The village where sand had been turned into sugar
The saga of ‘devol deviyo’
by Godwin Vitane
The practice of the worship of Devol Deviyo or devol culture is widespread among the Sinhalese and it continues to be most popular of all forms of worship by the fisher folk in the South and Western lowlands. Devol ceremonies are more prominent and practiced often along the coastal areas and some of them are connected with the success of fishing.
The Buddhists all aver believe in thirty three million gods and demi gods — "Tis tun koatiyak Devi Devathavo". This multitude of heavingly beings, whose chief is God Sakra are supposed to inhabit the many heavens situated above and also this earth invisible to the human eye. However, unlike human beings they are incapable of gathering any merit while in the heavens but depend on the merit offered by humans accrued by way of performing numerous meritorious deeds. The gods avail of this merit to elevate themselves in their positions which they enjoy in the heavens. Human beings in general appeal to these gods in their need for relief whenever they confront misfortune.
Besides the unknown gods who have no direct association with human beings, there is a category of gods called "Dolos Deviyo" or twelve gods believed to be constantly intervening in the affairs of the worldlings, who adore them, worship them and appeal for redress relating to their concerns in their life on earth and of this life alone. People believe that there is so much of goodness, sympathy and generosity dormant in the nature of these unseen gods that they need faithful appeals to kindle their benevolence.
The twelve devas, both indigenous and foreign are Kataragama, Saman, Ghana, Vishnu, Dedimunda, Pattini, Natha, Devol and the cluster of four gods that guard this country namely, Drathrarasta, Virudha, Viruupaksha and Vibhishana. Man’s natural instinct for subservience is evident in the worship of gods. In time of adversity the people seek help and protection from these self created gods. As the gods are invisible and believed to be everywhere there is fear and servility created.
The practice of the worship of Devol Deviyo or devol culture is widespread among the Sinhalese and it continues to be most popular of all forms of worship by the fisher folk in the South and Western lowlands. Devol ceremonies are more prominent and practiced often along the coastal areas and some of them are connected with the success of fishing. Going into the mystic origin and legendary tale of Devol one has to refer to an equally unknown king named Sri Raman Swarnasinghe of Kerala, a part of India. There had been a revolt in the palace, where seven sons had been born to the seven queens of the king, who when they grew up created dissension when each of them claimed kingship. The wise king’s plan was to equip seven ships With merchandize and send them out in the seas to embark on the island of Lanka or Sinhaladeepa and engage in trade. The story may have been written by an unknown author on ola leaf or paper but now no more.
However it has been durable in legend. When the princes of Kerala were in mid ocean a violent storm wrecked their ships along with the cargo and the crew including Prince Devol were struggling for life among the rough waves God Sakra taking pity on the hapless crew created a raft in the turbulent sea on to which they all scrambled and after days of drifting reached the Southern shores of Lanka.
When they were striving to enter the island they were prevented from landing by the shore guards stationed at Unawatuna, Gintota, Udugalpitiya in Dodanduwa and at Hikkaduwa when they finally managed to set foot at a village a little distant north of Hikkaduwa now called Seenigama. This legendary story speaks of similar circumstances when Vijaya was banished by his royal father into the Indian Ocean in a sailing vessel to finally land on the shores of Lanka at Thambapanni.
At that time as much as Vijaya confronted the intrigues and opposition of Yakka Queen Kuveni of Lanka Goddess Pattini, an earlier established deity in these parts of the country obstructed Prince Devol and his companions from landing by creating a conflagration consisting of waves and circles of fire which the brave Prince Devol fought to extinguish displaying super power and set foot on this country to establish himself in the same manner Vijaya won over Kuveni.
It is said that Pattini resorted to challenge Devol and his companions in order to test Devol’s ability the superior position of a powerful deity and bring him on the same plane as herself and admit him to the Pantheon of twelve - Dolos Deviyo,. When all other deities witnessed the brave feat of Devol they unanimously admitted him into their fold. Thereafter Devol had proceeded to a nearby village called Weragoda and when he had planted his walking stick there it had got stuck on the ground and sprouted out branches. Devol had next got married to a village damsel there who had given him a son. When Devol needed food he had gone to the beach where he had landed and collected pebbles and sand in a bag which immediately had turned into rice and sugar.
After seeing this miracle the people had named the village Seenigama. Once Devol cured a grave sickness of a local ruler and had been granted the village of Seenigama as a gift.
The awe struck villagers had then erected a one roomed Temple for Devol at an elevated spot at the site on the beach where he had landed. When his son grew up he was inquisitive to find out how his father procured food for which he did not toil. Spying on the father one day he found out the secret how his father brought home rice and sugar most liberally. When Devol attempted to collect his food the following day the miracle did not work. Realising that his son was the cause of it he punished his son by stranggling him to death. After avenging his son Devol turned out to be the Lord of vengeance. The seat of judgement - became his Temple on the beach where he decided on punishment to evil doers. An aggrieved person proceeds to Seenigama Devale resting absolute faith in a god who avenges or inflicts just retribution on wrong doers at a time no other redress is available to the victim. The anvil at the Temple where the curse is moulded is a stone chilli grinder provided by the Kapurala. From the time the victims he or she sets out from their home with a curse on their lips "I will grind chillies at Seenigama Devale" the plan begin to work. Why Chillies? A hot repugnant ingredient that causes burns, irritation and pain when a paste of which is applied on the skin of man. Similarly the curse on the lips of the grinder is pregnant with hateful thoughts pungent like the effect of the chilli powder.
The grinder expects that the grenade of curses and blaspheme would explode on the evil doer to live his last day destroying him altogether. Although the atmosphere of the Temple surrounded by the sea is chilly within its four walls due to the constant battering of sea spray the thoughts and mind of the grinder will be bursting hot impregnated with obdurate hate. The event of the encounter of Devol with goddess Pattini has now reflected in an obligatory ritual in Folk Lore called Devol Netuma into which faith and prayers as well as superstitious practices have entered depending on the vast hold on the Southerners. This Ritual performed annually at Seenigama as well as on occasions at, Devol Dancing Ceremonies and religious processions has become a practice.
The dress of the Devol Dancer is composed of a conical hat with fan-shaped ears together with a skirt and jacket decorated all over with rays of fire in memory of the legendary battle of fire that had taken place between Prince Devol and goddess Pattini. This unique Low-Country Dance is characterised with great virile acrobatic dances. However the ordinary villager does not conflict his loyalties and ideals between his belief in the Doctrine of the Buddha and primitive Folk Culture. The good Buddhist knows that all gods and demons are subordinate to Lord Buddha, who is venerated by all beings on earth and all heavens.
Traversing the Colombo-Galle road, one could perceive a small island in the sea dotted with a few thriving coconut palms at a distance of about half a mile from land. Proceeding to Galle it is first spotted at Telwatta and going further crosses it near the 59th mile post at Seenigama. This is the original Devale of God Devol the lasting memorial which the ancient devotees had put up. The land in the locality had been subjected to serious sea erosion for decades leaving the mound where the Temple stood intact, now seen in the mid-ocean. Appeal to the Devol Deviyo at the Devale is now possible by a boat over half a mile from the shore into the sea.