Today Ruhunu Maha Kataragama devalaya has become a temple which attracts and unites people of different religions and faiths. Thousands of devotees from Sri Lanka and other parts of the world visit this temple daily. Kataragama deviyo is identified with God Skanda of Hindu tradition, who is called as Murugan by the Tamil people. There is also an identical guardian deity of Mahayana Buddhism, known as Skanda. Theosophists identify Ruhunu Kataragama devalaya as a shrine which is dedicated to Sanat Kumara, the lord of humanity and the world.
Kataragama deviyo is native and long-celebrated in Sri Lankan lore and legend. Since ancient times an inseparable connection between Kataragama deviyo and his domain has existed. At some point in the history it is believed that he resided on the top of mountain Wedahitikanda, just outside the Kataragama town. The temple dedicated to Kataragama deviyo in Kataragama has been a place of pilgrimage and religious sanctity for thousands of years.
According to some legends God Kataragama originally lived in the Mount Kailash in Himalayas and had a divine consort by the name of Thevani, before moving to Kataragama in Sri Lanka. After settling down at Kataragama in South Eastern Sri Lanka, he had fallen in love with Valli, a beautiful maiden princess who had been raised by the indigenous Veddahs. Later Valli became the second consort of God Kataragama and transfigured as a deity. Till today the indigenous Veddah people come to venerate Kataragama deviyo at the Kataragama temple complex from their forest abodes. His relationship to the Veddah princess Valli is celebrated during the annual Esala festival.
Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thero, a scholar Buddhist monk who did research on Kataragama deviyo cult has revealed in his writings that Nilwakke Somananda Thero, who was the chief prelate of Mahabodhi temple in Madras, has managed to obtain Nadi wakya readings regarding God Kataragama. According to those Nadi astrology readings, Kataragama deviyo is a deity known as Subramanya or Subramanium who was sent to Sri Lanka by Gautama Buddha before his visits to the island. During one of his visits to Sri Lanka, Buddha visited Kataragama area and delivered a discourse of Dhamma to the local people. Local residents were also advised to stop animal sacrifices widely practiced by them in that period. Buddha instructed the deity to reside in Sri Lanka and help the people when required, specially in their difficulties. Wedahitikanda, a mountain in the area was selected as the place to stay for the deity. Thereafter the locals in Kataragama built a Buddhalaya (a shrine for Buddha) and a Devalaya (a shrine for Subrahmanya) to pay homage.
It is believed that the present spiritual residence of Kataragama deviyo lies in the jungles of south eastern Sri Lanka, where he is spending his time in meditation. The area known as Kebiliththa, located in the Yala National Park is one such location where devotees visit, after practicing strict religious rituals such as vegetarianism and abstinence to get the blessings of the god. However, it is believed that Kataragama deviyo visits the Kataragama temple on special occasions, such as Eslala festival days and poya days. Hence a minister of God Kataragama known as Kadawara deviyo, is believed to be the present guardian of the Kataragama temple.
The main event that is held to pay homage to Kataragama deviyo is the annual Esala Festival held at Kataragama in July or August. The traditional rituals of the annual Kataragama Esala festival starts with traditional Kap Sitaweema ceremony that take place at an auspicious time after the conclusion of Poson Poya day. Kap situweema is the installation of a sanctified log known as kapa at the premises of the temple. Devotees after having a bath in Menik Ganga (a river flowing near to the Kataragama temple) dressed in clean white clothes, walk across to the temple bearing offerings of flowers and fruit to the god, expect to obtain blessings to begin the Esala festival.
In the legendary history, Sumana Saman deviyo invited Buddha to the Samanala Kanda and on request Gautama Buddha left his foot print on the rock at the top of the mountain as a token of symbolic worship, in the absence of the Buddha. God Sumana Saman was there when Buddha visited the island for the first time. Saman became a stream-entrant (sotapanna) after listening to the Buddha, who gave him a handful of hairs with which he erected the Stupa at Mahiyangana. 2b1af7f3a8