Lord Skanda-Murugan

Synopsis: "Continuity and Change: The cult of Kataragama in Sri Lanka"

Click to visit Kathirkamam

by N. Shanmugalingam

Kataragama (Katirkamam) is a unique Murukan temple amongst all the temples in Sri Lanka. It is a place where all ethnic groups and religious cultures meet and mingle. Veddas, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims all claim to preserve the 'original' tradition of Kataragama. In spite of all the socio-political conflicts, the shrine continues to flourish.

The temple is located in the southeastern region of the country, which is a thick forest covered area. But its cultural origin is buried in ancient history. Just as the social history of the country remains a mystery, the historical origin of the temple is also shrouded in mystery.

The history of the god at Kataragama is mingled with the social and ecological history of mankind (Pettazzoni, 1956). In this context, this study analyses the continuity and change of the cult of Kataragama in a socio-anthropological perspective.

The study incorporates both primary and secondary data. Field records collected as a research assistant to Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere and later for my own study are all incorporated in this analysis.

Analysis of the data reflects claims by the different ethnic groups to claim this temple and its traditions. In addition it focuses upon the socio-political changes that are intertwined with changes in the cult of Kataragama. In short, the study reveals two important aspects, namely that the cult of Kataragama is beyond a single ethnic identity, but remains as an inter-cultural centre for all. Secondly, with all the changes taking place, Kataragama remains a centre of grassroots people's religion. Kataragama's geographical location and patterns of worship have contributed to the above cultural features and conditions

Prof. N. Shanmugalingam
Head / Department of Sociology
University of Jaffna
Thirunelvely, Jaffna, Sri Lanka

See the author's article "Skanda-Murukan cult in Eastern Sri Lanka: Continuity and Change" presented at the First Conference International Conference on Skanda-Murukan, 1998.