Adam's Peak:
Myth, Legend and Geography

The most famous physical feature of Ceylon is Adam's Peak, which is situated in the Ratnapura district. It is on the edge of the central massif but its surrounding group of mountains called the Wilderness of the Peak, is so extensive in comparison to the bulk of the other mountain groups that it appears to form a nucleus of its own, separate from the others. It is about 7500 ft high and, though it is the second highest peak in the land, its position in relation to the topography is so dominant that it stands out above all others.

The physical features of a land are often spoken of first, by a foreign visitor. Physical descriptions compare it to a pearl and a teardrop. Lying at the southern point of India its pendant shape appears like a drop of water as it falls. South of it there is nothing but the Antarctic. It is on the major sea route between West and East Asia and therefore was a trading station for the Arabs and a trading station and a colony for the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. The Arabian Nights has possibly the first reference to it.

Now the island of Serendib lieth under the equinoctial line, its night and day both numbering twelve hours. It measureth eighty leagues long by a breadth of thirty and its width is bounded by a lofty mountain and a deep valley. The mountain is conspicuous from a distance of three days and it contains many rubies and other minerals, and spice trees of all sorts. I ascended that mountain and solaced myself with a view of its marvels which are indescribable and afterwards I returned to the King. (Sixth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor, from The Thousand and One Arabian Nights)

From December to April, pilgrims converge to climb the 2,224 m (7,295 ft) Adam's Peak. At the top is a huge 'footprint', claimed by Muslims to belong to Adam, who stood there in expiation of his sin in the Garden of Eden.

Never mind that Buddhists believe it to be the mark of Buddha or that Hindus hold the print to have been made by Lord Shiva (or that Christians claim it is the footprint of St. Thomas); the fact remains that it is has been a place of pilgrimage for over one thousand years.

The view from the peak at dawn is enough to shock the most cynical agnostic into a state of reverie. It takes about four hours to climb to the top from the town of Dalhousie.

Reaching the base of Adam's Peak is simple and if you're making a night ascent, you've got all day to arrive. Buses run to Dalhousie from Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Colombo in the pilgrimage season. Otherwise you need to get first to Hatton or Maskeliya. If you're really running late, taxis will take you to Hatton or Dalhousie. You'll need to cover 220 km (136 mi) to get there from Colombo.

Sri Pada: The Legend

An ancient pilgrimage, which has long attracted thousands of pilgrims from perhaps all faiths, is the pilgrimage to the sacred mountain, Sri Pada, popularly known in English as Adam's Peak. It is a conical mountain 7,360 feet (2,243 meters) high, soaring clear above the surrounding mountain ranges. According to a legend, when the Buddha visited Ceylon he planted one foot on the north of the royal city and the other on Sumana-kuta (Adam's Peak) fifteen yojanas, or about hundred miles distant.

According to another legend the Buddha is believed to have left the print of his left foot on Adam's Peak, and then, in one stride, strode across to Siam, (now Thailand) where he left the impression of his right foot. It is called Phra Sat, and its appearance is supposed to be like that of the foot print on Adam's Peak and of similar size.

General Sir A. Cunningham, in his account of the Bharhut Stupa, which dates from the second century B.C., says:

"Footprints of Buddha were most probably an object of reverence from a very early period -- certainly before the building of the Bharut Stupa -- as they are represented in two separate sculptures there. In the sculpture the foot­prints are placed on a throne or altar, canopied by an umbrella hung with gar­lands. A royal personage is kneeling before the altar, and reverently touching the footprints with his hands. The second example is in the bas-relief repre­senting the visit of Ajata-satru to Buddha. Here, as in all other Bharut sculp­tures, Buddha does not appear in person, his presence being marked by his two footprints. The wheel symbol is duly marked on both' (p. 112. abridged).

Visit of Alexander the Great to the
sacred mount of Sri Pada:
Fact or Fiction?

by S.S.M. Nanayakkara

Sri Pada or Adam's Peak as it was known to the early West was in the limelight from times before the recorded history of the island. Legends surrounding the sacred mount existed prior to the Christian era. It is axiomatic that worship of deities in high places is indulged in by mankind from times of remote antiquity. Indeed, high inaccessible places were held in awe and veneration from the time of man's primordial religion - worship of nature. The cult persisted in the pagan world up to the early Greek and Roman times and even later, thus Mt. Olympus in Greece was dedicated to the Greek pantheon.

Even to this day, Chomolungma (Tibetan for Goddess Mother of the World), a peak in the Himalayan range and several other peaks en route to Everest and Mt. Everest itself are held sacred by the Tibetans and Nepalese. It is recorded that Norkay Tensing and his sherpa clansmen who accompanied Edmund Hillary in his successful expedition to Mt. Everest in 1953, offered a sacrifice of food to the mountain goddess Chomolungma invoking her blessings for success of the expedition. Hillary himself buried a small crucifix given him by the leader, Colonel John Hunt. Tradition is hard to die!

Alexander's visit

By the time that Macedon's illustrious son, 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. After his subjugation of the Persian empire and the dependencies thereof, Alexander led his forces on to India beyond the Indus to the ancient city of Taxila. He was at last countered by Porus the Indian king and his cohorts of battle trained fighting elephants. These huge beasts were unfamiliar to the Greek cavalry to which they presented a forbidding and formidable obstacle. The terrified horses stampeded and started to scatter out of control in utter panic. On the representation of his generals, fearing mutiny by the army Alexander decided to come to terms with Porus.

After his skirmish with the Indian king, the restless Alexander decided to detour the southwest coast of India and explore further south where he had heard of the fabulous isle of Sri Lanka known to the early Greeks as 'Taprobane'. Here reports of the sacred mount of Sri Pada, then dedicated to the Hindu deity Saman and known as 'Samanthakuty', attracted his attention. The peak with its proud pinnacle commanding an enchanting prospect was too much of an attraction for the pleasure-bent Alexander to resist.

Ancient artefacts

Ashraff, the 15th century Persian poet and chronicler, describes this odyssey of Alexander to Sri Pada in his work 'Zaffer Namah Skendari'. After landing in the island and indulging himself and his retinue in orgies and revelry he 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 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 still exist. Early pilgrims to the peak sought the assistance of these chains to hoist themselves up to the summit.

The belief that Alexander visited Sri Pada existed before Ashraff. Ibn Batuta the romantic 14th century pilgrim traveller from Tangiers in Morocco who sojourned in the island visiting the sacred mount, refers to a grotto at the foot of the peak with the name 'Iskander' inscribed on it. This 'Iskander' and 'Skendari' of Ashraff are identical, both names refer to none other than the celebrated Alexander the Great himself. Notes Batuta in his memoirs:

"The ancients have cut steps of a sort on the vertical rock face, to these steps are fixed iron stanchions with suspended chains to enable pilgrims clamber up to the top with ease and minimum risk. The impression of the Almighty's foot is observed upon a black and lofty rock in an open space on the summit. Apart from scanty and much belated Arab sources, history is strangely silent for over seventeen centuries on the visit of Alexander to the island and his journey to Sri Pada. Neither the Great Dynastic Chronicle 'Mahawamsa' or any other historical record of significance refer to it. Alexander's exploits were centered mainly in and around Persia and the Persian empire, the legends and folklore of the early Persians were, as a matter of course, handed over to their Arab posterity.

Commenting on the ancient artefacts on Sri Pada, the Englishman Robert Percival, who served with the British garrison in Colombo in the early nineteenth century, notes:

"The iron chains on the rock face of Adam's Peak have the appearance of being planted there at a very early date, who placed them there or for what purpose they were set up there it is difficult for anyone to know. The beliefs and superstitions of the natives present difficulties. Whatever it is, all evidence indicates that the Peak was in the limelight long before the recorded history of the island.

The Footprint

On the top of the Peak broad steps lead up to a walled enclosure containing the rock over which is a tower-like structure. The portion marked off as having the imprint of the Buddha's foot is about five feet seven inches long and two feet seven inches broad. The hole in the rock in Thailand, which is believed to have the imprint of the Buddha's right foot, is about five feet long and two feet broad. Buddhists attribute this universal size to the fact (such is the belief) that the Buddha was about thirty-five feet tall. The real footprint on Adam's Peak is believed to be set in jewels beneath the visible rock.

Muslims believe the footprint to be that of Adam (hence the name Adam's Peak); Christians, that of St. Thomas, the disciple Jesus; and Hindus, that of the god Siva. The Tamil name of the rock (Civan-oli-pata) means "the mountain path of Siva's light". Alongside the rock is a shrine containing images (one of which is made of silver) of the god Saman and a Brahmin priest officiates at this shrine. In front of the shrine is a small table on which pilgrims place camphor and lighted candles.

The soles of the Buddha's feet are said to be flat with all the toes of equal length. On each sole there are one hundred and eight auspicious marks (mangala­ lakkhana), with the wheel (chakra) the principal mark at the centre while around it are grouped figures of animals, inhabitants of various worlds and other kinds of symbols. The idea is that all things are subject to the Buddha who is lord or all, and under whose feet are all things.

The Pilgrimage

This pilgrimage usually takes place about the month of April, which is the dry season just before the southeast monsoon breaks. The great desire of every pilgrim is to reach the peak before dawn so that they could witness the glorious spectacle of the sunrise and thereafter perform their religious rites. Young and old married women carrying children and many old men, who really appear physically incapable of the strenuous effort, make the ascent strengthened by the belief that they are doing an extraordinary meritorious act. For some it is a pleasure trip.

The climb is by no means easy. It takes several hours to get to the top. There are several resting places (madam) at various points on the path, where pilgrims are able to rest, cook and eat their meals or even spend a night. There is a river that separates the peak from the surrounding mountain range in which pilgrims take a ceremonial bath of cleansing and change into clean clothes before crossing over a fort bridge to the sacred mountain itself. From this point the path is an ascent of steps, very steep at some points. Especially at these and other points iron rails are fixed to support the climbers. Since many pilgrims make the ascent during the night in order to reach the peak before dawn, the pathway is today lit with electricity. Formerly there were only lanterns at various points. Groups of pilgrims sing devotional songs as they climb. Cries of "Sâdhu sâdhu sâ" are heard especially as one group passes another.

Ratnapura is the nearest large town to Sri Pada
and is easily reachable from Colombo.

Sunrise from Sri Pada

When they reach the peak they crowd inside the enclosure and upon the steps outside, facing the east with their hands held together in an attitude of adoration awaiting the emergence of the sun. They watch intently the changing colours or the sky prior to sunrise and just as the tip of the sun appears, the pilgrims cry out uproariously, "Sadhu, sadhu, sa!" bending their heads in worship, while a heavy bell is loudly rung. This is of course reminiscent of sun worship.

Shortly after this, the Brahmin priest brings boiled rice from a group of buildings beneath the steps. As he passes the pilgrims touch the covering of the bowl in which the rice is carried. Thus everyone participates in the ritual act that is to follow. The priest approaches the rock and places the food upon it as an offering. This points to a time when food was offered to the sun god. Many Hindu pilgrims carry heavy loads of food for the use of the temple while often large quantities of rice are carried on the head of a pilgrim. These gifts of food are handed over to the officiating priest.

Rites of worship on Sri Pada

by L.A. de Silva

On one side of the mountain just below the enclosure is a ledge covered by a roughly constructed shed. On arriving at the peak, groups of pilgrims enter this shed and wait in a posture of worship while a leader intones prayers and verses which the whole group re­peat after him. Then they burn incense in front of the rock.

Some groups of pilgrims, who probably came from the same village or area, spread out the food offerings they bring upon a large sheet, which a number of their company lift above their heads and in that manner carry the offerings round the rock three times, the rest of the group following behind. After this ritual of circumambulation they enter the small building that covers the sacred footprint and prostrating touch the rock with their foreheads. Here they leave their offerings of food and money. The money is collected by attendants and in­serted into a large chest.

A pilgrimage to a sacred place is considered to be a meritorious deed, and the more the pilgrimages are, the greater is the merit. On Adam's Peak there is a large bell that every pilgrim rings, one toll for every pilgrimage he or she has made to that sacred mountain hallowed by the Buddha.

Saman Deviyo, Guardian of Sri Pada

Saman Deviyo as depicted at Kelaniya Vihara

One of island Lanka's most important guardian deities is Mahasumana, Sumana or Saman, the guardian or the presiding deity of Sri Pada mountain or Sumanakuta (Adam's Peak), which the Buddhists treat as sacred on account of its bearing the impression of the Buddha's left foot, which he left on his third visit to the island. (Mahavamsa i, 77 ff.).

God Saman is recorded as having met the Buddha on the latter's first visit to the island when he visited Mahiyangana to drive away the yakkhas. Saman became a stream-entrant (sotapanna) after listening to the Buddha, who gave him a handful of hairs with which he erected the dagaba at Mahiyangana (Mahavamsa i, 33). He is regarded as the chief deity of the area surrounding the sacred mountain as well as of the hill-country in general. Accordingly his main shrine is at Ratnapura, where an annual festival is held in his honour.

Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura

Saman Devale, Ratnapura.
Drawing by Barbara Sansoni

THIS TEMPLE, dedicated to one of the four guardian deities of the island, was constructed on the site of the Portuguese church and fort after the area was recaptured by the Kandyan kingdom. There is some evidence to suggest that there was an ancient devale (described as a "Hindu temple") here before Portuguese times.

The present devale is approached from the north east up a long processional way, and then through a gateway with an adjacent bo tree, which leads into a large rectangular outer enclosure. It is here that the elephants are dressed for the perahera procession during the annual festival.

From this outer enclosure a flight of twenty five stone steps leads up to an inner quadrangle which contains the main devale, together with a pair of Buddhist shrine rooms symmetrically disposed, some rooms for priests, and a well flanked by high walls.

Both areas are enclosed by dwarf masonry walls about five feet high, with tiled roofs on pillars above them.

At the top of the steps a portico of four carved wooden pillars fronts a stone doorway which leads into the spacious main portico of the temple, fifty four feet long by twenty feet wide, with twenty masonry piers arranged in four rows which carry the heavy wooden trusses of the tiled roof. A long prayer hall lies behind this portico, and behind this the multi storeyed shrine room, the doorway of which is flanked by relief statues of Hindu deities.

The flanking Buddha shrine rooms are raised on platforms, and surrounded by colonnades. Each of the shrines houses a statue of the Buddha and some valued relics which are carried in the perahera.

"The Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura is very impressive-the grandest in size and setting of all the devales I have seen. Approached up long stone steps flanked by dug out boats on either side (ready for the annual goods) one senses at once that one is entering a place of myths and legends and offine style and historic Importance. Here a king at war must have been a king indeed and the palatial walauwas in the province seem a right and proper architectural support to the central place Of worship of its people. The devale compound is bound by a low, tiled and windowed, wall within which its space is ordered and emphasised by pavilion roofs, culminating in a three tiered tower at one point, with two other deeply eaved shrine roofs for balance on the vast flat quadrangle. The impression is of triangular weight airborne on carved pillars on a flat sandy expanse, glimpsed through ever changing frames as one walks through the cloisters."-Barbara Sansoni

Maha Saman Devala,
Kuruvita Korale, Devalegama

Saman Devale, Ratnapura.

Maha Saman Devale is near the 41st mile on the Ratnapura-Panadura Road. There would have been an ancient devale at this site. The Portuguese, who overran this area in the 15th century, destroyed the sacred buildings at the site. Realizing the strategic impotance of the site, they built a fortress there, for which purpose the land here was raised up by filling. There are two platforms here. The lower platform is gained through two vahalkadas on the east and the south. A flight of steps on the eastern side provides access from the lower platform to the upper platform. Prakara walls around the platform are clad at top with tiles. Opposite the flight of steps leading to the upper terrace is the santi maduwa of the devala, which is a pillared structure provided with dwarfs on either side. Openings are provided on this dwarf wall for obtaining access to the image house on the north and to the Pattini Devala on the south. The dogge has wooden posts.

The three storied structure at the end of the digge is known as the palace. To one who looks at it from afar, the palace looks like a dagoba. The vihara here is built on a high stereobate and is surrounded by a varandas. It has ancient paintings. There is an ancient bo-tree south of the flight of steps leading to the upper terrace. In the devala premises is a sculptured stone of the Potuguese period which portrays the Portuguese General Simao Pinnao with brandished sword trampling a Sinhalese soldier. On the slab is a Portuguese inscription which is a short description of the Portuguese general.

Siri Pada:
an historical account

by P. G. G. Palihapitiya

Much has been written and spoken about this mountain since immemorial times by the inhabitants of the island and foreigners, as well. This is the second highest mountain in the island, 7341 feet above the sea-level, while Pidurutalagala, the highest mountain rises 8,282 feet. People from all walks of life climb this mountain starting from December every year. It is a spectacular event in every sense of the word.

In his celebrated book The God of Adam's Peak (1957), Professor Senerath Paranavithana, the renowned archaeologist, historian, writer and erudite scholar par excellence, writes the following.

"Among the numerous mountain peaks which rise from the central massif of the Island of Ceylon, the most famous though not the highest, is Adam's Peak known among the Sinhalese as Siripada (the Illustrious footprint) or Samanala Kanda (the Peak of the God Saman). The upper part of the mountain rising like a pinnacle from the surrounding peaks, is seen from many points in the plains and from the sea.

The steep sides from the mountain are difficult to climb, but when one arrives at the summit, with the help of chains and steps cut on the rocks, one is confronted with a scene of undescribable grandeur, particularly if the climb is accomplished so as to be at the summit at sunrise. Geographically Adam's Peak is important as the main watershed of Ceylon, four of the principal rivers of the Island, including the Mahaveli Ganga, the longest, having their source from this mountain, and falling to the sea on the eastern, western and south eastern coasts. The districts to the south and the east of Adam's Peak yield precious stones-emeralds, rubies, sapphires, etc, for which the Island has been famous, and which have earned for its ancient name of Ratnadvipa".

God Saman is one of the four deities, who undertook to protect the island and Buddhism in Lanka according to Mahavamsa, the early chronicle in Sri Lanka. Upulvan, Vibhishana and Skandha are the other three deities. God Saman became an object of worship since then, until the Kandyan Kingdom fell onto the Nayakkar dynasty from South India. They introduced the Goddess Pattini replacing God Saman.

Much veneration has been extended to this mountain and it is mainly due to the belief and the identification of the Footprint at the summit by the Sinhala-Buddhists as the Footprint of the Gauthama Buddha, who had visited this island three times. Muslims believe it to be the Footprint of Adam, while Hindus believe it to be that of God Siva.

During the Buddha's first visit to Mahiyangana he preached his doctrine to celestial beings. One of the prominent figures at the assembly was God Maha Sumana of the Samantha Kuta. God Maha Sumana attained the first fruit of the path of 'Nirvana' (Sotapatti Phala) and requested the master for an object for worship. The Buddha gave Him a lock of hair from his head and it was enshrined in the Mahiyangana Thupa, the first Dagoba constructed in the Island during the lifetime of Buddha at the initiative of God Maha Sumana.

When the Buddha visited the island for the last time of Kelaniya, at the request of God Maha Sumana, the Buddha left the trace of His footprint on the mountain according to Mahavamsa. However, Professor Paranavitana notes that earlier chronicles, such as, Deepavamsa or the Buddhaghosa's Samanthapasadika have no reference to Samanthakuta or the God Maha Sumana. God Maha Sumana has never been identified as a Hindu God. There are two important and significant Devales constructed at Ratnapura and Mahiyangana dedicated to this God.

The first historical mention about Siri Pada comes during the reign of Vijayabahu. Professor Paranavitana states: "It is in the reign of Vijayabahu (1055-1110) we have the earliest historical evidence in chronicles and inscriptions by the cult of the Footprint on Adam's Peak. It is recorded of this monarch that he, having seen the difficulties undergone by the pilgrims on their way to worship the Buddha's footprint on Samanthakuta dedicated the village named 'Gilimale' to provide for their needs. Stone inscriptions of Vijayabahu have been found at Gilimale and Ambagamuwa confirming the statement of the chronicle".

King Nissankamalla (Dravidian King during the Polonnaruwa period famous for his self-commendations) who ascended the Sinhalese throne in 1187 A. D. is stated to have visited the Samanthakuta with his four-fold army and worshipped the Footprint with great devotion. He had re-granted the Village Ambagamuwa and it has been recorded in an inscription found in a cave known as Bhagavalena. He had constructed a concrete slab to protect the Footprint.

A Pali poem "Samantha Kuta Vannana" by a monk named Vedeha in the 13th century confirms the increasing interest shown by the Sinhala-Buddhists to the cult of this Footprint. In our recorded history, a good number of ancient kings have visited the mountain from time to time. Parakramabahu (II) (1225-1269) visited the Footprint and paid homage. His minister, Devaprathiraja constructed roads leading to the mountain and installed iron chains on iron posts to make the ascent easy and conducted great festivities in celebrating to worship of the Footprint. Parakramabahu's son, Vijayabahu, and other kings like Vikramabahu, Vimala Dharmasuriya (1687-1707), his son Narendrasinghe (1707-1730) were among Sinhala Kings who had visited the Footprint to pay homage.

King Vimala Dharmasuriya constructed a silver umbrella over the Footprint. Rajasinghe I (1581-1593) who became a Hindu convert had also visited the Footprint. Sri Vijaya Rajasinghe (Nayakkar King) who became the Kandyan king in 1739, had also visited the mountain. Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, (1747-1789) during whose reign, Buddhist renaissance took place had visited the Footprint and restored to the Buddhists' incomes withdrawn by Rajasinghe I. He also donated the village, Kuttapitiya and the copper plate charter in support of this donation is still in existence.

Manimekalei, Tamil Poem attributed to have been written in the 6th century outside the island, refers to the Footprint of the Buddha on the high peak of Samanthakuta and narrates the story of spiritual beings worshipping (Samanoli) which is equivalent to 'Samanola' in Sinhala language.

The Travels of Ibn Batuta

WHEN we sailed, however, the wind changed upon us, and we were near being lost; but arrived at last at the island of Ceylon, a place well known, and in which is situated the mountain of Serendib. This appeared to us like a pillar of smoke, when we were at a distance of nine days from it. When we got near the land, we saw a harbour, into which we endeavoured to put, but were threatened by the Reis, who was in a ship.

The reason of this was, the harbour was in a district belonging to an infidel prince, who had no intercourse with the captains of Mohammedan vessels, as other infidel princes had. He was likewise a very stupid being. He had also ships with which he occasionally transported his troops against the Mohammedans. Beside all this, we were in danger of drowning, unless we could enter the port: I said to the Reis, therefore, Allow me to come on shore, and I will ensure thy safety, and that of those about thee, with the King. To this he consented, and myself, with some of my followers only, were brought on shore. The infidels then came about us and said: What are you? I answered, I am a relation of the King of the Maabar districts, and am on a voyage to visit him: whatever is in the ship, is a present for the King of the Maabar.

They then went to their king, and told him this. He therefore sent for me, and I went to him. He is king of the city of Battala, which is small, and surrounded by two wooden fences. The whole of its shore abounds with cinnamon wood, bakam, and the kalanji aloe; which, however, is not equal to the Kamari, or the Kakuli, in scent. The merchants of Malabar and the Maabar districts transport it without any other price than a few articles of clothing, which are given as presents to the king. This may be attributed to the circumstance, that it is brought down by the mountain torrents, and left in great heaps upon the shore.

Between this city and the Maabar districts, there is a voyage of one day and night. The king of Ceylon, Ayari Shakarti, by name, has considerable forces by sea. When I was first admitted to his presence, he rose and received me honourably, and said: You are to be my guest for three days. Security shall be forwarded to the people of the ship, because your relation, the King of the Maabar, is my friend. After thanking him, I remained with him, and was treated with increasing respect.

One day, when I was admitted to his presence, he had with him a great number of pearls, which had been brought from the pearl-fishery, and these his companions were sorting. He asked me, whether I had ever seen pearl-diving, in any country which I had visited. I said, yes, I had, in the island of Finas. He said: Do not be shy; ask for what you wish. I answered: My only desire in coming to this island was, to visit the blessed foot of our forefather Adam; whom these people call Baba, while they style Eve, Mama. This, replied he, is easy enough. We will send some one with you, who shall conduct you thither. The ship (said I) which brought me here, shall return to the Maabar; and when I return, you shall send me there in one of your ships. He answered, It shall be so. When I told this to the commander of the ship, he refused to accede to it; and said, I will wait for you, should you be absent a whole year. This I told to the King, who said: He may stay at my charge until you return. He then gave me a palanquin, which his servants carried upon their shoulders. He also sent with me four Jogees, who were in the habit of visiting the foot-mark every year; with these went four Brahmins, and ten of the King's companions, with fifteen men carrying provisions.

As to water, there is plenty of it to be found on the road. We then proceeded on our journey; and on the first day crossed a river in a boat made of reeds, and entered the city of Manar Mandali, which is handsome, and situated at the extremity of the territory of the infidel king, who had entertained and. sent us out. We then proceeded to the port of Salawat, which is a small- town. The roads, however, over which we travelled, were rough and abounding with water. In these there were many elephants: but they never touched either pilgrims or strangers, in consequence of the blessing obtained by the Sheikh Abu Abd Allah Ibn Khafif, the first who opened this road of pilgrimage to the foot.

The infidels would not formerly allow the Mohammedans to make this pilgrimage, but injured them; nor would they either sell, or give them anything to eat. But when it happened that the elephants killed all the companions of this Sheikh, one of them sparing and carrying him on his back from among the mountains to an inhabited district, the infidels ever after thought highly of the Mohammedans, admitted them into their houses, and fed them. And to this very day they speak of the Sheikh in the most extravagant terms of respect, and call him " the greatest Sheikh." After this we arrived at the city of Kankar, which is the seat of the Emperor of Ceylon. It is built in a valley between two hills, upon an estuary called the estuary of rubies, and in which rubies are found. Without the city is the mosque of the Sheikh Othman of Shiraz, which both the Emperor and the people of the city visit, and for which they have great respect.

The Emperor is an infidel, and is known by the name of Kinar. He has a white elephant, upon which he rides on feast days, having first placed on his head some very large rubies. This is the only white elephant I had ever seen. The ruby and carbuncle are found only in this country. These are not allowed to be exported, on account of the great estimation in which they are held: nor are they elsewhere dug up. But the ruby is found all over Ceylon. It is considered as property, and is sold by the inhabitants. When they dig for the ruby, they find a white stone abounding with fissures. Within this the ruby is placed. They cut it out, and give it to the polishers, who polish it until the ruby is separated from the stone. Of this there is the red, the yellow, and the cerulean. They call it the Manikam.

It is a custom among them, that every ruby amounting in value to six of the golden dinars current in those parts, shall go the Emperor, who gives its value and takes it. What falls short of this goes to his attendants. All the women in the island of Ceylon have traces of coloured rubies, which they put upon their hands and legs as chains, in the place of bracelets and ankle-rings. I once saw upon the head of the white elephant seven rubies, each of which was larger than a hen's egg. I also saw in the possession of the king Ayari Shakarti, a saucer made of ruby, as large as the palm of the hand, in which he kept oil of aloes. I was much surprised at it, when the King said to me, We have them much larger, than this.

We then proceeded from Kankar, and came to a cave known by the name of Ista Mahmud, then to the estuary of Buzuta, which in their language signifies monkies, animals which are in great numbers in the mountains of these parts. These monkies are black, and have long tails: the beard of the males is like that of a man. I was told by the Sheikh Othman and his son, two pious and credible persons, that the monkies have a leader, whom they follow as if he were their king. About his head is tied a turban composed of the leaves of trees; and he reclines upon a staff. At his right and left hand are four monkies, with rods in their hands, all of which stand at his head whenever the leading monkey sits.

His wives and children are daily brought in on these occasions, who sit down before him; then comes a number of monkeys, which sit and form a sort of assembly about him. One of the four monkeys then addresses them, and they disperse. After this each of them comes with a nut, a lemon, or some of the mountain fruit, which he throws down before the leader. He then eats, together with his wives, children, and the four principal monkeys; they then all disperse. One of the Jogees also told me, that he once saw the four monkeys standing in the presence of the leader, and beating another monkey, with rods; after this they plucked off all his hair. I was also told by respectable persons, that if one of these monkeys happens to attack, and be too strong for a young woman, he will ravish her.

We next proceeded to the estuary of reeds, where rubies are also found. The next place we arrived at is known by "The house of the old woman," which is the farthest inhabited part of the island of Ceylon. Our next stage was the cave of Baba Tahir, who was one of the pious: the next, the cave of Sibak, an infidel king, who retired to this place for the purposes of devotion. Here we saw the fierce leech, which they call the zalaw. It remains in trees, or in the grass near water. When any one comes near to it, it springs upon him, and the part of the body attacked will bleed profusely. People generally provide themselves with a lemon for this occasion, which they squeeze over him, and then he drops off. The place upon which the leech has fastened they cut out with a wooden knife made for that purpose.

It is told of a pilgrim who passed by this place, that a leech fastened upon him, so that the skin swelled; and, as he did not squeeze the lemon on him, the blood flowed out and he died.

We next came to a place called the seven caves, and after this to the Ridge of Alexander; in which is a cave and a well of water. At this place is the entrance to the mountain. This mountain of Serendib is one of the highest in the world: we saw it from the sea at the distance of nine days. When we ascended it, we saw the clouds passing between us and its foot. On it is a great number of trees, the leaves of which never fall.

There are also flowers of various colours, with the red rose, about the size of the palm of the hand, upon the leaves of which they think they can read the name of God and of his Prophet. There are two roads on the mountain leading to the foot (of Adam); the one is known by "the way of Baba," the other, by "the way of Mama," by which they mean Adam and Eve. The way called that of Mama is easy: to it the travellers come upon their first visiting the place; but every one who has travelled only upon this, is considered as if he had not made the pilgrimage at all. T

he way named Baba is rough, and difficult of ascent. At the foot of the mountain where the entrance is, there is a minaret named after Alexander, and a fountain of water. The ancients have cut something like steps, upon which one may ascend, and have fixed in iron pins, to which chains are appended; and upon these those who ascend take hold. Of these chains there are ten in number, the last of which is termed "the chain of witness," because, when one has arrived at this, and looks down, the frightful notion seizes him that he shall fall. After the tenth chain is the cave of Khizr, in which there is a large space; and at the entrance a well, of water, full of fish, which is also called after his name. Of those, however, no one takes any. Near this, and on each side of the path, is a cistern cut in the rock. In this cave of Khizr the pilgrims leave their provisions, and whatever else they have, and then ascend about two miles to the top of the mountain, to the place of (Adam's) foot. The holy foot (mark) is in a stone, so that its place is depressed.

The length of the impression is eleven spans. The Chinese came here at some former time, and cut out from this stone the place of the great toe, together with the stone about it, and placed it in a temple in the city of Zaitun: and pilgrimages are made to it from the most distant parts of China. In the rock, too; in which the impression of the foot is, there are nine excavations which have been cut out: into these the infidel pilgrims put gold, rubies, and other jewels: and hence you will see the Fakeers, who have come as pilgrims to the well of Khizr, racing to get first to the excavations, in order to obtain what may be in them. We, however, found nothing but a little gold with some rubies, which we gave to our guide.

It is customary for the pilgrims to remain in the cave of Khizr for three days; and during this time to visit the foot both morning and evening. This we did; and when the three days were expired we returned by the path of Mama, and came down to the cave of Shisham, who is Sheth, the son of Adam. After this we arrived at the fish port, then at the village of Karkun, then at the village of Dildinuh, then at the village of At Kalanja, where the tomb of Abu Abd Allah Ibn Khafif is situated. All these villages and tilled. lands are upon the mountain. At its foot, and near the path, is a cypress, which is large and never drops the leaf. But as to its leaves, there is no getting to them by any means; and these people's heads are turned with some strange and false notions respecting them. I saw a number of Jogees about the tree, waiting for the falling of one; for they suppose that any person eating one of them, will grow young again, however old he may be. Beneath this mountain is the great estuary at which the rubies are obtained; its water appears wonderfully blue to the eye.

From this place we proceeded, and in two days arrived at the city of Dinaur, which is large, and inhabited by merchants. In this is an idol, known by the same name, placed in a large temple; and in which there are about a thousand Brahmins and Jogees, and five hundred young women, daughters of the nobility of India, who sing and dance all night before the image. The officers of the city revenue attend upon the image. The idol is of gold, and as large as a man. In the place of eyes it has two large rubies; which, as I was told, shine in the night-time like two lighted candles.

From this place we travelled to Kali, which is a large town; then to Kolambu (Colombo), which is the finest and largest city in Serendib. After three days we arrived at the city of Battala, from which we had been sent by its king, with his servants, to visit (Adam's) foot. This we entered, and were received honourably by the king, who furnished us with provisions.

From: The Travels of Ibn Batuta; Translated from the Abridged Arabic Manuscript Copies, preserved in the Public Library of Cambridge. Translated by Rev. Samuel Lee. London: Printed for the Oriental Translation Committee, 1829, 183-192.

Visiting a God

Saman Deviyo
Saman Deviyo as depicted at Kelaniya Vihara
offering to god Saman
Offering brought to Saman Devale, Ratnapura
Offerings left at the Bo tree at Maha Saman Devale
Offerings left at the Bo tree at Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura
procession from Maha Saman Devale to Sri Pada
Saman Deviyo statue being brought in procession from Maha Saman Devale to Sri Pada at the beginning of the pilgrimage season
summit of Sri Pada
Building that houses the holy footprint at the summit of Sri Pada
Queue on steps of Sri Pada
On a poya (full moon) day in the pilgrimage season, the crowds on the steps to the peak can be so great that pilgrims may stand in a stationary queue for hours.
Bell atop Sri Pada
Next to the holy footprint hangs a bell that each pilgrim is entitled to ring as many times as he has climbed the sacred mountain.

By Goetz Nitzshe

The god Saman sometimes teaches life lessons by playing on pilgrims' expectations as they climb to his abode atop Adam's Peak At the 2,243-metre-high pinnacle of Adam's Peak, there is a 'holy footprint', for which the mountain receives its Sinhala name, Sri Pada. But whose footprint is it? Buddhists believe it is Lord Buddha's. Hindus say it is Shiva's; Muslims, Adam's; Christians, Saint Thomas'. With Hindus worshipping Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu, and both Christians and Muslims revering Adam, it is not always clear exactly who the protagonist is in the many legends that swirl around this holy peak.

Perhaps it doesn't matter. Whoever stepped down from Heaven to leave this footprint in stone, as many as 250,000 pilgrims per month leave their own, more transitory, footprints on the Earthly approaches to the Buddhist monastery atop Samanalakande - to use yet another name for the peak, the one that reminds us that it is the abode of the god Saman. But who is this god Saman? The answers that scholars offer are bewildering in their variety, which I find appropriate following my visit to this mischievous but good-humoured god.

Sri Pada is part of the main watershed of Sri Lanka, from which her four largest rivers spring. South and east of the peak are found the rubies, sapphires and emeralds that earned Sri Lanka the ancient name of Ratnadvipa, or Island of Gems, which has been identified as Sindbad the Sailor's Valley of Gems.

The peak is a perfect pyramid and a remarkable sight, visible from far out in the Indian Ocean. Though Sri Pada was described by travellers early in history, the first to report the existence of the footprint was the Arab Soleiman in 851. The first European to describe the peak first hand was Daniel Pathey, a German serving in 1648 as a soldier in the Dutch East India Company.

The pilgrim has the choice of starting from the village of Maskeliya, on the eastern slopes above Hatton, or from Ratnapura, southwest of the peak. I chose the latter because, though longer and steeper, it is the classical route.

Arriving in the gem city of Ratnapura, I checked in at the Kalawathie Hotel, which has a wonderful botanical garden and facilities for Ayurvedic treatment, herbal bath and massage before and after the climb. These are important because otherwise the effort can leave your muscles aching for at least three days.

Then I paid a visit to Maha Saman Devale, the largest temple devoted to Saman, to prepare for my pilgrimage. In the outer wall of the compound is the famous stone showing a Portuguese soldier killing a Sri Lankan nobleman, perhaps the king of Jaffna. The historic but fading frescoes inside the temple show Saman with various accessories-sometimes a lotus, sometimes a bow and arrow-but always with his 'vehicle', the elephant.

In the main hall hang veils brought by devotees in gratitude for a cure or other wish fulfilled. The afternoon I visited the temple was an auspicious one, and several young couples had brought their newborn babies to be blessed for the first rime by the devale priests. These priests, called kapuralas, are neither the Hindu Brahmins they resemble nor Buddhist monks, their origin predating the arrival of either religion. Even today, this priestly post is passed from father to son.

Walking around the temple, I saw a gorgeous view of Samanalakande that made the mountain seem fairly close. That was the first time God Saman deluded me.

I didn't want to walk the entire 27 kilometres-with its altitude gain of more than 2,000 metres-so at 9pm I started driving from Ratnapura toward Carney Estate, from where it is a seven-kilometre climb. I missed a turn in the darkness and perceived my error only when the narrow road went from bad to worse. Already Saman had fooled me twice. I turned the car and sped back down the hill. Soon I saw a line of lights wending their way up the hill. This was the day after Unduvap Poya Day, and a nearly full moon still bathed the tea estates and distant mountain ranges in a soft silver light.

I had chosen that day because on full moon days the path to the peak becomes so crowded that one sometimes has to stand in a stationary queue for hours before moving slowly on. In the event, I found myself to be the only pilgrim in sight. I was a little shocked. It was 10.30pm by then, and the loneliness, together with the wildness of the landscape, scared me.

Friendly employees from the Wildlife Department allowed me to park my car in their fenced courtyard and promised to watch it through the night. As I walked through the lanes of the sleeping village, I saw only one shopkeeper, and even he was asleep on his counter-possibly to ensure that his goods would still be there the following day, or perhaps because he had no other place to sleep.

The village was brightly lit, but there were fewer lights as I came to the paddy fields at its edge. I had a wondrous view over the low-lying fields and the tea estates perched further up the slopes in the bewitching softness of the moonlight. The path grew steep as it led into the darkness of the jungle, most of the light bulbs having been burst by heavy rain. The stone steps were sometimes half a metre high, and small brooks cutting across the path made it slippery. I chose my steps carefully. I had to pause often, and once I sat - or rather lay-on a bent tree. Such was the silence that, when I looked up to see what was causing the only sound I could hear, I realized that I was listening to the gentle gliding of a leaf upon the air.

Later, in a place of absolute darkness, a loud noise exploded close by. Fed by stories of wild animals on these slopes, my imagination ran riot. I saw myself trampled by an elephant, torn to pieces by a bear or devoured by a leopard springing from his lair. It took me several minutes to calm my nerves-even though my rational mind knew that almost all of the wild beasts had long since been driven from here.

As I climbed and grew increasingly tired, Saman continued his tricks. Three or four times I thought I was nearing the top, only to emerge disappointed on a dark plateau, the god mocking me from his abode high above. Clouds swirled round the peak, reflecting the bright lights there.

When it started to rain, I reached my deepest low. I sat down on a stone and pondered. I calculated that I had covered only about half of the distance, with the worst to come, but already my strength was gone. What was I doing here on this mountain in the middle of the night, when anyone with a modicum of common sense would be in bed?

Most Westerners reach this point of despair when climbing Sri Pada. Some turn tail. Others make it to the top out of shame, surrounded as they are by 70-year-old pilgrims calling 'karunawai, karunawai('compassion') or ' Saman Devindu, api enava' ('God Saman, we are coming'). But I enjoyed no such encouragement. To be joined by a few pilgrims would have been enough, but for hours I had not met a single human being. I fell into a deep hole of despondency and indecision. On the one hand, I feared mockery if I returned to the hotel in the morning. On the other, I normally wouldn't give a farthing for the good opinion of others.

Then I remembered for whom I was doing this: for myself and none other. If I could make it, I would. If not, let it be. I had been so attracted to this mountain, and to the stories I had heard about Saman, that I would now accept whatever happened. I arose with renewed strength and slowly continued on my way. Out of the blue came the certainty that I would reach the peak, no matter how long it took.

I'm convinced this new energy was connected with Saman. I later spoke with the chief lay custodian of the Ratnapura temple, a man named Tennekoon, who told me that Saman granted pilgrims what they had in mind. Sometimes he fooled them, as when his gifts became unexpected burdens, but he never did any harm. I had gone to meet the god curious and a little sceptical of all the powers he was accorded in the stories told by village folk. But Saman taught me a life lesson.

I don't really know what my expectations were, but my long attraction to Saman and my years of anticipating my pilgrimage up Sri Pada had surely left me ripe for an extraordinary experience. This is what happened. Still exhausted, walking slowly alone in the silence and peace of the night, breathing deeply and concentrating on my footing, I fell into a state of awareness like that of meditation, in which I noted the coming and going of ideas without judging them. Images and thoughts formed, then vanished, and in this way the story of my life flickered before my inner eye like a movie. Chapters that had lasted years in reality passed in a moment, and shorter episodes lingered in my mind. It was a thrilling stroll down the lanes of my memory-not all of them pleasant-from childhood to adolescence, adulthood and retirement. It seemed that someone was hauling up to my consciousness people and events I had forgotten for 20 or 30 years or longer.

Sri Pada, which I knew I would climb only once in my life-if at all-became my final goal. This revealed to me hidden connections between events in my life, the 'why' and 'how' of my arrival on this mountain, as though my life had followed a secret plan. When I resisted it, fate dealt me a blow; when I surrendered, everything flowed as easily as water downhill. The details of this inestimable experience are too intimate to relate here-and anyway would be of interest only to me.

I reached the peak at 8 am. There the Buddhist monastery clings to the rocks like an eagle's eyrie, the holy footprint (larger than that of a man) in a small building at the highest point. Next to it hangs a bell that each pilgrim is entitled to ring as many times as he has climbed the sacred mountain (one man tolled the bell nearly 50 times that day). There are rooms in which pilgrims can rest, protected from the chilly wind, if they have climbed in the night to see the sunrise.

The peak's outline emerges in the soft light of dawn and, as the sun climbs in the sky, Sri Pada's triangular shadow sharpens, then shrinks slowly toward the base of the mountain. (As I arrived too late for the sunrise, I saw this only in photographs.) The breathtaking 360-degree view reaches from the Indian Ocean to the hill country around Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. Far below, the town of Hatton emerges like a cluster of doll houses amid reservoirs and wewas (tanks). From time to time, the interplay of rain, clouds and sunshine creates multiple rainbows. The peak does indeed feel like the abode of a god, high above the petty problems of the mundane world.

I paid my respects to the loku hamduruwo (chief incumbent) and started back down the mountain. Along the way, I overtook an impressive Hindu wearing a sarong, his hair wound up in the classical conde, a fashion that is dying out. He carried a beautiful baby in his arms and had just cleared an extremely steep passage where one hardly dares to peep into the abyss. He asked me where I had come from and where I was going. 'I am glad that you made this pilgrimage,' he said. 'It is good for people of all races, religions and ages to come here. I just introduced my four-month-old daughter to God Saman, asking him to protect her all her life.' Then he silently and gracefully continued along his difficult way.

A little later a group of four pilgrims came up. Two men were helping and sometimes carrying their mother, a woman in her 70s. A third son followed carrying devotional gifts for the god: flowers, fruit and coconut oil. They told me that this was the old woman's 15th pilgrimage to Sri Pada and that she intended to continue visiting Saman every year until her death. Hard as the way up had been, the walk down was even harder, because the leg muscles are better suited to climbing than descending. Soon my knees began to shake and my thighs became hard as stone. I had to sit and rest more and more often. Once an old man, who was plainly quite poor, saw me sitting on a rock and noticed I had no food. He interrupted his climb and offered me one of the five biscuits he had bought in the village far below. I thanked him but could not accept his offer. Instead we shared my last cigarette. Then two men came along, each climbing with a large sheet of corrugated steel on his head, and this made me wonder how long it would take to build even a small house this close to Heaven.

I reached my car in broad daylight, hardly able to move, but happy. I had not slept for more than 24 hours, and on the road back to Ratnapura, I dozed off behind the wheel-twice. The first time I nearly rammed an oncoming car; the second time I almost went flying off the road at a sharp curve. Was this Saman telling me not to forget him?

Sri Pada: Shrouded in legend and history

Next to the holy footprint hangs a bell
that each pilgrim is entitled to ring
as many times as he has
climbed the sacred mountain.

by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

"In that yle is a great Mountayne and thei of the Countrey seym, that Adam and Eve wepten upon that Mount a hundred Zeer whan thai weren driven out of Paradys."
- Sir John Maundeville.

The pilgrim season to the holy mountain Sri Pada (also known as Samantakuta, Samanhela, Samangira, Samanalakanda and Samanalagira), begins annually on the 'Unduvap' fullmoon day in December and ends on the 'Vesak' fullmoon day in May. During this open semester, pilgrims ascend the mountain to pay homage to the sacred footmark, which is considered holy by the Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Moslems alike, according to their individual beliefs. Therefore, Sri Pada is the only mountain in the world receiving benefactions and veneration of devotees belonging to different faiths.

The summit of the mountain is a small plateau, and according to measurements made by Lieut. Malcolm (the first European to ascend the mountain in 1816), "it is 74 ft. in length and 24 ft. in breadth," the total area being 1,776 sq. ft. On the summit there is a huge boulder, about 8 ft. high., atop which is found the sacred footmark. According to mythical conception woven into the fabric of native folklore, the real impression of the Foot lies under the boulder, on a blue sapphire. To prevent it from sacrilegious profanation, god Sakra had covered it with the boulder.

"The footmark is a superficial flow 68 in. long, and 31 in. and 29 in. wide at the toes and the heel respectively. It is ornamented with a margin of brass and studded with few gems. The cavity bears some coarse resemblance to a human foot, but the size is gigantic, and seems partly natural and partly artificial. There are little raised partitions to represent the interstices between toes." So says Dr. John Davy who had ascended the mountain in 1817. Landmark

This hallowed mountain, shrouded in legend and history, is situated 16 km. North-East of Ratnapura. It rises abruptly from the lower valley, to an altitude of 2,243m. (7,360 ft.) above sea level, and offers an unobstructed view over land and sea.

The mountain was the landmark of the ancient sea-faring Arabs, who came to Sri Lanka, to trade in gems, spices, ivory etc., and they, having sighted the conical mountain miles off shore, prayed to God for having brought them safely to the island.

They believed that atop this mountain lay the sepulchre of Adam (the first parent of the human race).

The famous itinerant Arab pilgrim Ibn Batuta alias Abu Abdullah Mohammed (1304-1377), had ventured to reach the summit of the holy mountain via Ratnapura, trekking the way by the banks of the Kalu-ganga, which discharges its confluence into the sea at Kalutara, having commenced his journey from Barberyn (Beruwala). Before him, the renowned Venetian merchant and traveller, Marco Polo (125401324), 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.

Buddhists believe that the footmark on the summit of Sri Pada is that of Buddha, who, during his third visit to Kelaniya, 2,580 year ago, kept the imprint of his left foot thereon as a relict worthy of veneration. He did so at the kind request of god Saman, the tutelary deity of the mountain wilderness, whose divine eye is supposed to cast upon Deraniyagala, Boltumbe, Ellakkala, Nivitigala and the mountain Benasamanalagala.


The Christians believe that Adam, after being expelled from the Garden of Eden (Paradise), for eating the forbidden fruit, fell upon earth, and according to legend, had fallen on top of the mountain, where he is believed to have stood on one foot for one thousand years, to expiate his sin committed against the Creator, by eating the seductive fruit, despite warning given. This long ordeal had left the print of his foot on the mountain.

The Portuguese, who came to Sri Lanka in 1505, called the mountain Pico de Adam (anglicised Adam's Peak). They held the belief that St. Thomas the Doubter, having come to India, baptised Gondophorus, the Indo-Parthian king, and after leaving his footmark on the mountain, had ascended to Heaven. According to Christian view, he is not the author of the Gospel of St. Thomas (the logia containing early collections of sayings ascribed to Jesus). St. Thomas the Doubter was a disciple and a step-brother of Jesus, the most prominent figure in the Gospel of St.

John, where he is also known as Didymus, and portrayed as doubting the Resurrection of Christ, until he touched the wounds of the risen Christ. Early Christian tradition describes him as a missionary and a martyr in India.

The belief of the Moslems is similar to that of the Christians based on the Old Testament. They call the mountain 'Adam-malai' (Mount of Adam) in view of their belief that atop the mountain lies the sepulchre of Adam. The Hindus believe that the footmark is of Lord Siva, the third godhead of the Hindu 'Trimoorti' (the Holy Triad), the other two being Brahma and Vishnu. The god is supposed to have settled on the summit to shed his divine light upon mankind. Hence they call the mountain 'Sivanolipadam' (Foot of Siva's Light). The votaries of god Siva ascend the mountain beseeching divine help and providence to be born in the celestial abode, i.e., Mount Kailas.


The apostate Rajasinha I (1581-1592), in order to overcome his fear of patricidal sin for killing his father, the King Mayadunne of Sitawaka, and on the advice of the sectarian priest Arittakivendu Perumal, assigned the administration of the holy mountain to 'Andis' (a non-braminical Saiva sect) from South India. They collected a considerable revenue on offerings made to the sacred Foot, by way of gold, gems, jewellery, silver, cash, clothing etc. During the close semester, from June to November, these 'Andis' clad in yellow clothing, went from door to door, collecting offerings, on the pretext of developing and improving the paths leading to the summit via Hatton and Ratnapura, intoning the words "Siripade galpadi bandinata sammadam" (offerings for the construction of stone steps to Sri Pada). Later, King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781), revoked the royal proclamation, and appointed Ven. Welivitiye Saranankara Sangharaja Maha Thera, to look after Buddhist interests of the holy mountain.

The open semester begins with the removal of the statues of God Saman, the replica of his divine white elephant and other sacred paraphernalia, lying secured at the Galpottawela Raja Maha Vihara at Pelmadulla, built by king Kirti Sri Rajasinha. According to ritual, the incumbent priest of Sri Pada and the working committee, composed of Buddhist clergy and laity, enter the shrine room of the devale, and a day before the fullmoon day, and after paying homage to the Buddha, take steps to remove the sacred items to the summit. En route, the procession stops at the Maha Saman Devale in Ratnapura, and a ritual is conducted by the 'kapurala' of the devale invoking the blessings of God Saman for a trouble-free journey.

In the old days, the procession took the Ratnapura route, but now a motorcade leaves to the summit along the Hatton path via Ratnapura, Avissawella, Yatiyantota, Kitulgala, Ginigathena, Hatton, Dickoya and Maskeliya, terminating at the Delhousie bazaar (Nallatanniya) where vehicular transport facilities cease. As the fullmoon poya day dawns, they reach the summit and, after attending to formal rituals, the 'kapurala' places the statues dedicated to the God inside a niche below the footmark.

The two historic paths to the summit are the Hatton path via Maskeliya and the Ratnapura path via Kuruwita.

The Hatton path was, in the ancient days, known as the Rajamawatha, along which most kings had ventured to the summit via Ambagamuwa, Kehelgamuwa, Horakada, Dagampitiya, Makulumulla, Hangarapitiya and Seetagangula (parent stream of the Mahaveli-ganga), from where the actual ascent begins. This route came into prominence during the Gampola period (1347-1412), which followed the Mahaveli-ganga from Gangasiripura (now Gampola) and the first king to go on pilgrimage to Sri Pada, on this route, was Bhuvanekhabahu IV (1347-1352).


The oldest route was the Ratnapura path, via Gilimale, Eratna, Kuruwita, Malwala and Palabaddala, to Seetagangula (parent stream of the Kaluganga). Even today, pilgrims consider this route as the difficult path, and highly infested with leeches due to dampness of the climate. Pilgrims have to toil up and down narrow passes up to Palabaddala, the last inhabited station en route.

In most places the path is narrow, rugged and rocky and densely wooded. This route came into prominence during the Polonnaruwa period and the first king who went on pilgrimage was Vijayabahu I (1058-1114).

He built rest camps for pilgrims along the path. The Ambagamuwa rock edict and the Panakaduwa copper plate bear testimony to his munificence. However, it was King Kirti Nissankamalla (1187-1196) who went on pilgrimage with his fourfold army.

Seetagangula (the torrent of icy water) is an important landmark en route to the summit. It rushes from the woody height down a stream obstructed by masses of rock formation. Here, the pilgrims, after performing their ablutions, make a frugal repast, some rest for awhile chewing betel, and after observing 'pansil' and making obeisance to God Saman, and after trying 'panduru' (a coin wrapped in a clean white cloth as an offering for protection) they begin to ascend the mountain to reach the summit, with a break at the place called 'Indikatupahana', a popular rest camp. From this point, a long line of concrete steps leads to the summit.

In the old days, pilgrims ascended the mountain by stepping upon bare rock surface and clinging on to chains fitted to iron posts drilled into the rocky floor. John Still, in his book Jungle Tide, says how once a batch of pilgrims, fell into the precipice below when the railing they were holding on to broke loose, probably due to weight.

The most dangerous part of the climb was the point known as 'Mahagiridambe' where the pilgrims exposed to heavy wind were at risk of being carried away.

Pilgrims try to reach the summit before dawn to view the grand phenomenon known as the 'ira-sevaya' (the effulgence of the rising sun) puncturing the eastern horizon, like a ball of fire, casting a shadow of the mountain to fall on to the valley in the opposite direction, like a cone. The 'ira sevaya' is considered to mean the worship of the foot by the sun-god.

There is a huge brass lamp atop the mountain that keeps burning day and night, during the open semester, and it was an offering made by king Wickremabahu III (1360-1375). The oil from this lamp is taken away by pilgrims for medicinal purposes.

The Lure of Sri Pada

by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

The open semester to Sri Pada, the holy mountain, begins on the 'Unduvap' (December) full moon day and ends on the 'Vesak' full moon day (May) in the ensuing year. This mountain is also known as Samantakuta, Sumanakuta, Samanalakanda, Samanhela, Samangira, Medumhelaya, etc. The Christians call the mountain Adam's Peak, derived from the Portuguese Pico de Adam ('Peak of Adam').

This conical mountain is situated 16 km northeast of Ratnapura, and rises much abruptly from the lower valley than any other mountain in the island. Although it is not the highest mountain, it rises to a trignometrical altitude of 2,243 m. (7,360 ft.) above sea level, offering an unobstructed view over land and sea, overlooking the South Central mountain ridges.

The splended view of the tropical wilderness, with its hills, dales and plains, all luxuriantly wooded, bounded by blue mountains, fleecy clouds resting on low ground, and a brilliant sky over-head adds to the panorama of the resplendent island. The charms of the prospects are heightened by the coolness and freshness of the air, and by animation of the scene produced by the singing of birds, in addition to the harsh cries of the wild peacock and the jungle fowl.

From remote antiquity, the visibility of the conical mountain from vessels off-shore to a distance of about 15 km, excited great interest of foreigners, when the island's interior was unknown to the outside world. It was also the landmark of the sea-faring Arabs, Moors, Greeks and Persians, who came to the island to barter in gems, ivory, spices, elephants etc.


The sacred foot mark atop the mountain (as most of us have seen) is a superficial hollow of gigantic size, measuring 156 cm. in length, and 76 cm. towards the toes and 71 cm. towards the heel in width. There is the belief that the actual footmark lies on a blue sapphire beneath the huge boulder upon the summit, and what we see is only an enlarged symbolic presentation. The placement of such a huge boulder is attributed to god Visvakarma, who had done so for purpose of protection.

The summit is a small plateau, having an area of 164 sq.m., or 1,776 sq.ft. (74 X 24 ft.), according to measurement taken by Lieut. Malcolm of the British Rifle Regiment, the first European to ascend the mountain in 1816. He had signalled his arrival at the summit by firing three cannon shots from his swivel musket, into the valley below.

The sacred footmark as seen by Dr. John Davy in 1817, was ornamented with a single margin of brass and studded with a few gems. These are now not to be seen. He says, "The cavity of the footmark certainly bears a coarse resemblance to the figure of a human foot but much oversized. Whether it is really an impression is not very flattering, if not for its huge size. There are little raised partitions to represent the interstices between the toes, to make it appear a human foot."

Robert Knox, the European captive, who spent 20 years (1660-1679), in the Kandyan kingdom, says

"The Mountain is at the South end of the Country called Hammalella (Samanhela), but by the Christian People, Adam's Peak, the highest in the whole island, where, as has been said, is the Print of the Buddou's foot, which he left on the top of that Mountain in a Rock, from whence he ascended to Heaven. Unto this footstep they give worship, light up Lamps and offer Sacrifices, laying them upon it, as upon a Altar."

According to the Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle of the Island, the first person to ascend the holy mountain Sri Pada, was King Vijayabahu I (1058-1114), having come to know that atop the mountain is seen the footmark of the Buddha. It is said that he had gathered this information from the pious woman Manimekhala, who, as a devout Buddhist, was living in South India. Another version is that the King had seen, in the early hours of one morning, angels plucking flowers in his garden. When questioned, one of them had said "We are plucking flowers to worship the footmark of the Buddha atop the Samanalakanda."

Rock Edict

The Ambagamuwa rock edict and the Panakaduwa copper plate bear witness to the royal patronage extended by king Vijayabahu, by building 'ambalamas' (rest camps) on route for the convenience of the pilgrims, and also provided them with food and water. The king also built a lower 'maluwa' (place of worship) for his Hindu consort Tiloka Sundari to make her benefactions to the Hindu deity Siva alias Iswera. Actual pilgrimage to the mountain began during the reign of Sri Nissankamalla (1187-1196), after he ascended the mountain with his fourfold army with great faith and devotion.

There are two historic approaches to the summit of Sri Pada. The oldest is the Ratnapura path, popularly known as the 'difficult path' via Malwala, Kuruwita, Eratna and Gilimale. The last station is Palabaddala. The path runs through ascending and descending hills, deep valleys, along edge of precipices, with a river foaming beneath and, sometimes, under over-hanging rocks and along the beaten track, highly infested with leeches (blood-sucking worms). On this path, pilgrims have to walk long distances until a camp is reached.

Half way up the mountain, there is a small torrent that flows over an immense tabular mass of rock, which forms the 'Seetagangula' (stream of icy water), the parent stream of the Kalu-ganga. At this point, the scene is very impressive and the atmosphere calm. The pilgrims stop here for a break to perform their ablutions, while some bathe, some make a frugal repast of rice or bread, some rest themselves before making the steep climb, some chew betel and others chat to break the monotony of the jungle.

The itinerant Arab pilgrim Ibn Batuta alias Abu Abdallah Mohammed (1304-1377), and the Venetian traveller Marco Polo (1254-1324), had ventured to reach the summit via the Ratnapura path "to worship the sepulchre of Adam" as they believed the footmark atop the mountain to be that of Adam (the first parent of the human race). From Barberyn (Beruwala), they had followed the Kalu Ganga to the summit.


The other path is the Rajamawatha (now the Hatton path), and it came to be so known because many kings, during and after the Gampola period (1347-1412), had made their way to the mountain through that path. It began from Gangasiripura (now Gampola) via Ambagamuwa, Kehelgamuwa, Ulapangama, Horakada, Dagampitiya, Makulumulla, Hangarapitiya, and by the Laxapana pass to the summit. There is also a 'Seetagangula' on this route which is the parent stream of the Mahaveli-ganga.

The Rajamawatha was constructed by the Chief Minister Devapathiraja who served under King Parakramabahu III (1283-1293). Pilgrims travelling by train break journey at Hatton (173 km. from Colombo) on the Main Line, and continue by bus to Maskeliya and thence to the Delhousie Bazaar, from where all transport facilities cease. A serpentine gravel road leads the way to the Sama Cetiya, en route, where camping is available for cooking food and for resting. The next halt is the 'Seetagangula', where pilgrims get ready to make the ascent.

A group of pilgrims is known as a 'nade' and the chief is the 'nade gura' who is supposed to have made many visits to the holy mountain during his lifetime. A newcomer is known as 'kodukaraya' and he or she is at the mercy of the 'nade gura'. Age is no barrier to this novice.

As we see from the valley below, the upper part of the mountain is free from jungle growth. Only tundra vegetation adorns the granite surface, as such incomplete plant layers are generally characteristic to exposed sites under humid tropical conditions. Climbing this part of the mountain is risky, if not for the concrete steps now built because the surface of the bare rock is slippery at most places, where water flows from in between crevices of the rock.

Before the concrete steps were built from Indikatupana to the summit, iron railings fixed on to iron posts driven into the rocky surface, supported the pilgrims along this stretch, to make the ascent safely. It is said that these railings were fixed on the orders of Alexander the Great (BC 356-323), the Macedonian king, for pilgrims to ascend the mountain without risk to their lives.

Many pilgrims make an effort to reach the summit before dawn to witness the unique phenomenon known as the 'irasevaya' (the effulgence of the rising sun) extremely bright and splendid, as it punctures the eastern horizon like a ball of fire. Simultaneously, on the western side of the mountain slope could be seen the conical shadow of the mountain as it falls upon the valley below. Buddhists call this natural phenomena as the worship by sun-god.

The apostate Rajasinha I (1581-1592), the king of Sitawaka, in order to overcome the retribution of patricidal sin in killing his father Mayadunna of Sitawaka, assigned the administration of the holy mountain to a non-brahminical Saiva sect known as 'Andis' of South India. He did so on the advice of his Hindu priest Arittakivendu Perumal. These 'Andis' collected enormous wealth offered to the footprint by the devout Buddhists. King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781) appointed Ven. Asarana Sarana Saranankara Sangharaja thera, as the new incumbent of the holy mountain to preserve it from further damage.

Saman Deviyo

With the onset of the open semester, the statue of god Saman (the tutelary deity of the mountain), along with the insignia of his divine vehicle (white elephant) and other sacred paraphernalia are carried to the mountain in procession, to be placed within the niche below the summit. During the close semester (June to November), these objects of veneration are safely deposited at the Galpottawala Rajamaha vihara at Pelmadulla. At the appointed time, they are taken out, in the presence of the incumbent priest of the temple, and make the historic journey (now through the Hatton path), after a short break at the Maha Saman Devale in Ratnapura.

The collosal brass lamp ('dolosmahe pahana') atop the mountain, which keeps burning through night and day, is an offering made by King Virawickrema in 1542. Fuel is supplied by the pilgrims in the form of oil, copra etc., to keep the lamp burning.

Sri Pada: Sanctuary for all Faiths

by S.S.M. Nanayakkara

The sanctification of Sri Pada as a tryst of homage by the four dominant faiths in Sri Lanka - Buddhist, Hindu, Islam and Christian - is steeped in mystery, myth, legend, and also oral and chronicled history.

Unlike the Haram Ash Shariff - Jerusalem's hallowed temple mount one of the world's most fiercely contested pieces of real estate where Christians, Moslems and Jews have slaughtered one another for centuries, Sri Pada provides a refuge for the followers of all faiths. It holds a unique place in the country's cultural heritage. The Ramayana - immortal epic of the Sanskrit poet and sage Valmiki (C. 300 BC) makes mention of it, and Alexander the Great, Macedonian warrior king and empire builder (356-323 BC) is reputed to have visited it in 330 BC after his successful campaign in India.

The great dynastic chronicle of Sri Lanka (Mahawamsa), contains the earliest authenticated records of the peak having being dedicated to Gautama Buddha and the Hindu deity Saman. It records that king Dutugemunu being at the point of death at Anuradhapura in 140 BC called for the thero Pullabaya, one of his quondam military aides to invoke his blessings. The venerable monk, attended by a retinue of three hundred disciples, hurried to the bedside of the dying king.

He consoled the king recounting several of his meritorious deeds, adding that these alone would suffice for him to attain salvation. The king being deeply moved by the absolution, rejoined that of all the good deeds enumerated by the thero one that comforted him the most was the allusion to his donation of conjee to five eminent monks during an unprecedented famine in the land. Maliyadeva one of the monks to whom the donation was offered, divided it among the fraternity then resident at the sacred mount of Saman. This passage in the Mahawamsa (chapter 32) indicates that the peak was held sacred prior to 140BC.

A later tradition attributes the location of the sacred foot print on the summit of the mount to king Valagambahu, who ascended the throne in 104 BC. After a brief reign of five months he was ousted by Chola invaders from South India - that part of the country now known as Tamil Nadu. For 14 years he languished as a fugitive hiding and biding his time among the mountain fastnesses in the central regions. For a part of the period he took refuge in a cave known as Bagawanlena (Buddha's cave) on Samankuti by which name Sri Pada was then known.

One day a deer wandered to this mountain grotto. The king gave chase to the fleeing quarry up to the top of the peak where the latter vanished in an ephemeral halo of luminescence. On reaching the spot where the deer mysteriously vanished, the king discovered the foot print. After his restoration to the throne, Valagambahu caused the foot print to be enclosed by large iron spikes. The enclosure formed the first foundation for the terraced platform providing access to the sacred foot print.

Fa Hien, the noted Chinese pilgrim traveller who visited Anuradhapura in 413 AD records in his chronicles: "By strength of his divine powers He (the Buddha) left the print of one of his feet on the summit of a soaring mountain in this blessed land." Fa Hien's visit took place during the reign of King Mahanama. Ibn Batuta, the romantic Arab traveller from Tangier came to the island on a visit to Sri Pada in the 14th century. He refers to a grotto at the foot of the peak with the word 'Iskander' carved on it. This 'Iskander' referred to, is popularly believed to be King Alexander the Great. If tradition is to be credited, Alexander the Great is reputed to have visited the peak after his successful campaign in India in 330 BC.

The iron chains and stanchions rabetted on to the rock face of the peak are attributed to him. "The ancients" says Batuta "have cut steps of a sort on the steep rock face, to these steps are fixed iron stanchions with suspended chains to enable pilgrims to hoist themselves up with minimum risk. The impression of the Almighty's foot is observed upon a black and lofty rock in an open space on the summit."

Robert Knox, the celebrated English captive of King Rajasinghe II of Kandy (1635-1685) records with au courant insight on the contemporary state of the interior of the country, the ways, customs, religious beliefs and language of its inhabitants. Posterity is indebted to this astute observer for his revealing records in the book 'Historical relation of the island of Ceylon' which he published on his dramatic escape to England. Referring to Sri Pada Knox notes: "The main river of all is Mawelgong (Mahaweli ganga) which proceeds out of the mountain called Adam's Peak. On the south side of Conde Uda (Kandy) is a hill supposed to be the highest in this land called in the Chingulay language (Singhalese) smallel (Samanela) but by the Portuguese and Europeans, Adam's peak. To this peak, the highest in the land where there is the Bouddou's foot print (Buddha's) which he left on the top of the mountain, they go with their wives and children."

John Maundeville, a 14th century traveller to the island, gives a grotesque description of the peak. In his chronicles he notes: "In that isle is a great mountain and in the midst of this is a full fair plain. They of the country say that Adam and Eve wept upon the mount when they were driven out of Paradise. They shed so much tears that a lake was formed at the bottom." There is a strong probability that the mountain was dubbed 'Adam's Peak' by European after Maundeville.

In 1805, Captain Robert Percival who served with the British garrison in Colombo notes: "The iron chains on the rock face of Adam's Peak have the appearance of being planted there at a very distant period. Who placed them there or for what purpose they were set up there it is difficult for any one to know - the beliefs and superstitions of the natives present difficulties. whatever it is, all evidence indicate that the peak was in the limelight long before the recorded history of the island."

Sri Lankan monarchs who climbed Holy Sri Pada

by Godwin Witane

Sri Lanka's world famous Holy Mountain is once again the attraction, where devotees from all parts of the country engage in the annual pilgrimage. Their voices echo and re-echo from their innermost hearts in the cold clammy atmosphere with resounding voices shouting "Karunawai" as they ascend or descend. In the crisp air and sunshine hordes of butterflies swarm the historic mountain as it were in company with the pilgrims.

Yellow and white butterflies and jewel coloured varieties merge with the greenery of the Sacred Peak as they too pay homage to the Sacred Foot Print.

The word Samanala Kanda may have been given to this mountain mainly because of this phenomenon. This mountain has gained so much publicity due to its sanctity believed by all four main religion adherents namely, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Islamists. The undisputed fact is that whatever religion each pilgrim belonged to, the religious devotional fervour of all of them are identical and lasting. However while beliefs of some depend on mere faith, the claim of the Buddhists alone refer to recorded history and partly legend.

When considering the mountain's history it lends a certain feeling of a supernatural aura brooding a hidden divine power. On the 8th year after Enlightenment Lord Buddha visited Kelaniya at the request of the Naga King Maniakkika. On this occasion it is said that Buddha was accompanied by 500 monks. After His sojourn at Kelaniya Buddha visited three other places, namely, Digavaapi, Kataragama and the beautiful mountain in the Central Hill Country 7,360 feet high. Here the Buddha left the trace of His left foot at the summit on a gemstone, on the request of God Saman, the guardian of the Peak.

Buddhists believe that the real Foot Print is below the now visible rock impression which is not proportional to that of a human being. Buddhist devotees who climb the Peak regard God Saman as their benevolent protector. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanam Piyatissa (247-207 B.C). He was the grandson of King Pandukabhaya (437-307 B.C), the pre-Buddhist founder of Anuradhapura, capital of Lanka, which lasted for 1500 years up to the middle of the 18th century AD.

It is believed that the first person to discover the Sacred Foot Print was King Valagambahu about the year 100 B.C., while he was in exile in the mountain wilderness, better known to our people as "Sri Pada Adaviya", to escape the marauding Cholians. He had been led to the summit of the mountain by a deity in the guise of a stag. Thereafter not only ordinary pilgrims but Royalty with their court retinue paid homage to the Foot Print of the Buddha from ancient times. The Sinhalese kings alone, in their devotion and persistence made the Peak accessible to the crowds of devotees who annually trekked the mountain.

The thousands of pilgrims who make their annual pilgrimage to Sri Pada today perhaps do not realise the difficulties their ancestors had to undergo in order to pay their need of homage at the Sacred Foot Print. Whatever route they undertook to ascend the Peak their difficulties must have been unsurmountable. Marco Polo (1254-1324) who visited the Peak in the 14th century remarked that in places flights of steps were out in the rocks but none upwards and towards the summit.

Links of mighty chains that hung from the precipices were once the only way to climb like a swaying rope ladder. John Still who wrote the famous book Jungle Tide and one who took delight in associating with a race whose culture and history made this island prominently famous in the ages past, a country with a serene and happy environment, steeped in tradition and religious diversity.

He describes the fate of a Sinhalese family that climbed the peak then.

"A whole family of Sinhalese villages once set out on pilgrimage, children and their parents and the grand parents too and when they came to the precipices and were all hanging on the long chain like a living Rosary, a violent storm sprang up suddenly and the chain was swung fiercely from side to side. But they still hung on, though they dared not move in each direction, up or down.

Then came a tremendous gust like the breath of an angry god and the chain was swung so far to one side that it hung no longer over the pilgrim path but clear above a frightful fall into a valley far below and there buffeted by the storm, unable to climb or descend the people hung while their strength endured and then fell off, one by one, as fruits fall from a tree.

First the old and the very young, then the women, and last of all the men, while the folk of the village who had been waiting or their own turn to climb upon the chain and who had watched the whole tragedy while they cowered against the face of the angry mountain saw in the end the strongest man of all, last of the race, leave hold and go spinning down to the tree tops down below.

The writer climbed up the Peak once with another school friend in 1933, going all the way on push cycle to Ratnapura from Galle. At that time no pilgrim had travelled the road for several months of very wet weather. We were now climbing or crawling on the path laid on a knife edge, where on both sides were headlong precipices.

The wind blowing on the stretch was so fierce that the rain drops brought by the winds hit us on the face like bullets. We were just crawling on our bellies. It was an exercise where there was pleasure in suffering physical and mental pain.

Our history records that the Sinhalese Kings went on pilgrimage to the Peak. Kings who are accustomed to Regal Footwear toiled barefooted up its rough and stony way to the shrine of the Sacred Foot Print at the summit more than 7,300 feet above the level of the ocean that can be seen like a glittering cord far away along the horizon 50 miles away.

The first to climb was Vijaya I (1059-1114) A.D. followed by several subsequent kings. Panditha Parakramabahu II (1236-1271) went on pilgrimage in the 13th century to express his devotion to the Buddha by worshipping at the Peak. His devotion to religion excelled his love for poetry and literature. He donated lands to the Shrine and called his Chief Minister Deva Pathiraja and asked him to make the journey to the Peak for the devotees painless as the road leading to the summit was inaccessible due to swamps, wilderness and lofty mountains (Chulawamsa 9-2).

Towards the latter part of the 10th Century King Udaya of Anuradhapura (934-937) A.D. built a relic house on the Peak but the Cholians who invaded the country destroyed it. Vijayabahu I of Polonnaruwa made endowments to support the Holy Shrine. He granted lands on the way to the mountain, built resting houses and in unblemished humble piety offered his jewelled crown to Sri Pada.

This is recorded in the Panakaduwa copper plate. King Nissanka Malla inscription on the rock at the summit gives an account of him (1187-1196) in the 12th Century A.D. His name is recorded as one who had climbed the Holy Mountain as most other Sinhalese Kings had done in the past but he went with his army. In all the rock inscriptions he had made at Sri Pada as well as in other Buddhist temples like Rangiri Dambulla, he had exhausted the vocabulary of ecstasy in describing his performances.

King Parakramabahu II (1236-1271) who had his Capital at Dambadeniya visited the Peak in person during his reign. King Veera Vickrama set up the Dolos Mahe Pahana in 1542. The Buddhists had been the custodians of the Peak except for a short period when King Rajasinghe I (1581-1593) became an apostate and embracing the Hindu religion believing that it was possible to expiate his patricidal sin according to the assurance given to him by the Hindu priests. After the erosion of his piety and religion King Rajasinghe got down workmen from India and built the Berendi Kovil at Seetawaka. It was later destroyed by the Portuguese.

He massacred Buddhist monks and destroyed Buddhist temples. When the Buddhist General of Kandy Wimaladharmasuriya refused to carry out his orders to destroy Buddhist monks, Wimaladharmasuriya was taken to Seetawaka and buried in a pit up to his waist and while the King watched the poosaries of Berendi Kovil stoned him to death.

Thus Wimaladharmasuriya became a martyr for the cause of Buddhism. During the troublesome reign of King Rajasinghe Sri Pada suffered considerably. He handed over the shrine to the Saivite priests who had gained the favour of the King. Later a Samanera Monk from Medagammana roused the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sabaragamuwa against the Saivites and by stiff resistance of the people restored once again Sri Pada to the Buddhists, where ancient forms of religious fervour persist unbroken up to date.

King Rajasinghe had a sorrowful death by blood poisoning as a result of a bamboo splint piercing his foot at Seethawaka. King Wimaladharmasuriya I (Konappu Bandara) visited the Peak even though it was in the custody of the Saivites in the 17th century. He raised a Silver Umbrella over the Sacred Foot Print. King Wimaladharmasuriya II (1677-1707) started from Kandy escorted by a large following of troops and ministers to worship Sri Pada. King Veera Wickrama Narendra Singhe of Kandy (1707-1739) in the middle of the 18th Century provided 780 steps to reduce the arduousness of the climb.

Pilgrims climbing Sri Pada in the night in days gone by carried a light or pandama with an oil daubed wick in a bamboo stick. This could be seen like a wriggling illuminated large serpent climbing the mountain. Much has been written of the shadow of the Peak which as the sun rises seems to be projected in from the air without lying upon the forest below as one's eyes expect. This is a curious optical phenomenon. King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe appointed Sanga Raja Sri Saranankara as the incumbent of the Holy Mountain.

Sri Pada mountain was visited by several foreigners among whom was the Muslim traveller Ibn Batuta who in his writings records that he visited the Peak in 1344. Fa Hein, the Chinese traveller ascended the mountain in 412 A.D. The first European to ascend the mountain was Lieut. Malcolm in 1816. H.C.P. Bell the British Archaeological Commissioner of Ceylon climbed the Peak in 1907.

Importance was attended to the Sacred Bo Tree from the time it was planted in Anuradhapura in the 3rd Century B.C. and later the Tooth Relic became the next hallowed object of Buddhist worship. The three routes taken by the pilgrims who climb the Peak today are Ratnapura route, Kuruwita route and Hatton route. The approach from Hatton side is a cake-walk with steps constructed on the path right through to the top

It's lovely at the top

By Vidushi Seneviratne

"The ordinary man looking at a mountain is like an illiterate person confronted with a Greek manuscript."

To me, these words by Alister Crowley, certainly do make sense now. Being a first-timer climbing Adam's Peak, just looking up at this majestic mountain while still at the foot of it, I admit I did feel quite helpless. It's amazing how small man can feel next to such magnificent creations of nature.

To those of you accustomed to more moderate mountains and climbs such as Sigiriya and Mihintale, take it from me, you need to be properly prepared for this challenge. Considering that Adam's Peak is indeed, the second tallest mountain in Sri Lanka, you really shouldn't be surprised at its magnitude.

Of the many routes to get to the location, the Hatton road is the most regularly used. We too chose this route and accompanied by two cousins and an aunt and uncle, I began to enjoy the scenery around me as we slowly entered the cooler climes of Sri Lanka. As we proceeded, views of the Wimalasurendra power station and the Castlereigh and Moussakelle reservoirs welcomed us. Looking at these picturesque waters, we couldn't help but marvel at the wonders of man.

According to our agenda, we were to stay at a small bungalow in Maskeliya. We were to rest for a couple of hours and then start our journey up Sri Pada around 10.30 p.m., keeping to the normal routine of beginning the climb in the night, in order to reach the peak at about 7.00 a.m. We would then be able to witness the much talked about sunrise, which was a 'must-see' for those climbing Adam's Peak; almost as important for some, as worshipping the sacred foot print was for others.

After making sure that we had all the necessary requirements, we finally left the bungalow and reached Nallathanni (the last town before our gruelling challenge), by about 11.30 p.m. But alas, it started drizzling and this literally 'dampened' our mood since we knew for sure that bad weather meant that the already tough climb was going to be much tougher. Believe me, when you are wearing almost four layers of clothing, a raincoat and headgear that makes you look like something out of a science fiction movie, having a heavy drizzle accompany you while you have to climb up a mountain for almost seven miles, isn't funny.

The climb up Adam's Peak has its very own vocabulary, traditions and beliefs. You must never state the fact that you might not be able to make it to the top. If such pessimism is voiced, you are told by the more experienced folk, that you will surely find yourself unable to move your legs, and can consider yourself punished by the numerous Gods said to be residing at the top of Adam's Peak. As for the unique vocabulary; first timers are referred to as kodu karayo and are given very specific advice regarding certain things. More or less a Buddhist tradition, all first timers are told to take a pure white piece of cloth to place on the sacred footprint, before worshipping it. I too was given strict instructions from back home, and dared not question them so the piece of white cloth was carried up with much reverence.

If you are climbing the Peak in a group, you are referred to as a nade and there are specific verses sung by the nades that are simultaneously crossing each other at a particular moment. While climbing up, you are sometimes greeted with cheerful smiles and encouraging words from people climbing down, and this gives you the much needed support to keep going. But there are also those mean ones climbing down, who are bent on making you feel like the most unfit individual on earth. They have an air around them that pronounces the fact that 'they've been there and done that' and you haven't and probably never will. They go to such great extents to make you feel that way, that they even reword age-old phrases to suit the group climbing up, in one instance referring to our group as 'battery bahapu nade!'

The steps are lined with little shops that are filled to the brim with all manner of imaginable things. They brighten the way and also give you that much needed bit of rest at regular intervals. With the width of the steps leading up to the Peak ranging from about 5 inches to almost one and half feet, you need all the rest you can get. Especially when you suddenly spot a faint light up in the sky and try as hard as you can to convince yourself that that is Not the Peak. The feeling of helplessness that I felt when I was told that the faint light I could see was indeed the Peak, was just indescribable.

Along the way, we came across several locations that are referred to by various names, most of them deriving from a folk story. Starting with Makara Thorana, we then came across Seetha Gangula, Gangule Thanna, Indikatu Pahana and Golu Thanna. The Peak is called Maluwa, while the surroundings are quite appropriately referred to as Ahas Gauwa (sky line), since this area is almost in the sky.

At Indikatu Pahana, there is yet another requirement to be filled in by first-timers. I too purchased the packet that had the needful to perform the ritual. You are expected to entangle a needle and one end of a thread on an already existing mass of thread that resembles a gigantic cobweb, and then drag the other end up a few steps and hang it on a particular iron pole. The sad part was that almost all the visitors just dropped the empty polythene packet that contained the items onto the ground, creating a huge garbage dump.

With the drizzle constant, and since our pace was extremely slow, our nade's hopes of witnessing the sunrise were slowly diminishing. Our worst fears were confirmed by the people climbing down who told us that though they got to the Peak on time, they had not witnessed that exceptional sight due to the bad weather.

When we finally reached the only part of the climb that had railings, we were sure that this final lap would be a breeze. We were mistaken. Though hard to believe, holding on to a railing while climbing, was much tougher than climbing without support. What kept me going was the faint sound of a loudspeaker, that made me feel that we were now finally close to humans whose feet were touching a horizontal ground area, and who were not climbing up or down a mountain.

By now, having climbed 7360 feet for almost nine hours, we were hungry, tired, cold yet hot and perspiring, and all we wanted to do was to sit down somewhere. Placing my foot on the final landing of Adam's Peak and looking back over my shoulder, I admit I did feel quite gratified about the feat that I had just accomplished. But of course I was promptly reminded that I was here for a religious purpose and so, very reluctantly took my socks and shoes off and almost froze then and there in the 3-degree temperature. Basically not feeling my feet as I stepped on the icy cold cement floor, I tried to ignore the freezing air. Obediently, my cousins and I, all first-timers, laid out the white cloth on the sacred footprint of Lord Buddha (according to our faith) and worshipped it. Once all the formalities were done, we realised that the sun was shining brightly, and the atmosphere was now very pleasant and comfortable .

Luckily for us we had absolutely no reason to hurry back down, so we spent almost two relaxed hours on the Peak, taking in the beauty of Sri Lanka. I felt as though I was touching the sky as clouds passed by below us, and marvelled at the many miles that had brought me to this magnificent and sacred mountain. This was a moment when I truly felt thankful I was alive.

Climbing down was not as bad as I expected it to be, and though we took almost nine hours to do it, it was quite enjoyable, as now roles had been swapped and we were the ones who had 'been there and done that'. We chose random people and smiled encouragingly at some, while being mean to others for no valid reason. Believe me, climbing thousands and thousands of steps in the middle of the night, makes you do strange things!

All in all, climbing Adam's Peak was an extremely fulfilling experience. It is one of those feats that you just cannot comprehend until you have really done it. It might have left me feeling that my legs didn't belong to me anymore, made me run away from the sight of a stairway for the next two weeks and left me immobile for a number of days, but if I had the chance to do it again, I would. Especially to see an incredible ball of fire leaping out of the horizon and making that phenomenal entrance to announce that yet another new day has dawned.

"It's a pilgrimage, not a joyride"

According to Ven. Dharmapala Seelananda, trustee of Sri Pada, the facilities available at the top are quite adequate for devotees.

"The regular season begins on Unduvap Poya Day, in December and ends somewhere in April/May. The people who climb Sri Pada need to be responsible for their actions and remember that first and foremost it is a pilgrimage and not a joyride.

It's the same when it comes to garbage as well. Garbage bins have been placed at regular intervals, but we still see people just throwing things to the ground. It's this don't care attitude that they have to get rid of," the Ven. Thero says.

Jagath de Silva is the postman for the area and has been climbing Adam's Peak almost every day for the last six years.

"I was working in a completely different field in Kuda Maskeliya, but was assigned this job back in 1999 and have stuck with it ever since. The climb up takes me one hour and fifteen minutes and though I could climb down much faster, I take about two and half hours, in order to save energy for the next day."

How safe is the climb up Adam's Peak?

On a poya (full moon) day
in the pilgrimage season, the crowds
on the steps to the peak can
be so great that pilgrims may stand
in a stationary queue for hours.

by Imran Vittachi

Most of us, especially first-timers, worry about the risks involved in the climb. Fear not, as the steps are quite wide, and there is absolutely no way of you 'falling off the cliff'.

But it must be mentioned that the first aid facilities available aren't adequate. Apart from the one extremely efficient first aid station situated about quarter of the way up and managed by Siddalepa, climbers are left in quite a helpless situation if an emergency were to occur.

We witnessed one such incident where an elderly man slipped on the wet steps and fell. It was quite sad to see him have to walk a long distance helped by his family, to receive any aid.

Also, if the weather does not hold and even a slight drizzle occurs, the first part of the climb, though on almost flat land, is extremely slippery. The fee levied for vehicle tax at the base of Adam's Peak should be utilised to provide better facilities for pilgrims.

Perils on the Peak

Despite all the reverence attributed to Sri Pada and the pilgrimage, climbing the peak does have a dangerous side to it.

Going up and down God's staircase can be hell.

The path to the top of Adam's Peak is paved with hazards to the body and spirit.

Its countless steps aren't much less punishing, either, on the way down. As statistics show, they can even be fatal.

Newcomers who dare chance their fate at the height of the pilgrimage season - which runs from Poya day in December until the arrival of the southwest monsoonal rains in May - need to be warned about the risks. However slight they may prove to be, when measured against the sheer numbers who swarm there over that six-month stretch, those who have never climbed the 2,224-metre high mountain should come ready to meet their maker.

According to local estimates, up to 20,000 people scale Adam's Peak on weekends during the pilgrimage season. In one week alone, when The Sunday Times visited in late February, a reported 300,000 swooped down on the place, once described by English writer John Still as "one of the vastest and most reverenced cathedrals of the human race."

But the peak - revered for centuries by Sinhala Buddhists as Sri Pada (Sacred Foot), by Tamil Hindus as Sivanolipatha Malai (Lord Shiva's Footprint on the Mount) and by Sri Lanka's Muslims as Al-Rohun (Soul) - continues to claim a steady death toll among its many visitors.

On average, at least five people reportedly die on the peak per pilgrimage season. In the 1993-94 season alone, according to the Grama Niladhari at nearby Maskeliya, up to 20 people died from physical stress and exhaustion, catching cold at the summit after sweating it out during the climb, or merely falling to their deaths.

"This season a 53-year old Frenchman died there of a heart attack," Ravi Weeraperuma told The Sunday Times.

Like the yellow butterflies that descend on Adam's Peak to die there in waves, the odd jilted lover goes there too to end it all, Mr. Weeraperuma added.

But, according to shopkeepers stationed along the Hatton Road path, others, who rush down the mountain after sunrise, sometimes trip on the poorly maintained steps smashing their heads against stones or tree trunks. By the time they are evacuated to the nearest hospitals in the district, most of them have died from haemorrhages.

When the Times visited, no first aid stations were seen anywhere, an observation corroborated by shopkeepers' reports, despite official contradictions from local and national governmental authorities.

For those not familiar with Sri Lankan languages, there is the added danger of getting lost on Adam's Peak. After all, directions are signposted only in Sinhala or Tamil.

On the same day, two French nationals went missing for 16 hours. Last spotted by this reporter at around 7:00am, the tourists - after having watched as the peak, with the sun rising behind it, cast its eerily triangular shadow on the southwestern plains - accidentally took the Ratnapura road path. It is said to be even more gruelling and longer than the approach from Hatton via Dalhousie, which takes around three hours in both directions. According to the manager of the bungalow where they were lodged, the wandering tourists finally made it back 22 hours after setting off for the summit.

Apart from the physical dangers, those who venture to Adam's Peak for the first time, in search of some inner peace, can banish that illusion. They are in for a shock unless their spirits are so resilient that they can rise above the filth, smells, eyesores, and noises from which there seems to be no escape, and which threaten to turn Mr. Still's mountain-cathedral into a dump.

During the trek from Dalhousie, human pollution and excrement virtually lined the path to the summit. It only got worse at the top, where a pile of garbage - located square in the middle of the cramped temple-observation area - gave off a stench. Not one garbage bin could be seen.

Governmental and local authorities, however, say that action is being taken to clean-up this man-made mess.

Buddha Sasana/Cultural and Religious Affairs Minister Lakshman Jayakody, contacted by The Sunday Times, said his department would move on this, since, apparently for the first time, a complaint was being made about pollution on the peak.

His commissioner of Buddhist affairs, Mr. Jayakody declared, would get in touch with the Ratnapura Government Agent's office and "immediately send instructions to see that it is cleaned."

The Minister added that it costs up to Rs. 6mn annually to clean up other historical sites in Sri Lanka.

"At all the Cultural Triangle sites, the cleaning of garbage is the biggest problem we have," he said.

As for the temple and district governmental officials, tasked with preparing and maintaining the peak for the pilgrimage season, Ratnapura GA Kusuma Wilegoda said they were working with voluntary organisations to clean the peak on a monthly basis.

"Normally there are 15 labourers and public health workers who collect garbage from the bins every month," she said.

Added to the unpleasant reality of the pollution are noisy crowds, drawn from a young, reckless generation who now dominate this pilgrimage, transforming it into a Sri Lankan version of a rock 'n' roll festival.

Some of them, who were obviously drunk, wolf-whistled at women passers-by. This was not surprising. The previous day, on the bus over from Hatton, for instance, a loud group of Baila players could be seen retrieving two bottles of arrack from an overhead compartment, after the passengers passed through a security check.

Others were stoned. On at least two occasions, youngsters approached this reporter, offering to sell him marijuana.

"Want grass?" a hustler boldly asked.

The Adam's Peak of today is not entirely bleak. When this reporter visited, traces of another world could be seen in the faces of the silent ones. From an older generation, they quietly and stoically went about the business of completing their personal pilgrimages.

"It is a bit difficult to climb," said P. Mannatunga of Kandy, a woman in her sixties, who was undertaking her 21st pilgrimage. "But it's devotion that keeps me going and relieves the pain."

K. Peter, 70, from Kelaniya, said he was blessed, having walked away unscathed from a near fatal road accident that morning.

"Our minds were clear coming here," he said. "That helps a lot." But not all the pilgrims were so lucky. Soon after sunrise on the morning of February 23, an unidentified man died instantly, when he stumbled and smashed his head against a rock, while jogging along a flatter section of the mountain trail.

His crumpled body lay there bleeding for all the world to see. He had met his maker.


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