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Lord Skanda, Valli Amma and Teyvanai Amma
Teyvani Amman pusagar

Did You Know? Facts about Kataragama

  • The focus of worship in Kataragama was not always where it is today. Formerly, the god lived upon Vedahiti Kanda,  ‘the Peak Where They Were', i.e. before Lord Skanda, Valli Amma and Teyvanai Amma came down to the bank of the Menik Ganga where they reside to this day.
  • The term yaksa or yaka orginally meant any local spirit, usually associated with a particular tree, mountain, or water source.  Many, like Kataragama, are friendly powerful, spirits who often grant the personal request of those who respect them.  The notion that they are wicked or unfriendly to humans is a modern interpretation.
  • The Veddas have worshipped here far longer than anyone else.  They called him the ‘Spirit of the Mountain' or Kanda Yaka in Sinhala.
  • During the Portuguese period, so many Muslim bawas came down via Jaffna by foot to Kataragama that the colonial authorities feared a Kandyan plot to overthrow them and closed the route to pilgrims.  Even today, many pilgrims still follow the old route by foot.
  • Kataragama Mahadevale is the only temple in all of South Asia that never, even for a moment, displays the object of reverence.  There is no image or idol at all; there is said to be only a metal plate with a six-cornered star or yantra etched upon it.
  • About four or five hundred years ago, a North Indian recluse named Kalyanagiri came to Kataragama with a yantra or magical device to capture god Kataragama-Skanda and take him back to India.  The ploy failed but even today the magical six-cornered snare or yantra is still believed to be the seat of the Swami or Lord of Kataragama.
  • The Sanskrit title swami, ‘a free man or lord', was orginally applied only as a title of the youthful war god Skanda or Kumara  Swami, the ‘tender lord'.  In time the title came to be applied to any representative of God who had left home life behind in quest of the holy life.
  • The bricks of Kiri Vihera stupa are over 2,200 years old.  It is built on the site where Lord Gautama Buddha is said to have addressed King Mahasena 2,500 years ago.  Buddhists believe that god Kataragama is the same powerful bodhisattva or ‘awakening being' who ruled then as King Mahasena ‘Who Has a Great Army', also a title of wargod Skanda.
  • The kapuralas or priests of Kataragama Mahadevale follow an ancient secret tradition which they inherited from their Vedda predecessors. The twelve alatti ammas likewise preserve their own secret tradition begun in remote antiquity by jungle princess Valli Amma herself.
  • Legend calls this place Gajaragama,  ‘the home of the elephants'. Scholars call it Karttikeya-grama, ‘the village of wargod Karttikeya'. Hindus and Muslims alike call it Katir-kamam, ‘the place of light and love'.  In Sufi tradition it is Khadir-gama, ‘the home of al-Khidr'.