“The FARTY forties!” I hurriedly texted to a friend, who was trying to find an appropriate theme for the fast-approaching new epoch in her beloved husband’s life.
“Awesome! You had to get out of Colombo to get inspired, didn’t you?” was the tickled response.
“In Ambepussa to be exact,” I sent back.
Soon afterwards I get a call from said friend, who herself is an enthusiastic road-tripper. Excitedly, she recounted her experience of a devale quite close to where we were. Her stories of the location, its tranquillity and the uncanny occurrences at the site made up our minds; this was going to be our first stop.
Off the Colombo-Kandy highway we found the narrow, winding Devale Para that took us uphill, away from the jarring, modern-day bustle and into rural charm. Trees on either side leaned over the little road to shelter us and we passed by paddy fields, some of their sectioned off squares being replanted by women shin deep in mud.
Arriving at a footpath lined with kiosks selling offerings to devotees, we chose our own humble pooja; coconut oil and wicks, incense sticks, camphor and a sheaf of betel leaves. Along the path we came upon a roughly hewn moonstone at the foot of a flight of steps that led up a hill thick with vegetation and strewn with large boulders.
As beautiful and lusciously green as the scene appeared, we were unprepared for what we discovered around a bend up the steps. They led past a boulder hugged by many lengths of leafy vines; some grew straight down from a branch high above our heads. Instead of slashing them away to clear the stairway, some imaginative soul had draped the snaking vines over a metal wire strung by the steps, creating a lush, green alcove for devotees to walk through. Pausing on a landing past the alcove, I turned around to drink in more of the scene when I noticed a gargantuan tree trunk enfolded in more vines. We hadn’t even reached the devale yet andalready we knew this was a truly special place.
A statue of the Buddha sat serenely amidst offerings of flowers and oil lamps at the top of the steps and just past, in a sort of wide compound flanked by large boulders at one hand and a short precipice on the other was the Devale dedicated to Goddess Pattini. After we lit some oil lamps and incense sticks in offering to the Goddess, we were free to watch the comings and goings on the devale grounds andabsorb the indescribably peaceful presence of the place.
We watched as the kapuwa stood at the entrance of the devale – a white doorpost blackened in places by smoke and countless fingerprints – and listened to each of the appeals that the women gathered at the doorway wanted to express to the Goddess. Some had come with children; there was also a crippled man. All had come with their own personal pleas to the Goddess.
The kapuwa disappeared into the devale and began his chant, obviously inclusive of the devotees’ appeals. Framed in the doorway, his chanting figure, a golden statue of the Goddess and several garlands were all we could see. Outside, the women knelt reverently as the vine-covered boulder sheltering the devale rose above them.
I sat there, mind turned outward, reflecting on the scene before me, the pleas of the devotees, the aroma of incense and coconut oil, the hypnotic sound of the kapuwa’s chanting punctuated by the grating sounds of a coconut being scraped for an offering. Suddenly, I found myself searching in my heart for my own prayer to the Goddess, and before I knew it I was asking Her to bless our journey and keep us safe through our travels. For a moment I was surprised at myself because I’ve never felt the urge to pray at a devale before. But I decided not to analyse it and let my spontaneous prayer remain unexplained. I turned my mind back towards absorbing the happenings around me and the unique presence of the place.
Devale – Shrine
Devale Para – Devale Road
Pooja – Offering
Kapuwa – A person who communicates with deities on behalf of the lay people
Love and thanks to Piumie and Steven for the tip-off 🙂