A journey on foot, for devotion, love and peace
"Haro Hara, Haro Hara, HARO HARA..."
The humming and chanting continues and reaches a crescendo as the
yellow clad men, women and children walk in utmost piety, towards
Kataragama, from Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, entering the last
phase of their journey along the Kumana National Wildlife Reserve to
show their ultimate and unconditional devotion to God Skanda.
attending the pooja at Okanda kovil, where they take a break
before they proceed on their last lap.
Pix: Dushmantha Mayadunne
Seeking health, happiness and solutions to other problems in their
lives, the pilgrims have been on this journey on foot for over a month
by the time they reach Okanda Kovil, at the gate of Kumana Reserve,
where they rest for nearly two days, before setting afoot to cover the
last phase of this sacred journey, following the footsteps of many samys,
devotees and rishis centuries back.
The murai, sacred procedures followed by the pilgrims, for the Yathra
dictate that the group should be led by a veteran pilgrim who has walked
on the Pada Yathra for more than a few decades. One such veteran, 75
year old Sinnathambi Vijayasingham, respectfully known as 'Appachchi', 'Appasamy'
or 'Appaji', said that the preparations for the Pada Yathra begin two
months before they set out from Batticaloa. This year, over 1,000
devotees have accompanied Appachchi who is on his 54th journey of
devotion, following murai as his guru did 54 years ago, in 1962.
Appachchi and his group had started their journey on May 22, from
Mamangam Kovil in Batticaloa, where they conducted the initial rituals.
Firstly, they pray over coconuts, with necklaces placed on them, and the
Samy in charge, in this case Appachchi, blesses the necklaces and gives
them to each pilgrim who performs the ritual of breaking the coconut,
and sealing the protection blessings Appachchi had placed on the
necklaces. Then they set on the journey of Haro Hara...
It was very difficult back then, when Appachchi and his team, led by
their guru, had to brave the jungles paving the footpaths, carrying
food, water and other necessities needed for nearly two months, and the
protection necklace was deeply cherished. The journey has become less
dangerous over time, but still, the pilgrims encounter wild animals
which makes the journey more interesting for some, and more challenging
for others, and till safe arrival at Kataragama, a blessing from God.
Many go on the pilgrimage to ask favours from God Skanda. For some,
the journey has thus begun, and are continuing with it even though their
prayers have already been answered. Appachchi says that his journey
involves no personal requests from God. "I want peace for the country,
for every individual, irrespective of their race or religion. I want to
help people who seek God, in every way possible, and I worry about the
younger generation being impulsive which makes them violent. I pray
especially for them," he explains.
Appachchi has had most of his prayers answered, but he remembers how
the journey of peace and devotion was disturbed by the tattering rattle
of guns, during the war as well as the 'JVP insurgencies'. Some were
shot, and some got caught to bombs.
The Haro Hara, blessed journey, has an ancient story featuring a
legendary fight between Kajamuha Suran and Muruga Peruman. Kajamuha
Suran, an asura, a devil, was plaguing people in Sri Lanka when devoted
Samys pleaded with God Skanda, who is also called Muruga Peruman, to
protect them. He descended from heaven to India, and then came to Sri
Lanka, used his Divine Spear, the Vel, or Velayudha, to defeat the asura
and establish peace, harmony and prosperity. In his journey in Sri
Lanka, he visited temples from Jaffna along the East coast; from
Sellasandi and Nallur in Jaffna, Thaandimalai in Kokadicholai,
Beragalampathy in Muttur, Thirukkovil in Trincomalee and Siththandi in
Batticaloa to name a few, which the pilgrims believe still carry the
power of God Skanda, or Okanda Murugan or Katharagama Deviyo, or Kandan
as He is known by name. To celebrate the victory of their God, the
devotees make the journey through his temples annually, to attend the
much awaited ceremony in Kataragama, the last temple God Skandan
visited. The pilgrims celebrate the weapon of Skanda, Vel or Velayudha,
during the festivities in Kataragama.
A lady performing the
rituals with coconuts and necklaces, before starting the yathra
Dressed in their traditional yellow dress code, not stitched, the
pilgrims refrain from consuming alcohol and follow a strict vegetarian
diet throughout the journey.
Women who don't have children, students about to sit for their
Advanced or Ordinary Level exams, men and women looking for partners to
get married to, the sick who pray to get their illnesses cured, join the
Little Ashwini is 10- months-old and her mother, Mariyam Sudharshini
is taking her on the Pada Yathra to invoke blessings from God Skanda
before cutting her first flock of hair. Sudharshini's husband, mother,
and younger sister who is 10-years-old, have joined to support her in
this journey. "Ashwini behaved well throughout the journey, and it has
not been a trouble to carry her the whole time," she said.
Mariyam Thamalini, Sudharshini's younger sister, is missing school
for nearly two months, the entirety of the Pada Yathra, but she doesn't
seem to mind. Insisting that her legs don't ache, she is experiencing
the journey on different levels, the spirituality, and the entertainment
a 10 year old can have by being on an adventure with her family.
The daily journey begins around 5.00 in the morning and continues
till 11.00, when they reach a shade or a temple to relax. The pilgrims
rest during the harshest and warmest hours of the day and resume the
journey around 3.30 in the afternoon, covering a distance of 7-10
kilometers a day.
People employed in the government sector as well as the private
sector are taking part in the pilgrimage, H.D.S. Premachrandra who is
heading another group of pilgrims said, he had started attending the
pilgrimage when his life was threatened by the LTTE, and continued to do
so every year, despite the threat diminishing.
"My life is better now. My children are well educated and are in good
positions career wise and academically. So, I think I owe it to God
Once the pilgrims start the journey after a break, the only feeling
they give in to, is love for God Skanda, for protecting them throughout
the journey, and for granting their wishes.