Pal Kudi Bawa of Kataragama

The Daily News (Colombo) of Thursday September 26, 1991

Pal Kudi Bawa [14 kb]
Pal Kudi Bawa

by Dr. M. C. M. Kaleel
President, All Ceylon Muslim League

I read with interest the letter written by Mr. Nizam Careem of Hambantota in the Daily News of August 26, where he contradicts Swamy Dattaramagiri's statement that Pal Kudi Bawa was a Hindu hermit.

I write this letter in case future historians may take the statement of the Swamy as a fact, in spite of Nizam Careem's contradiction for want of further authoritative confirmation.

I have visited Kataragama and met Pal Kudi Bawa on several occasions. He was undoubtedly a Muslim hermit and people said that he lived only on cow's milk -- hence the sobriquet ‘Pāl Kudi' meaning ‘milk drinking'.

Muslims who visited Kataragama paid their respects to the Bawa who was apparently in charge of the thakiya (mosque) and shrine. There were a number of rooms where pilgrims could stay overnight or a few days if they so desired.

The Bawa was very strict that no one should take any meat or animal food into the sacred precincts. Pilgrims from the Buddhist and Hindu sections often visited the Muslim section and Muslims freely walked through the Buddhist and Hindu sections and sometimes partook of the food at the Ramakrishna Hall where rice and vegetable curries were cooked and distributed free. There was perfect respect for one another's religion.

Some pilgrims were in a religious frenzy and undergoing tortures which have only to be seen to be believed.

There are ‘kavadi' carriers dancing with fish­hooks hooked on to the back of their bare body and another holding on to the strings attached to the hooks; there are men lying on beds of sharp ends of nails also bare-bodied; there are pilgrims going from place to place rolling along the ground, etc.

I believe that fire-walking was originally introduced by the Malays from Slave Island for I remember as school boys; we used to go to Slave Island during the month of Muharram to watch fire-walking ceremonies. There used to be many such fire pits those days but now they have disappeared.

There were and still are many bawas in Sri Lanka. They are all Muslims, without an exception. There are also Muslim darwishes. They are different from the ‘Whirling Darwishes' of Konia in Asiatic Turkey. They are followers of the Persian mystic Jalaluddin Rumi. This sect is now banned in Turkey.

Another famous Bawa is Guru Bawa who recently passed away in Philadelphia in the USA. He had a large number of American followers including some distinguished pupils from Śrī Lanka.

When in Śrī Lanka he lived with Mr. Fuard Uthman who had a palatial house in an estate near Ragama, called ‘Khalvete Shān'. Fuard Uthman called himself a ‘sufi' and used to compose poems on the Sufi cult.

He (the Bawa) was said to live without food except tea and cigarettes! I visited him along with Prof. Imam and some others to watch him and see whether he ate anything but unfortunately some of us fell asleep from time to time. He was certainly a great preacher and a pantheist.

Then there was Thalayan Bawa. He had a printing press in Pettah. Some of my election supporters took me to him in 1942. He questioned me about the electorate. I told him that two-thirds were Buddhists and the other one third consisted of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Catholics, agnostics, etc.

He gave me some fruits and told me that I would win. His remains were buried in one at Marboom Abdul Ghaffor's estate in Ratmalana and Muslims used to visit the tomb on certain days.

A few years back the famous Ketal Bawa passed away. He was so named because he always carried a kettle of water whenever he went. He was everybody's friend.

Mr. Nissanka Wijeratne when he was Minister of Education often visited him and had a high regard for him. Ketal Bawa became seriously ill with a strangulated hernia.

The surgeon whom we consulted wanted to perform an operation immediately but Ketal Bawa refused. He asked the surgeon what would happen if he didn't operate.

He answered: "You will die". He answered: "God wants me to come to the next world; You want me to stay in this world; whom should I obey?" He soon passed away.

I am stating all this to confirm, that Bawas are Muslims. If Pal Kudi Bawa was a Hindu he would have been called Pal Kudi Swamy or Sannyasi as Mr. Nizam Careem points out.

When Pal Kudi Bawa died, the Muslims of Hambantota applied to the district court to appoint some of them as trustees of the mosque and the hermitage.

Mr. Thawoos, a business man from Grand Pass, made representation that he had been appointed a trustee by the Bawa before he died.

Mr. Thawoos produced a letter from the Bawa in which he has requested Mr. Thawoos to took after the mosque and the hermitage after his death. The Muslims of Hambantota could produce no such document.

Mr. Thawoos was appointed as the Trustee and the till which contained a large sum of money and ornaments deposited by pilgrims were handed over to Mr. Thawoos and with his two sons looked after the place well and renovated it.

At that time the ethnic problems were at their height and some non-Muslim chauvinists, claiming the place was sacred only to the Hindus and the Buddhists, forcibly sent the Muslims out, asking them to build their mosque outside the sacred area. Muslims protested and made representations but were of no avail.

It was after Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa became President that Kataragama under the Village Re­awakening Movement was rebuilt on a magnificent scale and the Muslim place of worship and hermitage restored to them as in the days of old. On a recent visit I found perfect harmony among the three religious groups.

It is my earnest hope that the venerable Swami will give up his idea of calling Pal Kudi Bawa a Hindu.

May peace and harmony prevail.

Traditions of Islamic Kataragama
 Islamic Kataragama: The Timeless Shrine
Interview with M.H.A. Gaffar, Trustee of Kataragama Mosque & Shrine
The Story of al-Khadir and Zul-Qarnain
"Kataragama is for all people"
Coming of Mystery Imam al-Mahdi
Kataragama the 'Home of al-Khidr'
Al-Khadir, Alexander and the Fountain of Life
Al-Faqr or `Spiritual Poverty'
"Kataragama - The land of Khidr"
"Flag-Hoisting Ceremony at the Mosque"
"Muslim Pal Kudi Bawa of Kataragama" web site Abul `Abbas, Hazrat al-Khidr web site Dafther Jailany associated with Sheikh Muhiyadeen Abdul Qadir Jilani