On the Edge of the Forest

Paul Younger

in Playing Host to Deity

Published in print December 2001 | ISBN: 9780195140446
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834907 | DOI:
 On the Edge of the Forest

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The Kataragama festival in the forest of southern Sri Lanka is an ancient Vedda or tribal community's celebration of the romance between a girl of their community and a prince from India. In the festival celebration, these two characters are understood as deities (Valli and Murukan), and the details of their romance become a way of describing the wondrous process of engaging the divine. Over the centuries, this enormously popular festival has come to include other forms of religious practice, so that now there is Buddhist meditation taught at the nearby stupa, Muslim mystics puncture their bodies with steel rods, and others take part in the Hindu practices of kavati dancing, walking on burning coals, and being swung from a scaffold suspended by a hook on the back. The popularity of this festival now makes it an arena for testing different ways of combining the Buddhist, Hindu, and tribal elements in Sri Lankan culture.

Keywords: Buddhistkavati dance; Hindu; Murukan; Muslim; romance; stupa; Valli; Veddas

Chapter.  6441 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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