KATHARAGAMA
 
  Katharagama is a pilgrimage town popular with Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and indigenous Veddah communities of Sri Lanka and South India. The town has Ruhunu Maha Katharagama Devalaya, a shrine dedicated to Skanda-Murukan also known as Katharagama Deviyo. Katharagama is situated in the Moneragala District of Uva province, Sri Lanka. It is situated 228 km ESE of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Although Katharagama was a small village in medieval times, today it is a fast developing township surrounded by jungle in the South Eastern region of Sri Lanka. It also houses the ancient Kiri Vehera Buddhist stupa. The town has a venerable history dating back to the last centuries of BCE. It also was the seat of government of many Sinhalese kings during the days of Rohana kingdom.

Since the 1950s the city has undergone many improvements with successive governments investing in public transportation, medical facilities, and business development and hotel services. It adjoins the popular Yala national park. The general vicinity of Katharagama has yielded evidence of human habitation at least 125,000 years ago. It has also yielded evidence of Mesolithic and Neolithic habitations.
 
During the historic period, the general area was characterized by small reservoirs for water conservation and associated paddy cultivation. Katharagama village is first mentioned in the historical annals known as Mahawamsa written down in the 5th century CE. It mentions a town named Kajaragama from which important dignitaries came to receive the sacred Bo sapling sent from Asoka‚Äôs Mauryan Empire on 288 BCE. It was also functioned as the capital of number of kings of the Ruhuna kingdom. It provided refuge to many kings from the north when the north was invaded by South Indian kingdoms. It is believed that the area was abandoned around the 13th century.  
 
 

  Based on archaeological evidence found, it is believed that the Kiri Vehera was either renovated to build during the first century BCE. There are number of others inscriptions and ruins. By the 16th century the Katharagama Deviyo shrine at Katharagama had become synonymous with Skanda-Kumara who was a guardian deity of Sinhala Buddhism. The town was popular as a place of pilgrimage for Hindus from India and Sri Lanka by the 15 the century. The popularity of the deity at the Katharagama temple was also recorded by the Pali chronicles of Thailand such as Jinkalmali in the 16th century.

There are number of legends both Buddhist and Hindu that attribute supernatural events to the very locality.Scholars such as Paul Younger and Heinz Bechert speculate that rituals practiced by the native priests of Katharagama temple betray Veddah ideals of propitiation. Hence they believe the area was of Veddah veneration that was taken over by the Buddhist and Hindus in the medieval period.

Katharagama is a multi-religious sacred city as it contains an Islamic Mosque within its temple complex as well. In spite of the differences of caste and creed, many Sri Lankans show great reverence to God Katharagama. They honour him as a very powerful deity and beg divine help to overcome their personal problems or for success in business enterprises etc., with the fervent hope that their requests would be granted. They believe that God Katharagama actually exists and is vested with extraordinary power to assist those who ever appeal to him with faith and devotion in times of their distress or calamity.
 
Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka and South India refer to the place as Katirkamam. Lord Katirkamam is associated with Skanda-Murukan. Shaivite Hindus of South India call him also as Subramanya as well. He is also known as Kandaswamy, Katira Deva, Katiravel, Kartikeya, and Tarakajith. Some of these names are derived from the root Katira from Katirkamam. "Katira" means formless light.  
 
The Deity is depicted either with six faces and twelve hands, or one face and four hands. Out of love for Lord Murugan and to mitigate bad karma, bhaktars pierce their cheeks and tongues with Vels, pull large chariots carrying Murthi of Murugan with large hooks that have been pierced through the skin of their backs. This practice is known as Kavadi, Murugan's Vahana or vehicle is Mayil, the peacock. There is also a related shrine called as Sella Katirkamam dedicated to the beloved elephant-faced God Ganesha nearby, who is known as Lord Murugan's elder brother. The local river namely Menik Ganga or Manika Gangai (River of Gems) functions as a place of ablution where a sacred bath is taken to purify oneself. Local residents declare that one can be healed of ailments by bathing in it not only from its high gem content but also the medicinal properties of the roots of various trees that line the river through the jungle.

Sinhala Buddhists believe that Katharagama Deviyo is a guardian deity of Buddhism and he is the presiding deity of Katharagama temple. Katharagama is also one of the 16 principal places of Buddhist pilgrimage to be visited in Sri Lanka. According to the chronicle of Sri Lankan history the Mahawamsa, when the Bo sapling of Bodhi Tree, under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment in North India was brought to the city of Anuradhapura 2,300 years ago, the warriors or Kshatriyas from Katharagama were present on the occasion to pay homage and respect.

The Bo tree situated behind the Katharagama temple is one of the eight saplings (Ashta Phala Ruhu Bodhi) of Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. This tree has been planted in the 3rd century BCE. The Buddhist Kiri Vehera Dagoba which stands in closeness to Katharagama Devalaya was built by the King Mahasena. According to the legend, Lord Buddha, on his third and the last visit to Sri Lanka, was believed to have met King Mahasena, who ruled over the Katharagama area in 580 BC. It is said that King Mahasena met Lord Buddha and listened to the Buddha's discourse and as a token of gratitude; the Dagoba was built on that exact spot where it now stands. Thus the local Sinhalese Buddhists believe that Katharagama was sanctified by Lord Buddha.
 
  The Katharagama Deviyo is indigenous and long-celebrated in Sri Lankan lore and legend, and resides on the top of mountain called Wadahiti Kanda (or hill of the Veddah people) just outside of the Katharagama town. Since ancient times an inseparable connection between the Katharagama God and his domain has existed. At one time the local deity was identified with God Saman, a guardian deity of Buddhism and Sri Lanka.
 
As was the Sinhalese tradition, local ancestors, rulers and kings, who did a great service to the country or community, were ordained as deities. According to the legendary history, God Saman was also an ancient ruler of Deva people in the Sabaragamuwa area of Sri Lanka. Therefore some believe that King Mahasena, who built Kiri Vehera, in Katharagama came to be worshiped as God Katharagama. 
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