Skanda-Murukan cult in Eastern Sri Lanka: Continuity and Change

- N. Shanmugalingam

Eastern Sri Lanka is a region wherein various ethnic groups, including the tribal Veddas, have long been living together. Tamil speaking Hindus are the majority group in Batticaloa; their social formation is based on a rigid kuti (matrilineal clan) system. This region is popular for Kannakai (Pattini) mother goddess worship and also for Skanda-Murukan worship. Skanda-Murukan is known as Vēlāyutacāmi, Kumaratan, Kumāratambirān and lately Muruka Katavul in this region. The cult practice of this region varies from ancient patterns to modern types. Although Batticaloa district in Eastern Sri Lanka is rich in such ritual traditions, few studies have been carried out in this regard. This study analyses these Skanda-Murukan traditions in a socio-anthropological perspective.

The data obtained from fieldwork in ancient worshipping centres, new temples and modern cultic groups are the primary sources of this study. The traditional temples of Mantūr, Tirukkōvil, Ukantai, TantāMalai and Cittānti have been selected together with a few modern temples for in-depth study.

The symbols and patterns of worship, location of temples, temple structure, temple administration, and class structure of the devotees were examined. In addition the historical development of the temples was also examined. Participant and non-participant observations have been made during the annual festival times. Interviews were carried out with devotees using judgment sampling technique. Temple authorities were also interviewed in detail. People were very cooperative. Temple authorities gave the information as a matter of pride and prestige. In addition, systematic observations have been made of a newly emerging cult group of Muruka Katavul headed by a new cittar, TantāMalai Cāmi.

Skanda-Murukan Temples of the Eastern Region, Sri Lanka

Case Study One -- Mantūr Murukan Temple

The Mantūr Murukan temple is situated along the Batticaloa lagoon, about 20 miles south of the Batticaloa town. The temple is popularly known as Tillai Mantūr or Cinna Katirkāmam ('Little Katirkamam'). The temple is shrouded in myths; most of these centre around the Veddas, some of which are described below.

Myth I
God Skanda after successfully defeating the Asuras was returning East, when he encountered the Vākūra Hills. The God in his anger split the hill into two with his Vēl. Three bright rays emanated from this, each one of the range traveled in different directions. One of these reached Mantūr and sheltered within the tillai trees, which came to be patronized by the Veddas.

Myth II
During the Chola period, Queen Cīrpātatēvi left for the northern kingdom (Cinka Nakar), but before leaving handed over her golden vēl to Cīrpata family members, she requested them to cherish it. To this day, members of this group are given prominence at all temple functions.

Myth III
The origin of the temple is centered around the Veddas, who for their protection and safety used their weapons the bow and arrow as symbols of worship.

Myth IV
Another myth relates to the might of God Skanda-Murukan. A detachment of Portuguese soldiers after the conquest of the East advanced toward the temple to loot it, but they were attacked by wasps. The frightened soldiers fled for their lives, leaving behind their weapons, including muskets and swords. The latter are still kept in the sanctum sanctorum as reminders of the might of the God residing at Mantūr.

Temple Structure
A permanent temple was put up in 1215-1248 by King Nāka. The structure of the temple is a replica of that in Katirkāmam. In the outer courtyard there are two lesser temples. One of these is for Teyvayānai Amman and the other for Valli Amman. In the inner courtyard there are two shrine rooms: one for Pillaiyār and the other for Nākatampiran. There is a worshipping platform for Kumāra Tampiran. In addition there are nine stone pitās, one representing Valli's brother and the other eight the Attatikku Pālakar, meaning those in charge of the protecting the eight directions.

Worship Patterns
Patterns of worship at Mantūr are ancient and virtually identical to those in Katirkāmam. The officiating priest is called Kappukanār, equivalent of Kappurāla of Katirkāmam. The priest is chosen from the Cīrpata kulam (clan). The Veddas are also given equal importance; for instance, the Ārāti Pen or woman performing the lamp rituals is chosen from the Vedda group.

The devotees offer as in other temples cooked food, fruits etc. Some of them prepare milk rice and sweet meats in the outer courtyard. At present soldiers as well as local villagers offer live poultry to the deity requesting His protection.

Annual Festival
The annual temple festival of 20 days starts with the hoisting of the flag (kotiyērrum) and ends with the water cutting ceremony or tīrttam, which falls on a full moon day in the month of August. A sacred box, reputed to contain the deity is taken in procession in a covered vākanam. On its way it is brought to the Valli shrine for a while before returning to the main temple. On the last day, following the water cutting ceremony, Murukan rests in Valli's shrine for the rest of the day.

During the procession, Arāti Penkal and the Vedda representatives (pretend to) faint, and they recover only after being carried to the Valli shrine before the lowering of the flag on the last day when the Vannimai (Vannakkar) is informed by the chief priest that the festival has been conducted successfully. With the lowering of the flag, the festival is declared over. The day ends with the management taken in procession to a feast prepared by the Vannakkar, Vellālar, Kannakka Pillai and the Tēsa Vannimai (authorities of the surrounding villages).

The ritual importance and prestige given to the administrators like Vannakar and others tends to reinforce the continuity of the administrative structure. In addition the present day socio-political problems have helped to maintain this administrative structure. To a question concerning changes in administration or temple structure, one of the local authorities said, "We should preserve our traditions not only for our prestige, but also for our regional identity." On the third day after the water cutting ceremony, the Veddas celebrate by cooking what is called a pēraviyal consisting of milk rice, sweetmeats and venison and offer the same to Kumāra Tampiran in earthen pots.

Kanta Casti is another important festival celebrated for six days in the month of October-November. On the last day, the divine marriage of Murukan to Teyvayānai is celebrated, with the devotees divided into two groups, one representing the bride's party and the other the bridegroom's party, and exchange cirvarisai, just as in a village wedding. At the end of the fasting, devotees cook milk rice and offer it to the kannikai (virgin bride).

Case Study Two -- Ukantai Malai Murukan Temple

Ukantai temple is at the foot of the Ukantai Malai, a remote rock-hill on the coast at the intersection of the Eastern and Southern Provinces. Here the Murukan temple is at the foot of the hill, while his sweetheart Valli occupies the peak. This is another place where King Rāvana is said to have rested and worshipped on his way to Kōnēcvaram in Trincomalee. The theme of taking rest is reflected in the name Ukantai, for it is said that here Lord Murukan and others 'sat down' (utkantār) and rested.

According to another myth, the third ray from Vākura Hill reached here and came to rest on this hilltop, making it a favorite site for Murukan worship. There is yet a third myth according to which, Valli and Murukan arrived in separate stone boats (which still rest on the beach) to reside on top of the Ukantai Malai. The temple is located along the eastern shores of the country, along which the pilgrims walk to Katirkāmam. In places like Pānama and Kumana, which are close to Ukantai, Tamils and Sinhalese lived in harmony even down to the present day.

Temple Structure
Valli Malai gets its name after the Valli Amman temple on this hillock. An image of Pillayār and a Vēl are also found in this temple. The temple for Murukan is small and is only about three feet high. In front of this temple instead of Murukan's vākanam the Mayil or peacock there is the rat or shrew, the vākanam for Pillayār. Close to these temples is a platform under the tree with a fixed vēl, and this may have been the original focus of worship.

In front of Valli Amman temple on top of the Valli Malai rock hillock are eight natural waterholes in the rock. One of these is referred to as Caravana Poikai; all are said to have been sunk during the Vanniyar rule. The entire hillock is said to have 32 natural waterholes, from which pilgrims traditionally draw tīrtham water and pour it over themselves to obtain the blessings of goddess Valli who is believed to bath in the same pools, not only in ancient times but to this very day.

Worship Patterns
Regular pūjas are conducted year round by the lone resident pūcari and annual festivals are held for fifteen days; the last day falls on the new moon in July. The worship pattern is of folk tradition;t on the first day of the festival the flag is hoisted, but there is no Kotitambam.

During the procession, the Vēl is carried in a tray dressed in silk, and hence referred to as Pattu Cāmi. At the end of the water-cutting ceremony, the procession goes to Valli Nācciyar shrine. Here milk rice is cooked by a few selected people and offered to the gods. Ascetics are said to reside in the hillocks scattered along the seashore. A prominent samādhi or final resting place is said to be the resting place of one of the famous ascetics who lived here.

Case Study Three -- Tirukkōvil

Tirukkōvil Citira Velāyuta Cuvāmi Kōvil is situated on the Eastern coast about fifty miles south of Batticaloa. It has a very ancient past and is categorised as the first Tiruppatai Kōvil. The temple is located very close to the sea, where a port may have once existed, which was referred to as Kantapānan Turai. Tirukkōvil on the eastern coast is an important resting point for foot pilgrims on their way to Katirkāmam for the annual festival.

According to one myth, King Rāvana is said to have worshipped here on his way to Kōneswaram in Trincomalee and it was he who originally erected a Civan temple at this site. The Veddas venerated this place as the site where one of the rays which emanated at Vākura hill sheltered. Later the Murukan temple was constructed at this site. History relates the origin of the temple to Cholan and Pandyan rulers.

Temple Structure
The sanctum sanctorum faces eastwards to the sea and has an unusually large vimānam (dome over the sanctum). The temple architecture is typically Pandyan. In the inner courtyard are two shrine rooms for Pillayār and Nākatambiran.

Tamil inscriptions discovered in the temple vicinity refer to a vast extent of paddy land donated to the temple by those who ruled the region in times past. Inscriptions of the Māhōn period refer to the manner in which the temple should be managed. Each kuti is given a special task to perform; this contributes to the cooperation of all those concerned for an effective administration.

Worship patterns
Regular pūjas are held according to Āgamic traditions. The annual festival is celebrated for ten days, with the water-cutting ceremony (Tamil: tīrttam) on the new moon day in July-August. The story relating to Tankammai the Ārati Pen is very popular and is often quoted to show the might of the God. A pious Ārati Pen was very old and one evening she failed to come in time for the evening pūja. The vannakar became angry and gave the Ārati Pen post to another lady.

The old lady was very hurt and stood in front of the sanctum sanctorum for hours asking for redress. Murukan, moved by her devotion, transformed her into a young girl. The management, deeply moved by her piety, reinstated her as the Ārati Pen. Even now, devotees come to this temple when they are in difficulties, particularly due to military operations in the area. They feel that it is only God who can give protection.

Case Study Four -- Cittānti Murukan Temple

Cittānti Murukan Temple is one of the newly added Tiruppatai Kōvil in the Eastern region which, like any other temple in the Eastern Province, was initially patronised by the Veddas. However according to another myth, the temple is said to be founded by an ānti (itinerant ascetic) and the temple Cittānti takes its name after one memorable ānti who was recognized to be a cittar (Skt: siddha), hence the place came to be called cittar-ānti.

Temple Structure
The temple has a prominent kōpuram, while on either side of the main temple are two shrine rooms for Valli and Teyvayānai, consorts of Murukan. There is also a temple for Kumaratan in the outer courtyard. In the sanctum sanctorum, Vēl is the object of worship.

Worship Pattern
Worship at Cittānti Murukan Temple is a blend of agamic and traditional worship patterns. The annual festival lasts for fifteen days. From the fourth day onwards, special pujas are conducted in the Valli shrine and the deities are taken in procession around the inner and outer courtyards. It is worth noting that the curtain in front of Teyvayānai remains drawn and all pūja is performed in front of the curtain.

Mayil Kattu Tiruvilā is a special event, where there is cultural approval by parents and relatives for love marriages. In the evening of the water-cutting ceremony, some of the devotees holding ālavatam visit the house of the Vannakar and return with Srīvarisai, an intimation of Valli's marriage to Murukan. Kumaratan Catanku is celebrated for six days following the main festival, when there is heavy festivity and fortune-telling or kattu collal. Another important event, is the Putir Kāvi Kotutal, when every farmer carries in procession a portion of the harvest as offering to the deity.

This temple is rich in its large extent of paddy lands offered to the temple by past kings and rich landlords. Today's youth however are dissatisfied with the administration. Recently during the annual festival there was a clash between a lower rank caste group (barber) and the administration. The affected group, unable to do anything, ran away when the youths threw stones at the procession and the devotees are very unhappy about it. (Pūmiputiran, 1998).

Case Study Five -- Tantāmalai Murukan Temple

Tantāmalai Murukan Temple situated in the south of the Eastern Province is about ten miles from Kokkatticōlai Tāntōnricivaran Temple, with which it has administrative links. At the top of the hill is a Pillayār temple, which is the oldest temple in this region, while the Murukan temple is at the bottom of the hill. The Valli Amman temple lies opposite the Murukan temple, and a Krishnan temple lies further away. There is also a shrine for Muttulinkacuvāmi. It is interested to note here that the temple for Teyvayānai Amman is a recent introduction and was constructed only in the 1980s.

Initially Civan atiyārkal, devotees of the Lord Siva, performed the religious rites, but is now in the hands of the priests from Kokkatticōlai. Vannakumar manages the administration, but under direction from Kokkatticōlai. The annual festival is celebrated for twelve days, and each festival is given in charge of a village. During the festival, images of Pillaiyār, Murukan and Civan are taken in procession initially around the outer courtyard of the main temple, subsequently to Pillaiyar temple where special pujas are held. It is only after this that the procession returns to the main temple.

The temple gained importance only from 1956 when devotees had difficulties in traveling to Katirkāmam after the ethnic violence. Later, the presence of Mutiyan Cāmi in the vicinity of the temple attracted more devotees. This swami is the founder of the new cult group devoted to Muruka Katavul.

Tantāmalai Cuvāmi - Mutiya Munivar
Mutiya Munivar, known as Tīrta Cuvāmi, hails from a very poor family, Pogovantalāva, in a part of the hill country of Sri Lanka. He lost his father while young and from that time onwards the family responsibilities fell on his young shoulders. It is reported that about this time, two Europeans appeared before him and requested him to do service to people and that they would look after the family needs. Although he had a desire for this, he did not want to run away from family responsibilities. Nevertheless, he agreed that he would relinquish his worldly life by the age of 45. After this incident he became a prosperous estate owner. Here we see a labourer becoming a mudalāli.

At the age of 45, a figure appeared again and called him to do service. From that day onwards he meditated at Tantāmalai and prepared to become an ascetic. It is said that he meditated for twelve years standing on one leg. Since commencing meditation on 10 October 1987, he has not bathed, nor has he cut or combed his hair, so much so it is now knotted and is about 7.5 feet long nor has he taken any solid food. He lives entirely on liquid food, and that too only a very small amount is consumed daily. In spite of this, there is no fowl smell coming from his body. In fact, one feels the presence of a sweet fragrance when in company with the munivar.

When any cult member falls sick, devotees gather in the house of the sick to pray for a speedy recovery. The Munivar even arranges wedlock amongst members of his cult. The wedding ceremony is simple, where bridegroom ties a thread with a piece of saffron fixed as the tāli. At the end of this, he gives a small discourse about married life to the new couple. The practices and preachings of the Munivar have a political touch. In fact it is told that the Munivar once stated that he would change his clothes only when there is peace in land once again. One of his poems reflect his feelings as follows:

"Problems discuss here then and there;
Solution found by give and take.
If talk is delayed difficulties will stay
And people on the roads shed tears out of fear."

About the same time, he also remarked, that at the international level there will be catastrophes and only good people will survive. In order to come out of all these troubles, people should pray to Muruka Katavul according to the manner prescribed by him. He also said that the God is not a man, and he should be addressed as Muruka Katavul.

Prescribed times of prayer
Early morning 05.00 AM Late afternoon 04.30 PM
Late morning 10.30 AM Evening 06.30 PM
Noon 12.30 PM Night 08.30 PM

On Thursdays a follower must get up from his bed at midnight and pray. The period of prayer must last at least for half an hour. Males should wear cheap clean clothes, including white vetti and white shirt. Female devotees should wear cheap clean white sari and white blouse. Female children under 12 years should wear long clean white skirt, white blouse and a white shawl. The prayer should be in groups and the members should knee down on a white cloth spread out on the floor, with hands outstretched. A pot of water must be kept close to this to be used as tartam.

Tīrta Cuvāmi's prescribed prayers are in the form of requests:

  1. "Muruka Katavul, we the Saivites must shed away all our differences and live like the children of one mother. We should have the freedom to spread throughout the world, and live independently wherever we are please show us the path to achieve this, oh Muruka Katavulē!
  2. Oh Muruka Katavulē! Please grant me, my family, my devotees, a good education and the ability to achieve a successful life.
  3. Muruka Katavul, protect me, my family and the true innocent devotees from fearful animals ghosts, hūniyum (black magic), gun shots, firearms, fire and water. Please protect us, our Muruka Katavulē! (Muthiah Munivar, 1998)
His followers also adhere to these injunctions:
  1. Do not waste your life by going to soothsayers.
  2. Those who work for you must be paid according to the work done.
  3. You should help the poor.
  4. Do not loan money on interest.
  5. One-quarter of your earnings should be given to the needy. There should be an equal distribution of wealth.

This cult originated in the isolated area of Tantāmalai and spread to certain pockets in Batticaloa town and nearby villages. Since his criticism of idol worship temple worship, wearing of holy ash etc. was unacceptable to rural people, his cult could not get rooted in those areas.

Case Study Six -- Kallady Tiruccentūr Murukan

Kallady Tiruccentūr Murukan is one of the very recent temples also located along the seashore. In the past, devotees from Batticaloa used to travel to Tiruccentūr to observe the Kanta Casti fast. However, at present with restrictions on travel devotees find it difficult to travel to India and were forced to patronize a temple closer home. The temple had a humble beginning. A stone was placed under a palmyrah palm, which symbolized Skanda-Murukan. In 1966, an image of the deity was presented by Sudhānanda Bhāratiyar which was initially housed in a small shrine room. At present there is a stone image in the sanctum sanctorum carved by Indian architects who were specially brought for this from India. The original founder of the temple is the officiating priest, popularly known as Cuvāmi Omkārānatha Sarasvati. His early training was in the modern Sivānanda school.

Worship Pattern
Two unique features may be identified in the worship pattern, namely,

  1. Pūja is conducted in Tamil by reciting verses from Tiruppukal, Kantaralankāram and Kantaranupūti.
  2. The devotees are allowed to offer flowers directly to the God in the sanctum sanctorum. This is a practice prevalent in the Kāli Amman temple, Punnaichōlai, Batticaloa, since a very long time.

The temple is managed by retired government servants. Another important feature is the fact that social needs of the people have been considered, and devotees are told that they should show no distinction between caste, class, religion or sex and that all are equal in front of God.

Case Study Seven -- Ūrani Kumaratan Temple

There is an old temple for Kumaratan at Ūrani, a village not far from Batticaloa town. This was a forest area at once upon a time and the temple is said to have been patronized by Veddas. It is now developed as a colony and the people who settled down have discovered a stone in the form of a Vēl. The people constructed a small temple in 1959 to house this Vēl like stone.

In 1960 the temple was Sanskritized and an image of Murukan was installed in the sanctum sanctorum. The original stone Vēl is placed where normally the pali pītam is housed. Daily pūja is conducted, and an annual festival is celebrated for five days in September. Even today, Veddas from the nearby village of Kalluvankan visit this temple site and conduct their rites including kattucollal and veriyātal-like ritual dances. Only after these rites are completed does the priest arrives to conduct the Āgamic rites. The devotees are from the neighboring areas and when questioned about the god of the temple, they remarked that the Veddas refer to him as Kumaratan, but we call him Murukan.

Analysis and Conclusion

  1. Tribal Vedda association:
    The data collected from the various case studies of the Skanda-Murukan temples in Eastern Sri Lanka suggests the importance given to Veddas at all Murukan temples for:
    1. The role given to the Veddas in all festival processions, particularly in the more ancient temples. Mantūr Murukan temple is an example for this. As Patrick Harrigan (1993) observes, the Veddas have even the right to ambush a procession, and that they permit the procession to continue only when due tribute is paid to them.
    2. The officiating priests in the older temples are the Kappuvanārs from the Vedda caste who are the equivalent of the Kappurāla of Katirkāmam.
    3. Valli Amman of the Vedda caste is given prominence by housing her in a separate shrine in the outer courtyard. She is also given special recognition during festivals. On the other hand, Teyvayānai Amman, first consort of Murukan had no place in many Murukan temples until recently.
    4. The Ārati Penkal who wave the oil lamp during festivals are also of Vedda descent. Here they are appointed as girls who are yet to become of age, but in Katirkāmam only adult women beyond child-bearing age are selected for this purpose.
    5. Importance is given to Kumaratan, the god of the Veddas, who is housed in a separate shrine. During the festival for this god, kattucolal (fortune-telling), veriyātal (ecstatic ritual dance) and offering of venison have a close resemblance to that cited in Cankam literature as Virhiananthan (1950) notes, which is a typical form of Dravidian worship.
  2. Totemic Symbol of worship
    Most of the Murukan temples in the Eastern Province have no image of Skanda-Murukan in the sanctum sanctorum. At Mantūr, for example there is only a sacred casket which is taken in the festival possession. This is identical to the practice at Katirkāmam. There is of course speculation that the Vēl, the emblem of Murukan, is contained in the casket. Even in the other temples only the Vēl is kept in the sanctum sanctorum. Especially at the Ūrani Kumaratan Temple only a vēl-like stone represents Murukan. The report by Ārumugam (1980) in relation to the worship of Ve#l is worth referring to. According to him, the Veddas living the wild always had a fear for their lives from wild animals. They therefore used the arrow and the lance as symbols of worship when requesting protection from wild animals. This is a living example of Durkheim's (1926) totemic worship. As Santhanā (1995) says, this is also somewhat similar to the Kantali worship referred in early Tamil literature.
  3. Traditional Administrative Structure
    The administrative structure is designed to accommodate the kutI system. The people in change of administration, the Vannakar, the Kaputākaran (one in change of stones) and the Kannakkālar (those who keep accounts) are all expected to follow a very rigid system of administration. Even the caste-based ritual roles are all very rigidly defined and followed. This rigid administrative system only helps to reinforce the continuity of traditional patterns of worship.
  4. Changes within tradition
    Traditions are being maintained, yet within this one can witness marked changes:
    1. The process of Sanskritization is evident in some of these temples. Tirukkōvil is a good example of this, which came under the influence of both Chōla and Pāndyan rule.
    2. In spite of the process of Sanskritization, the temples still continue to maintain folk traditions as well. For instance, at Cittānti along with agamic worship the age old social role of Mayil Kattu Tiruvilā is cherished and practiced with the same significance as before.
    3. Sanskritization of the temples had led to the introduction of new practices, such as the hoisting of the flag on the first day of annual festivals, but there is no kotistambham to tie the flag; rather a fresh branch of a tree is used for this purpose. Even the water-cutting ceremony is also observed according to folk traditions.
    4. In some of these temples there is a separation of the ancient Vedda rituals from the main festival, e.g. at Mantūr the Vedda Pūja for Kumaratan is observed on the third day after the main festival. Likewise Kumaratan festival at Cittānti is celebrated for six days following the main festival.
  5. New cultic Groups
    The development of a new cultic group by Mutiah Munivar within the Skanda-Murukan tradition is a new innovation. Mutiah Munivar appears to have aimed to gather the best from all religions practiced in the eastern region including Islam, Christianity and other cultic groups like Sāi Guru Maharaja to counterbalance and attract devotees. This cult spread rapidly in certain pockets of Batticaloa, but now some of them are leaving from this group because the Munivar condemned temple worship, wearing of holy ash etc. Hence his cult is now confined to Tantāmalai where it was initially started and in a few other pockets in the Batticaloa town area.
  6. Modern innovations
    The tradition at Kaladddy Murukan temple is unique to Skanda worship. Here pūjas are conducted in Tamil and direct participation by devotees when they are permitted to offer flowers directly to the deity in the sanctum sanctorum.
  7. Youth Agitation Recently there was an agitation by youth against the caste-based administration structure of these temples. The incident at Sittānti during the annual festival one year is an example of this.

Sociological factors behind continuity and change within continuity

  1. Geographical isolation:
    Many temples are located in hilly areas or in isolated villages or in forest areas, such that these temples have limited contact with the outside world. As a result changes taking place in the other parts of the country hardly reach these areas or the temples. Mantūr, Tantāmalai and Ukantai are good examples of this isolation. Therefore at these temples old traditions are preserved to this day.
  2. Unchanging social structure of the kuti-based (vannakar) administration:
    1. Those who hold positions in the temple administration enjoy all the privileges associated with the Kuti based administrative system. They have however given importance to Vedda traditions as well, and this has contributed to the maintenance of old traditions. Furthermore, the Veddas have become assimilated with the population at large and now identify themselves as Vedda Vellālar. This has helped to stabilize and maintain their Vedda identity.
    2. In the ancient days importance was given to kings and rulers at all temple functions. Now in the absence of kings, the place of importance is given to administrative heads. This has helped to maintain the link between temples and civil administration.
  3. Socio-political need.
    The Eastern region at present is a war torn area. Helpless villagers caught up in the conflict have no alternative but to look to the gods for help. Under circumstances of conflict its natural for people to look up to a warrior god and Skanda-Murukan fulfilled this need. It is interesting to note that the security forces also come to Mantūr temple, offering fowls, requesting that their lives be spared in return. Even the new cultic group of Mutiah Munivar pray to the God asking for protection of the people and their surroundings from all forms of danger.
  4. Religiosity and innocence of the devotees.
    The religious beliefs and practices change slowly as devotees are quite content with the existing practices. The people are poor, and hence their strong religiosity.
  5. The impact of folk traditions.
    Folk traditions still predominate in the Eastern Province. Even the rights to conduct pūja in Tamil and to offer flowers directly to the deity by devotees have been permitted only within the existing tradition at Kāli temple, punaicolai that have been introduced into Malady Murukan temple. The non-availability of a personality like Ārumuga Nāvalar in the Eastern region may be one of the causes for non-Sanskritization of the temples. But on the other hand it is noteworthy that the Ārumuga Nāvalar (1954) himself failed in relation to his objection to the installation of the spear in the sanctum sanctorum at Nallūr Murukan Temple in Northern Sri Lanka.
  6. Regional identity.
    The ritual traditions of the Eastern region are somewhat related to regional identity. With the rise of Tamil nationalistic movements, the interest to preserve these traditions have increased. The field data obtained from vannakar offers evidence of this.
  7. Katirkāmam nexus and the Valli-Vedda link:
    A common nexus of patterns of worship extends from Katirkāmam in the South to the East of Sri Lanka and this is maintained via the annual Karai Yātirai (coastal foot pilgrimage from the North and East southwards) which devotees undertake year after year during the annual festival. The foot journey follows the seacoast stopping at major and minor Murukan temples along the way.

The existing totemic elements such as the sacred casket and the stone vēl in these temples indicate a link between these temples. The ritual importance given to Valli in the Eastern region contributes to the uniqueness of the Skanda-Murukan cult in the East having similarities to that in Katirkāmam. Even in difficult times, as Harrigan (1997) says, karai yātirai is continuing as a living tradition from Batticaloa.

It may be observed that the field data of the current study tends to reiterate the proto-megalithic origin of Murukan. Kailasapathy (1968) refer to the cult and worship of Murukan as very ancient and indigenous to the Tamil country. He further stated that at the later stage it survived as a cult in mountainous areas, just as Druidism did in Roman Britain. In spite of the wave of Sanskritization, similarly the totemic symbols and ritual traditions of the ancient Muruka worship survive in the Eastern region of Sri Lanka. Importance given to Valli reflects the Dravidian element in the cult of Skanda Murukan in this region.

It is further observed that the urban areas are more accommodating towards innovation and change. But in isolated villages innovations face stiff opposition. It is interesting to note that the ancient worshipping centres like Ukantai Malai have paved the way for a juxtaposition of ancient and modern modes of rituals and worshipping patterns. Here the isolated forest environment is condusive to this new blend of ancient and modern practies.


  1. Ārumugam, S. Ancient Hindu Temples in Sri Lanka (2nd edition) Colombo, 1982.
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See also this related article by the same author:
"Continuity and Change: The Kataragama Cult in Sri Lanka"
Related research articles about Skanda-Murukan

See also:
Sacred sites of Lanka map
Directory of Murugan Bhakti ashrams