Pattini – The Cult of folk Goddess


By Kalakeerthi Dr. Edwin Ariyadasa

If we take a brief, panoptic view of the age-old Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, that receives mass adoration in Sri Lanka, we will invariably come upon the widespread cult of Goddess Pattini.

Unlike many other forms of religious cults in Sri Lanka, the worship of Goddess Pattini has a strained dimension. The adoration of this Goddess, takes on an intimate aspect. This is because, this deity, figures, quite extensively, in some household events. Those who yearn for tranquility in times of difficulties and problems, resort to rites and rituals linked to the adoration of Goddess Pattini.

How did this cult of Goddess Pattini find such a highly significant state in the ethos of this land? Theories vary.

The incarnation of the cult of Pattini in a Sinhala version, came about, according to indigenous lore, from the heroic adventures of King Gajabahu I, the intrepid ruler, who was moved to a towering rage, hearing that, at an earlier date 12,000 of Sri Lankan soldiers had been forcibly taken to the Chola Kingdom. In an epic display of peerless bravery, he invaded, the Chola Kingdom and claimed his solders in captivity. As compensation for this outrage, King Gajaba, forcibly brought 12,000 Cholian prisoners to Sri Lanka. And, this is where, the cult of "Pattini Goddess", assumes historical reference. Our traditional chronical and continued folk-lore aver that King Gajaba I (114-136 AD) brought along with him the sacred anklet of Goddess Pattini – perhaps because he became aware in Chola, that female – deity, possessed miraculous powers.

The most famous Pattini Devalaya is located at Nawagamuwa, the place King Gajabahu rested on his way to Anuradhapura. He returned from Chola Kingdom via the Nawagamuwa region. Impressed by the alluring site, he decided to construct a temple (Devalaya) to enshrine the sacred Pattini anklet.

Over the centuries a long succession of kings and provincial rulers kept on renovating the Devalaya. On some occasions, new buildings were added.

The popular beliefs associated with Nawagamuwa Pattini shrine are replete with astonishing stories. It is said that the original wood-work of the shrine was done, using specific form of jak wood. Some jak trees provide a variety of fruit that taste like honey when ripe. According to the folk-lore the first Devalaya builders used timber from those Jak trees. But due to the vagaries of time and foreign invasions the shrine began to deteriorate.

Deeply perturbed and shocked by this decay, a devoted philanthropist, stepped in to facilitate the restoration of the Devalaya using exact type of Jak trees used by original builders, in addition to copper sheet roofing and granite flooring. Total cost of the restoration project is 30 million rupees, which is borne entirely by the "Nandana Lokuwithana Foundation". On the 19th of August 2016, the fully innovated shrine was dedicated to dispensation (Sasana) and the public, at a ceremony where the president and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe felicitated the devoted donor Nandana Lokuwithana, who, with assiduous care and concern, gave a totally new life to this age-old shrine, that had become the symbol of peace and harmony.

The devotees who trek to this Devalaya will experience an added spiritual joy when they view the new life-size effigy of Goddess Pattini, sculpted by renowned craftsman from India. The devotees will invariably attain an exceptional level of spiritual ecstasy viewing this dominant image.

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