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Sunday, 18 July 2010





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All set for Vel festival in Colombo

One of the main Hindu festivals that Colombo hosts, the Adi Vel Festival processions well wend their way through the streets of Colombo once again this year after a lapse of six years.

Hindu devotees of the young God, Kumara (Kataragama Deviyo) will cheer his chariots on through the streets of Colombo with jubilant shouts of “Muruganukku Aro Hara, Kandanukku Aro Hara, Vadivelannukku Aro Hara” and so on calling him by his various names with the victory chant of Aro Hara.

What Aro Hara itself means is not quite clear but it seems to be the Tamil equivalent of ‘JaiHo.’

Being a deity worshipped by most Buddhists and Hindus in the country, the festival attracts Tamils and Sinhalese alike in great numbers. Ever since 1983, and the long drawn out war, the festival has been sporadic at best. It was held last in 2004. Temple authorities in Colombo hope that the new era of peace in Sri Lanka means that the festival will once more be a regular annual feature as it used to be.

“This used to be a national festival and we had a public holiday to mark it” says New Kathiresan Temple Trustee, Rajendran Chettiar. “We hope we’ll regain that status soon.”

The Colombo Vel Festival, dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo, originally came into being because of a cholera outbreak in 1874. The Kataragama Deity is a very popular God amongst most Sri Lankan Hindus and Buddhists. For this Adi Vel Festival, pilgrims from all parts of the island were in the habit of going on a ‘Pada Yatra’ (pilgrimage by foot) which took several days, consisting of several days to Kataragama.

In 1874, there was a cholera outbreak and the colonial government then in power forbade people in Colombo to go on the Yatra. Unable to go to Kataragama, they made do with the local Murugan temples and thus was born the Colombo Vel Festival. “Pilgrims still go from all directions to Kataragama, bearing Lord Skanda’s Rooster flag: from Trincomalee, from Jaffna, from Batticaloa. But from here, the people don’t have that habit because we have the festival here itself”, says Rajendran Chettiar.

At the same time the procession of the Vel (Spear of the God) takes place in Kataragama, another will take place in Colombo too.

The celebration will begin on July 22 with a Maheshwara Pooja at the Sammangodu Sri Kathiravelayutha Swami Temple in First Cross Street, Pettah at 7 a.m.

The next day, a Kavadi Ratham, (chariot) will wend its way from this temple to the Manickavinayakar temple in Bambalapitiya, passing on its way, Main Street, Khan Clock tower, Fort, Galle Face Green, Kollupitiya and Bambalapitiya junctions.

The day after, a Vel Ratham (Silver Chariot), 108 years old and still in its original form will start out, carrying a golden statue of the God and his Vel, from the New Kathirasen Temple in Sea Street, Pettah and reach New Kathiresan Temple, Bambalapitiya. The two temple processions are under different temple managements but celebrate the same festival - that of the Vel procession of the Kataragama Deviyo.

Over the next three days, lots of functions and poojas will take place in the temples to mark the occasion, ending with the ‘Water Cutting’ ceremony when the deity is immersed in water. Finally the Kavadi Ratham of the Manickavinayagar Temple goes back on the route it came on July 26 and the Veli Ratham of the New Kathiresn Temple will go back on July 27.

The organisers call it a ‘multi religious’ festival and say that it attracts people from all religions and all walks of life. The processions are well known for their colour and sense of jubilancy and people will throng the streets, chanting the God’s name, walking behind his chariot, and buying knick knacks and eatables for their children from hawkers.

Heaps of coconuts will also be broken along the chariots’ path to ward off ill luck and usher in prosperity. According to the organisers, shopkeepers along the route place heaps of coconuts sometimes numbering 100 or more in the chariot’s path to be broken.

It is a festival propitiating God Skanda to ward off calamities and usher in prosperity. After a six year break and several years of conflict that has ended, the festival can be held again with fresh hope, reverence and gratitude by the devotees.

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