Hindus make up 12.6 percent of the population of Sri Lanka. The religion of the majority of people in India and Nepal, Hinduism is referred to as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal faith. Hinduism is not strictly a religion. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. Since Hinduism has no founder, technically anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: Historically Hindu practices have exercised a profound impact on the religious culture of Sri Lanka, even within the specific context of popular forms of Sinhala Buddhist ritual practice. Indeed, from the fourteenth century c.e., images of deities of Hindu origins (especially Vishnu) have been worshiped alongside the image of the Buddha within Buddhist halls of worship. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, Thomson Gale, 2006]

More-over, the fact that the goddess Pattini and the gods Vishnu, Kataragama, and Natha (originally Avalokitesvara) are regarded as the highest and national guardian deities of the Sinhala pantheon indicates how Sinhala Buddhist religious culture has incorporated and transformed the major trajectories of religion (Sakta, Vaishnava, Saivite, and Mahayana Buddhist) prevalent in the history of south Indian religious culture. Increasingly the liturgical rites constitutive of worshiping these "Buddhist" deities in Sri Lanka reflect the influence of temple-based bhakti (devotional) Hindu practice. Hindu holy men, such as Sai Baba, also attract a considerable following among Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

“At the same time, Hindu ritual and devotional practices within the Sri Lankan Tamil cultural context do not show many signs of assimilation from the Sinhala side. Religious practices among Sri Lankan Tamils do not seem to vary in many significant ways from the forms of Hindu practice found in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. And it does not seem to be the case that militant forms of Hindu nationalism that arose in the 1980s and 1990s in India have exercised great influence upon the Tamil cause to establish an independent state of Eelam in Sri Lanka's north and east.

See See Separate Article on HINDUISM IN SRI LANKA


Whereas Buddhism claims a historical founder, a basic doctrine, and a formal monastic structure, Hinduism embraces a vast and varied body of religious belief, practice, and organization. In its widest sense, Hinduism encompasses all the religious and cultural systems originating in South Asia, and many Hindus actually accept the Buddha as an important sectarian teacher or as a rebel against or reformer of ancient Hindu culture. The medieval Arabs first used the term Hindu to describe the entire cultural complex east of the Sindhu, or Indus, River (in contemporary Pakistan). Hindu beliefs and practices in different regions claim descent from common textual sources, while retaining their regional individuality. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Hinduism defies easy definition in part because it embraces such a vast array of practices and beliefs. According to the BBC: “Unlike most other religions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. Throughout its extensive history, there have been many key figures teaching different philosophies and writing numerous holy books. For these reasons, writers often refer to Hinduism as 'a way of life' or 'a family of religions' rather than a single religion...Although it is not easy to define Hinduism, we can say that it is rooted in India, most Hindus revere a body of texts as sacred scripture known as the Veda, and most Hindus draw on a common system of values known as dharma... It is also closely associated conceptually and historically with the other Indian religions Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism." [Source: BBC]

In Sri Lanka, Hinduism is closely related to the distinctive cultural systems of neighboring Tamil Nadu. As India became a major center of civilization with extensive political and economic systems, Hinduism became associated with new visions of the gods and worship in temples. Tamil Nadu was a major center of this transformation. By about. 1000, the Tamils had reworked Brahmanical culture into a southern Indian type of devotional (bhakti) religion. This religion claimed to be based on the Vedas and the philosophy of the Upanishads, but its roots lay just as deep in strong attachments to local deities and a desire for salvation (moksha) through their intercession. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Tamil Hindus

The majority of Tamils are Hindus. The Hinduism practiced by Tamils in Sri Lanka is regarded as practical, philosophical and devotional. Shiva is generally recognized as the most important god and is worshiped indirectly. The worship of other gods, based mostly on self or family interest, is practiced by making offerings to gods that will perhaps help them pass an examination, give birth to a child, have success in business or bring good health to a sick loved one.

Hinduism remains very much alive among the Hindus in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka as it is in Tamil Nadu in India. Most cities and towns have significant temples.Village life often revolves around the worship of local deities.The doctrine of rebirth is not widely embraced by Tamils. The dead tend to be buried rather than cremated and have traditionally been buried under or near the home. Ceremonies are usually held within castes. At middle caste funerals the corpse is wrapped in a cloth and lowered in the ground while male relatives carrying pots of water circumambulate the grave in counterclockwise direction (an inauspicious direction). Death pollution lasts for several days, and is recognized with special foods and ritual cleansing of the body and the house where the deceased lived.The usual period or mourn after a funeral is 35 days.

Major Hindu temples rituals and ceremonies are presided over by non-Brahman priests that belong to a special caste called Saiva Kurukkala. Those that preside over village and family temples are usually ordinary villagers. Some of these are healers who also practice exorcism and spirt possession rites. Astrologers and fortunetellers are often consulted before making important decisions.

Bryan Pfaffenberger wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ In temples that conform to the medieval temple-building manuals (called Agamas), the priests are Brahmans. A small caste of non-Brahman temple priests called Saiva Kurukkals performs the rites at non-Agama temples, particularly shrines of the goddess Amman. The officiants at village and family temples, called pucaris, are ordinary villagers with whom the temple's god has established a spiritual relationship, often through a form of spirit possession. Here and there one finds temple priests who open a shrine to the public and try to solve medical, legal, and social problems for all comers, without regard to caste. The very few holy men are revered but may attract more foreign than indigenous disciples. Astrologists are numerous and are routinely consulted at birth, marriage, and times of trouble; Hindus believe that one's fate is "written on one's head" (talai viti) and cannot be fully escaped, although some intelligent finessing and divine assistance can help one avoid some problems or calamities. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Tamil Hindus celebrate important life cycle events as other Hindus do. Village temples hold annual “car” festivals in which a Hindu deity is carried around the temple in a huge chariot. Similar rituals are held at large pilgrimages.

Hindu Worship in Sri Lanka

Worship of the gods is known as puja. Worship can occur mentally or in front of the most rudimentary representations, such as stones or trees. Most people assemble pictures or small statues of their favorite deities and create small shrines in their homes for daily services, and they make trips to local shrines to worship before larger and more ornate statues. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The invisible deities are represented by a complexity of images and idols symbolizing divine powers. Many of these idols are housed within ornate temples of unparalleled beauty and grandeur. The Hindu gods are very much alive and live in temples, snow-capped peaks, in rivers and oceans and in the very hearts and minds of the Hindus. In predominantly Tamil areas as well as in upcountry estates, a black stone or a black stone-statue of God Pillaiyar is placed at the foot of trees at certain places and venerated the same way. The God is also known as Gana Deviyo.

Public temples (kovil) consist of a central shrine containing images of the gods, with a surrounding courtyard and an enclosing wall entered through ornately carved towers (gopuram). During worship, the images become the gods after special rituals are performed. Worshipers then offer them presents of food, clothing, and flowers as they would honored guests. The gifts are sanctified through contact with the gods, and worshipers may eat the sacred food or smear themselves with sacred ash in order to absorb the god's grace.*

In public temples, only consecrated priests (pujari) are allowed into the sanctum housing the god's image, and worshipers hand offerings to the priests for presentation to the god. Most of the time, worship of the gods is not congregational, but involves offerings by individuals or small family groups at home or through temple priests. During major festivals, however, hundreds or thousands of people may come together in noisy, packed crowds to worship at temples or to witness processions of the gods through public streets.*

Hindu Gods in Sri Lanka

Life in Tamil villages often revolves around the worship of local deities. Females deities are generally more numerous and are believed to possess greater power, especially in matters concerning fertility, healing and success in life. Male deities are generally regarded as protectors. Among these is Murugan, whose image is often placed on hills and is sought out by pilgrims. It is customary for people to ask the gods for some favor and if that favor is granted to honor the god through a pilgrimage or offering. Along the coast in southern India, people tend to worship local gods, particularly those associated with the sea.

Many Hindu gods are worshiped — or at least respected — by both Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. There are numerous gods and goddesses worshipped by Hindus. Among these, the most fundamental to Hinduism, is the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - creator, preserver and destroyer respectively. Brahma has four heads corresponding to the four directions of the compass. He is the creator of life and the entire universe. Vishnu is the preserver who guides the cycle of birth and rebirth. He is also supposed to have taken many incarnations to save the world from evil forces. Both Rama and Krishna are believed to have been incarnations of Vishnu. Shiva, usually seen with a coiled cobra around his neck, destroys all evil and also has many incarnations, not all of which are terrifying.

A select group of Hindu gods and goddesses predominate in the myths, legends, and styles of worship in Sri Lanka. Female deities are very important among the Hindu Tamils. At temples for Shiva or Vishnu there are separate shrines for the god and for his consort, and in many cases the shrine for the goddess (amman) receives much more attention from worshipers. Hindu philosophy interprets the goddess as the Shakti, or cosmic energy, of the god in the world and therefore the most immediate creative or destructive force, to be thanked or placated. Many of the manifestations of the goddess are capricious or violent, and she is often seen as a warrior who destroys demons on her own or whom Shiva himself has to defeat in combat. As Mariamman, she used to bring smallpox, and she is still held responsible for diseases of the hot season. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

In addition to the main gods, there are a number of subordinate divine beings, who are often the most popular deities. Ganesha, or Pillaiyar (or Ganapati), the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, is the patron of good fortune and is worshiped at the beginning of a religious service or a new venture, such as a business deal or even a short trip. Murugan, his brother, is a handsome young warrior who carries a spear and rides a peacock. He is worshiped near hills or mountains, and his devotees are known for fierce vows and austerity that may include self-mutilation. Every village has its own protective deities, often symbolized as warriors, who may have their own local stories and saints. *

“Heroes of epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are immortalized and are still alive in the day-to-day existence of the common people. The gods of Hinduism are at once super-human and human and there is distinct feeling of warmth and familiarity towards them. Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, represents qualities such as honor, courage and valor and is held up as a model of manliness. His wife Sita is the prototypal Indian wife who is carried off by Ravana, the king of Lanka, while Rama and Sita are on exile. Sita's eventual rescue by Rama, his brother Lakshmana, and Rama's faithful monkey-general Hanuman are all woven into this engrossing tale. Stories from this epic have been passed down orally from one generation to the next. Religious fairs, festivals and rituals have kept these legends alive, and there is never an occasion that does not offer an opportunity to retell the old stories. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

“The stirring verses of the Mahabharata tell the story of the dynastic struggle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who were close cousins. Lord Krishna plays a very important role in this Great Epic. He is a friend, philosopher and guide to Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, and he helps Arjuna overcome his hesitation to kill his close relatives in the battlefield. The wise philosophy of Krishna and his teachings have been embodied in the Bhagwad Gita. Although the popular image of Krishna is that of a god who steals butter as a child, and who, as a youth, plays the flute and entices cows and cowherd girls alike; in his mature years he is depicted as the wise philosopher with a more serious side to his nature.

Vishnu and His Place Among Buddhists

One of the main Hindu gods is Vishnu, often represented as a divine king accompanied by his beautiful wife, Lakshmi, the bestower of wealth and good fortune. Besides presiding as a divine monarch, Vishnu periodically descends to earth, assuming a physical form to help beings attain salvation. Vishnu has ten main incarnations, two of which — Rama and Krishna- -are particularly popular. Rama was a great hero, whose exploits in rescuing his wife from the demon king of Lanka are recounted in the epic Ramayana. Vishnu's most popular incarnation is Krishna, who combines in a single divine figure the mythic episodes of a warrior prince and a rustic cowherd god. As warrior, Krishna figures prominently in what is perhaps the single most important Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, where he stresses the importance of doing one's duty and devotion to god. As divine cowherd, Krishna served as an inspiration for a vast body of religious poetry in Sanskrit and the regional South Asian languages. From the eighth to the twelfth centuries, Tamil devotees of Vishnu (alvars) composed poetry in praise of the god. These Tamil poems, collected in anthologies, are still recited during worship and festivals for Vishnu. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Vishnu is a Hindu god Vishnu that has also assumed a special Buddhist significance in the island. He is identified with the god Uppalavanna of the Mahavamsa, to whom Sakka, the king of the gods, is said to have entrusted the guardianship of Sri Lanka at the request of the Buddha before his passing away. This god is said to have arrived in the island to fulfill this mission. The name Uppalavanna means "the color of the blue water-lily." As Vishnu is of the same color, Uppalavanna became identified with Vishnu, and in the wake of the Mahavamsa tradition, he became, as Vishnu, the protector of the Buddha-sasana in Sri Lanka. The calculated omission of the name Vishnu in the Mahavamsa in this connection may be viewed as an attempt at total localization of the divinity with a view to harmonize him with the cultural fabric of the island. His main shrine is at Devinuwara (Dondra), at the southern tip of the island, where an annual Esala (July-August) festival is held in his honor. If the identification is correct his cult can be traced to the earliest phase of the history of the island and has been popular up to the present day.


The second major Hindu deity, and by far the most important god among the Tamils in Sri Lanka, is Shiva. He differs considerably from Vishnu. In many stories he reigns as a king, but often he appears as a religious ascetic, smeared with ashes, sitting on a tiger skin in the jungle, with a snake around his neck. He is the lord of animals. Although he is an ascetic, he is also a sexual figure, married to the beautiful Parvati (the daughter of the mountain), and his image is often a single rock shaped like a phallus (lingam). [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

Shiva is often a distant figure whose power is destructive, but paradoxically he is a henpecked husband who has to deal with family squabbles involving his sons. His devotees enjoy retelling his myths, but worshipers visualize him as a cosmic creator who will save his creatures when they have abandoned themselves totally to his love. One of the most powerful expressions of his creative role is the image of Nataraja, "Lord of the Dance," who gracefully manifests the rhythm of the universe. Great Tamil devotees (nayanmar) of the early middle ages created a large collection of poems dedicated to Shiva and his holiest shrines. These collections are still revered among the Tamils as sacred scriptures on the same plane as the Vedas. *

Shiva (Siva) is regarded as the destroyer, preserver, and creator because he completes the Hindu cosmological cycle and ushers in the return of creation. He wears a chignon with curls and has a vertical third eye in the middle of his forehead. He often is depicted with four arms, carrying a string of beads, a symbol of his teaching, and a trident. The beads are called Rudraksha beads, a reference to his early name. Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are members of the Shaivism sect.

Shiva Worship in Sri Lanka

Saivism is the worship of the Hindu god Shiva. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Shiva is the supreme deity but is not worshiped directly; he bestows his grace by running your life so you aspire to nothing other than reunification with him. Commonly worshiped deities include Shiva's sons Murukan and Pillaiyar, the several village goddesses (such as Mariyamman and Kannakiyamman), and a host of semi-demonic deities who are thought to demand sacrifices. Of all deities, most beloved is Murukan, who bestows boons even on those who may be unworthy, to the extent that they devote themselves to him. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

There is reason to believe that Saivism existed in pre-Buddhist India. The Mahavamsa (A.D. 5th century) records that Pandukabhaya (474 – 367 B.C.), the first monarch of the Anuradhapura Kingdom and ruler of all Sri Lanka,.built a sivika-sala where Shivalinga (Shiva phallic symbol) was established. Shiva-worshipping ascetics (samanas) were also present in the Island in fair numbers. Pandukabhaya built a monastery and temples for them The Pancha Ishwarams (five abodes of Shiva) are five coastal ancient kovils (temples) dedicated to Shiva located along the coasts of Sri Lanka. They are most sacred pilgrimage complexes for Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu devotees who adhere to the ancient Saiva Siddhanta philosophy, with central shrines for Shiva in each temple. Initial construction was by royal architects of the ancient Naga kingdom (Nayanar). [Source: Wikipedia, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Ganesh in Sri Lanka

Ganesha is the elephant-headed god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles. He is s known by various names in different parts of India and Sri Lanka and on different occasions. Popular among the Buddhists under the names Ganapati, Pillaiyar or Gana-deviyo. ) as the Remover of Obstacles, the god of domestic harmony and of success. He is the most beloved and revered of all the Hindu gods, and is always invoked first in any Hindu ceremony or festival. He is the son of Parvati (the wife of Shiva, the Destroyer, the most powerful of the Hindu trinity of principal gods). There are many stories about how Ganesha got his elephant head, and about his exploits and antics. He was created as an ordinary boy, but was decapitated in battle. Shiva's emissaries were sent into the forest and told to get the head of the first animal they found and to fit that head onto the boy's neck. They found a little elephant, and it worked!

A.G.S. Kariyawasam wrote in “Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka”: He is worshipped as the chief of obstacles (Vighnesvara) because it is believed that he is responsible for creating and removing obstracles. He does this through troops of inferior deities or demi-gods considered as attendants of Shiva, present almost everywhere, who are under his command. It is in this sense that he is called Gana-pati (chief of hosts), which is the epithet popular among the Buddhists. The devalayas dedicated to him are mostly run by the Hindus. The Buddhists worship him either through his statues, found in many Buddhists temples, or by visiting the Hindu kovils dedicated to him. As the god of wisdom and of learning, he is propitiated at the time a child first reads the alphabet. As the chief of obstacles, as their creator as well as remover, the Hindus begin their devala-ritual by making the first offering to him. [Source: A.G.S. Kariyawasam, “Buddhist Ceremonies and Rituals of Sri Lanka”, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, 1995]

“According to Hindu believers, Gana Deviyo had been commanded by god Shiva to stand by a roadside and it is this command that the Gana Deviyo is faithfully adhering to. Vows made to Gana Deviyo seeking his protection are followed by boiling of milk and offering it to the god seeking protection and grace from him. In Jaffna, Pillaiyar was regarded as the "guardian of the crops" and many shrines were erected by the agriculturists in the neighborhood of their fields. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Ganesh Temples in Sri Lanka

According to a local tradition, a temple dedicated to Ganesa was erected at Inuvil, in Jaffna, by Karunakara Tondaiman, the commander of Kulottunga Chola I (1070-1118) , and it has come to be known as Karunakara Pilliayar Temple. in the Nuwera Eliya mountainous area, one finds such Ganesh small shrines, located at road crossings, often under trees. The statues display the typical South Indian style (black colored by cult smoke, dressed by a piece of tissue). Some scattered Ganesh colorful folk statues are also located near road crossings in jungle regions between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

“Other Ganesh representations in south of lanka are much older ones. They can be seen in some Buddhist temples, where they are warily displayed. Some are mural paintings, with other Hindu deities (Vishnu, Indra, Kartikkeya), paying respects to the Buddha. One in Dambulla temple Cave No. 2, and another one in a cave of the Alu Vihara temple. Other statues: one small white standing Ganesh can be found in a Buddhist shrine at Embekke Devala but the best and biggest is hidden in an ancient part of the Lankatilaka temple, both near Kandy. Of course, other such ancient Ganesh representations exist in other places too.

“The only temple which openly displays Ganesh is the well-known Kelanya temple in a near suburb of Colombo. There, on the southern wall, a large sculpture of the benevolent God is displayed. He is seated on His huge rat.

“Near Mihintale, the stupa Kantaka Cetinga is surrounded by a decorative frieze which inscriptions say to date from the 1st or 2nd century. On this frieze, the elephant-headed god is undoubtebly carved. Indeed, one can see a twofold Gana procession moving towards an elephant-headed personage with a left-turned trunk. We can be sure that this is a Ganapati representation, despite the antiquity of the frieze.

“In Museums, one can remember some good old stone Ganesh statues in the National Museum (Colombo); however, we regret that no information is given about their age and the place where they have been found. On the other hand, two best pieces, one stone-made, one bronze-made (both from the 12th century), are presented in the excellent Polonnaruwa Museum. In the catalogue of the exposition in Paris "Bronzes Bouddhiques de l’antique Ceylan" (1992), Von Sroeder (1992) describes a large splendid sitting bronze Ganesh from the 11th century (Pollonaruwa period, which has been found in the Shiva Devale (temple) in 1960. The author writes that this unique specimen would be on display in the Anuradhapura museum. According to the picture, no doubt that this piece is the Ganesh now displayed in Polonnaruwa.

“There are several ancient Sinhala texts written for beginners during the time of Pirivena education prior to the establishment of schools by the British. One such early book is ‘Ganadevi Hella’. As the name indicates, ‘Ganadevi Hella’ was a collection of verses referring to Hindu god Gnesh, popularly known as ganadevi in Sinhala. There are 49 verses in the book. A typical verse in the book popular even today reads: Ganadeviyan nuwana denna/ Sarasawathi pahala venna/ Siyalu roga durukaranna/ Nitara vandimi thunuruvanna

“Pillaiyar Temples in Sir Lanka: 1) Northern area, Jaffna
Chulipuram : Kannaikothikakkai Pillaiyar temple
Inuvil : Karunakara Pillaiyar temple
Manipay : Maruthady Vinayagar temple
Murukandi : Murukandi Pillaiyar temple
Nallur : Kailasa Pillaiyar temple
Neervely : Arasakesari Pillaiyar temple
2) Northern area, outside Jaffna
Alaveddy : Kumbalavalai Pillaiyar temple
Batticaloa : Mamanga Pillaiyar temple
3) Other places
Colombo : Shri Muthu Vinayaga temple, Chettay Street
Bambalapitiya : New Kathiresan temple
Kandy : Selva Vinayaka temple
Katarigama : Manikka Vinayaka temple

Legend of Ganesh’s Creation

Lord Ganesh is the son of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvathi. When Lord Shiva, was away fighting for the gods, the lady of the house, goddess Parvathi was alone at home. On one occasion, she needed someone to guard the house when she was going for a bath. Unable to think of an alternative, she used her powers to create a son, Ganesh. She instructed Ganesh to keep strict vigil on the entrance to the house and not to allow anyone into the house. Ganesh agreed and stayed on the strictest of strict vigils. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

In the meantime Lord Shiva returned happy after a glorious victory for the gods, only to be stopped at the entrance by Ganesh. Ganesh, acting on Parvathi's orders verbatim, did not allow Shiva to enter the house. Lord Shiva became enraged beyond control and in a fit of rage slashed the head of Ganesh. Paravti came out from her bath and was aghast at the scene. She was very very angry at her lordship for what had happened and explained him the situation.

Lord Shiva wanted to make it up to Parvathi and agreed to put life back into Ganesha by putting the head of the first sleeping living creature that came in sight which was sleeping with its head to the north. He sent his soldiers to go in search of the creature. The first creature which came in sight was an elephant. So Lord Shiva re-created his son with the head of the elephant. Hence the trunk of Lord Ganesha. Parvathi was still not totally happy so Shiva granted Ganesha a boon that before beginning of any undertaking or task people would worship Lord Ganesh. Thus the reason for worship of Ganesha before start of any work.

Sacred Village Tree in Rural Sri Lanka

Reporting from the small village of Kalinapawela near Haldummulla, Florence Wickramage wrote: By side of the road was a tiny cleared patch where two low small rock-stones were placed. By the side of the rocks was a tree with small slips of branches hanging on a low fork from the two branches of the tree. There were empty packets of joss-sticks, pieces of broken coconuts and signs of candle wax on the rock stones. I inquired from an elderly villager R.M.Gunapala (74) who joined us, what happens at this spot. He informed me that a ritual is performed by villagers to the sylvan deity when crossing this corridor entreating his protection on their journey. [Source: Florence Wickramage]

“He said that this area is called the Mangara adaviya, said to be guarded by Mangara Deviyo. A slip of branch is broken from a nearby tree and hung on the fork of the tree at the foot of the rock-stones. A vow is made lighting a candle or a clay lamp and the place incensed with joss-sticks. They pay obeisance to the tree symbolising the sylvan deity and proceed on their way. He vowed that this deity's protection of the villagers has been proved over and over again and no villager had ever been attacked by a wild elephant. I have observed on a visit to Wanathavillu in the Puttalam District the same ritual performed by villagers when they cross jungle land. But in this area the deity is called Aiyanayaka Deviyo and the area Aiyanayaka deviyange adaviya.

“In predominantly Tamil areas as well as in up-country estates, a black stone or a black stone-statue of God Pullaiyar is placed at the foot of trees at certain places and venerated the same way. The God is also known as Gana Deviyo. According to Hindu believers, Gana Deviyo had been commanded by god Shiva to stand by a roadside and it is this command that the Gana Deviyo is faithfully adhering to. Vows made to Gana Deviyo seeking his protection are followed by boiling of milk and offering it to the god seeking protection and grace from him.

There is a popular belief among villagers that the peaceful days of yore and a disciplined and religious society which existed in Lanka decades and generations ago was the result of adhering to these traditional customs, beliefs and rituals. This was confirmed by the elderly villagers we met during our tour to several villages in the Uva Sabaragamuwa province. " Our country was the granary of the east, there were bountiful harvests and we enjoyed a peaceful lifestyle in our villages. This was so because we observed traditional customs and rituals in whatever task we engaged in — be it tilling of our land, harvesting paddy, digging a well or even going through jungle land. This is not so today", a whimsical Gunapala told me when parting... with a sigh and a far away look in his eyes.

Hindu-Influenced Rituals in a Village in Sri Lanka

D. B. Kappagoda wrote: Apart from the rituals associated with Buddhism many people also believe in a variety of Gods such as Minneriya deiyo, Aiyanayaka deiyo, Kalu devata (Black God) and Bahirawa whose blessings are invoked for a variety of reasons. Blessings are invoked in the form of "yatika" to ensure their health, the protection of the weva bund and an adequate supply of water for cultivation. The most noteworthy ceremony associated with the weva is "Mutti mangallaya" in which Aiyanayaka deiyo's blessings are sought. [Source: D. B. Kappagoda, CDN, Mid Week Mirror]

This ceremony is performed by the gamarala after the rains when the weva is full. The Mutti mungallaya is performed after the harvest. Once a day has been selected for the Mutti mangallaya each household will contribute their share of rice, kawum, plantains, betel and areca nuts for the ceremony. After the feasting is over, villagers go in a procession with two new clay pots filled with saffron and incense to the abode of the deity who is believed to reside in a tree on the weva bund. A special dais is erected with coconut fronds known as "yahana" under the tree over which a white canopy is hung to give a sanctified look. On this specially erected pedestal, betel offering is made and the two clay pots are also placed as a form of offering.

The evening begins with a "yatika" by the anumatirala (mouth-piece) of the deity). This is a form of an address to the deity. He then begins to dance to the accompaniment of drums. This goes on throughout the night. At dawn, the pots are taken from the "yahana" and carried to the tree and hung on two branches. In the course of the ritual it is made known to the people by the anumatirala who acts as the medium to the God that he has accepted their offerings. After returning to the village the anumatirala once again begins to dance to the accompaniment of chanting and drumming. After the mid day meal the people then disperse to their respective homes with the belief of having been blessed and confident of a period of prosperity.

Aiyanar in Tamil means Kaiyanar who sprang from the hand of Vishnu with his 50 names and with as many different types of power. In the North Central Province the Mutti mangallaya is performed by the kapurala who has taken the role of "anumatirala" and he is paid in cash for his services. After the successful conclusion of the yala harvest, the kapurala invites the villagers to a house in which he performs the 'yatika' throughout the night. A ceremony at the shrine dedicated to Aiyanayake at the weva bund takes place the next day followed by the weva Rajakiriya in which the "Kiri Ithirilla" -boiling milk — forms the main ceremony.

The blessings of deities such as Aiyanayaka, Kambili Pudurussa, Ilandari, Kadugath Bandara is invoked by the kapurala (native priest) while "Kiri Ithirilla" is in progress. An all night pirith ceremony followed by an alms giving the following day concludes the ceremonies. The ceremonies connected with these rituals are known as "Game Rajakariya" which means the rites of the village. There is also "Vele Raja Kariya" performed on a lesser note. These deities are of local origin but the rituals are influenced by Hinduism. This happy blending of Buddhism and Hinduism evolved from ancient times and appeals to the minds of the unsophisticated agricultural communities living in the Wanni.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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