Kataragama is a pilgrimage town sacred to Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and indigenous Vedda people of Sri Lanka People from South India also go there to worship.
The town has the Kataragama temple, a shrine dedicated to Skanda Kumara also known as Kataragama deviyo. Kataragama is located in the Monaragala District of Uva province, Sri Lanka. It is 228 km ESE of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Although Kataragama was a small village in medieval times, today it is a fast-developing township surrounded by jungle in the southeastern region of Sri Lanka.
There are five main places of worship located at Kataragama. They are Kirivehera, Maha Bodhiya, Kataragama Devale, Sella Kataragama and Vedihitikanda.
- Kiri Vehera
It is one of the main 16 shrines. As it was dilapidated, in 1961 the foundation was laid to construct it. The work has now been completed. The original dagaba was constructed by Parakramabahu the great, at the request of queen Subadra. It is 95 feet in height and has a circumference of 280 feet.
The Buddhist Kiri Vehera Dagaba which stands in close to the Kataragama devalaya was built by the King Mahasena. According to the legend, Lord Buddha, on his third and the last visit to Sri Lanka, was believed to have met King Mahasena, who ruled over the Kataragama area in 580 BC. It is said that King Mahasena met Lord Buddha and listened to his discourse. As a token of gratitude, the Dagaba was built on that exact spot where it now stands. Thus the local Sinhalese Buddhists believe that Kataragama was sanctified by Lord Buddha.
Many Sinhala Buddhists of Sri Lanka believe that Kataragama Deviyo is a guardian deity of Buddhism and he is the presiding deity of Kataragama temple. Kataragama is one of the 16 principal places of Buddhist pilgrimage to be visited in Sri Lanka.
- Kataragama Maha Devalaya
Kataragama Devalaya is a temple complex dedicated to Buddhist guardian deity Kataragama Deviyo and Hindu War God Murugan It is one of the few religious sites in Sri Lanka that is venerated by the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and the Vedda people. For most of the past millennia, it was a jungle shrine very difficult to access; today it is accessible by an all-weather road.
God Kataragama is also known as Skanda or Kanda Kumara. The main devale is dedicated to Kanda Kumara. Various other devale have been constructed in the same premises recently. They are Gana Devale, Vishnu Devale and Suniyam Devale.
The kataragama procession is held during the month of August (Esala). Two important items are connected with it. They are fire walking and water cutting ceremonies. Offering Pooja watti, putting Panduru, breaking coconuts, Kaavadi dance, lying on steel nails, hanging from steel nails, rolling round the devale premises, pricking the body with thornes pilgrims do these acts to fulfill their vows.
- Bo Tree in Kataragama
The Bodhiya is in the premises of the kataragama Devale and is one of the Bo-Trees planted from the 8 seeds of the Jayasri Maha Bodhiya at Anuradhapura.
- Sella Kataragama
Connected with the Kataragama Devale are 2 other places of worship. One is Sella Kataragama. According to folk lore it is said that God Katargama met Valliamma at this place. The distance from Kataragama to Sella Kataragam is about 3 miles.
- Vedihitikanda in Kataragama
It is believed that God kataragama resided at vedihitikanda. About 2 miles from Kataragama on a peak of a mountain is a devale and Bo-Tree. Although it is difficult to climb to the top of the mountain, the devotees never fail to climb it.
- Thissamaharama Dagaba in Kataragama
The land surrounding Thissamaharama was a part of the temple premises hence this area is known as Thissamaharama. This is one of the 16 great shrines in Sri Lanka. It was King Kavanthissa who built the Thissamaharama Dagaba. It is 18 feet in height and 550 feet in circumference. It is said that relice of the forehead of the Buddha is enshrined in this dagaba. The relics are placed on the forehead of a golden statue. According to the chronicles, that during the 3rd visit of the Buddha to Ceylon, he attained a state of tranquility (Samadhi) at the site of the Thissamaharama dagaba.