Home of Skanda and Valli
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Despite being heavy on Buddhist history since it is one of the 16 places Buddha visited during his three visits to Sri Lanka, Kataragama perhaps is the most popular sacred religious place in the country and is venerated by the devotees of all faiths. Links to the Hindu deity Skanda and to the legends of Sri Lankan indigenous people, Veddahs make Kataragama a multi-cultural and multi-religious place that is not limited to a certain belief or faith.
Only about 4 kilometres away from the ever-popular Kataragama sacred site, lies another popular multi-religious site of veneration named Sella Kataragama. Although somewhat shadowed by the popularity of Kataragama, Sella Kataragama still is a popular among devotees for its rich history entwined with the legend of Skanda and the scenic beauty as it is located by the banks of the Menik River.
According to legends, the deity Skanda (also known as Murugan, Arumugam, Kandasami, Skanda Swami, Subrahmanya, and so on) came to the Southern part of Sri Lanka from India after a row with his wife Thevani. He made Vedihiti Kanda his abode and one day he saw a beautiful indigenous girl named Valli walking in the woods. Mesmerised by the beauty of Valli, Skanda longed to win her love and asked help from his brother Ganesh. The plan was for Ganesh to take a form of a wild elephant and startle Valli when Skanda appeared as the hero to chase the elephant away, saving the day and winning the heart of Valli. Before turning into a wild elephant, Ganesh gave Skanda a pot of enchanted water that has the power to turn Ganesh back into his human form. Ganesh asked Skanda to pour the enchanted water on him after the whole plan was successfully executed.
When Valli was strolling in the woods Skanda ‘casually’ encountered Valli but in an unexpected turn of events, Valli started to choke on some food she had consumed. In his eagerness to help Valli Skanda momentarily forgot the pot of enchanted water and dropped it. At the same time Ganesh appeared as a wild elephant and Skanda somehow managed to scare the elephant away and save Valli, winning her heart. When it was time to transform Ganesh back to his original form only did Skanda realise that he had dropped almost all of the water in the pot. The remaining water was enough only to half-transform Ganesh, thus giving God Ganesh the iconic elephant-headed appearance. According to the legends the newly-wedded Skanda and Valli made Sella Kataragama their home.
Presently, Sella Kataragama has been developed into a multi-cultural religious site of veneration with a plethora of kovils and devalas including a Ganapathi Kovil, a Shiva Kovil, a Kataragama Kovil, a Valliamma Kovil, a Lakshmi Kovil, a Saman Devalaya, and a temple dedicated to King Mahasen called Mahasen Viharaya. Apart from the religious importance of the site, Sella Kataragama is lined with stalls selling sweetmeats, toys, religious statues, and other memorabilia. Those who visit Kataragama make it a point to add Sella Kataragama onto their travel itinerary as well, especially, newly-married couples make it a point to visit Sella Kataragama to be blessed by the deity Valli.
(Pix by Amitha Thennakoon)