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Sri Pada –Abode of Maha Sumana Saman Deviyo

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 March 2010 11:54 Written by Administrator Sunday, 21 March 2010 11:52

Some Buddhists believe that Buddhas before the last, Gautama, had also visited Sri Pada. Those visitations were eons, mind boggling light years away but coming to more recent times, in terms of centuries, records indicate that King Valagambahu (104-76 BC) was the first to discover the sacred footprint. While in exile taking refuge in the mountain wilderness evading the Cholas, it is said the king was lead to the summit of the mountain by a fleeing deer which disappeared in a thunderous flash the moment the king saw the footprint on a blue sapphire. The belief is that God Sumana Saman, who incidentally is not of the Hindu pantheon, the guardian of the Hill Country and Sri Pada had taken the form of the deer. Sri Pada has other names: - Samanhela, Samanalakande, Samangiri Samanalagira to the Sinhalese and Adams Peak in English.

Since that visit, throughout history, our kings and their retinues have paid homage to the footprint. Some of them are Maha Vijayabahu (1055-1100), Parakramabahu II (1125-1165), Nissankamalla (1198-1206) Vimala Dharmasuriya I (1592-1603), Vimala Dharmasuriya II (1687-1707), and his son Narendrasinghe (1707-1737). King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe (1746-1778) in Kandy restored to the Saman Devales all the properties endowed to them by earlier kings and seized by the non-Buddhist Rajasinghe of Sitawaka.

Foreign notables reported to have visited the Peak are the warrior empire builder, Alexander the Great (circa 324 BC). The Venetian merchant and trader, Marco Polo (1254-1324 AD), the Arab traveler Ibn Batuta alias Abu Abdulla Mohammed (1304-1377 AD), and Robert Percival from the British Garrison in Colombo early in the 19th century. In 1817 Dr John Davy of the British Army unit in Kandy, followed in 1876 by Lieut. Malcolm of the British Rifle Regiment, measured the plateau and found it was 74 feet in length and 24 feet in breadth. The boulder atop the plateau, he found, was eight feet in height and the magnified footprint on it was 64 inches long, 31 inches wide at the toes and 29 inches at the heel.

It is believed that the blue sapphire on which the true footprint of the Buddha appears lies under this boulder placed by an ancient king as a form of protection to it.

Sri Pada is sacred to Buddhists as they believe the footprint is of Lord Buddha while Christians believe that when Adam was expelled from Eden for tasting the forbidden fruit an angel set him down on this peak. Some other Christians surmise the footprint is that of St Thomas who in the first century AD introduced Christianity to South India. To Hindus, the footprint is of Lord Shiva and they call the mount Sivam Adipadham. While some Islamists accept the Adam theory to others it is the footprint of Al-Rohun.

Thus, as John Still (author of Jungle Tide) who lived in Ceylon wrote: "The peak is one of the vastest and most reverenced cathedrals of the human race." To this could be added to Sri Lanka’s credit that it is also a place of worship for centuries of followers of four different faiths who gather here year after year in peace with due respect to each other’s beliefs. This is so vastly unlike Haram Ash Sheriff - Jerusalem’s hallowed temple, "one of the world’s most fiercely contested pieces of real estate, where Christians, Moslems and Jews have slaughtered one another for centuries..."

The mountain is the second highest in the country at an elevation of 7,341 feet; only 941 feet less that the highest, Pidurutalagala. It is of immense socio-economic importance being the source of the country’s four main rivers: Mahaveli, Kelani, Kalu and Walawe gangas, flowing to the sea in the North-East, West and South coasts irrigating vast extents of agricultural lands and also providing water for domestic and commercial use by many thousands.

Police and other officials who have served in areas covering the roads to Sri Pada and the pathway to the peak itself say that the path can accommodate about 30,000 persons for a climb beginning late one evening followed by a descent before the next mid morning. When traffic (climbers) exceed these limits, over visitation at times around 250,0000 jam pack the limited area and the crowd gets restive due to weariness, food and water carried by them long over and the few boutiques having put up shutters. It could be an agonizing experience when the normal outward and the inward journey of six (some estimate it at 7.5) kilometres each way in around eight hours stretches to twelve or more. With no shelters or even a few square inches of space to sit, good fellowship and patience give way to inaudible and sometimes audible curses instead of the exchange of karunawai (compassionate fellow-feeling) by those climbing down towards those on their way up. Fortunately stampedes don’t seem to have occurred.

In one of my climbs, my party was caught in a fair rush of people. Hence this article recollecting the incident which occurred many years ago at the height of the season – February and March when the dry weather invites more people to undertake the arduous trek.

Over the years from the time of the Sinhalese kings, the approach roads from Ratnapura and Kandy to the pathway and the path itself have been improved. The jungle on either side has been kept controlled; steps carved and iron chains and stanchions provided on the sheer rock surfaces. Later date philanthropists have built cement steps to make the trek that much easier. Thanks to the 4th Sri Lanka Engineering Regiment, 6,023 steps have been built within a stretch of 4.95 kilometers of pathway since commencement of work in January 2004 with a break for tsunami relief activities. The Regiment expects to complete the work on the balance shortly. Up to about five decades ago, climbers had to use chulu or battery torches to light their way at night but thanks to Sir John Kotelawela (then a Cabinet Minister) electric lighting was provided all the way to the summit in fulfillment of a vow taken by him in connection with the Laxapana Hydro-Electric Scheme. Likewise, will some organization help to keep the pathway and the area itself free of litter and garbage? This is a serious problem said to be getting worse year after year. Much to our shame we are becoming a nation of incurable litterbugs. There are laws but who cares?

The millions who have climbed Sri Pada have done so in great piety. To the young or not so religious, it’s an adventure or mild diversion. Whichever, one and all who have reached the peak by dawn have witnessed one of nature’s most magnificent sights – the Iru Sevaya or sunrise when "the sun rising in the distant horizon casts bright shades of yellow in the eastern sky. It dips a couple of times as if paying homage to the sacred footprint. It rises again casting a dark conical shadow of the mountain over the valley below on the western side." During those few minutes, the silence of the vast crowd is almost palpable until at the end of the unforgettable spectacle when as in one voice the crowd breaks the silence with Sadhu Sadhu Sa over and over again with palms held together in pure adoration

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