Sacred Spaces

1351474173000 » Tagged as: Adam's Peak , Tagged as: Buddhism , Tagged as: Kuragala , Tagged as: Sripada , Tagged as: Sufism

Mountain of All Faiths

Kuragala background

Kuragala, in the central hills of Sri Lanka, near Balangoda in the Sabaragamuwa Province, has been considered a Holy Mountain, probably long before the dawn of established religions, and today by all faiths, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islam. This is the most suitable sacred space on earth where all four religions could share and share alike in peace and harmony. The term Buddhism is used here in the way it was used by Max Weber, and used all over the world today, to mean the religion that has developed from the teaching of the Buddha, and not Buddha Dhmma. Dhamma is the Universal Truth, which can be accepted by all humanity.

Sri lanka's pre-history could be traced back to the time of early humans. There are unconfirmed claims of the findings of Acheulian stone tools in the Jaffna peninsula. Such tools were found in South India around 1 to 1.5 million years ago1. Sri Lanka had been connected to the Indian subcontinent on and off till about 7000 BP. (Deraniyagala). Human settlements would go back to about 125,000 BP. Evidence of the cave dwelling man had been found from about 37,000 BP at the Faxien Lena. There is much evidence of uninterrupted human settlements in most parts of the country.

Balangoda Culture and Balangoda Man (Homo sapiens balangodensis) has brought fame to Balangoda, and to Bellanbendi Palassa, which is very close to Kuragala. Since these people had been living on Maha Eliya (now known as Horton Plains), it is possible that they would have been occupying the numerous caves found at Kuragala too. It would have been a strategic location as our ancestors moved from the higher mountains to the southern plains, and also a perfect site for meditation and for mystical gnosis.

The pre-historic humans too would have had their own concepts related to religious thoughts and practices, which they would have observed on this mountain. Kuragala mountain would bring a sense of awe to any visitor or even for permanent occupants of the caves, because of the magnificence of the location and the vista before their eyes.

Ravana and the Yaksha and the Naga tribes of Sri Lana would have been the next occupants of Kuragala, giving rise to the legends that this was the Indragiri mountain of Ravana. Kuragala has been identified as Thanduleiya Pabbata, by Kirielle Gnanavimala thera, and that it was occupied by the Yaksha tribe and that they cultivated all the fields in the Kaltota plains below.2 Before the visit by The Buddha, the Yaksha tribe had their own religion. (Wimalarathana)

One of the non-Brahmi symbols found in our ancient inscriptions is the 'Swastika' known from the time of the Indus civilization. It is believed that this symbol had been used by the Yaksha in their religious practices.3 They had called it 'Gorapasalam'. It could have originated independently in Lanka as our ancestors too would have worshipped the sun. A detailed archaeological investigation and excavations at Kuragala would give us all the data we need to trace its history, of probably uninterrupted occupation.

Buddhist history at Kuragala goes back to 2300 BP, (2nd century BC), as evidenced by the rock inscriptions over the caves in Kuragala. The Buddhist monks had always preferred isolated mountain caves for their dwelling, and often with a magnificent vista from the cave mouth. Three inscriptions had been read by Paranavitana.

"....dataha Samudaha lene", The cave of ...datta and Samudda.

"...Sumanaha, Parumakalu Sumaya" Chief Sumana and Chieftainess Summa

"Parumaka Sona-putasa bata-punasagutasa lene" The cave of Lord Punasaguta, son of the chief Sona.4

Much later legends began to grow that the Buddha had left his footprint on Kuragala too, in the same manner as the Footprint on Sripada (Adam's Peak), which also lies within the Sabaragamuwa district. As at Sripada, the footprint is believed to have been covered with a huge rock. There is no historical evidence about this claim, except for what has been mentioned in several folk songs in the region.

Sripada (Adam's Peak)

Sripada is mentioned in our ancient chronicles. "When the Teacher, compassionate to the whole world, had preached the doctrine there, he rose, the Master, and left the traces of his footsteps plain to sight on Sumanakuta"5. Sripada is also known as Samanthakuta, believed to be the abode of God Saman, who was venerated by the Yaksha. The 6th cent. Tamil poem Manimakalai refers to the footprint of the Buddha at Sripada.

Buddha's footprint is believed to have been left in every country He had visited, and such places began to be places of worship. In Sri Lanka the most famous and officially accepted is the Sripada mountain. In Thailand it is believed to be at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi.

Carvings of the footprint of the Buddha, Buddhapada, has been worshipped for a long time, and before the statues and paintings of the Buddha came into being, it was the footprint which was worshipped. A practice which goes back to ancient pre-Buddhist India, and probably began with the worship of the feet of a Guru or a king or a deity. The Yaksha tribe in Lanka had worshipped the footprint of the Buddha. drawn with two lotus flowers on the sole.

The Samskrit name for Sripada is Ratnagiri, probably because it is situated in the land of gems. The Arabs believed these gems were the tears of Adam and Eve, when they were expelled from paradise. South Indian Hindus believe the footprint is Sivapadam. Faxien is said to have visited Sripada. First Western reference is by Ptolemy, then Marco Polo. It is also known as Kaladi Malai, the mountain of the footprint. Giovanni de Marignolli had climbed Sripada in the 14th century and he had said, "The Buddhist monks on the mountain and elsewhere are very holy, though they have not the Faith... They welcomed me into their monasteries and treated me as one of their own".

Shaikh Abu Abdullah Khafif is claimed to be the first Muslim to have been to Sripada. People of the Muslim faith believe that Adam, when he was expelled from heaven, his foot first touched the earth at its loftiest point.

There are many records of Muslim pilgrims visiting Adam's Peak, because they all believed that the footprint of Adam was on Sripada. The legend about the footprint at Kuragala would probably have arisen after the conflict with the Buddhists for the Kuragala site, because they would have realized that there never would be an opportunity to claim Sripada as their own sacred site.

Kuragala today

It was in the 12th century that the Sufi Saint Sheike Muhitadeen Abdul Qadir Jilani, had meditated for twelve years at Kuragala.

Muslims had rediscovered the site only in 1875. It was Seyed Mustafa Rahuman (Periya Bawa) from Lakshadweepa who opened it for worship and began the Jailani festival from 1989.

There are four main Sufi shrines in Sri Lanka. Daftar Jailani, dargah of Faqir Muhiyadeen at Godapitiya (Southern Province), Katarkarapillii, the beach Mosque on the East coast and interestingly the fourth Sufi shrine is at Kataragama, in the deep south, which is a holy site for both Hindus and the Buddhists, as well as Christians.

The Kataragama shrine is fully dedicated to Khidr as Khidr Taikkya, and an idea had been put forth the name Katragama is derived from Khadir-gama, even though according to the ancient Lankan chroniclers, the name Kajaragama pre-dates even the arrival of Buddhism in Lanka.

Most of the Sri Lankan Muslim devotees who make the Kuragala pilgrimage use Tamil as their language of communication, and the names they use are Tamil names to identify this holy mountain. 'Curankam Malai' or the Cave Mountain and 'Kai-adi-malai', cave of palm-prints. The palm prints are believed to have been left by a Muslim saint. Yet no attempt has been made to assess the dates when the prints would have been made. Palm prints on cave walls, is a universally observed phenomenon among pre-historic cave dwellers going back over 30,000 years. Palm-prints are found in Sri Lanka too, in many caves, including caves at the Magul Maha Viharaya in the Yala sanctuary, which are considered to be registers of mirror representations, when imprints of parts of the body were left as a means of communication or to leave a record of their presence.6

If Kuragala should belong to one particular religious or cultural group, then those who could claim that right would be our pre-historic Balangoda Man, and the modern day Vedda's (if they could prove they are the true descendants of the Balangoda Man. Since all Sri Lankans today have the blood of the early Balangoda Man running in our bodies, all Sri Lankan have a right to this mountain.

Most of the legends of all four faiths which are associated with Kuragala appear to have been also associated with Sripada, and probably from earlier days. There is a possibility that the Muslim claim to Kuragala had inspired the other faiths too to transfer the Sripada legends to Kuragala. Since Sripada had always had state patronage and Buddhism is the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, the other religious groups would have realized the futility of laying claim to Sripada and concentrated on Kuragala, where the attention of the Buddhists was minimal.

Politics entered Kuaragala several centuries ago, during the Kandyan period of the Sri Lanka kings of South Indian descent, when the belief about the Sivapadam became established at Sripada.

The Buddhist claim to Kuragala may have been revived with the re-emergence of Sinhala-Buddhist political forces during the mid 20th century. Ethno-religious conflict is a worldwide trend where majority groups always fear the encroachment by minorities and try to become over possessive. Unlike Sripada, there is no historical or archaeological evidence to establish the Buddhist claims, other than the three cave inscriptions.

The term Buddhism and Buddhist are the influence of the western culture. There cannot be a separate religious group called Buddhists, because there cannot be a religion called Buddhism. What the Buddha preached was the universal truth, his followers, the samgha were to pass on this teaching to the rest of humanity. They were not to convert people to another religion. The term Sinhala-Buddhist, is a contradiction in terms. A true follower of Buddha's teachings could not identify himself with any race, creed or caste. Even Asoka did not call himself a Buddhist, he did not mention Buddhism, but only Dhamma, in all his edicts.

At Kuragala, near and above the cave are numerous cloth flags. Today they are all green, but it could easily have been the five colours of the Buddhist flag, or the white and blue of the Christians, which too shows that even religious faiths adapt to the culture and practices in the region.

Buddhism had survived without a flag of its own for 2300 years. The five coloured Buddhist flag was thrust upon the Sri Lankan Buddhists and later adapted by Buddhists world over, influenced by Christians turned Buddhists. The flag waving only widens the gap between religions and races. A flag is a symbol of superiority, aggression proclamation of victory over the vanquished. Such behaviour should never be part of any religious movement. Identifying oneself with one group, by flag, language, dress code or political views alienates us from the others outside the group.

At Kuragala, even if it is accepted as a Sufi Muslim site, the damage that is done is unforgivable. The temporary buildings that have come up on the mountain, very near the caves, and all over the mountain, would have destroyed many valuable archaeological data and artefacts, which would have even supported the claim by the Muslims themselves. Some of the caves have been occupied by families, who have modified them into living quarters. Today it is no longer a place for contemplation or meditation. They are destroying their own history. Specially at a remote and not easily accessible mountain, while there is more than enough undeveloped land in the surrounding area, which could be utilized for all infrastructure developments and even housing.


Since seventy percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, following the path shown by the Buddha, it should be the easiest for the majority to let go of any claims for any material things, be it land, or a cave or an object. Even for any strong willed possessive people among the Sinhala Buddhist community, there is a sacred mountain which is almost an exclusively a Buddhist site at Sripada with the footprint of the Buddha. There are Buddhist caves almost on every mountain scattered all over the island, donated to the Samgha from about the 2nd century B.C. These caves were not gifted to any individual monk or to any organization or institution, but to all monks, present and absent, arriving from the four directions. The true Buddhist should be able to let go of all this, in the interest of peace and harmony.

J. B. Pratt refers to the "remarkable elasticity and adaptability of Buddhism...Its transplanting to new lands has been accomplished never through conquest or through migration, but solely by the spread of ideas...With a daring catholicity that approaches foolhardiness it has recognized every form of rival as a processor of some degree of truth". (The Pilgrimage of Buddhism, London 1928. P. 719). We find this tolerance, which Toynbee called 'Buddhaic religion' in Hinduism too. Though unfortunately today a few 'fundamentalist' Hindus have forgotten it.

"No two individuals experience truth the same way, but they must show due regard for each other's beliefs, despite their disagreements. He emphasized the multiple manifestations of the same truth and made a plea to blend conflicting phenomena, howsoever irreconcilable they might appear at first to the naked eye ". Muzaffer Alam7

"Co-existence is mankind's only alternative to mass-suicide in the Atomic Age...One open way is the Indian way; and it might therefore seem probably that, in the Atomic Age the spirit of Indian religion and philosophy will receive a welcome in the Western half of the world." (A. J. Toynbee, America and the World Revolution, London 1962, p. 49). And it is always welcome in the Eastern half of the world too.

Many scholars, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian, have studied and written about the similarities between Buddhism and Sufism. Comparative studies have been done between Sufism and Buddhism, but mostly on Mahayana Buddhism. Since today in Sri Lanka, Theravada and Mahayana have merged so much it is sometimes hard to differentiate between the two sects, accepting the similarities with Sufism would not be difficult.

In the 'Journal of Religion and Health', Gretty M. Mirdal points out that the psychology of mindfulness is deeply sympathetic with the worldview of Sufism. For instance, Western, Buddhist-inspired mindfulness is based on non-judgmental awareness, being patient with oneself and with the world, and experiencing the present moment fully. Meanwhile, the ethics of Sufism expounded in the poetry of Rumi value fully experiencing both pleasant and unpleasant emotions, learning to focus on others rather than on one’s self, and radical openness to new experience.8

Thus we have so much in common, at Kuragala, among the Buddhists, Hindu and the Muslims, it should never be a problem for co-existence.

The Muslim community in Sri Lanka could take a leaf from the life of Saiyid Shah 'Abd-ur-Razzaq Bansawi, the founder of a Qadiri Sufi centre at Bansa, Lucknow. Bansawi had "tried to reduce the conflicts between diverse groups and communities, without undermining their claims to their distinct individual slots in the whole." MuZaffer Alam continues, "In Awadh many of the Hindu customs, festivals and ceremonies had become a part of Muslim social life", but Bansawi had shown due regard for a strict observance of shari'a.

For example, Tehranian writes (a Buddhist view of Islam), “Historically, Buddhism and Islam have been neighbors for centuries in Asia. They have heavily borrowed from each other. As a result, new religious traditions (e.g. Sufism) have emerged that contain elements from both.” There is a big difference, however, between two religions having contact with each other and the two “heavily borrowing from each other.”9

Many Sri Lankan Buddhists accept, worship and seek divine assistance at the temple of Sri Venkateswara, on Tirumalai hill. No one has tried to make a political or religious issue of the claim made first by Dr. Ambedkar and later in the book by Dr. K. Jamanadas, claiming 'Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine', that the statue at Tirumalai temple is that of Avalokitheswara Bodhisattva, even though many Buddhists would be aware of it. Many Sri Lankan Buddhists, including politicians and sportspersons, used to visit Puttaparthi to receive blessings of Shri Sathya Sai Baba.

Those who could accept multi-religiosity at Sripada, Kataragama, Tirupathi, or Puttaparthi should not have any difficulty in accepting the same coexistence at Kuragala, where too many of the faithful believe, have miraculous powers.

The concept of Insan-i Kamil, provides the opportunity for this reconciliation. The mature Human Being, The Perfect Man. Perhaps we could also use the Purushottham.

Man is just a parasite living on Mother Earth. We have no right to claim any part of her as our own. It belongs to God who created the universe, or to all humanity. When man has been able to breakdown all geographical barriers through his technology in transport and communication, the only barriers we have among us are those erected by man himself, in his ignorance, greed and false pride.

Anyway in our country, the Buddhists have Sripada, Sri Mahabodhi, Temple of the Tooth. The Hindus have the ancient Siva temples, Koneswaram, Munneswaram, Naguleswaram, Tirukeeeswaram and Kataragama for God Skanda. The Christians have Madhu, Talawila and Hiniduma. The Muslims have the Beach Mosque in Kalmunai, Godapitiya and Kataragama.

There is no reason and no need for a conflict to develop at Kuragala, like we have in Ayodhya or Awadh where conflict continues to haunt India despite the efforts of Bansawi.

The concept of the multi-faith space or multi-religious shrine is not new. In Macedonia, at the shrine of St. Nicholas, the Orthodox Christians and various Muslim denominations celebrate the birth of their respective saints, St. George and H'd'r Baba on May 6th. Closer home, we have the Dhyanalinga Temple in Coimbatore. "This meditative space does not ascribe to any particular faith or belief system nor does it require any ritual, prayer, or worship" (

Kuragala could be developed into a Multi-Faith Center for those who want to study inter-religious relations and comparative religion, like the St. Philip's Centre in Leicester.

Another bridge we have between the Buddhists and Sufi is the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi.

"There is a life-force within your soul, seek that life.

There is a gem in the mountain of your body, seek that mine.

O traveller, if you are in search of that

Don't look outside, look inside yourself and seek that." (translated by Sharam Shiva)

Rumi - "Don't look for God outside. For Him, look inside". Bodhi Dharma - "Don't look for Buddha outside. For Him, look inside". Rumi also said, "The rose does not care if someone calls it a thorn, or a jasmine".

The annual 'Pada Yatra' from the Northern most Jaffna penninsula to the Southern most Kataragama with devotees traveling barefoot through the thick jungles, gathers the Hindu Jnanis, Buddhist bhikkhus, Sufi Bawas and Christian brothers.

"In the very middle of the forest, hidden farther from the cities than any other church in Ceylon, there is an old Roman Catholic mission, so catholic indeed that men and women of all creeds flock there on pilgrimage, and I have even known a strict Mohomedan to go there from Anuradhapura, carrying with him his sick baby son in full faith that he would be healed there." (Jungle Tide, 1930). John Still was writing about the Holy Church of Our Lady of Madhu in the North Western province near the Mannar coast.

For a person who is seeking divine help, he can see divine presence any where. We can only see the Buddha today through his Dhamma, and not by fighting for ownership of a piece of a mountain claiming to have an invisible foot print. For the theist, of what ever religion, God is omnipresent, and we cannot claim any particular location as belonging to Him, for the entire universe belongs to God.

Jalaludin Rumi said it for all of us in his poems about the Persian, Arab, Turk and the Greek who wanted to buy four different things with one coin, not realizing it was the same thing, grapes, in four different languages. That is the lesson for all of us.

This paper is not in defense of the Buddhists or Muslim claims to Kuragala, nor an attempt to denounce the any claims made by the Hindus, Christians or Muslims. It is an attempt to sum-up most of the available data on the historicity of Kuragala and to propose a most suitable solution to this totally unwanted conflict pitting man against his own brother.

Sri Pada, Buddhism's Most Sacred Mountain, Ven. S. Dhammika.

Inscriptions of Ceylon, S. Paranavitana

Lived Islam in South Asia: Adaptation, Accommodation & Conflict Delhi: Imtiaz Ahmad and Helmut Reifeld, eds.Social Science Press, 2004: pp. 273-289. Distributed by Berghahn Books: New York and Oxford)

Facets of Buddhist Thought, Jayatilleke, K. N.

Rock Painting and Engraving Sites in Sri Lanka, Raj Somadeva, 2012

Tradition, dissent & ideology, ed. R. Champakalashmi and S. Gopal

The Way of the Sufi, Idries Shah

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