Hindu devotees throughout the world will celebrate Maha Shivarathri day with honour and devotion on February 24. Arrangements are being made in Hindu kovils countrywide to celebrate the occasion throughout the day. In India, kovils are being cleaned up and Shiva and Ganadevi statues are being gold plated in preparation for the occasion.
Preparations are being made at kovils throughout Sri Lanka too.
The Maha Shivarathri special pooja held at the Sella Kataragama kovil takes pride of place among the Shivarathri celebrations in Sri Lanka. Every year Buddhist and Hindu devotees from all parts of the country congregate in their thousands at this Ganadevi kovil to participate in the pooja and seek blessings.
The Sella Kataragama Ganadevi kovil is at a picturesque spot in the Menik Ganga in the Kataragama Divisional Secretariat division in the Moneragala district.
Several interesting folk tales are woven round the Sella Kataragama Ganadevi Devalaya. It is believed to be the spot where God Skanda had his rendezvous with Walli Amma, his bride. According one folk tale when Walli repudiated God Skanda due to his old looks, he had requested his brother God Ghanapathi to help him win her over.
Ganapathi had said he would disguise himself like an elephant and chase after Walli Amma and for God Skanda to intervene and save Walli from the elephant and gain her consent.
The Ganadevi kovil is said to be at the spot where this episode took place as well as the venue of the marriage between God Skanda and Walli Amma.
Devotees also refer to Sella Kataragama as Kuda Kataragama currently Swami Upul Dissanayake functions as the Trustee and Chief Swami of this kovil.
He teams up with his siblings to cater to the needs of thousands of devotees flocking to the devalaya and obtain divine blessings on them.
Commenting on Maha Shivarathri day, Swami Upul Dissanayake said according to Shivarathri and Brahmanda love, there had been a contest between Brahma and God Vishnu to prove who was more supreme and powerful out of them.
The contest was to find out the height of God Ishwara. Brahma opted to measure it upto the head and Vishnu agreed to measure it upto the feet. Vishnu who disguised himself like a pig failed to find the leg and he gave up the contest. Brahma too failed to find the head, but came across a Wetakeiya flower.
Although both failed to achieve their target, Brahma did not like to concede defeat and be bragged that he found a Wetakeiya flower, whenever they met each other and said the Wetakeiya flower proved that he found the head. At this moment, a powerful light appeared giving birth to the Shivalingam.
Brahma who uttered a falsehood about seeing the head earned the wrath of God Ishwara, Swami Upul said according to folk lore, there are no centres Devalayas or kovils dedicated to Brahma and the birth of Shivalingam had occurred in this manner.
There is another interesting story woven round Shivarathri, according to Swami Upul. It says a hunter who once entered the forest for a hunting expedition had lost his way and got stranded.
A tiger roaming in the jungle had seen the hunter and started chasing after him.
To escape from the tiger, the hunter had climbed a Beli tree.
The tiger had kept vigil under the tree until the hunter climbed down. As the hunter was a devotee of Shiva he had sought his solace by chanting “Om Shiva” while picking Beli leaves and dropping them down spending the night in hunger.
However all Beli leaves he dropped had fallen on a Shivalingam found under the tree. God Shiva who appeared in the morning had showered blessings on the hunter and the origin of Shivarathri is attributed to this event.
He said five devalayas dedicated to God Ishwara were built around Sri Lanka.
These included devalayas built to overcome king Ravana’s wrath on Sri Lanka following his demise.
These devalayas also referred to as ‘Pancheshwara’ devalayas are situated in Mannar, Thirukethishwaram, Jaffna, Naguleshwaram, Trincomalee, Koneshwaram, Chilaw, Munneshwaram, Batticaloa and Thanthondeshwaram as Shiva and Ishwara devalayas. Shivalingams found in these devalayas have automatically come into being.
According to folk lore the residence of God Ishwara is said to be situated in the Himalaya mountain.
The Ghanapathi devalaya in Sella Kataragama is situated at a location commemorating the marriage of Prince Skanda and Walli Amma. There is a Shivalingam naturally sprouting in this devalaya too.
Shivarathri day is a significant day to Hindu Devotees as much as Vesak day is to Buddhists. Hindus commemorate this day by fasting and paying homage to God Ishwara. A Maha Ganapathi pooja will be held at the Sella Kataragama Ganadevi kovil on February 24 at 2.30 am.
This will be followed by a Maha Abhishekam pooja at 3 am. A series of Maha pooja will be held from 6 am to 12 noon and from 3 pm to 6 pm. After a Maha pooja at 8 pm devotees will conduct poojas from time to time till following morning seeking gods’ blessings. Swami Upul said Shivarathri pooja celebrations will conclude with the morning pooja on February 25.
He has requested devotees coming to attend the poojas to refrain from eating fish and meat, be attired in white garments and bring along offerings such as king coconut, milk and oil.