Kebiliththa, located deep in the jungle, is believed to be the spiritual residence of Kataragama Deviyo. According to the ancient stories, Skanda Kumaraya had met his future wife Valli Amma at this place near a tamarind tree (‘Siyambala’ tree) from which it developed its name ‘Siyambalawa Devalaya’. Devotees believe that the deity of Kataragama resides and meditates at this sacred forest sanctuary.
Heaven and earth, as personified powers of nature, are worthy of worship. In ancient Greek mythology the ‘Theoi Nomioi’
were the gods of the countryside, pastures and wild forests. They fell under the dominion of three gods: Hermes the lord of the herds, Dionysus the god of wild vegetation and Artemis queen of the beasts. Known as both Gaia and Gaea, the Goddess Gaia is a figure from Greek mythology. Her name essentially means earth. Aranyani is the goddess of forests and the wild animals that dwell within them in Hinduism.
Nature worship, a system of religion based on the veneration of natural phenomena, for example, celestial objects such as the sun and moon and terrestrial objects such as water and fire. Ancient Egypt was the main centre from which solar deity concepts began. Star worship existed in ancient civilizations associated with Mesopotamia. Water and fire, both forces are purifying as well as protective and are viewed by many as being connected with the cosmic powers. For a number of spiritual reasons, fire is considered to be a personified living power. The most important mythical-religious facts symbolized by water are – the primal matter, the instrument of purification, a life giving force and a revealing instrument. This is why great rivers are venerated.
Kataragama Deviyo also called Skanda Kumara and Karthikeya is a guardian deity of Sri Lanka. Although the main shrine Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo is situated in Kataragama in Moneragala District, at some point in history, it is believed that he resided on the top of mountain Wedahitikanda, just outside the Kataragama Town. The temple dedicated to Kataragama deviyo in Kataragama has been a place of pilgrimage and religious sanctity for decades. History reveals that the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya was built by King Dutugamunu as a fulfillment of a vow. I made my first visit here with my friend Nalin Marasinghe.
There is an oral tradition that says Karthikeya (Skanda/Murugan) was walking in the forest when he saw Valli Amma. He stopped and asked her for some water. The beautiful woman had said she was scared of elephants. Then the deity Ganesha had manifested as an elephant. The frightened woman had clung to Karthikeya, whom she subsequently married.
Karthikeya is a well-known figure in Hindu mythology. He is addressed by different names such as Murugan, Subramanian, Shanmukha and Skanda. He is most popular as Lord Murugan in the Southern states of India. A number of temples dedicated to the deity can be spotted all over South India. According to the Skanda Purana, Karthikeya is said to be the elder son of Shiva and Parvati. Karthikeya is depicted as a dark, young man with a spear in His hand. His mount is a peacock and
He symbolizes power and strength. Through the blessings of Lord Karthikeya, one can achieve great strength and get rid of all his woes.
The vehicle he rides is a peacock called Paravani. It is believed that the peacock represents him as the destroyer of all bad habits. Karthikeya or Murugan represents perfection. He is a unique deity, who is a combination of matchless valour and divine intelligence. He remains as the core of all the divine energies as per Hinduism. If you look at the idol of Karthikeya, on the one hand, He carries a spear (vel). It is symbolic of the Kundalini Shakti. On the other hand, he carries a small flag on which a rooster is present. He is also called ‘Deva Senapati’. Karthikeya/ Murugan, the god of war is known for his extraordinary strength and skills.
My friend Chithranga Gamage has made five visits to the forest sanctum of Kebiliththa. He remains faithful to engage in the rituals of worship associated with this jungle shrine. He described his long journey “We travelled from Colombo to Kataragama. We had a time of worship at the famous devale and next morning at 2 a.m. we set off towards Buttala. From there towards Moneragala and finally the remote village of Kottiyagala. It’s from this village that we enter the forest. Every year we rent two jeeps from Kataragama, as these people are experts who know the jungle path. Our jeeps are accompanied by a mechanic. He is a vital member of the pilgrimage, because in the forest he is responsible for both vehicles. There is no mobile phone coverage here for any kind of emergency. Inside the forest some paths are full of thick mud and the jeeps have to travel carefully. This is a rugged and challenging pilgrimage”. The group is accompanied by a kapurala or swami who will conduct the sacred rituals. They have to camp one night in the wild forest.
The first stop is at a small shrine where the statue of Noble Buddha sits in serene solitude. Here the devotees prepare the ‘Multhan pooja’, a cooked offering of sweetened milk rice and engage in Bodhi pooja. This is accompanied by offerings of fruits. While this ceremony is on the guardian of this forest- the elephant Maddhu- stands and observes. He is a friendly elephant respected by all the devotees. Another junior elephant has also been seen, and some opine it’s the brother of Maddhu. Pilgrims have also come across some bears, who come to drink the leftover coconut oil. The bears also feed on extra fruits kept by the devotees. In the second phase the pilgrims worship the Tamarind tree in the forest.
Chithranga Gamage explained,”We have to take many fruits for the final Nanu-Mura pooja. This includes oranges, pomegranates, mangoes, jackfruit, watermelon, king coconut and bananas. We also take honey, king coconut water and rose essence water. The presiding swami will wash the statue of the deity and begin the ceremony. We have to be dressed in full white, covering our heads. We also offer lotus flowers and a large garland of kapuru flowers. Maddhu the elephant waits at the river bank. At the end of the ritual we offer some fruits to him. He is the guardian of this forest. After this our group proceeds to clean the riverside and forest paths of any paper or polythene, left behind by other devotees. We believe this is an important part of our duty when we visit this forest shrine”. For those who believe in this ritual and worship the journey to Kebiliththa is a rewarding experience that renews their faith.