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"A Most Unusual Event" at Kataragama

1940 Firewalking incident at Kataragama

by Dr. P.G. Punchihewa

Reading Prof. Suwanda H.J. Sugunasiri's contribution to The Sunday Island of February 26th 2012 with the title "The Deva Halliday of Glenthorne England" and his reference to God Kataragama, as seen by the respected monk Ven. Ananda Maitreya, I recalled a similar instance as documented by Mr. M. Chandrasoma in his book Vignettes of the Ceylon Civil Service.

Before Moneragala District was carved out of the Badulla District in the early sixties, Kataragama was administered from Badulla and during the Esala festival, under the Pilgrims' Ordinance, as is being done to date, it was mandatory for the Government Agent or his representative to be stationed there as the Supervising Officer of the Esala festival pilgrim camp. In 1940, Chandrasoma who was then a cadet in the Civil Service and holding the position of Office Assistant at the Badulla Kachcheri was ordered to go to Kataragama as the Supervising Officer in sole charge of the camp.

During the two weeks he was in Kataragama he had the opportunity of seeing the fire walking which he had never seen before.

Chandrasoma says

"I listened avidly to what everyone had to say about it and gathered all the information I could. But on the day itself it exceeded all our expectations because of a most unusual, unscheduled event that has remained inexplicable to this day."

I quote below Chandrasoma verbatim……

"But let me tell the story as it happened. By three o'clock in the morning we had taken the station allotted to us by the Basnayake Nilame. At the time we took our seats flaming logs were lying higgledy, piggledy covering the whole of the pit. The procession of the walkers had formed and had just left for the river. A hush of expectancy fell on the crowd. And then it happened.

The logs were still flaming, some of the tongues of flame sporadically rising as high as a man's waist in the moon light and the soft early morning breeze. A man standing among those at the entrance to the devale suddenly broke away from his fellows, walked purposefully to the pit and without hesitation walked over the length of it towards the gate.

I saw him clearly as did all the others beside me. He was a dark somewhat gross man, bare bodied and I could see the folds of flesh in his underbelly just above the verti he wore. Sweat glistened on his brow and chest as he stepped on the flaming logs. I actually heard the crunch of the crackling, burning wood as the logs took his weight. In a moment he was across. Calmly he turned right, walked unhurriedly to the first row of pilgrims seated on the side away from us and sat down.

We jumped out of our chairs immediately we overcame our momentary stupefaction and rushed across to where all of us clearly saw the man sit down. But no such man was there. Only a lean, grey haired pilgrim who said he had been sitting there for the best part of an hour

To this day I have heard no feasible explanation of what I undoubtedly saw"

I could not lay my hands on the reference Prof. Suguanasiri was quoting from. I am told that the first edition appeared in 1993. Obviously there is much in common in the two events described by two highly respected personalities. Chandrasoma's narration dates back to 1940. Probably that took place before Ven. Ananda Matriya's experience.

Dr. P.G. Punchihewa <> Member of the Ceylon Civil Service was the Government Agent of Moneragala District from 1967 to 1970.

Courtesy: The Sunday Island (Colombo) of March 10, 2012