© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Deities Hierarchy Ceremonies Sakra Guardians Twelve Deities
Deities Hierarchy Ceremonies Sakra Guardians Twelve Deities

Ceremonies to combat problems caused by Deities

Deities are believed to have the power to inflict punishments in the form of bad luck, illnesses, epidemics, drought, floods, famine, epidemics etc. These punishments can be directed at individual transgressors or at communities.

When a Deity is attributed as the cause of the problem, the Deity will be approached via the priest at  the Deity’s shrine. Suitable offerings and prayers will be made via the intercession of the priest, by the supplicant(s) to the appropriate Deity asking for the Deity to release them from the trouble and a vow may also  be made by the supplicant(s) to the Deity that will be carried out on successful recovery. Typical vows are promises to make a gift to a Temple, go on Pilgrimage, feed poor people or travellers, walk on fire or perform a similar painful act (this type of vow is especially prevalent on the Eastern side when supplicants may be seen e.g. suspended from hooks inserted into the body, rolling all the way on the ground in a procession etc.)

Ceremonies for Deities

Fulfilling a vow made to a Deity. N.B. the man suspended from the front of the tractor by hooks fixed through his skin. He was then driven in a procession along this road on the East Coast to fulfil a vow made to a Deity - probably Kataragama or Kali.

There are four main ceremonies held when Deities are diagnosed as causing the trouble. These ceremonies are called the dana or dane (alms-giving), pam madua, devol madua and gam madua. Madua means hut and gam means village. The “hut” refers to one of the structures that is erected for the ceremony. The pam madua or “little oil lamp hut” and the devol madua (ceremony to a Deity - Devol) are held in the family when the family or an individual are or have been afflicted. The Gam Madua is held by a village community when the community has been afflicted.

These ceremonies that I observed, were conducted by groups of Tovil Dancers with one – the leader - taking the role of the main officiant. When I was invited by the Tovil Dancers, they  referred to these occasions as Pattini Tovils. (This may well have been due to my very limited Sinhala.). Although the Deity Pattini is perhaps the most prominent, the other Deities are included in the ceremonies and offerings.

During the ceremony the leading officiant “becomes” Pattini and dances and mimes the myths associated with her. The dancers depict these myths in their dances  and recitations which are performed to entertain, thank and please the Deities. In the opening parts of the ceremony, when the various structures that contain the shrines dedicated to the Deities are blessed, the Deities are formally invited to attend, whilst they relax on their sacred “couches” (Shrines) to be entertained, thanked and praised during the ceremony. They of course attend in essence,

Fuller details of these ceremonies may be found in the section on Pattini Ceremonies.

Feeding monks is an example of Dana - alms giving

Feeding pilgrims at a Temple is another example.