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Sri Pada – The Most Sacred Mountain in Sri Lanka

Samanala Kanda, Sri Pada, Sri Padaya, or Adam’s peak (also called Sumanakuta, Samangira, Samantha Kuta and Samanala Kanda) is one of the most famous mountains in the world for different beliefs by different religions and traditions.

However, most of the Buddhists highly believe that the Sri Padaya holds the footprint of Gauthama Buddha while Hindus believes its Hanuma or Shiva and in Christian traditions as Adams. The mountain is located in the Rathnapura District of the Sabaragamuwa Province, surrounded by a region of largely forested hills rising to 2243 meters or 7362 feet.

Access to the mountain is possible by 6 trails: Ratnapura-Palabaddala, Hatton-Nallathanni, Kuruwita-Erathna, Murraywatte, Mookuwatte, and Malimboda. The Nallathanni and Palabaddala routes are most favored by those undertaking the climb, while the Kuruwita-Erathna trail is used less often. These trails are linked to major cities or towns by bus, accounting for their popular use. The Murraywatte, Mookuwatte and Malimboda routes are seldom used but do intersect with the Palabaddala road midway through the ascent. The usual route taken by most pilgrims is ascent via Hatton and descent via Ratnapura.

Here is a summary of the trails for your reference. Reliable elevation gains data are not available for some trails.

TrailElevation GainDistanceDifficultyNearest Town
Ratnapura Palabaddala Trail2,000 m8.5 kmStrenuousSiripagama
Kuruwita Erathna Trail1,850 m12 kmModerateAdevikanda
Hatton, Nallathanni trail1,000 m6 kmModerateNallathanniya
Deraniyagala, Udamaliboda (Ihala Maliboda) Trail1,700 m12 kmToughIhala-Maliboda
Rajamale TrailN/A5 kmModerateMulgama
Hapugastenna
(The Dehenakanda – Mukku Watta) Trail
N/A15 kmToughMukkuwatta

It is believed that the first person to discover the Sacred Footprint was King Valagambahu (104-76 BC) while he was in exile in the mountain wilderness, better known to our people as Sri Pada Adaviya (Domain of Sacred Footprint), to escape the marauding Cholians. He had been led to the summit of the mountain by a deity in the guise of a stag. Thereafter not only ordinary pilgrims but royalty with their court retinue paid homage to the footprint of the Buddha from ancient times. The Sinhalese kings alone, in their devotion and persistence, made the peak accessible to the crowds of devotees who annually trekked the mountain.

Running through the history, the mountain was the landmark for the ancient seafaring Arabs, who came to Sri Lanka for trading purposes with gems, spices, ivory. Having the sight of the conical mountain to the shore, they used to pray the gods for bringing them safely to the island. The famous itinerant Arab pilgrim Ibn Batuta alias Abu Abdullah Mohammed (1304-1377), had ventured to reach the summit of the holy mountain via Ratnapura, trekking the way by the banks of the Kalu-Ganga, which discharges its confluence into the sea at Kalutara, having commenced his journey from Barberyn (Beruwala).

Before him, the renowned Venetian merchant and traveler, Marco Polo (1,254-1,324) too had ascended the mountain to pay homage to the glorious Foot of Adam, on his way from China in 1292, before returning to Venice.

The first historical mention of Sri Pada comes during the reign of Vijayabahu. Professor Senarath Paranavitana states: “It is in the reign of Vijayabahu” (1,065-1,119 AD) we have the earliest historical evidence in chronicles and inscriptions by the cult of the Footprint on Sri Pada. It is recorded of this monarch that he, having seen the difficulties undergone by the pilgrims on their way to worship the Buddha’s footprint on Sri Pada, 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.

The mountain has been climbed for at least 1,000 years. King Vijayabahu (1,065-1,119 AD) built shelters along its route. Work continued by Parakaramabahu the 2nd (1,250-1,284 AD) who cleared the jungle and built a road and bridges to the mountain.

King Nissankamalla (1,198 AD-1,206 AD). It is stated to have visited the Sri Pada with his four-fold army and worshipped the footprint with great devotion. He had re-granted the village Ambagamuwa and it has been recorded in an inscription found in a cave known as Bhagavalena. He had constructed a concrete slab to protect the footprint.

Navigating the history through Buddhist belief, as Buddhists had been the earliest to associate with the religious.  Buddhists believe that the footmark on the summit of Sri Pada is that of Buddha, placed during his third visit to Kelaniya, kept the imprint of his left foot thereon as a relict worthy of veneration. He did so at the kind request of god Saman.

God Maha Sumana Saman is one of the four deities who undertook to protect the island and Buddhism in Sri Lanka, according to Mahavamsa, the great chronicler in Sri Lanka. Sakra, Natha & Upulvan are the other three deities.

During the Buddha’s first visit to Mahiyangana, he preached his doctrine to celestial beings. One of the prominent figures at the assembly was Prince Sumana of Samantha Kuta. Prince Saman attained the first fruit of the path of Nirvana (Sotapatti Phala) and requested the master for an object for worship. The Buddha gave him a lock of hair from his head and it was enshrined in the Mahiyangana stupa, the first Dagoba constructed in the island during the lifetime of Buddha at the initiative of Prince Saman.

When the Buddha visited the island for the third & last time of Kelaniya, at the request of Prince Saman, the Buddha left the trace of his footprint on the mountain, according to Mahavamsa. Following his death, Prince Saman became God Maha Sumana Saman. The god has never been identified as a Hindu God. There are two important and significant shrines constructed at Ratnapura and Mahiyangana dedicated to Maha Sumana Saman.

The pilgrim season to the holy mountain Sri Pada begins annually on the Unduvap full moon day in December and ends on the Vesak full moon day in May. During this open semester, pilgrims ascend the mountain to pay homage to the sacred footmark, which is considered holy by the Buddhists, Christians and Hindus according to their individual beliefs.

Therefore, Sri Pada is the only mountain in the world receiving benefactions and veneration of devotees belonging to different faiths. As Sri Lankans, our main responsibility to protect this most sacred mountain to the future generation.

Credit – Sri Pada, Wikipedia, Things to do in Sri Lanka, Images of Ceylon

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