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* it's the height of the pilgrim season now:

How Sri Pada was first lit

Sri Pada pilgrim season starts on Unduvap Full Moon Day (December) when the image of God Saman and other sacred objects of worship are ceremonially taken up to the shrine atop the peak. From then on, the pilgrims' trek begins with the number of pilgrims increasing with each day. The pilgrim season is presently in its third month. Now is the height of the season, that is, from the Navam Full-Moon Poya (February) to about a fortnight after the Medin Full Moon Poya (March). Now, the weather around the peak is at its best; no rains, no strong winds, a cloudless sky, warm by day and cold at night - not a biting cold as in December and January.

With the waning of the Medin moon, the number of pilgrims gradually gets less and less. Although the pilgrim season ceremonially ends at Vesak, a few make the pilgrimage after the Bak Full Moon (April), because, at this time the Bak maha akunu the claps of thunder accompanied by lightning starts. It is a sign that the inter-monsoon rains are coming.

From ancient times pilgrims have climbed this holy mountain by torch light, each group of pilgrims carrying one or more pandum. The pandum is made by winding long straps of cloth round and round a hardy stick. This was dipped in oil and lit. When the pilgrim was a wealthy man or an important person, the torch was carried in front by a servant.

After the opening of the tea plantations, the kerosene lantern, also called the hurrican lamp became a household item.

These were readily available in any small town and pilgrims climbed by the light of these lanterns called lantayrum in Sinhala.

All that is now history. The pandum and the lantayruma (lantern) are in limbo. The whole peak has been lit up by electricity.

When the lights were switched on for the first time on October 5, 1950 it was a fulfilment of a vow made by the Government, invoking the help of God Saman, the guardian of the holy mountain, to expedite and complete the hydro-electric scheme, begun in the 1920. The work on this scheme was stalling ever so often. After 30 years the work was complete and lighting the holy mountain was an offering to the Buddha and to God Saman. This was not the first time that the shrine atop the peak and the surrounding area were lit up by electricity. Sixteen years earlier a group of energetic devotees of Saman Deviyo had by their own efforts and at their own expense, provided light to the precincts of the shrine and the last lap of the climb, from Maha Giri Dombaya.

Very few know when and by whom it was done, for it was the work of a few devotees of Saman Deviyo whose one aim was to serve the pilgrims and to gain merit.

They were, not after publicity or honours. I myself learnt of this great act of devotion on reading two articles in the Silumina and Budu Sarana, both Lake House publications.

Here's how the story goes...


Making the arduous climb to the Holy Mountain.

Why back in 1930, a young couple, Mawarala Vitharanage Eliyas Appuhamy and his wife went on a pilgrimage to Sri Pada with their 18 month infant daughter. Being first timers to Sri Pada, Wannaku Guruge Sarrdis Happuhamy, accompanied them as their guide - nadday gura .

At Seetha Gangula they, like all pilgrims, washed themselves and rested awhile before beginning the climbs. When they reached the shrine it was dark. Eliyas Appuhamy who had carried the infant all the way up was tired. He put his foot on a pile of gunny bags and rested the infant on his thigh.

In a trice (instantly), the pile began to move and Appuhamy heard a voice from inside the gunny bags asking in Tamil "Ennah Aiyya?" (What Sir?).

Appuhamy realised he had stepped on a man, who to escape the biting cold had huddled inside gunny bags. He apologised, but he was said. He thought that in this sacred place he had trampled another human being mistaking him for pile of gunny bags, woried him.

The mistake he realised was due to the darkness everywhere. Then and there he resolved (made a firm decision) to light up the shrine and the surrounding area. On the way down he told Saranelis Appuhamy of his decision and plan.

Back home in Wellawatta, Colombo, Eliyas Appuhamy and Sararelis Appuhamy told a few friends of their plan to light up the Sri Pada Maluwa. It was a gigantic project, but Eliyas Appuhamy was confident it could be done.

He spoke to many more relations and acquaintances and got them interested in the project, and by 1933 he was able to muster (bring together) enough people to form a society.

The society inaugurated on March 26, 1933 was named Samanta Koota Viduali Pahan Aloka Sahodara Samitiya (Brotherhood for the lighting up of Samanta Koota Saman's mountain). When the society was collecting money for their project, Walker Co, advertised a 5 h.p. dynamo for sale. The selling price was Rs. 1,500. The society didn't have enough money.

So, Eliyas Appuhamy mortgaged his bus which was his only source of income, and Sarnelis Appuhamy made good the balance.

The dynamo was taken by cart in a procession to Kegalle and from there in Elayis Appuhamy's brother's bus to Nallatanniya at the foot of the peak.

Now was the most difficult part of the transportation. An elephant was hired for this purpose. The dynamo was hung round the elephant's neck and he walked slowly and carefully up the pilgrims' path.

Fixing the dynamo in a shed, planting posts to carry the wires, wiring and all other work was done under the supervision of a Burgher engineer named Ferguson, hired by Eliyas Appuhamy, Saranelis Appuhamy, and R.E. Wijesekera owner of Vijaya Stores Kollupitiya.

All work was completed by mid February 1934, and on Navam Full Moon Poya Day, February 28. Sam Elapatha Disawa, the Trustee of Sri Pada switched on the lights around 6 p.m. and jubilant cries of "Sadhu Sadhu" reverberated through the crowd.Now, for the first time, the shrine, the surrounding area and the pilgrim path was bathed in light and it was possible to do the last lap of the climb from Maha Giri Dambaya without torches or hurricane lamps.

Switching on the lights was the culmination of the Brotherhood's aim. Their aim had been achieved, but the work was not yet over. For 16 years until the Government lighted up the peak on October 3, 1952, two or three members of the society went up to the peak every year to work the dynamo and stayed till the season ended.

What the Sahodara Samitiya did was a tremendous achievement and an act of supreme devotion to the Buddha and God Saman. No plaque no inscription records the valiant effort, determination and devotion of these few men; small-time business men, who proved true the old saying, 'where there is a will there is a way'.

Sumana Saparamadu

***********

[ Fact file ]

* The hallowed mountain, which is shrouded in legend and history, is situated 16 km. North-East of Ratnapura at an altitude of 2,243m. (7,360 ft.) above sea level.

* In Buddhist tradition, it is believed to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition, that of Shiva and in Christian tradition that of Adam.Some Muslims too believe this.

* According to Sri Lanka's great chronicle, Mahawamsa , Buddha visited Sri Lanka three times. The last time he travelled from Kelaniya to Sri Pada, and then to Digavaphi. It is believed by the Buddhists that the Buddha left his footprint on the rock at top of the mountain at the invitation of God Saman (Saman Deviyo ).

* The real footprint on Adam's Peak is believed to be set in jewels beneath the visible rock.

* The first historical mention about Sri Pada comes during the reign of Vijayabahu (1055-1110).

* Pilgrims are supposed to ring the bell at the peak equivalent to the number of times he has visited the peak.They also tie a thread at Indikatu paya.

* Alexander the Great, Greek warrior king and empire builder is believed to have visited Sri Pada (circa. 324 B.C.), the peak was already held in veneration. Ashraff the 15th century poet describes this odyssey of Alexander to Sri Pada in his 'Zaffer Namah Skendari' . After landing in the Island he and his retinue explores the wonders of the Island.

Here Alexander is known to have sought the assistance of the Philosopher Bolinas, a celebrated Greek occultist and magician, to climb the Sacred peak, then supposed to be zealously guarded by various deities. Among the artefacts devised to ascend the then almost inaccessible peak were massive iron chains affixed to stanchions of the same metal secured to the bare rock face.

The chains were secured to the stanchions with rivets of iron and bronze. Remains of these artefacts are still evident. Early pilgrims to the peak made use of these chains to hoist themselves upto the summit.

* Arab pilgrim Ibn Batuta alias Abu Abdullah Mohammed (1304-1377), had ventured to reach the summit of the holy mountain via Ratnapura

* The renowned Venetian merchant and traveller, Marco Polo (1254-1324), too had ascended the mountain to pay homage to the glorious Foot of Adam, on his way from China in 1292, before returning to Venice. It was while in China that he had come to know about the sacred footmark from Kublai Khan, the first Emperor of the Yuan dynasty in China.

* Sri Pada is also called Samanalakanda-butterfly mountain.

* Access to the mountain is possible by six trails - Ratnapura-Palabaddala, Hatton-Nallathanni, Kuruwita-Erathna, Murraywatte, Mookuwatte and Malimboda.

* Sri Pada is the term derived from Sanskrit and is used by the Sinhalese in a religious context. Translated roughly it means the sacred footprint.

* Other local and historic names include Ratnagiri ("jewelled hill"), Samantakuta ("Peak of Saman"), Svargarohanam ("the climb to heaven"), Mount Rohana and other variations on the root Rohana.

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