There's something wonderful about letting someone else take you on an adventure. I particularly love when my local friends invite me on a day trip or a drive without really telling me what's on the agenda. Naturally, there's trust as well as a sense of excitement at not knowing where or what we're doing. Plus, after keeping to schedules most of the week, there's a lovely respite when you allow someone else to take over. Usually I find myself enjoying the experience as it will be something or someplace I may not have planned or visited on my own, and I usually learn something of interest.
Just last week I tagged along on a mid-week adventure with some good friends who are based in Kandy. They are a lovely group of friends with an adventurous spirit, who have some of the nicest manners I've ever come across. Whenever I've been in a spot of bother, they have reached out to help me out (especially when I was testing out Kandy as another base) or they have gone out of their way to welcome me into their fold by including me in events and gatherings.
Last Wednesday morning, I found myself buckled in and tucked up nice and snug into a car with my motley crew of friends. No major details were provided other than that it would be a good to dress conservatively in light colors (with white being preferable). The drive was immensely enjoyable. There may have been some car seat grooving and singing along to radio tunes in between the easy banter among friends.
We arrived in a small town square and the first thing I noted was the many waving hands in invitation to come and park. It seemed like a bustling place for a Wednesday and I was informed that we were visiting Sri Dedimunda Devalaya and it was kemmura day, which meant it was one of the auspicious days for offering pujas and seeking blessings from deities. More mini-buses and cars transporting pilgrims seemed to arrive as we parked our car and had a quick look around. Most places charged for parking, but we found a place that gave complimentary parking and we decided to purchase our gedi puja watti (an offering of whole fruits) from their stall.
You can purchase various puja wattis on the walk up to the main shrine and courtyard. Apparently you offer a pooja watti with cut fruits when making a wish and a gedi pooja watti when fulfilling a vow. Apart from the fruits, there are also offerings of incense, garlands and money along with the fruit.
The walk leading up to the main courtyard of the Sri Dedimunda Devalya is gentle and there are numerous stalls on either side of the path. Some stalls sell puja wattis and assorted items for making offerings, while the remaining stalls stock everything from sweets, toys, religious artefacts, convenience items and souvenirs.
Upon reaching the main courtyard and shrine we were met with a long line of pilgrims waiting to make their offerings and receive blessings. It's to be expected on a kemmura day (Wednesdays and Saturdays).
While some of my friends joined the line to save a spot, the rest of us had a little stroll around. Although busy, there was plenty of space and it was energetically pleasant.
By way of background, Sri Dedimunda is a guardian deity of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and is popular with Buddhist and Hindus. Devotees believe that Sri Dedimunda offers protection against diseases, epidemics, conflicts and corruptions. Buddhists particularly attribute veneration to this deity as it is said Sri Dedimunda protected Prince Siddhartha from Mara (and defeated the evil forces) thus removing any obstacles and ensuring Prince Siddhartha could eventually realize enlightenment as the Gautama Buddha. The blessings of Sri Dedimunda are said to be around gladness or pamojja. This blessing is considered tantamount to Buddhists as it is a contributing factor towards the enlightenment factor of joy or piti.
We didn't have to wait too long (maybe 30 minutes) considering it was an auspicious day. I did get a few curious looks being the only visible foreigner, but they were largely friendly and respectful. Part of me genuinely likes to challenge people's perceptions, as well as challenging my own perceptions. Living in foreign land offers up plenty of opportunities for this sort of thing if you're open to it. More so, if you take up invitations to hang with locals from different walks of life.
Once you're inside the main temple, puja offerings are given to an attendant or kapu mahathiya standing behind another curtain within a small vestibule past the outer curtain. Once all the puja wattis have been accepted chanting of blessings takes place. It is common to see some devotees deeply affected. In our group there were two separate women who both seemed to be physically affected, like some sort of spirit or psychic transmission. It was curious rather than scary to witness. At the end of the blessings, the inner curtain is opened so you are allowed a glimpse of the Sri Dedimunda shrine. We receive back our tray with half of the fruits, now cut and it is the custom to consume something and share the rest.
Note - You can't take photos once you're inside the main temple and definitely not past the outer curtain where you enter to make offerings, receive blessings and see the shrine.
There's a definite lightness after making the offerings and in many ways it is a really nice thing to do with a group of friends. In my case, it's another new place for me to experience. I have visited other devalayas such as Kataragama and also the ones housed in Sri Dalada Maligawa. You can read up on these in my previous blog posts - Travel Monday: Pilgrimage to Kataragama and Travel Monday: A Foreigner's Guide to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
For more information on visiting Sri Dedimunda Devalaya, Aluth Nuwara and how to get there, check out their website.