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Pattini Ceremonies Myths Shrines Community Pattini Community Pattini 2 Family Pattini

Myths related during Pattini Ceremonies

These myths are enacted during the Ceremonies when offerings of plants (bulat leaves, flowers and festival boughs etc.) and lights, planting the torch of time, and performing fire trampling rituals and ceremonial dances for the participating Deities. The Deities are invited to attend and enjoy the entertainment,offerings  and praises offered to them within these ceremonies as a thank you for their assistance and hopefully continued benevolence.

Pattini Tovils known as Gammaduwa - village hut - are held to cure the illnesses and troubles  attributed to Deities and/or are held after Pattini has “cured” the individual or community. In this case the individual or community would have made a conditional  vow to hold the ceremony when they had appealed to the Deity and if the Deity had subsequently cured them. During these ceremonies the Deities are invited to attend and be entertained by the dancers. The myths and legends associated with Pattini’s life and re-incarnations are enacted and mimed in the dance, songs and mantras of the Tovil dancers. Offerings to Pattini are made and also to the other Deities whose stories are also related.


The Deity Pattini, appears to have been revered in Sri Lanka since the second century AD. Some believe that she was introduced to Sri Lanka by the second century King Gajabahu from Southern India, maybe through his Hindu wife. Alternatively she may in fact be a renamed local Sri Lankan important Deity Kiri Amma (Milk Mother) who at this time had become assimilated with the Hindu goddess, Pattini.

There are many legends about  her amongst  both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. She is regarded as the favourite Deity in Sri Lanka and features as the great heroine in Sri Lankan folklore and myths.  For instance she is widely believed to have been the first to introduce the cultivation of rice. Her main earthly home is the Navaguna shrine about 15 miles from Colombo on the Kandy road. Here supplicants regularly present her with offerings and pledge vows in exchange for her assistance. There are also shrines to her all over the island and in both Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Pattini is believed to dwell in the "tautisa bhavanaya", the heaven of the thirty-three saints.

Early “Life”, Re-incarnations and Deification

Before being elevated to Deity status both Buddhist and Hindu mythology attribute Pattini to have been the very chaste and virtuous wife named Kanaki, married to Palanga, a cruel and mean husband who had many mistresses. He even stole her golden bracelets and presented them to his mistresses. However, she remained faithful to him to the end of her life. The legends record her as remaining a virgin and Palanga is believed to have been impotent. These are two of the  themes of the Ceremonies associated with Pattini - her sexual purity and his impotence. Some of these ceremonies associated with her (Gam Maduva and the ritual sports) are described in further detail in the Section on Pattini Ceremonies.

She is believed to have had seven incarnations.  In one life she was the very pious and beautiful daughter of a King. Even at the age of seven the young princess showed great reverence and piety towards Buddhism and contemplated deeply about her rebirths and eventual route to and attainment of Nirvana . She is reputed to have donated 30,000 monks’ robes to the Buddha’s order and a further 30,000 brass oil lamps. She wished to be reborn successively  in a mango fruit, in a dew drop, in  a cobra’s tear, in a water lily, in fire, in a boat and finally out of the Deity Isvara’s thigh.

These fantastical re-births followed one after the other.  (Wirz p 143-4).  Her first re-birth took place in a mango fruit which hung from a great shadowy mango tree in the king's orchard. She grew up and was called Teda-Pattini (teda meaning strength). One day, whilst at the paddy fields she was drowned whilst bathing in a big pond. She was re-born for the second time in a water-lily (manil-mala) which grew by the bank and from which she received her new name, Mal-Pattini, and for the third time in a cobra's tear (Naga-Pattini). During this life, she had a retinue of a thousand nagas (snakes). Her fourth reincarnation was in fire (gini), and she  became known as Gini-jala-Pattini (fire-water-Pattini). For the fifth time, she was re-born in a boat (oruva), and was  named Orumala-Pattini. Her sixth re-birth was in a dewdrop (pini-bindu), and the seventh and last one - out of Isvara's thigh (kalava-Isvara).

When she had grown up in her seventh rebirth she retreated to the mountain of Andungira-parvatiya to meditate. Many followers joined her there as she was greatly respected for her reverence and piety. King Senavi-rajjuruvo greatly admired this pious woman and presented her with two very valuable golden bracelets. Her followers erected a shrine for her at Navaguna to which she moved. There, before the eyes of her followers, she passed out of earthly existence never to be seen again. She left behind at the Shrine, her golden bracelets which are believed to be very sacred and possess great curative powers.

Later on a larger shrine was constructed on the site where she had disappeared and her sacred bracelets are kept in the shrine together with a very holy book originally in Tamil, that describes the curative mantras and instructions to heal many diseases. Later still Gautama Buddha’s wooden alms  bowl was added to these sacred objects. The Deity Sakra, then cast down a sandalwood tree trunk from Heaven, out of which the people carved a statue of Pattini which is also kept at this shrine.

Pattini is believed to dwell in one of the heavens with her foot resting on the point of a needle. The other Deities assigned her seven female demons called the Vaduru-Yakkiniyo, who at her command,  can be sent to punish human transgressions with sixty different diseases and epidemics,

Pattini is perceived as a stern but benevolent mother Deity and the legends associated with her life are recorded in a poem written in Tamil between the sixth and ninth centuries.

Kuveni was a dreaded demon living in Sri Lanka. King Wijaya (from India) landed in Taprobane in the North. To protect him from Kuveni and the other dangerous demons on the island, the Deity Vishnu had given him a  protective thread to tie around his arm.

The King arrived with seven hundred men, some of whom he sent out to look for water. They eventually found a great lake. They did not realise this  belonged to Kuveni. Kuveni was very angry that they intended to take her water and captured the men. While the king was searching for his men, he came to a large fig tree under which was sitting a very beautiful woman who was knitting. He realised she must be Kuveni and suspected her as responsible for the disappearance of his men. He grabbed her by the hair threatening to kill her unless she returned his men.

Kuveni begged the king for mercy and agreed to release the men if he would marry her. The king replied he could not possibly marry a demon but she begged him and in the end he relented, but he noticed she had three breasts. However she agreed to cut off one of them.

After they were married they built a palace by the fig tree where they had met, and had two children - a boy and a girl. In this myth, these children were to become the ancestors of the Veddahs.

After some years had passed the king received word from India that his father was dying and wished him to return to India, be formally named as his heir and marry an Indian princess who had already been chosen for him. A ship had been sent with the messengers to collect the King Wijaya. His men advised him to obey his father but to do so in secret so as not to anger Kuveni. The king did this and  returned to his father’s deathbed, was named as his heir and married the princess.

When Kuveni found out, she took revenge by sending their demon son to India to find his father. The son crossed the narrow strait to India where he changed himself into a boar and roamed around his father’s garden and country destroying everything. The king sent guards to investigate what was causing the devastation. The guards thought it was wild elephants so set up a watch. When they saw it was a monster boar they fled in terror as did the king. The boar rampaged throughout the country destroying everything and spreading terrible epidemics wherever it roamed. Many people died and the king’s country was ruined.

The demon boar then jumped into the sea and landed in the South of Sri Lanka near Galle where he met another Indian demon called Gara-yakka. This demon jumped on the boar’s back. The boar changed into a leopard and they then roamed around the whole country spreading terrible diseases over the whole island.

The Vaduru-yakkiniyo

The Vaduru-yakkiniyo (Pattini’s female demon assistants) emerged in the following way, and this legend includes the myth of how she introduced the cultivation of rice:

One day Pattini was meditating on her mountain when an old beggar asked her for food. She had nothing to give him as the whole area was just  barren rock. After meditating some more on what she could do to help the beggar, she stamped on the stones and rock with her bare feet until they became dust and sand which when it rained, turned into mud. She then planted and cultivated a rice field in this mud which was eventually ready for harvest. Next she made a fire and cooked the rice in a golden pot. She then offered this rice to the beggar (Sakra) who refused it.

So she asked him what he really wanted and he replied that he wished for her to accompany him to Naraloka. She then stamped on the rock again and out burst the seven  women - the Vaduru-yakkiniyo who would from henceforth undertake to inflict the punishments on mankind on her behalf. She then accompanied Sakra to Naraloka.

Myth of Mangara

The Deity Mangara, was in a previous life, the son of a King. When his horoscope was drawn up the astrologers foretold that he would be killed by a buffalo, so in an attempt  to avert this fate the King sent him away.

He and his followers sailed away on a boat and ended up in the far South East of Sri Lanka near Ambalantota. This is a very dry area and they sought shelter from the burning sun under a large shady tree. They heard a lot of buzzing  above them and the prince realized that they were sitting under a wild beehive. He ordered his men to climb the tree and obtain honey. The men climbed the tree but the wicked Demon who lived in the tree became angry and sent them away claiming sole ownership of the tree,bees and honey.

The men were very frightened and ran away, but the Prince took out his golden sword and cut out the hive. They then all collected up the honey in leaves and greatly relished the delicious nectar.

A little while later when they had made their way further inland, they came to some lakes where a wild buffalo was standing in the water. The Prince commanded his men to capture it but they were too frightened, so the Prince entered the water but was killed by the irate buffalo who was in fact the angry Demon of the honey tree. The buffalo then killed all the Prince’s followers.

A cowherd then came across the dead men and managed to kill the buffalo with his spear and chopped it up. He was later to become the first priest of Mangara (the dead Prince). He built a Shrine to Mangara out of the pieces of the dead Buffalo :

“Thereupon he built a hall, dedicated it

Worshipped the gods and asked their leave

He obtained warrant from the gods

To make preparations for boiling the milk.”

Then follows a description of how he used the different parts of the buffalo in the construction of the Shrine:

“The four legs were used for four posts

And the tail cut into four bars

The twelve ribs were used for a stand…..

…..The four kneecaps used for hearthstones

The hide stretched for a canopy…

The eyes were used for sapphire lamps… “etc etc.

When he was ready for the traditional “Boiling of Milk” (the custom whereby a pot of coconut milk is boiled to predict the success for a new enterprise when it is opened) he was short of the necessary tumeric he then needed to purify the area of all pollution where the dead lay. So he decided to approach  Pattini for assistance. She became angry as she said he and his attendant had brought the  pollution of the dead with them. However she agreed to help them and she obtained rice and tumeric from the Naga King for them to perform the purification. The cowherd and his assistant  were thus enabled to perform the ceremonial Boiling of the Milk.

Pattini then sprinkled some of the milk on the dead Prince and his followers:

“As if in response to a sudden command

As if emerging from the ambrosia lake

As if awakening from a sleep

The god stood up with his retinue.”

They then rejoined the pieces of the buffalo and captured and tamed the rest of the buffalo herd. They lived off the buffalo milk and kiri (sour milk) and honey (much enjoyed to this day in that Southern area of Sri Lanka).

The myth then relates how Mangara is invoked to heal the illnesses of people and communities as the god of Runhunu area (this Southern area of Sri Lanka). He was assigned a retinue of demons under the much feared Cemetery Demon Mahasona,  by the Deities to punish human transgressors.

(See Obeysekere pages 297-299 for further details)

Myth of Pattini’s husband and the Ritual Games

When Patini first came from the land of the Deities, she married a man called Polanga Therunanse. He was very poor and so they soon fell deep into poverty. But Pattini still had some gold jewellry, such as her golden foot-rings, and so she gave them to her husband to pawn so they could buy food. Polanga tried all the goldsmiths unsuccessfully until eventually he managed to sell the gold to Tarakaluva at a place called Pandirata where  Pandi-rajjuruvo was the king.

The King’s wife had gold jewellry almost the same as Pattini’s. One day she washed this jewellry  leaving it to dry in the sun. Unfortunately then a passing peacock attracted by the shining gold, swallowed them. When the Queen returned and could not find her rings, she thought they had been stolen and told the King. He immediately ordered a search and offered an enormous reward for their return and for the apprehension of the thief.

Tarakaluva, the pawnbroker, heard about the reward and took the rings he had bought from Pattini’s husband to the King. The Queen was called to identify them but told the King that they were similar but not hers. However the King believing her to be mistaken ordered the jeweller to reveal who had sold them to him. This led to the arrest of Polanga who was then sentenced to be executed by impalement

In the meantime, Pattini was  waiting for the return of Polanga, she was distraught and so set out with her maid Kaliya, to search for him.  But no one would give them information as the King had ordered that anyone revealing what had happened would have their tongue cut out.

At last, Pattini and Kaliya arrived at  Pandirata but before they entered the place, they rested at an inn from where Pattini continued making  unsuccessful enquiries around the area. One day, she saw the two children of the king. She asked them, tempting them with sweets. The boy  did not answer, but the girl believed that as they had accepted the sweets she should reveal to the distraught  Pattini all that had happened to Polanga.

Pattini set out for the palace but it was on a moated island that could only be reached by boat. The King had ordered that no one should be admitted to the palace. On reaching the deep moat, Pattini threw one of her golden ornaments into the water. The moat disappeared and she walked across to the island going straight to the execution place where she found the body of Polanga  lying dismembered  and rotting on the ground. At the terrible sight she wailed and lamented.

Then she went to the palace and asked the king why he had killed her husband. He replied because he had stolen the Queen’s jewellery. He was so angry that he ordered Pattini to be imprisoned and have her breasts cut off. But she held the king's two children by the hand and tried quickly to hide them under her garment. She then seized her left breast, tore it out, and flung it at the king. Flames shot up and the palace and the whole town was burnt to the ground. The children were saved by her garment.

When Sakra heard about the terrible punishment  Pattini had inflicted on the land, he asked her not to kill any innocent people. She agreed to spare them but the guilty would suffer more. She then followed the fire punishment  by inflicting diseases and plagues in which even more inhabitants died. The whole country was in danger of being wiped out completely.

Again Sakra begged Pattini not to punish the innocent but she asked  how she would be compensated if she removed the diseases. Sakra then suggested that if she removed the punishing plagues and diseases, in return  she would be presented with offerings when contests were held in her honour. She agreed to the terms and so the Ritual Games were created.

Thus when an epidemic breaks out, the community hold these games for Pattini and present her with the appropriate offerings.- the winning coconut in the Coconut Game and the hook of the winning team in the Horn Game.

(N.B. In the North where there are few coconuts or deer the ritual game is Likeliya or Stick Game. In this game again two teams of men and youths compete. For this sport sticks of about 18 inches long are cut from a jack fruit or other hard wood tree and then split lengthwise, so that when they are shaken they sound like a rattle. One male from each team then hits the other stick until one of the sticks falls apart to be replaced by another. The game continues until only one stick remains. This remaining, winning stick, is then presented to Pattini.

Polanga, Pattini’s husband of this legend who was executed, is the same Polanga who had treated her so cruelly in a previous life.)

Myth of Kuveni

Kuveni is venerated as the Deity Valli. According to one legend she was a consort of Kataragama and Vishnu’s daughter. She has her own temple shrine in the Kataragama complex.