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
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
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.