Legend of Vathimi Bandara and Gale Bandara Devala (වත්හිමි බණ්ඩාර කුමරු හා කුරුණෑගල ගලේ බණ්ඩාර දේවාල)

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The deity Gale Bandara is a regional deity and devala for this deity is found all over the country. Each region has their own Bandara deity who is worshipped by those in that specific region.

The common feature of these deities is they are each one is a departed kinsmen of note who, after death, has been raised to the level of deities whose power extends over a local region, usually the same region that was actually under his political control while he acted as “chief” in his lifetime. The Bandara’s are minor deities in comparison to the 4 major deities who act as the protectors of the country (Holt, 1991).

Gale Bandara Deviyo is a unique deity worshipped in the Kurunegala area. The uniqueness is that Muslims and Sinhalese worship this deity as their own in harmony. The origin story of Gale Bandara deity of Kurunegala is a popular legend among Sinhala Buddhists in the area. The local Muslims have their own origin legend of Gale Bandara which varies in some detail from the Sinhalese legend. However, a ruler named Vathimi does not appear in Mahawamsa or Dipawamsa and appears only in much later writings.

Legend of Kurunegala Vathimi Bandara

The regnal years of Pandita Parakrama Bahu II [1234-1269] , are reckoned in the contemporary Pujavaliya from about 1234 CE, or some ten years after his father, Vijayabahu III’s [1220-1223] death in 1223 CE. Therefore some believe that the prince Vathimi may have ruled during this period and was the son of Vijayabahu III (eg. ‘Notes on the Dambadeniya Dynasty”, The Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register – 1924). Alternatively, some believe he was the son of king Buwanekabahu I [1272-1284] (eg. Religious interface and contestations between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka-2016) Buwanekabahu II [1293-1302] (eg. Purana Sivupada Sangrahaya– 1952:44-48, A Short History of Ceylon -1929, වත්හිමි කතා පුවත ඔස්සේ ලක් ඉතිහාසය දෙස නැවත හැරී බැලීමක් -2020), or Buwanekabahu V [1372-1408] (eg. The Muslims of Sri Lanka -1994).

According to the legends of the Sinhalese, Vathimi Bandara was the son born out of a lesser consort (Yakada Doliya) of the king’s harem. She was a beautiful Muslim woman which the king had found from the village of Aswedduma, primarily a Muslim village. The young prince born of her was brought up in Beruwala by her maternal relatives where he was educated and grew up as a Muslim in a Mohammadian environment. The king later had a son by his Royal Queen (Ran Doliya) too.

During a war with another ruler, the victorious king asked a messenger to raise a white flag to indicate to the palace that he had won. Instead, the messenger had raised a black flag by mistake which represented that the war is lost. On seeing the black flag signifying defeat, of the 20 queens, all minus the Muslim consort, leaped to their deaths from the ‘Belumgala’ hill expecting the worst. (Niwas et al., 2016).

The king returned to the kingdom and found the whole palace in disarray with all his queens (except the Muslim queen) dead and he too followed them jumping off the cliff to his death. The young prince who was the legitimate heir to the throne was swiftly taken away and hidden by a washerwoman of the palace (along with a golden belt (havadiya) she found at the palace) fearing for the child’s life. (Niwas et al., 2016).

Prince Vathimi won over the ministers by literally bestowing riches which were at his command and thus claimed the throne. The new king Vathimi continued to reign for some time and gained popularity, but his partiality towards Islam offended the Buddhist segment and gradually built a resentment of the king. He was not only partial to Muslim interests, but he brought his Muslim relations to Kurunegala and appointed some of them to high positions in the royal court in the process of displacing Sinhalese ministers.

During this period, the rightful heir was initially brought up by the washerwoman and then sent to the village of Kalundewa and was raised by a Gamarala in secrecy as the new king Vathimi had deployed his secret agents to locate and kill the rightful heir.

At this point, a treasure in the form of a golden pot (Ran Halamba) began to float in the Kurunegala Lake and all attempts made by the King to acquire it proved futile. Ritual specialists from far-off places like Matara were engaged to retrieve the treasure. These ‘kattadiyas’ lost their lives when they failed to retrieve the floating treasure and the Sinhalese elite feared that the King was planning a gradual annihilation of the Sinhalese starting with the kattadiyas.

Some of the people of the kingdom devised a plan to bring the now unpopular king to the top of Athugala rock for a pirith chanting ceremony in order to retrieve the illusive Ran Halamba in the lake. The avaricious king came to the top of the rock and as soon as he sat on the special seat which was prepared for him, it was hurled down the rock killing him instantly.

The Royal Elephant then went and found Appuwa, the rightful heir to the throne living in secrecy in the village of Kalundewa. Appuwa, who was married to the younger daughter of Gamarala, Sirimal Ethana, was crowned as king Parakramabahu.

King Vathimi was immediately reborn as a Yaksha, a demon and killed all those who plotted his death. As the demon began to terrorize the people there was fear all around. At this point, the deity Kataragama came to meet the demon and agreed to make him a deity on the understanding that he would calm down and stop indiscriminate violence against people. Thereafter a suitable shrine was built in his honour and he was granted a permit (varam) to offer blessings and assistance to the people who needed help.

He is today worshipped as Gala Bandara and his power pervades the regions of Etugala, Kolalapalla, Lunugala, Andagala, Managala, Ibbagala, Hadurukkanda, Algama, Galabada,, Kotakaduwa, Polgala, Divgandahaya, Yakdessagala, and Navatagane (Holt, 1991).

The legend among the Muslims slightly differs in the origin of Vathimi Bandara. In the Muslim story, a Muslim woman comes to Sri Lanka from an Arabic country with her son looking for her husband who had come to Sri Lanka for trade. She does not find him and instead, she meets and marries the king in the village of Aswedduma who later converts to Islam.

After the death of the king, her son ascends to the throne and rules the country under the advice of his mother. In this story, Vathimi is completely Muslim and not half Muslim as in the Sinhala story. After the violent death of Vathimi, in a dream, a Muslim relation of Vathimi was told to bury the remains of the King at a specific spot, which was promptly done in accordance with Muslim rites and a tomb erected over the grave (Niwas et al., 2016).

Gale Bandara Devalaya

After Vathimi Bandara was deified by the deity Kataragama, a suitable shrine was built for him. This deity was called Gale Bandara Deviyo in recognition of his association with the rock.

The people around Kurunegala believe that once Vathimi Bandara got rid of his demonic form and became a deity, he rides a horse on the top of Athugala rock from time to time. Gale Bandara is considered a deity by both Sinhalese and Muslims. Today there are two Gale Bandara Devala in Kurunegala town, one run by a Sinhalese Kauprala and the other by an Islamic priest. However, both devala are worshipped by Sinhalese and Muslims alike.

The established practice of Islam in Sri Lanka was largely Sunni who have been traditionally accommodative in its religious practices, maintaining cordial links with other religious and socio-cultural groups and also allowing for a diversity of practices such as Sufi saint worship, which goes back at least a couple of centuries (Herath & Rambukwella, 2015). For Muslims, Gale Bandara is an Awliyar, a category of saints in the Sufi tradition. There is another Muslim shrine dedicated to Manamma, the mother of Vathimi Bandara in a nearby Muslim settlement called Teliagolla (Niwas et al., 2016).

As for the impact of religious extremism on the Gale Bandara worship, the Muslim shrine was apparently warned by a Wahabi group in Mawathagama, a hotbed of Muslim activity in the area, to stop its activities as it goes against the tenets of orthodox Islam. This has made the Muslim shrine rather low-key in its operations, but so far it has been able to withstand these purification pressures from within Islam largely due to its marginality from mainstream Islam and the support it has from both Muslim and Sinhala devotees (Niwas et al., 2016).

This Gale Bandara Devalaya lies hidden from view on Vathimi Road which connects to the Ethugala Rajamaha Viharaya road. The Gale Bandara Devalaya operated by Sinhalese Kapurala lies close to the Ethkanda Rajamaha Viharaya on the Kurunegala-Kandy road.

Reference

  1. Codrington, H.W. (1924) “Notes on the Dambadeniya Dynasty ,” The Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register, X (1924), pp. 37–53.
  2. Dewaraja, L.S. (1994) The Muslims of Sri Lanka: One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony, 900-1915. Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Lanka Islamic Foundation.
  3. Herath, D. and Rambukwella, H. (2015) Self, religion, identity and politics: Buddhist and Muslim encounters in contemporary Sri Lanka. Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
  4. Hocart, L.H. and Codrington, A.M. (1994) A Short History of Ceylon (original published in 1929). New Delhi, India: J. Jetley for Asian Education Services.
  5. Holt, J.C. (1991) Buddha in the Crown: Avalokiteśvara in the Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka. New York (N.Y.): Oxford University Press.
  6. Niwas, A., Wickramasinghe, W.M.K.B. and Silva, K.T. (2016) Religious interface and contestations between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka: A study of recent developments in multi-religious and cross-cultural sites. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
  7. ප්‍රසංග සමීර (2020) වත්හිමි කතා පුවත ඔස්සේ ලක් ඉතිහාසය දෙස නැවත හැරී බැලීමක්, Sri Lanka History. history.lk. Available at: https://history.lk/වත්හිමි-කතා-පුවත-ඔස්සේ-ලක/ (Accessed: May 6, 2023).

Also See

Map of Muslim Gale Bandara Devalaya of Kurunegala

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Travel Directions to Map of Gale Bandara Devala of Kurunegala

Route from Colombo to ale Bandara Sinhalese DevalayaRoute from Colombo to ale Bandara Muslim Devalaya
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Katunayake – Mirigama – Central Expressway – Kurunegala
Distance : 108 km
Travel time : 2.10 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Katunayake – Mirigama – Central Expressway – Kurunegala
Distance : 109 km
Travel time : 2.15 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map

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