© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Deities Hierarchy Ceremonies Sakra Guardians Twelve Deities


Pattini - the Deity of fertility

Pattini is a popular Deity amongst both Sri Lankan Buddhists  and Hindus and very much revered. According to one legend she is believed to have introduced rice cultivation. She is also believed to promote fertility of the land, of people and livestock and has the power to restore imbalances of nature that cause the problems e.g. too much or too little of fire, air, water etc. These imbalances are believed to lead to drought, flooding etc and their associated diseases and problems to the community.

She is believed to be the deified form of the very chaste, loyal and virtuous woman, Kannaki who despite the despicable behaviour of her faithless husband who had several mistresses, remained faithful to him to her death. A sixth to ninth century Tamil poem “Cilappatikāram”, relates the story of her life.

She is regarded as a stern but benevolent mother figure. She is married to Pālanga (or Kōvala) - the incarnation of Kannaki’s husband - but remains a virgin. Her sexual purity is essential in maintaining the polarity between harlot and wife, thus rendering the ideal status of wife and mother, in the Pattini cult, essentially undefiled.

Like the other Deities, she is believed to inflict illnesses and epidemics - in her case  especially smallpox, chicken pox, measles, whooping cough, mumps etc which are believed to be as a punishment to the individual or community who have angered the Deities.

People visit her shrines housed in the Buddhist and Hindu Temples to request her help. They do this by making their request for her assistance through the shrine’s dedicated guardian, who enters the secret part of the shrine with their offerings which he presents before her image, on their behalf. These are typically  of fruit, flowers, money, cloth, money. silver, gold etc. Whilst he presents their request to Pattini, he recites the  special praises to her. Typically the requests are for a release from illness or to become pregnant. The priest receives a gift of money from the supplicant for these services.

When making these offerings the individual may well make a vow to Pattini that will be undertaken on the granting of their request, such as holding a ceremony dedicated to Pattini, in gratitude. This ceremony may be held annually especially in the case where a community has been released from an epidemic or famines or other disasters. Failure to carry out such a vow will lead to further problems sent from the Deity.

The Pattini Ceremonies I observed  were addressed to the Deity Pattini in gratitude for the deliverance from a disease or catastrophe. The parts I observed were performed by groups of Tovil Dancers.

For further details see section on Pattini Ceremonies.

Image of Pattini