Shrouded in myth and history, Kataragama is a pilgrim town, adjoining the Yala National Park, that has a prominent temple – the Kataragama Devalaya – dedicated to the Kataragama Deviyo (deity). The town is a significant place for Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic religious groups in the country, as well as for the indigenous Veddah communities. What makes this town an embodiment of the multi- cultural ethos of the island is that each religious group converges on it to perform their unique rituals.
The Kataragama Deviyo is revered as a guardian of the Buddha sasana in Sri Lanka and also as a powerful deity that can grant the requests of worshippers. As such, thousands of believers come to the temple to make requests for financial prosperity, health and happiness. Furthermore, the Manik Ganga (River of Gems), that flows through Kataragama, is considered to be a place of ablution where a sacred bath can purify and heal ailments.
An annual ‘Padayatra’ (foot pilgrimage) commences from the northern city of Jaffna and travels south, through vast areas of the country’s luscious landscape, including the Yala and the Kumana National Parks, till it finally concludes at the Kataragama Temple. The whole pilgrimage takes approximately two months.
The Buddhist Kiri Vehera Dagoba, stands in close proximity to the Kataragama Devalaya and is believed to have been built by a provincial King, Mahasena, during the 6 th century BC. The site of the Kiri Vehara is thought to be where Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka for the last time, and met King Mahasena.
In addition to being a sacred site for many religious groups in the country, the town has also become the centre for colourful pageantry and festivities, as portrayed in the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya Esala Perahera (procession) that occurs every July/August of the year.
As it is situated right next to the popular Yala National Park, Kataragama is the ideal base camp to experience nature, religion and culture in Sri Lanka.