New Kathiresan Kovil - Bambalapitiya
@ ML / 12Nov2005
Rohan Canagasabey visits Sri Maanikkavinayagar Kovil,
Bambalapitiya to invoke blessings
The name Sri Manikkavinayagar Kovil (SMK) is probably not familiar to most people or even to Hindus. Well it is right beside the more familiar New Kathiresan Kovil at Bambalapitiya and is the one with the high gopuram.
Deepavali, the festival of lights, was celebrated there last week. The temple had a throng of people praying at the various shrines within it, as well as lighting candles in symbolic banishment of evil.
The Morning Leader carried an article a fortnight ago by this writer on New Kathiresan Kovil and on the Vel Festival due to take place during the Tamil month of Aadi. While the Vel silver chariot proceeds from the similar named temple in Pettah to New Kathiresan Kovil, a Kavadi chariot offering penitence through Kavadis, heads for the adjacent Sri Manikkavinayagar Kovil. The Kavadi chariot journeys one day before the Vel chariot. But the story of this festival is an old one.
"When the Indian community came to Sri Lanka during the latter half of the 19th century, they bought the temple at 1st Cross Street in Pettah. This was the Sammangodu Sri Kathirvelayutha Swamy Kovil, which is a temple dedicated to Lord Murugan," said A. Maanikkavasagam, who is one of the managers of this temple and the SMK. He continued, "Originally the festival procession would travel from Pettah to the temple at Kataragama, stopping each night at a Hindu temple along the way.
Given the high number of devotees in Colombo, the procession took much longer to leave the city. Therefore Sri Maanikkavinayagar Kovil was built to offer a night’s rest."
"However, during WW2, due to a cholera epidemic, travel was restricted. So the procession became limited to travelling from Pettah to Bambalapitiya. This is how the Vel and Kavadi chariot festival became a noted Hindu festival in Colombo," explained Maanikkavasagam, adding "all national and local VIP’s including the prime minister, the Indian High Commissioner and the IGP come to Sri Maanikkavinayagar Kovil during the festival."
The festival, however, has not taken place since 1996, revealed Maanik- kavasagam. This is due to first SMK being demolished and rebuilt from 1996 to 2001. Artisans — whose skills are passed from father to son — from Tamil Nadu were brought down to do all the decorative work. The main shrine at SMK is dedicated to Lord Ganesh. In addition, there are shrines to his younger brother Murugan, as well as Amman, Indumpan, Ganapathi as well as ones called Vasantha Mandapam and Navagraham. Subsequently, the Sammangodu temple in Pettah was also reconstructed, which ended this year. Therefore, after 10 years, this festival, lasting for five days between July and August, will begin again in 2006.
The Kavadi chariot of SMK will be preceded by Nada- swaram (flute) musicians and other kavadi-bearers. It will certainly be something to look forward to.
Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Lord Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satwic food, once a day, while continuously thinking of god.
The simplest kavadi is a semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a little spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit.
The kavadi itself is steeped in mythology. At Mount Kailas, Lord Shiva entrusted the dwarf saint sage Agastya with two hillocks, with instructions to carry and install them in South India. But the sage left them in a forest and later asked his disciple, Idumban to get them. Idumban found the two hillocks, but could not initially lift them, until he obtained divine help. Near Palani in South India – where to this day there is a famous shrine of Murugan — Idumban put the hillocks down to rest awhile. When he attempted to continue with his journey, he found that the hillocks were immovable.
Idumban sought the help of a scantily dressed youth, but the youth claimed the hillocks belonged to him. In the ensuing scuffle, Idumban was defeated. Idumban then realised that the youth was Lord Murugan. Idumban pleaded to be pardoned and asked that anyone who comes to the hills to worship Murugan with an object similar to the two hillocks suspended by a rod, may be granted his heart’s desire. Idumban’s wish was granted. And so the kavadi came to play its role in Hindu festivals.