13 April 2013

Jai Shri Muruga! Having a full vegetarian dinner in the Bala Muruga section of the Kattaragama Kovil with about two hundred other devotees.

Strictly by invitation of the residence priests only.
There is so much more to Kattaragama that the devotee, the pilgrim will never see. Like the above.
Starting by informing you that behind the Kirivehara are really decent, clean public restrooms. There are no signs guiding you to it, actually there are no way finding strategists in Sri Lanka. Sorry digressed, apologies. Back to the loo, literally, no commodes and such and one must squat, but the premises both external and internal are well kept and clean. Methinks the very fact that these are not signposted and therefore unknown to the masses, many unwashed, who make the pilgrimage to Kattaragama. If one politely questions one of the many Policemen loitering about, he or she will graciously point you to it. Once, one actually was nice enough to walk me to it as it was just round the corner. When your a old, gnarly late 40 something, almost 50 guy like me you pretty much don't worry about rape, unless in a maximum security prison. Especially never at a place of worship.
There is a lot more to discover. If one looks for a young scooter taxi driver with a bit of long hair and a big sticker of Bob Marley, yes the Jamaican one, on his chariot, and discreetly inform them of your intentions with a thousand rupee note changing hands, he will return to you in short time with part of a whole branch of fresh marihuana wrapped in a newspaper that is dated back to the 1900s. Trivial data but entertaining none the less. One after all doesn’t have to smoke marihuana, it’s also a great meat tenderiser. The health benefits of a good spice mutton curry cooked with the aid of marihuana is legend. Improved digestion of food and good bowel movement. Improving the usual after lunch nap. Curing the daily aches and pains, both physical and emotional.
Then on the spiritual side when one enters the great compound of the Lord Murugan and walks towards the left keeping sharply left they will spy a side entrance that leads down through the arch entrance to a set of wide stone stairs. An easy climb down, almost a happy ramble. On your right you will note a small kovil, housing a greedy, demon immortal. The administrating priests there are very uncommitted to dispensing information. Further investigation will reveal this is one of the demons who ply in wait in vain to hijack the gods pooja food that is taken in from the kitchens to the main chamber of the god. If one was to further inquire what kind of offerings this immortal wishes for, one will be led to the back to see offering of marihuana, arrack, kassippu, betel leaf, tobacco leaf, beedi, cigarettes all being carefully placed on the traditional ‘wattiya’ to place before god. In this case the demon immortal. I kid you not.
If you keep following the steps you come to the water. The river flows peacefully by, the occasional crocodile snatching a bathing human all but forgotten, you learn that this is the place the swami’s wash before getting ready for the pooja. One day when I die, I hope my soul will rest there in that water, forever in my Lord Murugan’s arms.
Please by all means you can verify all the above facts and those to follow on your next visit to Kattaragama. If your patience and interest permits, you will find that I complete this little snippet with who to contact when in Kattaragama as well as where to stay.
If you are a fellow spiritualist, you will also know the importance of abishekams and navagraha abishekams. Then so your visits to Kattaragama and to the Lord Murugan Temple must be many. Remember as soon a you cross the bridge on the way to the main kovil you have to take a sharp left? If you keep walking is the big old mara tree. On the opposite side quietly but brilliants resides the Goddess Kali Kovil. The young swamis name’s Rajive. Playful chap and has his own scooter taxi to get and from home, but genuine. Slightly scary and strict is his dad, usually in residence during the day. The night too evil for his presence, and probably the arms of his wife much warmer than the cold cement floor of the kovil.
Anyways speak to Rajive Swami and he will organise for you an abishekam for all the gods who reside there: Kali, Gnanpathi, Shiva, Hanuman, and the nine navagraha gods. As well as the abishekams, they will also do a navagraha. Now you know the lovely thing, they allow you to participate in washing and applying oil on the actual statues of the gods. The only forbidden is the Goddess Kali statue behind the curtain. That’s strictly out of bounds. I have always welcomed the bell given to my hand usually at these abishekams, and secretly wished that I too could wash and touch the statues of the gods. Here, you are allowed to physically touch them. The feeling of enhanced spiritualty and tranquillity afterwards is brilliant. If you believe, there is no better feeling in the world.
Rajive Swami will be kind enough to organise it all for you in the late evening when all traces of the hot sun are gone. Yet it is doesn’t really feel dear for fifty pounds. I guess ten thousand rupees is a different ball game. But it gives you maximum for your buck.
If you leave yourself time and come during the morning, the head swami, I am so petrified of him I honestly don’t know his name, anyways bring your horoscope along and he will read it for you. He is excellent. Take heed, he’s a way serious chap. Doesn’t like me because one day while the old man was away, and Rajive Swami is my buddy, Rajive took me into the inter sanctum of the Kali Kovil to see the statue of the goddess and her spear of justice. Shouldn’t really have. So I would advice you very much not to do that.
So next time you come to Kattaragama and to the gods compound, observe more closely, relax, distress, listen, explore. Make time, you really need two solid days including late nights. Afternoon naps are ideal as even the gods and their minions like their siesta. The harsh southern sun beating down mercilessly during the afternoon methinks is the main reason.
Please if you go or when you go, indulge me, stay vegetarian, a day before, during and one day after, to truly see the magic you came to discover. No alcohol including beer and wine for the same duration too please.
The magic of god is in your heart, the magic of humans, are needs and wants, our spirituality is so much there to see in real life, to the one who is willing to open their mind.
I wish you a pleasant journey. I leave you to discover for yourself how one gets an invite for the delicious vegetarian dinner.
Oh almost forgot. There is only one place really to stay in Kattaragama. The Rosen Hotel. They will also organise jeeps for you to Safari. If you can get up by 5am for the jeeps, it is a fully worth trip. Foreigners unfortunately pay more for entrance to the park and it’s not the jeep driver and hotel staff trying to hoodwink you. It’s all-legit as it’s the Sri Lankan Government hoodwinking you. Pity, but a fact, sad too. But please don’t let that deter you, it’s still like 20 quid. Sucks because its like 2 quid if you’re a local.
Guides recommendations. When you come to the all the stall shops preparing the archana, go to Shop Number 17. Shops called Sampath and the guy who runs it is Shantha. Mobile - +94 779 508 131. 
I usually quickly go there even before I check into the hotel. Because then his wife has time to weave fresh flower garlands for my archana for the gods. Say you know Mr. Dhammika from England he will unveil some of the secrets to Kattaragama. Ask him to refer you to Upali who will carry your archana for you. Specifically mention any of the above mentioned Kattaragama experiences of mine, and he will be able to best advice you of how to experience the same. Otherwise you'll never be taken to the wonderful Bala Muruga section and be given the normal tourist run around of the museum etc,.
Marihuana unfortunately is illegal in Sri Lanka. It grows very well in the rural Deep South in Sri Lanka, where Kattaragama is. So that matter should still remain between you and the scooter taxi driver. As it’s illegal, I will suggest now that if you’re a first timer, best leave it alone. The new guy who doesn’t know the guy will probably never see his thousand-rupee note or the scooter taxi driver.
I leave you now to pursue whatever you have been pursuing before you started on this. If you have read this far, yes I am a bloody pessimist, thank you for reading.
There are many more little gems, next time… Await Sella Kataragama, the Gnanapathi Kovil, King Dutugemmunu, Thevani Amma and the actual rock cave where Valli Amma resided.
Om Sa Ra Va Na Ba Va Om!
Happy New Year to all Sri Lankans and Indians celebrating it today,
Jai Shri Muruga!

No comments: