By Jeewana Pahan Thilina
Sri Lanka is predominantly a Buddhist country. The majority of the population are Buddhists. Amid this Buddhist environment many other religions flourish. Unlike in other countries, there have not been religious clashes at any time. Sri Lankans can be proud of it. While protecting Buddhism we have to preserve the heritage of other religions.
Our recent visit to the Muthumariamman Kovil in Matale proved this point. It is a sacred place of worship for Hindus. Followers of other religions also flock to Muthumariamman Kovil in their thousands.
The Muthumariamman Kovil has a checkered history. According to Hindu religious scholars, the kovil had existed even before 4500 BC. However, at the beginning Hindu devotees worshipped trees before putting up a kovil for Goddess Amman. At the same time they had used various ornamental parks and gardens. Thereafter they had begun to put up a kovil using timber. However, the timber constructions did not last long. With the passage of time, the timber kovils perished. It was during the reign of King Pallava that kovils were built out of stone. Ancient kings built similar kovils in Trincomalee, Kandy, Munneswaram, Keerimalai and Mannar. Most of them were elaborate creations.
Historical evidence is not clear about who built the Muthumariamman Kovil in Matale. One reason is that history was not written down in the past and worshipping of deities was done purely out of devotion.
At Muthumariamman Kovil in Matale, mainly the deity Paththini is worshipped. A large number of other deities such as Gana, Kataragama, Maha Lakshmi, Saraswathi as well as Badhrakali are revered. There are four ways of worshipping deities according to the Hindu religion:
• Sariyai – Following the faith through the body
• Kiriyai – Following the faith through action
• Yogam – Following the faith of the doctrine through meditation
• Gnanam – Following the faith as an ascetic
Hindus are very faithful and devoted to their religion. During the four stages of Brahmana, Gruhastha, Waanaprastha and Sannyasi, the religion is used for material improvement in life as well as for the prevention of cruelty to animals, human development and bringing about goodness.
For these reasons Hindu devotees come to kovils in their hundreds of thousands.
Special functions are held at the Muthumariamman Kovil. Among them are the New Year festival, Chithra Paurnami festival, the Waigaasi festival held in May; also Panguni Uththaram festival and the Maha Shivarathri festivals. However, the most important is the ethnic Theru festival. Here five Theru carts parade the streets.
The Theru festival commenced on 5 March 1993. The ethnic Theru festival begins with the Kap planting ceremony. From then onwards special poojas are held day and night for 26 days on behalf of Paththini Maniyo. The most significant pooja is called the Sanghabisheka pooja which is held blowing 108 conch shells. On this day all the devotees attending the kovil are given alms in the afternoon. It is only after that the Theru vehicles parade the streets.
Hindu devotees from across the country participate in the festival. Matale is full of devotees on festival days. Unlike in other religions, Hindu devotees wear expensive jewellery for kovil festivals. It is said that the quantity of gold worn by the devotees on such occasions is more than half the quantity of gold in the entire country. Matale Police make special security arrangements on festival days.
A reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous says, “Hundreds of thousands of people attend the poojas at the Kovil. There are even parliamentarians and ministers and politicians among them. At the same time the millionaires and billionaires attend the kovil. What is more, even very poor people can be seen. To the deities all these people are the same. Therefore all of them have faith in the deities.”
“Even people from the North visit the kovil. They came even during the war,” he said.
“It is said that among them was a very special person who came there frequently. He was Velupillai Prabhakaran.”
“As the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) he killed thousands of Sri Lankan people. Maybe he would have come to the kovil to wash away his sins.”
How did Prabhakaran visit the Muthumariamman Kovil during the height of the war?
People we met gave different answers. Some of them told us that Prabhakaran never visited the kovil. However, others say he visited the kovil every year without fail.
Another person said, “It is possible that Prabhakaran did not attend the main pooja. He would have come at a different time, offered the pooja and then left.”
There is also speculation that Prabhakaran visited the kovil in disguise and stayed for the Vel festival as well.
Another story doing the rounds is that Prabhakaran’s daughter was born in Nuwara Eliya. Nobody knows how he went to Nuwara Eliya.