WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka


Sri Pada  - The holiest of the holy hills


An ancient pilgrimage, which has long attracted thousands of pilgrims from perhaps all faiths, is the pilgrimage to the sacred mountain, Sri Pada, popularly known in English as Adam's Peak. It is a conical mountain 7,360 feet (2,243 meters) high, soaring clear above the surrounding mountain ranges. According to a legend, when the Buddha visited Ceylon he planted one foot on the north of the royal city and the other on Sumana-kuta (Adam's Peak) fifteen yojanas, or about hundred miles distant.

According to another legend the Buddha is believed to have left the print of his left foot on Adam's Peak, and then, in one stride, strode across to Siam, (now Thailand) where he left the impression of his right foot. It is called Phra Sat, and its appearance is supposed to be like that of the foot print on Adam's Peak and of similar size.

On the top of the Peak broad steps lead up to a walled enclosure containing the rock over which is a tower-like structure. The portion marked off as having the imprint of the Buddha's foot is about five feet seven inches long and two feet seven inches broad. The hole in the rock in Thailand, which is believed to have the imprint of the Buddha's right foot, is about five feet long and two feet broad. Buddhists attribute this universal size to the fact (such is the belief) that the Buddha was about thirty-five feet tall. The real footprint on Adam's Peak is believed to be set in jewels beneath the visible rock. *

Muslims believe the footprint to be that of Adam (hence the name Adam's Peak); Christians, that of St. Thomas, the disciple Jesus; and Hindus, that of the god Siva. The Tamil name of the rock (Civan-oli-pata) means "the mountain path of Siva's light". Alongside the rock is a shrine containing images (one of which is made of silver) of the god Saman and a Brahmin priest officiates at this shrine. In front of the shrine is a small table on which pilgrims place camphor and lighted candles.

The pilgrimage usually takes place about the month of April, which is the dry season just before the southeast monsoon breaks. The great desire of every pilgrim is to reach the peak before dawn so that they could witness the glorious spectacle of the sunrise and thereafter perform their religious rites. Young and old married women carrying children and many old men, who really appear physically incapable of the strenuous effort, make the ascent strengthened by the belief that they are doing an extraordinary meritorious act. For some it is a pleasure trip.

The climb is by no means easy. It takes several hours to get to the top. There are several resting places (madam) at various points on the path, where pilgrims are able to rest, cook and eat their meals or even spend a night. There is a river that separates the peak from the surrounding mountain range in which pilgrims take a ceremonial bath of cleansing and change into clean clothes before crossing over a fort bridge to the sacred mountain itself. From this point the path is an ascent of steps, very steep at some points. Especially at these and other points iron rails are fixed to support the climbers. Since many pilgrims make the ascent during the night in order to reach the peak before dawn, the pathway is today lit with electricity. Formerly there were only lanterns at various points. Groups of pilgrims sing devotional songs as they climb. Cries of "Sbdhu sbdhu sb" are heard especially as one group passes another.

When they reach the peak they crowd inside the enclosure and upon the steps outside, facing the east with their hands held together in an attitude of adoration awaiting the emergence of the sun. They watch intently the changing colours or the sky prior to sunrise and just as the tip of the sun appears, the pilgrims cry out uproariously, "Sadhu, sadhu, sa!" bending their heads in worship, while a heavy bell is loudly rung. This is of course reminiscent of sun worship.

Shortly after this, the Brahmin priest brings boiled rice from a group of buildings beneath the steps. As he passes the pilgrims touch the covering of the bowl in which the rice is carried. Thus everyone participates in the ritual act that is to follow. The priest approaches the rock and places the food upon it as an offering. This points to a time when food was offered to the sun god. Many Hindu pilgrims carry heavy loads of food for the use of the temple while often large quantities of rice are carried on the head of a pilgrim. These gifts of food are handed over to the officiating priest.

The Cetiya situated at the foot of Sri Pada is the peace pagoda erected by the Japanese Buddhist to spread the message of peace throughout the world from which begins the arduous climb to the summit of the Adams peak.   

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka