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Pattini Ceremonies Myths Shrines Community Pattini Community Pattini 2 Family Pattini

Image of the Deity Pattini

Water lily pond

However, the Deity Sakra took pity on the King in his agony, and while he was sleeping Sakra cut open the King’s skull removing the frogs from his brain. Sakra then healed up the wound. The king’s headaches lessened but he was still not completely headache free.

No one knew what to do so the King consulted an astrologer who advised him he must build a “hut” 60 arms lengths long and 30 arms lengths wide. To one side of the hut he must construct an offering shrine in the shape of a triumphal arch constructed in three parts. He then had to provide a pot  made of gold - the weight and size of his body. Into this pot must be placed a large red coconut. This pot and contents must then be placed in the offering shrine. The king followed these instructions and was then completely cured of his headaches.

The practices, dances, songs and mimes at the ceremonies to the Deities are based on this myth and the other traditions associated with Pattini, such as her seven  re-incarnations, the fire walking/trampling  and the ritual games enacted.

These Pattini Tovils are held as a “thank you” to Pattini for the release of an individual or a community from an affliction. These may be held annually following a vow from the sufferer or community made to Pattini when they were afflicted. These ceremonies may also be held as a “thank you” to the Deities for successful harvests.

According to Paul Wirz (1954 page 156-164) this is a rare ceremony and he only observed it once. It usually takes a long time e.g. over 2 days. It is based on several traditions of the various Deities and Yakku (demons) although the main Deity on which it is based is Pattini whose legends as well as those of the other deities, are enacted during the dances, songs and mimes by the tovil dancers. However although Wirz stated that this is a rare ceremony, the Tovil dancers who invited us had a booking for another one the following week-end.  

According to Gananath Obeyesekere in “The Cult of the Goddess Pattini” there is evidence that this cult is becoming more popular and there are an increasing number of shrines to this goddess.

The Pattini Ceremonies I attended included two community based ones and one held at the family home of a clairvoyant to reinforce and strengthen his powers of fore-sight.

Origin of Pattini Ceremonies

Paul Wirz  outlines the origin of these Pattini ceremonies as follows:

King Sali-rajjurovo, a Northern Indian King, heard a disturbance in his  Palace Park during the night. He went out to investigate and discovered a wild bull rampaging about destroying the gardens, so in his anger at the destruction it had caused,  he shot and killed it. The bull was then reborn as a frog. This frog enjoyed sitting on the lotus blossoms on the King’s lily pond.

One day when the king was admiring his lily pond, he saw a most beautiful lily flower that had just opened in the sunshine. He bent down to inhale the scent. He did not notice the frog sitting on the flower. The frog then leapt into his nostril working its way up into his brain. Here it gave birth to many other frogs. This caused the King to suffer from severe headaches and he was driven close to insanity by the agonising pain. No one could cure him.

Who is Pattini?

Pattini is the favourite Deity of Sri Lanka. She is revered throughout the island in shrines not only in her dedicated Temple but also in Pattini Shrines in both Buddhist and Hindu Temples.   

Pattini Ceremonies

Pattini - the Deity of fertility

According to one myth she is believed to have introduced rice cultivation (rice being the staple food). She is also believed to promote fertility of the land and of people and livestock and has the power to restore the imbalances of nature that cause problems e.g. too much or too little of fire, air, water etc. Such imbalances in nature can cause drought, flooding etc. and their associated resulting diseases and problems to the community.

People visit her devales (shrines) housed in the Buddhist and Hindu Temples  and devales to request her help if Deity displeasure is considered to be the cause of their problem (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 communities.

Like the other Deities, Pattini is attributed with responsibility for causing illnesses and epidemics - in her case  especially diseases and epidemics associated with too much heat such as smallpox, chicken pox, measles, whooping cough, mumps etc. These are believed to be as a punishment to the individual or community who have angered the Deities by their transgressions such as breaking taboos.

When a Deity is divined as the cause of the problem, the Deities will be approached via the priest at  the Deity’s shrine. Appropriate offerings and prayers will be made by the supplicant(s) to the appropriate Deity to release them from the trouble via the intercession of the shrine priest and a vow may be made by the supplicant(s) to the Deity  that must be carried out on successful recovery on the removal of their problem. Typical vows are promises to make a gift to a Temple, go on Pilgrimage, feed poor people or travellers, walk on fire or undertake  similar painful acts (this type of vow is especially prevalent on the Eastern side of the island, where particularly during Perahera season, supplicants may be seen e.g. suspended from hooks inserted into their body, rolling all the way on the ground in a procession etc.) In addition the supplicant(s) may make a vow to hold a ceremony for the entertainment of the Deities to show their gratitude to them.

Pattini Ceremonies

There are four main ceremonies held when Deities are diagnosed as causing illnesses or troubles or that are held in gratitude, after Pattini and other Deities have cured or healed the individual or community.  In this case the individual or community is fulfilling the conditional vow to hold the ceremony made when they originally appealed to the Deity for assistance and release from the affliction. 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 important structures that is constructed for the ceremony. The pam madua or “little oil lamp hut” and the devol madua are held in the family when a family or an individual are or have been afflicted. The Gam Madua is hosted by a village community when the community has been afflicted.

According to Obeyesekere these ceremonies are based on 35 ancient ritual texts or songbooks that provide the format and incantations/hymns for these ceremonies.

During these ceremonies various stages involving consecrations, offerings and ritual are conducted by the main officiants and the dancers. These include the following :

The Conch offering

Offering of Lights

Offering of Bulat Leaves

Planting of the Festival Bough

Planting of the Torch of Time

In the ceremonies I observed these stages were probably incorporated into the performances of the  main ceremony which include:

Planting of the Bough

Evening Demon Time

Consecration of the Officiant’s Robes

Offerings of Lights for the Deities

The Torch of Time

The Myth of the Birth of Kurumbara, Devol Deviyo and Kataragama

Ritual of the Ceremonial Archway - Toran

Offering of Bulat Leaves

Divine Ornaments Ceremonially Brought Forth

         The Anklets ceremonially brought forth

         Songs of the Seven Pattini

         Entry of Deity Seven Pattini

        Offerings made to the Divine Ornaments.

The Drummers Perform in Honour of Pattini

The Dance of Lights

Blessings of the Anklets or Service of the Divine Ornaments

Oblation to the Sanni Demons

Planting the Torch of Time and Dressing up as Vahala

Fire Walking/Trampling Ritual

Offering of the Dawn Watch to the Kurumbara Demons

Spectacle to the Twelve Deities - Presentations

The Dance of Gara

Returning the Deities to their earthly abodes.

(Full details and explanations and translations of relevant Pattini Texts are included in “The Cult of the Goddess Pattini” by Ganeth Obeysekere. It should be noted that the ceremonies I observed were similar but not exactly the same as the ones he describes. This could be due to fact he was describing ceremonies conducted several decades earlier than those which I observed at the beginning of the twenty first century.)

These ceremonies are puja/offerings to the Deities to thank them for caring for the gam - village/community and to entertain the  Deities with dances and praises. All the Guardian Deities are propitiated at these ceremonies although Pattini on this occasion, is the central focus. (Ritual games may also form a part of this honouring of and entertainments presented for the Deities e.g. the horn game and coconut game. - see Obeysekere P. 50)

These Pattini 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.).

Deities are invited to  attend the sacred area consecrated especially for the ceremony by the officiants/priests. The anklets, jewellry etc of Pattini that are so carefully placed in the shrines by the main officiant are only handled by him. These  are believed to be imbued with her essence and to have curative qualities. During the ceremony the leading officiant “becomes” Pattini. He and and the other dancers with their dances, mimes and songs enact  the myths associated with Pattini, her life and seven re-incarnations and those of the other Deities. (See Section on Myths).

The Deities are believed to be present at the ceremony in their essence and in the opening parts of the ceremony when the various structures that contain the shrines dedicated to the Deities are blessed and consecrated, the Deities are invited by the Officiant to attend the ceremony to  view the proceedings whilst resting in comfort on their sacred “couches” (the Shrines) whilst they are  entertained, thanked  and praised during the ceremony.  

Appropriate offerings for the Deities consist of bulat leaves, flowers, lights/torches etc and are presented in specifically shaped, woven offering baskets and the Festival Boughs and torches.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Deities are returned to their Earthly Abodes (their main shrines) from which they were invited to visit for the duration of the ceremony.  

Further Detailed Reading on Pattini and Pattini Ceremonies

Main References:

Paul Wirz “Exorcism and the Art of Healing in Ceylon” p.156-164

Gananath Obeyesekere “The Cult of the Goddess Pattini” - not only full descriptions but also analysis

Bruce Kapferer “A Celebration of Demons”

Plus on internet Wilapedia

A.G.S. Kariyawasam “The Gods & Deity Worship in Sri Lanka” (Source: The Wheel Publication No. 402/404, ISBN 955-24-0126-7, Buddhist Publication Society  P.O. Box 61, 54  Sangharaja Mawatha Kandy, Sri Lanka ) Copyright © 1995

Medical System

The Universe is believed to be composed of five constituents :      

space or emptiness

wind or air -expressed in humans as breath or air

water - in the form of phelgm


fire - in the form of bile

Three of these constituents are associated with the body and if they are in imbalance then this needs to be  corrected by Ayuvedic medicines with appropriate foods and/or to promote opposites e.g. if a problem is diagnosed as too much bile (fire), the illness needs treating/counteracting with cooling medicines associated with water. And the patient is advised to eat “cooling” foods.

In the Pattini Ceremonies this theory of the universe is reflected in the environment e.g. an excess of fire/heat leads to drought and hence famine and is believed to lead to epidemics associated with heat of e.g. smallpox and measles. An excess of water e.g. during the monsoon season leads to crop damage, floods, drownings, landslides and house collapses plus illnesses associated with too much phelgm/water - coughs, colds, fevers etc -

The supplicant(s) then requests the assistance of Pattini to correct these imbalances in the body or the universe. The three “faults” of the Āyurvedic medical system (air/breath; fire/bile; water/phlegm) indicate the upset of human bodily well-being, which is believed to be caused by physical influences or the agency of spirits, both of which can be caused by planetary misalignment and karma. Ceremonies to Deities correct the imbalances in the universe. One of the goals of the gam maduwa ceremony is to cure, control, protect against, and exorcise the negative effects of these imbalances. Thus, for example, the ritual fire trampling/walking is to control an excess of fire, and  the ritual “cutting of water” is to control an excess of water.

Pattini is known for the sacred anklets and bracelets she wears,  amulets thought to have special curative powers that can rid people of such conditions as smallpox, chickenpox, whooping cough, measles, and mumps.  She  protects people from diseases and calamities, and her interventions promotes the restoration of  natural balance, bringing timely rains and promoting fertility and the growth of vegetation. She represents maternity, purity, healing, and piety embodied in a feminine divine form.

Another game is the Coconut Game (Polkeliya). As with the Horn Game, there are two teams of men and youths This is a dangerous game and only skilled males participate, the rest are spectators supporting their teams. Villagers have collected the hard coconuts (about 100-150, if there are not enough in the village they contribute to buy extras). The two teams line up about 10 metres apart. Then one player holds up a coconut with the female end  pointing forwards and the thrower from the other team throws one of their coconuts at his. The teams throw in turn and the idea is to break the other team’s coconuts .The winning team is the one with the last remaining unbroken coconut. See full description pages 168-176 Wirz and pages  401-402 Obeysekere.

Water Cutting forms part of these ceremonies. This is carried out by the main officiant of the ceremony. (At the end of the Kataragama Perahera water cutting is performed as a final stage.) It too is to promote fertility. It is usually held in secret - just  men accompanying the officiant. They escort him to a river or water course and then with a sword he “cuts” the water. Some of the water is collected into a new clay pot which is then kept in the community’s Temple for the whole agricultural year. This ceremony is to control the imbalance in the universe of water - too little leads to drought, or too much leads to flooding. Either condition leads to destruction and hunger.

(See Section on Myths for the legends about these games.)

Ritual Fertility Games

Associated with these ceremonies there may also be ritual fertility games such as the Horn Game (Ankeliya) in which two teams of village men participate.  Each team has a branch on the end of which is either a deer horn or the end is carved to look like a horn. The two teams push against each other trying to break the other’s horn. The team that wins is the one with the broken horn. The horn represents a penis and when it is broken it “proves” those men are fertile.

The “Horns” and ropes that had been used by the two competing teams earlier, on display at this Pattini Ceremony

Serving and donating refreshments at a busy roadside to travellers

Serving pilgrims making night time ascent of Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak)

These Dana (alms giving) acts - serving free refreshments to travellers and pilgrims please the Deities. These may be undertaken as vows or acts of generosity that gains merit for those performing them them.

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