Sri Lanka: A 450 km walk brings peace to pilgrims
Hindu pilgrims in Sri Lanka end long spiritual journey
For close to 50 days, Ramachandran Vadivel traveled on foot for more than 450 kilometers, over tarred and gravel roads, across water-filled ditches, and through thick jungles. At night, he and the 12 pilgrims he led slept on the ground outside temples. In the morning, they would bathe in nearby rivers.
This was Vadivel’s 14th Pada Yatra, (Hindi: lit. foot journey), an annual pilgramage from Jaffna in the north to Kataragama City in southern Sri Lanka, where there is an ancient Hindu shrine to the deity Lord Murugan.
“Men and women of all ages take part in the pilgrimage”, Vadivel said. “It a spiritually fulfilling act. My intention is to take the pain of walking over 450 kilometers to get to spiritual enlightenment.”
Close to 35,000 people reach Kataragama each year in time for the July festival, which began today and will end August 2 with a water-cutting ceremony, when the pilgrims will bathe together in the river after a blessing.
During the journey, which is accompanied by drumbeats and bells, pilgrims chant harohara - ‘Oh God, please remove our sufferings and grant us happiness.’
“Sleeping and living under trees and temples; seldom knowing from where our next meal will come; braving death from animal attacks or disease: we walked through thick jungles to be granted happiness and to plea to remove sufferings from our deceased family members,” said Vadivel, whose group included five children from Jaffna.
Buddhist and Christian villagers along the route welcome the travelers, Vadivel said, offering food and places to rest.
A two-week Hindu festival begins July 19 in southern Sri Lanka
In that way, the pilgrimage has not only religious significance in Sri Lanka, but it also represents racial and religious harmony, said an analyst.
“People in the north are Tamil Hindus and when they travel down the eastern coastline they come across Sinhalese and Muslim communities,” said Nuwan Gankanda, who has written several books on ethnic and cultural groups in Sri Lanka.
Gankanda has done research on what he says may be the longest foot pilgrimage in the world, even making the journey himself. Kataragama also houses Buddhist and Muslim religious sites, and other groups frequently join in the Hindu festival.
“The mutual trust and understanding between communities is a much-discussed topic,” he said, referencing the tension between the Tamil separatists and government forces.
“The foot pilgrimage is an occasion of people of different communities coming together and displaying their mutual trust.”
Sri Lanka (July 19, 2012)