Sri Pada Mountain (Adams Peak) – ශ්‍රී පාදය (සමනල කන්ද)

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Sri Pada Temple at the top

Sri Pada Temple at the top – Photo by Dr. Ashan Geeganage

The mountain of Sri Pada is one of the rare places that people of four major religions in the world worship. The mountain is situated in the Rathnapura district with a height of 7,360 feet (2,243 meters).

Although this is only the second highest mountains, It rises alone majestically with a conical shape and offers an unobstructed view over land and sea. It is said that the mountain was the landmark of the ancient sea-faring Arabs, who came to Sri Lanka, to trade in gems, spices, ivory etc., and they, having sighted the conical mountain miles off shore, prayed to God for having brought them safely to the island.

According to the Sri Lanka’s great chronicle, Mahawamsa, Buddha visited Sri Lanka three times. The last time he traveled from Kelaniya to Sri Pada, and then to Digavaphi. It is said that Buddha left his foot print on the rock at top of the mountain at the invitation of the Deity Saman (Saman Deviyo).

Sri Pada (Adams Peak)

The Sri Pada mountain from a distance
Photo licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 by Amila Kanchana

Deity Saman is recorded as having met the Buddha on his first visit to the island when he visited Mahiyangana to drive away the Tribe of Yakkas. Saman became a stream-entrant (sotapanna) after listening to the Buddha. Deity Saman then requested a object of worship , and Buddha gave him a handful of hairs with which he enshrined on a dagaba at Mahiyangana.

The Theravada Buddhists of Sri Lanka later made Deity Saman the guardian of their land and their religion. With the rise of Mahayana Buddhism, Saman developed into Samantabhadra, one of the four principle bodhisattvas of Mahayana. Like his later manifestation, Samanta is usually depicted crowned and bejewelled, holding a lotus in his right hand and accompanied by a white elephant. At Weligama, an ancient port on Sri Lanka’s south coast, there is a 12 ft high statue which some believe is the figure of Samantabhadra carved out of a huge moss-covered bolder. This statue is now called Kushtarajagala. It is thought that the Pilgrims from India and northern Sri Lanka disembarking at Weligama were greeted by this bodhisattva figure as they set out on the long trek to Sri Pada.

The summit of the mountain is a small plateau, and according to measurements made by Lieut. Malcolm (the first European to ascend the mountain in 1816),” it is 74 ft. in length and 24 ft. in breadth” the total area being 1,776 sq. ft. On the top of the Peak broad steps lead up to a walled enclosure containing the rock over which is a tower-like structure.

Sri Pada (Adams Peak)

Symbolic Representation of the foot print of Buddha
image source : sripada.org

According to the Englishman John Davy, who visted the summit in 1817,

… It is a superficial hollow, five feet three inches and three-quarters long, and between two’ feet seven inches and two feet five inches wide. It is ornamented with a margin of brass, studded with a few gems, of little value: it is covered with a roof, which is fastened to the rock by four iron chains, and supported by four pillars; and it is surrounded by a low wall. The roof was lined with coloured cloths, and its margin being decked with flowers, and streamers, it made a very gay appearance. The cavity .certainly bears a coarse resemblance to the figure of the human foot: were it really ah impression, it is not a very flattering one, or the encomiums which are lavished on the beauty of the feet of Boodhoo are very improperly bestowed. ….

A similar print in Thailand is believed to have the imprint of the Buddha’s right foot, is about five feet long and two feet broad. The real footprint on Adam’s Peak is believed to be set in jewels beneath the visible rock.

The soles of the Buddha’s feet are said to be flat with all the toes of equal length. On each sole there are one hundred and eight auspicious marks (mangala­ lakkhana), with the wheel (chakra) the principal mark at the centre while around it are grouped figures of animals, inhabitants of various worlds and other kinds of symbols.

Buddhists knew that this mysterious footprint had been made by the Buddha long before (as far as the 1st century BC) any other religion was introduced to the country. But in succeeding centuries other faiths, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity were to lay claim to it. Muslims believe the footprint to be that of Adam (hence the name Adam’s Peak); Christians, that of St. Thomas, the disciple Jesus; and Hindus, that of the god Siva. The Tamil name of the rock Civan-oli-pata (the mountain path of Siva’s light) or Svargarohanam (assent to heaven).

The first historical mention about Sri Pada comes during the reign of Vijayabahu (1055-1110). Earliest historical evidence in chronicles and inscriptions It is recorded that the king having seen the difficulties undergone by the pilgrims on their way to worship the Sri Pathula (Buddha’s Foot Print) on Samanthakuta dedicated the village named ‘Gilimale’ to provide for their needs. Stone inscriptions of Vijayabahu have been found at Gilimale and Ambagamuwa confirming the statement of the chronicle. But it was King Nissanka Malla ( 1187-1196) who reigned from Poona who started the pilgrimage after he ascended the mountain with his fourfold army with great faith and devotion.

At the beginning of the 16th century the Portuguese conquered Sri Lanka’s maritime provinces and forbade Buddhists living under their jurisdiction and those coming from overseas from going to Sri Pada. By way of contrast, the king of Kandy in whose realm the mountain was situated, allowed Christians to enter his territory to make the pilgrimage. When the Dutch took over the maritime provinces in 1656 they proved to be less bigoted than the Portuguese but fear that pilgrims might act as spies for the king of Kandy led them, if not to ban, then at least to discourage visits by levying a heavy tax on pilgrims .For nearly two centuries Sinhalese Buddhists living in the low country could see the sacred mountain, worship it from afar but not go there.

In 1581 the crown prince of Kandy murdered his father, King Mayadunne of Sitawaka and proclaimed himself King Rajasinghe I. When he asked the Buddhist monks how he could wash away the wrong deed done by him the monks replied that he cannot getaway from this and he should take responsibility for his action. But the Hindu priests on the other hand were willing to perform a puja to help the king ease his guilty conscience and so he converted to Hinduism. As a result the Buddhist priests were driven off Sri Pada and it was handed to the ‘Andis’ (a non-braminical Siva sect) from South India and they administered it for the next 160 years. Later King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1781), restored Buddhist ownership, and appointed Ven. Welivitiye Saranankara Sangharaja Maha Thera, to look after Buddhist interests of the holy mountain.He also donated the village, Kuttapitiya and the copper plate charter in support of this donation is still in existence.

Sri Pada Season

The Sri Pada season starts from full moon of December and end on full moon of April. Generally it takes about five to six hours to climb to the top. During this season many shops pop up on the way to the mountain top offering all sorts of food and refreshments. There are first aid centers manned by volunteers on the way. Most people make the climb by night to reach the mountain top to watch the “Ira Sevaya”, the sun rise over the sea. But this time can be quite crowded specially during the weekend and towards the end of the season. Its not rare were you have spend 5-10 minutes standing on a single step until crowd moves on. The top of the mountain is quite windy and chilly.

Route

The Temple at the top of Sri Pada Mountain
Photo licensed under CC BY 2.0 by Stefan Krasowski

There are two historic approaches to the summit of Sri Pada. The oldest is the Ratnapura path (climb start from Erathna), popularly known as the ‘difficult path’. This is a beaten track infested with leaches and very few use this path. This a The ‘Seetagangula’ (the icy water river) which is the parent of Kaluganga is found halfway upon the climb. This route is definitely the path to take for a experienced trekker who wants to avoid crowds.

The other path is the Hatton path (climb start from Nallatanniya) called the ‘Raja Mawatha’ in ancient times because many kings have used this path to reach the mountain top. This is the most common path used by the average pilgrim. There are resting places with small boutiques every few hundred steps during the season. There are several ways to get to Hatton. You can take a bus or the train from the Colombo. From Hatton Once at Hatton take one of the numerous private buses to the foot of the mountain, a distance of about 33 kilometres.

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Images from the Past ( from images of Ceylon)

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Map of Sri Pada ( adams Peak)

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Travel Directions to Sri Pada ( adams Peak)

Route from Colombo to Sri Pada (upto Nallataniya Foot Path)

Route from Colombo to Sri Pada (upto Erathna Foot Path)

Though : Kaduwela – Avissawella – Ginigathena – Nallathanniya
distance : 140 km
Travel time : 4 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
distance :95 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Sri Pada [2] : On the Mountain of Mountains

by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror

“On the slopes of the range of mountains crowned by the pinnacle we call Adam’s peak there lies a tract of country which for the best of reasons is described on the Island’s maps as the peak wilderness. It affords impressions of primeval forests, dizzy precipices, rushing, brawling waters and rugged grandeur. If you would court acquaintance with such thrills, you must wander afoot”.

This is how R.L. Brohier, introduces us to his writings on Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak. No doubt he like many others before him was mesmerized with its rugged grandeur the majestic cone wrapped in clouds of mist or standing silent silhouetted in the distant sky – “an emblem of hope and cheer to desponding souls”.

Sri Pada Mountain (Adams Peak)

Indikatu Pahana
Photo licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Feng Zhong

There are many pilgrims treks winding its way to the holy peak. Apart from the traditional old pilgrims path from Kandy through Gampola and Ginigathhena known to the ancients as the Kadiligama High-Way there are four recognized pathways one from the central province slopes and three from the Sabaragamuwa side. If you decide to take the Ratnapura approach or the Gilimalai-para as popularly known, here are some interesting stories to remember which no doubt will enhance your pilgrim experience.

Brohier says it is only too true that every rock, every stream and cliff along these pilgrim paths throb with some story of the past. Yawning caves beneath large boulders have some secret to reveal. If one were to probe deeply, it would perhaps tell of the acts of some pious devotee who sought the sanctuary of these forests and searched for merit by eschewing the lusts of the outer world. The origin of many a place name presents a fascinating age old tale if untold the journey will ever remain a disappointment.

Brohier begins the chain of stories at the village called Gilimalai. Literally translated, it means mountain swallowed up. He says that it is not unreasonable to assume that the place takes its name from the fact that the peak of the mountain is at this point hidden from view.

The next halting place, Palabaddala, is enshrouded with a mystery story. Brohier relates that long long ago, a pilgrim who was very, very poor took a parcel of cooked leaves (minced and flavored) to satisfy his hunger on his way up to Sri Pada. Having arrived at this place he prepared to partake of his frugal meal when he found on opening his parcel that the leaves had by a miracle been turned into rice. Hence the name Pala-bat-dola meaning the mountain stream where the herbs turned into rice.

Nili-hela, the next stop on the route, is perched on a narrow ledge of rock which curves round a deep gorge. It is the place of a heart rending locale legend. It goes that once a young mother – Nili, lived here. Her small hut was a welcome refuge for travel worn pilgrims. One day, having placed some clothes to dry on a hedge which grew on the brink of the precipice, she sent her little son to fetch them. In his effort to reach them the child climbed the trees. His mother watched him from the door of the hut. Slowly, the trees leaned over with the added weight and precariously bowed towards the edge of the cliff.

The mother suddenly realizing the danger rushed forward to clasp the child to her heart, but it was too late, the tree went over with a crash. Locked in each others arms they were hurled through space, down, down into the giddy depths below, where the waving tops of great big forest trees hid them forever from view.

History is remembered Leaning over the cliff, they shout Nili Akka ! And Brohier says that from the seemingly bottomless depths there comes back a reply. The lofty crags take up the cry, it is thrown hither and thither –”Nilli Akka…’liakka… akka! merging eventually in a hum of distant fleeting sound. She will ever answer, says the traditionalist. Undoubtedly the place has a wonderfully eerie echo.

Next Diyabetma stands on a ledge, which as its name implies is a watershed. The intervening space of nearly three miles between it and the summit is so steep that the pilgrims have conferred on this section the appropriate name of akasagawwa, which means literally the sky league. Here once was erected a building for the wife of Sir Robert Brownrigg –– when she climbed the peak.

On leaving Diyabetma the path drops down the steep face of a ravine and we come to an enormous mass of rounded rocks washed by perpetual streams. Brohier observes that the pilgrim who ascends from the Ratnapura approach claims this as the true Indi katupana. Where legend asserts that the Lord Buddha when on earth sat on this rock mending his robe. Mara the wicked tempter noticing this caused a flood to rush down the mountain.

To his wonderment when the waters reached the rock they parted and ran on either side of the rock. To mark this incident the pilgrims make an offering of needle and thread at this spot.

The ascent recommences by passages so steep as to be accessible only by means of steps hewn in the smooth stone. These are said to have been cut by a king who himself made – a pilgrimage to worship at the shrine. It thus came to be called Dharmarajagala. A legend suggests that these steps may never be counted correctly. It is left to somebody sufficiently composed at this stage of the ascent to disprove the legend. The steps number over a hundred.

Heramiti-pana Brohier says takes its name from the fact that the climber usually secures a heramitiya or staff to help him up the rest of the ascend. Andiyamalatenna, as the name would imply is a shrine and the grave of a Muslim dignitary. Having reached this spot one stands on the shoulder of the cone. Nearby is Menik lena or the cave of gems.

Progress beyond it, up the pillar like crag which rounds away on every side, is not without peril. There are several series of chains and iron railings securely riveted on the rock to hold the climber up.

One looks down from this giddy footing into a chasm of unseen depth and is incited to hail with delight the terrace which forms the apex of the peak. Between Gilimalai and the summit, the ascent upwards of 7,000 feet is made in less than nine miles.

The sacred mountain of the Holy foot print or Sri Pada or Adams Peak rises 7,360 feet amongst the central hills of Sri Lanka. During the pilgrimage season which begins in December and ends in April millions of pilgrims trek their way up the holy mountain. Famous travelers from around the world through out time have walked the sacred miles.

John Still observes that it “must be one of the vastest and most widely reverenced cathedrals of the human race”. In his book the Jungle Tide he writes ; “In the middle of the hills of Ceylon now sacred to tea, there towers a mountain so famous that the literature of 2000 years in several languages would have to be searched if all references to it were to be assembled in one book….”..

The sun rise from the mountain has been acclaimed as a visual delight of unsurpasing beauty. Pilgrims wait patiently enduring bitter cold nights, chilly mists and innumerable other difficulties to glimpse and capture its phenomenon.

Sri Pada [3] : Saman’s Realm

by Richard Boyle
Source : www.travelsrilanka.com

One of the four guardian deities believed to watch over Sri Lanka, god Saman is identified with Lakshman, the brother of Rama from the North Indian epic poem, the Ramayana. It will be remembered that in the Ramayana, Rama invades Lanka with his brother and an army of monkeys to rescue his consort, Sita, who has been kidnapped by Ravana, the monstrous king of the island. This tale, perhaps loosely based on some obscure historical event, has had a profound impact on the inhabitants of both Indian and Sri Lanka. Indeed, in the past especially, it has been taken as fact rather than legend.

So it is that Saman is said to have had sovereignty over the western and southern parts of the country – after the inevitable death of Ravana at Rama’s hands – and greatly improved the justice of the land. From him Adam’s Peak received its ancient name of Samanakande, “The Mountain of Saman.” Furthermore, the millions of magnificent yellow butterflies that annually appear, and seem to converge in every direction upon the mountain, are called samanalayo.

Ratnapura provides the starting point for one of the pilgrim routes that ascends Adam’s Peak. The pilgrimage occurs between December and May because these are the best months climatically to make the ascent. Although the Ratnapura route – which starts at Carney Estate, some 15 km from Ratanapura – is the most arduous it is the classical one, the so-called “Father’s Path”. Many visitors who wish to climb Adam’s peak prefer the Ratnapura route for this reason. Visitors who wish to make the climb at other times of the year should be wary of adverse weather conditions.

Adam’s Peak is, without doubt, the single most important geographic entity in Sri Lanka. Apart from being Sri Lanka’s fifth highest (yet most dramatic) mountain, it is considered sacred by adherents to the island’s four major religions. In addition, Adam’s Peak has been the destination of many a notable wanderer since early history, including, it is believed, Alexander the Great. Quite a few of these visitors wrote of the mountain, so there are descriptions of it down the centuries that provide an excellent insight into its spiritual nature.

Being only 7,360 feet (2,243 metres) high, Adam’s Peak is not very tall as mountains go. Yet as you approach it from certain angles it appears much higher. Such is its imposing location and angular shape that devotees of a proto-religion invested it with sacred power, perhaps because of the foot-like indentation at the summit and the phenomenon known as “The Shadow of the Peak.” These early islanders therefore made it the residence of Saman.

It seems the mountain became a place of pilgrimage for people of many faiths in the 11th century. Buddhists began to refer to the mountain as Sri Pada (“The Sacred Footprint”), maintaining that Gautama Buddha himself visited it and left his footprint on the pinnacle boulder. Hindus called the peak Shivan Adi Patham (“The Creative Dance of Shiva”), as they felt that the footprint symbolized Lord Shiva’s dance. Meanwhile Muslims evolved a belief that the depression marks Adam’s expiation of his disobedience by standing there for an age on one foot. Sometime later, Roman Catholics asserted that the footprint is that of St. Thomas, the early Christian apostle who supposedly preached in South India.

One of the most interesting excursions to be made from Ratnapura is to the ancient Maha Saman Devale – a devale being a shrine dedicated to either a god of the Hindu pantheon or a local deity, which is usually situated within a Buddhist vihara or temple. This unique devale, only a short distance from Ratnapura, is of course dedicated to Saman. There is reason to believe that this spot has been the site of a devale from very ancient times, but it was formally built by King Parakramabahu II in the 13th century. It reached the height of its glory two centuries later, and was then captured by the Portuguese in the 1620s.

The strategic importance of the place led the Portuguese to convert it into a stronghold, and in the centre of the quadrangle they built a church, a portion of which is probably included in the existing devale. The temple, which has been restored, has an ornamental doorway and fine wall paintings. The remains of the fort lie alongside and on the temple wall is a sculpted Portuguese soldier.

Barbara Sansoni writes of the extraordinary atmosphere and architecture of the devale in Architecture of an Island (1999): “The Maha Saman Devale is very impressive – the grandest in size and setting of all the devales I have seen. Approached up long steps, flanked by dug out boats one either side (ready for the annual floods) one senses at once that one is entering a place of myths and legends and of fine style and historic importance . . . The devale compound is bound by a low, tiled and windowed, wall within which its space is ordered and emphasised by pavilion roofs, culminating in a three-tiered tower at one point, with two other deeply eaved shrine roofs for balance on the vast, flat quadrangle. The impression is of triangular weight airborne on carved pillars on a flat sandy expanse, glimpsed through ever changing frames as one walks through the cloisters.”

An annual perahera (procession) associated with the devale is held in the month of Esala (July-August), and is among the largest in the country. Constance Gordon Cumming describes it thus in Two Happy Years in Ceylon (1892):

“From the temple of Saman Dewiyo, alias Rama, a much-venerated gilt bow and three arrows were solemnly brought forth. They are said to have been placed here by Rama himself after he had slain Rawana, the demon king of Lanka, who had carried off the beautiful Sita, wife of Rama. These precious relics were sprinkled with holy water preserved since the previous year, and placed in the mysterious ark. The four bearers who carried it were each robed in white, and had their mouth covered with a strip of white linen. Then the small Juggernath car was dragged out – rather a pretty object, only 12 feet high, with a crimson body on very large wheels, and forming a three-storeyed square pagoda, each storey having a white roof with bells at the corner. Amid much blowing of horns and shouting, the procession then formed in the moonlight, elephants bearing headmen who carried large honorific umbrellas above precious objects, devil-dancers with astounding head-masks going before the ark, and men on foot carrying more umbrellas.”

Sri Pada [4] : Visit of Alexander the Great to the sacred mount of Sri Pada – fact or fiction?

by S. S. M. Nanayakkara
The Island

Sri Pada or Adam’s Peak as it was known to the early West was in the limelight from times before the recorded history of the island. Legends surrounding the sacred mount existed prior to the Christian era. It is axiomatic that worship of deities in high places is indulged in by mankind from times of remote antiquity. Indeed, high inaccessible places were held in awe and veneration from the time of man’s primordial religion – worship of nature. The cult persisted in the pagan world up to the Early Greek and Roman times and even later, thus Mt. Olympus in Greece was dedicated to the Greek pantheon. Even to this day, Chomolungma (Tibetan for Goddess Mother of the World), a peak in the Himalayan range and several other peaks en route to Everest and Mt. Everest itself are held sacred by the Tibetans and Nepalese. It is recorded that Norkay Tensing and his sherpa clansmen who accompanied Edmund Hillary in his successful expedition to Mt. Everest in 1953, offered a sacrifice of food to the mountain goddess Chomolungma invoking her blessings for success of the expedition. Hillary himself buried a small crucifix given him by the leader, Colonel John Hunt. Tradition is hard to die!
Alexander’s visit

By the time that Macedon’s illustrious son, Alexander the Great, Greek warrier king and empire builder is believed to have visited Sri Pada (circa 324 B.C.), the peak was already held in veneration. After his subjugation of the Persian empire and the dependencies thereof, Alexander led his forces on to India beyond the Indus to the ancient city of Taxila. He was at last countered by Porus the Indian king and his cohorts of battle trained fighting elephants. These huge beasts were unfamiliar to the Greek cavalry to which they presented a forbidding and formidable obstacle. The terrified horses stampeded and started to scatter out of control in utter panic. On the representation of his generals, fearing mutiny by the army Alexander decided to come to terms with Porus.

After his skirmish with the Indian king, the restless Alexander decided to detour the South West coast of India and explore further south where he had heard of the fabulous isle of Sri Lanka known to the early Greeks as ‘Taprobane’. Here reports of the sacred mount of Sri Pada, then dedicated to the Hindu deity Saman and known as ‘Samanthakuty’, attracted his attention. The peak with its proud pinnacle commanding an enchanting prospect was too much of an attraction for the pleasure-bent Alexander to resist.
Ancient artefacts

Ashraff, the 15th century Persian poet and chronicler, describes this odyssey of Alexander to Sri Pada in his work ‘Zaffer Namah Skendari’. After landing in the island and indulging himself and his retinue in orgies and revelry he explores the wonders of the island. Here Alexander is known to have sought the assistance of the philosopher Bolinas, a celebrated Greek occultist and magician, to climb the sacred peak then supposed to be zealously guarded by various deities. Among the artefacts devised to ascend the almost inaccessible peak were massive iron chains affixed to stanchions of the same metal secured to the bare rock face. The chains were secured to the stanchions with rivets of iron and bronze. Remains of these artefacts still exist. Early pilgrims to the peak sought the assistance of these chains to hoist themselves up to the summit. [h]

The belief that Alexander visited Sri Pada existed before Ashraff. Ibn Batuta the romantic 14th century pilgrim traveller from Tangiers in Morocco who sojourned in the island visiting the sacred mount, refers to a grotto at the foot of the peak with the name ‘Iskander’ inscribed on it. This ‘Iskander’ and ‘Skendari’ of Ashraff are identical, both names refer to none other than the celebrated Alexander the Great himself. Notes Batuta in his memoirs: “The ancients have cut steps of a sort on the vertical rock face, to these steps are fixed iron stanchions with suspended chains to enable pilgrims clamber up to the top with ease and minimum risk. The impression of the Almighty’s foot is observed upon a black and lofty rock in an open space on the summit.

Apart from scanty and much belated Arab sources, history is strangely silent for over seventeen centuries on the visit of Alexander to the island and his journey to Sri Pada. Neither the Great Dynastic Chronicle ‘Mahawamsa’ or any other historical record of significance refer to it. Alexander’s exploits were centered mainly in and around Persia and the Persian empire, the legends and folklore of the early Persians were, as a matter of course, handed over to their Arab posterity.

Commenting on the ancient artefacts on Sri Pada, the Englishman Robert Percival, who served with the British garrison in Colombo in the early nineteenth century, notes: “The iron chains on the rock face of Adam’s Peak have the appearance of being planted there at a very early date, who placed them there or for what purpose they were set up there it is difficult for anyone to know. The beliefs and superstitions of the natives present difficulties. Whatever it is, all evidence indicates that the Peak was in the limelight long before the recorded history of the island.

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