#21 - Kataragama

Kataragama is a special place for many Sri Lankans, a place to receive the blessings of gods. My mom was the most devout and she wanted to visit every year. In reality, we only visited once every few years. When my dad bought a SUV, my mom insisted that we visited Kataragama again for blessings against road accidents. This was a tradition every time we bought a new vehicle and so we set off with me driving for the first time on the 5-hour drive east.

I had a very clear mental map of the entire temple. We spent several days there on each of visits. As a kid, I spent hours waiting impatiently for my mom to finish the different rituals and prayers. All of this came back to me when we arrived at Kiri Vehara where we were immediately called on to carry the long flag that was going to be wrapped around the stupa.

We usually went to the offering ceremony early in the morning and we did the same this time. Taking turns at carrying the heavy basket of fruit, we waited in the long queue to enter. After his numerous visits there with my grandma and my mom, my dad had befriended one of the ministers there who managed to get us into a shorter queue. While this saved us several hours, I felt that it was unfair to the others who had to wait much longer. We managed to get inside the temple in time for the first summoning which the crowd welcomed by ringing the countless number of bells mounted on the ceiling amounting to a deafening sound of clangs.

Later that afternoon, my mom wanted to attend the perahara that was coincidentally on the same days as our visit. Peering and then wading through the crowd, I tried to get a better view of the procession of performers and decorated elephants. It is the largest perahara I have seen in person which culminated with the Karaduwa being carried by an elephant as the Hindus exclaimed “arOharA” in worship.

Decorated elephant carrying the shrine

My mom also insisted that I also make a vow asking for favor on my Czech visa. I had mixed feelings about this. I believe that faith works when you unquestionably believe in it. This lead me to the paradox where to believe in faith, I needed to see its results and to see the result, I already needed to have absolute faith. The view I held then and I still hold to now is that I want to be in control of my life instead of relying on external factors. There might be a higher power given the complex and vast design of the universe and I am not going to discredit and win their favor. Instead I am going to live my life the best I can have based on my principles and let the higher powers bring what they may, whether good or bad. I know I will not sound so bold if life dealt me a particularly bad hand.

At the time I certainly didn’t want to go against my mom’s wishes so I did as she asked and here we are. While I have become much more secular since then, I want to keep my word and so I will return.

Story from 7 Apr 2016, Published 23 Sep 2018

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