as Adi Vel Vazha (Villa) in Tamil and it is called Vel festival in English. It has a long history dating back to 1874. It is interesting to note that the famed Kataragama festival falls in the Tamil month of Adi (July). For the Kataragama festival in Sri Lanka pilgrims from all over the country flock to the holy shrine at Kataragama which is located in the down south of Sri Lanka.

Earlier due to the lack of transport facilities devotees used to reach the temple on foot (Paatha Yathra). The pilgrims from Northern Province, Eastern Province and from different other parts of the country started their Paatha Yathra to Kataragama nearly two months or two and a half months before the commencement of the festival.

From Colombo area, Nattukottai Chettiar community, Vellalar community and other communities together used to go to Kataragama festival. Lord Murugan is often known as Kathirvelauthan or Kathiresan. The Buddhists call Lord Murugan by the Kataragama Deviyo. Kataragama festival symbolizes Lord Murugan’s triumph over evil and his marriage with the Goddess Valli (Vedda /Vedduva king’s daughter).

Devotees from different walks and faiths of Sri Lanka flock to Kataragama to pay their deep devotion to Lord Murugan. EspeciallyHindus and Buddhists pay their obeisance to the presiding deity of the Lord Kataragama. For the Kataragama festival, the people go to the Kataragama temple on Paatha Yathra, from all over the country. In 1874unfortunately a cholera epidemic broke out in the country. Due to it, the Government prohibited the pilgrims to take part in the Kataragama festival. They were prevented from proceeding along Galle Road near the location of the present three temples ofBambalapitiya. Due to this, the pilgrims kept their Kaavadis at the Maddams (present temples of Bambalapitiya) and stayed at the Maddams with broken hearts and frustration. It is stated that Lord Murugan appeared in a dream and conveyed to the devotees, that in future, during the Kataragama festival period the same festival could be conducted in Colombo for their convenience. They were requested not to worry about the unavoidable circumstances. Eventually, two Kathiresan temples and the Samman gods Sri Manika Vinayagar temple were built at Bambalapitiya. Later these two Kathiresan temples were called by the name ‘Upaya Kataragama temples’. At the time the administration of all the six temples involved in the Colombo Vel festival was vested in the hands of the Chettiar community. The devotees with the cooperation of the Chettiar community arranged the Vel festival in Colombo. Hence the Vel festival takes place in Colombo concurrently during the period of Kataragama annual festival time. In simple words, Vel means spear. Lord Murugan holds the Vel (Spear) in his right hand. Today the name of the festival is known as Vel festival. In some of the Murugan temples in the world at the Sanctum, instead of the idol of Lord Murugan, the Vel is installed for worship.

Popular term

The annual chariot festival (car festival) of two Old Kathiresan temples of Colombo or the chariot festival of two New Kathiresan temples of Colombo, or the chariot festival of Samman gods Sri Kathirvelautha Swamy temple of Colombo held in collaboration with Sammangodu Sri Manika Vinayagar temple of Colombo is widely known by its popular term “Vel festival”. The Kataragama festival starts during the Tamil month of Adi (July). The Kataragama festival lasts for 14 days. The Vel festival of Colombo lasts for three to four days. In the Vel chariot procession the idols of Lord Murugan, along with his two consorts Goddess Devayani Amman and Goddess Valli Amman are taken out. On the full moon day of the Tamil month, Adi the Kataragama water cutting ceremony takes place.

In the Colombo Vel festival, the idols of Murugan and his two consorts (Devies) are taken out in the procession. The exact year of the origin of Vel festival is not known. Originally the first Vel festival started at the Old Kathiresan temple Chettiar Street (Sea Street). The New and Old Kathiresan temples were built in different years and administered by two different administrative committees. Yet both of them were managed in a coordinating manner with regard to the Vel chariot festival. Both these temples have two different Vel chariots.

Different temples

In the Vel festival, three different categories of Vel chariots are involved. These three Vel chariots are connected with six different temples in Colombo. The Kaavadi Chariot originates from Sammangodu Sri Kathirvelautha Swamy temple, First Cross Street (Pettah), Colombo.11, and reaches the Sammangodu Sri Manika Vinayagar temple, Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo-4. The Golden Vel Chariot originates from Old Kathiresan temple, Chettiar Street, (Sea Street), Colombo-11 and reaches the Old Kathiresan temple, Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo-4. The Silver Vel Chariot originates from New Kathiresan temple Chettiar Street, (Sea Street) Colombo 11 and reaches the New Kathiresan temple Galle Road, Bambalapitiya, Colombo 4. The two Vel chariots (Golden and Silver) are taken out in procession in alternate years.

That means if the Golden Vel chariot is taken out in one year in the following year the Silver Vel chariot would be taken out. Besides these two chariots, another Kaavadi chariot festival also takes place annually from the Sammangodu Sri Kathirvelautha temple, First Cross Street, Pettah to Sammangodu Sri Manika Vinayagar temple, Galle Road Bambalapitiya on the day before the Golden or Silver Vel chariot procession.

Three days

The wooden Kaavadi chariot is driven by a tractor. For a number of years, the travel route of the chariot remains the same. The deities spend three full days at Sammangodu Sri Manika Vinayagar temple, Galle Road, Bambalapitiya.

During the procession of the Vel chariot devotees, residents, businesspeople of commercial establishments stand on both sides of the road and make their Offerings. People keep the Mandapapadi and Purnakumpam and welcome the chariot.

On both sides of the road, the people wait for the chariot for long hours and pay their obeisance to Vel chariots. Vel chariots are always decorated with yellow bulbs, fresh flower garlands, Palm leaf Thoranam decoration and Banana trees with the ripe yellow banana bunch.


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