The many steps to ‘Wedahitikanda’ | Daily News

The many steps to ‘Wedahitikanda’

Special wishes are made to sacred objects
Special wishes are made to sacred objects

Juliet Coombe stops to buy a puja to have a special blessing for her family at Wedahitikanda Temple, a holy place 1,400 feet up a mountain that required climbing 1,355 steep steps to prepare ones inner self for this fascinating mix of Hindu and Buddhist midday prayers.

We looked as rows of offerings in the form of a holy puja and paid our 1,000 rupees to the stall opposite where the children drank fresh coconuts. The seller, a lovely local lady, washed and cleaned all the fruit, adding a box of joss sticks, and a holy garland for blessing, which she placed on a silver platter covered with fresh leaves.

Once she had finished beautifying our dish of sweet goodies for the Gods. The boys bought water and we headed into the temple complex with our donation of food, carried on my son’s head into the temple complex. The boys learn this is called Puja Wattya, which simply means donation container and one can put a whole range of items together to share with the temple priests, and the community after it is blessed. Inside Wedahitikanda temple, pilgrims were taking off their shoes in order to start the holy climb of 1,355 steps or buying a 350 rupee ticket to take the fast track to enlightenment in a vehicle, which is twenty minute hairraising drive, that requires holding on for dear life and, as one pilgrim put it, the closest shave you are ever likely to have with God.

Inside the 1,500-year old temple, the barechested priests greeted us, with red dots on their foreheads, simple red sarongs they took our offerings and holding them, said prayers, uttering our names up to the gods.The place filled up with people and the smell of incense swirled around our heads as the bells started to clang and the midday service commenced.

The pilgrims put their hands together in prayer as water was sprinkled in the air and a holy man walked past the religious tridents tied with wishes, wrapped, with a coin, in red or other colourful saris materials.The bells tolled as the head priest carried what looked like a giant drum, taking the jewellery of the god out of the inner sanctum to a special place, during the puja.

People touched it with both hands as it passed them, hoping it would bestow good fortune on them and all their families.The bells, as if sending a string of messages to the god, became louder as another priest came out with his nose and mouth covered with a red cloth, to stop any human saliva contaminating the food given up for the god’s pleasure and, as he move, fire shot out in all directions, casting out bad spirits.

His ceremonial dance is all in aid of showing people the light and the right path to follow. There were no visible statues in front of the flames, only a banner showing God Kataragama with 12 hands, and two wives one is Valli amma from Sri Lanka;daughter of the Veddaha Chieften, and Thevani amma from India.

The fire ritual became more frenzied and then it was replaced with an Aladdin-like lamp and fervent chanting that, on reaching its heady height, resulted in bells jangling and three priests walking round the two lines of pilgrims handing out holy purit water. This was placed in each of our hands, followed by putting bindis, both white and red, on all of our foreheads and then we were given sacred sweet rice, placed on Bo leaves, for all of us to eat. Our puja fruit bowl was then returned to the inner sanctum, with some of the fruit kept back for the people who work and live in the temple. We eat a small piece each and then shared it with the other people in the innersanctum. The monkeys, seen as the guardians of this historically fascinating spot, feasted alongside us, with blessed donations.

We followed the crowd outside to admire the beauty of the views from Wadahitikanda and watched women putting small wooden crates in a tree to wish for a baby, and good health, while others lit joss sticks or cracked a coconut open on a simple stone altar while making a wish.

Everywhere, there was a buzz of happy pilgrims admiring the view and feeling good that there is still a place where everyone can be at one with nature and each other.

One little girl handed me some pol toffee sweets for my sons, before hiding behind her mother’s skirt, watching as we ate them, while commenting on how sweet she was.

We returned like a bullet, down the spiraling hill top, in an open pilgrim truck, full of people holding on for dear life as we slid ever closer to the edge, but the gods were on our side and as we alighted safely at the bottom I said a prayer as a serpent eagle a portent of good luckcircled over head.

From here, we headed, full of blessings and good cheer, to Kasingama pottery village that makes curd pots from local mud and had a demonstration from the Sumanadasa family, who then let us have a go at making one.

After lots of muddy fun and a few cracks at it, we finally had two successful pots that would sell for about 17 rupees each.

Flushed with success, and after doing a fun group photo with the other potters we headed off for some milk tea and to enjoy Tissa, where old men were rowing around the lake plucking lotus flowers to sell to pilgrims going to Kataragama.

We found watching this magical scene the perfect way to end a wonderful day.

 

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