The Kataragama Perehera is held in the months of July/August and is a festival that coincides with the new Moon in the Esala month. This two-week Perahera attracts thousands - Hindus and Buddhists -, many of who make the pilgrimage on foot from as far afield as Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s northern peninsula.
Katharagama’s main temple of the Maha Devala is dedicated to the Hindu God of War, Skanda. Said to have six heads, twelve arms, twenty names and-two wives, Skanda is also ardently worshipped by Buddhists as the Katharagama Deviyo. Alongside are shrines dedicated to the deities Ganesha, Vishnu, to the goddesses Kali and Pattini and to Katharagama’s two consorts Valli Amman and Thevani Amman.
According to legend, Skanda arrived in Sri Lanka and liked the gifts bestowed by the Sinhalese - a house of leaves and a beautiful consort. And it is the romantic union of Skanda and Valli Matha that is commemorated annually. Every night of the festival, a procession takes place in which the yantra talisman is borne in a casket to the temple of Valli Matha and left briefly in its inner chamber.
But on the final night, it is left till dawn symbolising the consummation of the couple’s love. And the pageantry increases in grandeur as the festival reaches its climax, with a parade of brilliantly caparisoned elephants and a procession replete with dancers, drummers, torchbearers, devil-dancers, stilt-walkers, whip-crackers, flame-dancers, incense-bearers and elephant keepers.