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 Post subject: Worship of gods in Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Sun Mar 11, 2012 6:33 pm 
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Worship of gods in Sri Lanka

Worship of gods which is fundamentally a Hinduistic concept, has gradually merged with Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka. Most recognisably worship of gods has combined with the elements of popular Buddhism because people, while practising religion, always depend on gods unlimited relief for their problems.

By Amal HEWAVISSENTI
Sunday, 4 March 2012 / SO


Sinhala Sandesha poems ascribe a paramount importance to gods popularly held in great esteem in the traditions of Sinhala and Tamil people. The Sandesha Kavyas were composed solely to invoke gods to offer healing support for someone in a problematic situation. Most writers of the Sandesha poems have identified invocations to god 'Upulvan' as their primary duty. Worship of gods which is fundamentally a Hinduistic concept, has gradually merged with Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka. Most recognisably worship of gods has combined with the elements of popular Buddhism because people, while practising religion, always depend on gods unlimited relief for their problems.

Thus, we see most Buddhist temples in our country have a separate place for worship of gods (or Devalas) as a special feature because of the higher degree of public demand.

The gods in Sri Lankan culture are thought to be invisible powers that reward people for their good actions, heal people in illness, and punish those for transgressions of good principles. Thus, worship of gods continues to be a popular method to ward off evil influences and build up one's courage against all harm.

The origin of majority of gods could be traced to some religion in India. In all probability, some gods may have been known in Sri Lanka from very ancient times under different names and these gods belong to vedic and Buddhist traditions.

There are four cardinal guardian gods popularly recognised in Sri Lanka. They are Saman, Vibhishana, Kihireli and Boksal who accepted the guardianship of Sri Lanka. Later god Saman became 'Natha, Vibhisana became god of Kataragama, Kihireli became Vishnu and Boksal became Pattini. All these gods possess a particular form and each is believed to have special power over specific regions of Sri Lanka.

God Saman
The special duty of God Saman is to guard over the Sri Pada Adaviya and Buddha is believed to have given the hair relic when he visited Sri Lanka. The hair relic was duly placed in Mahiyangana Dagaba. Tradition claims that god Saman appointed deity 'Dedimunda' to establish Buddhism in Sri Lanka and he himself is believed to keep constant watch over the foot print of Buddha on the Summit of Sripada.

The principal Devala dedicated to god Saman is in Rathnapura. God Saman, however is identified to be the deified Lakshman who is Rama's brother and earlier traditions associates him with 'Natha'. This lord the Sri Pada mountain is light blue and sits on an elephant. He has a gentle, pleasant expression and a large crown adorns his head.

God Vishnu
God Vishnu in Hindu beliefs, Vishnu is worshipped as the protector of the world. Pali literature on Buddhist accords a prominent position for god Vishnu who is called a consort of Sita or Lakshmi.

He is one of the major figures in Hinduistic mythology but little is heard about his contribution to promote Buddhism. According to popular literature, Vishnu who is blue, came to Sri Lanka and overcame devils who were living in the country at that time.

The legendary accounts of Mahavamsa narrate how Buddha himself ordained that Upulvan (the god with the colour of lily) who is sometimes identified with Vishnu, should protect Vijaya and his 700 men from evil. He was also to safeguard Buddhism in Sri Lanka for the next 5,000 years.

At the end of 14th century, Vishnu was admitted to Buddhist Viharas because of the confusion of identity between Vishnu and Upulvan.

A venerated image of Vishnu is to be seen at Dambulla Vihara. Devotees come to the Devala (Vishnu) to fulfil the vows made to him and offerings are made with the due rituals and long prayers by the lay priest.

However, Vishnu's shrines are now at Samanala, Diva Guhava, Kelaniya, Dalada Maligawa, and Dambulla. Buddhists and Hindu devotees firmly believe in his miraculous ability to cure sickness.

God of Kataragama in the south eastern corner of the island has earned a wider publicity as the abode of god Skanda; a Hindu god. The temple of Kataragama has been dedicated to Skanda.

The temple itself is very old and in ancient times, the place may have formed an adjunct of Kiri Vehera. The god of Kataragama is generally very popular among all communities and the Devala associated with him has become an extremely holy place of annual pilgrimage.

The god of Kataragama is typically represented as having six faces and 12 arms to signify his out of the ordinary strength. Multiple legends rehearse his origin creating a bit of controversy. In any case, the god of Kataragama had a celestial consort as well as a human consort (a girl by the name of Valli amma). The overall significance and popularity of Devala spring from the efficacy of vows and prayers. He is the most respected god in Sri Lanka today.

Natha is sometimes identified with god Saman and is one of the four guardian deities having great power and influence. Natha is described as having a blue body. He sits on a swan and holds a gem set bangle in his right hand. The bracelet is believed to confer blessings and god Natha is noted for his power to ward off the evil effects of spells and drive away spirits.

Vibhishana is believed to be the brother of Ravana. He came to be recognised as one of the ancient guardian gods of Sri Lanka having exclusive overlordship of Kelaniya. He continues to be accepted as the god of Kelaniya and his Devala has occupied a giant popularity. His blessings are invoked by rich and poor alike.

Ancient Sandesha poems were directly written for him to use his power to grant a son to the daughter of king Parakramabahu VI. Usually, Vibhishana's face is portrayed to be fierce with large teeth and two tusks. His complexion is light blue and he wears a crown.

The worship of Pattini has taken root in Sri Lankan culture from very ancient times.

The goddess of Pattini is being held in great esteem mostly by women. The ornaments worn by Pattini, especially her anklet ('Pattini Salamba') is invoked in rhythmic incantations to the goddess.

During the rituals, her dress and the ornaments are fully described and her chastity, and love earned her the power and sanctity. During epidemics and illness the Sri Lankan community stages certain sports such as An Keliya, pol Keliya and processions. Apart from that, Kiri Ammavarunge danaya is conducted to invoke the blessings of goddess of Pattini in times of adversity because she is thought to be the defender of the weak, sick and infirm.

Bhadrakali temples are found in several localities in Sri Lanka and are mentioned in Sandesha poems. People usually invoke Goddess Kali for powers to win land cases and subdue enemies and rivals. Yet she appears to be associated with agriculture too.

Sri Lankans worship a number of other gods including Dedimunda, Veeramunda, Ganadevi and Saraswathi.

Here a devotee worships goddess Saraswathi for aesthetic abilities such as music and dancing.


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