The shrine on the beach “Welle Dewale,” Unawatuna


On the beach at Unawatuna. Photographs©Chulie de Silva

The National Geographic placed Sri Lanka at #2 position on its list of the World’s best Islands. Yes, we do have plenty of white exotic beaches and even more exotic legends attached to these beaches. Unawatuna beach, the abode of the “Devol Deiyo” – an interesting dual purpose god is such a one. Here you can turn to him to both bless you and help you or to curse your enemies and correct what you perceive to be wrong.

Temple scenes. Photographs©Chulie de Silva

Buddhists have no shortage when it comes to gods. Apparently there are Three hundres and thirty million (330 million – Tis tun koatiyak Devi Devathavo”) invisible gods and demi gods that Buddhists can turn to in adversity. For the 20 million or so Sri Lankans this is not a bad ratio but then I suppose we need to share them with all the other Buddhists in the world. It’s another matter that Buddha’s teaching was always to take responsibility for all your actions and that debt or interest collector karma works out. But this belief hasn’t stopped many of us from turning to Gods for a bit of propping up during difficult times.

Devol Deiyo is not indigenous to Sri Lanka, says the Chief Priest ( Pradhana Kapu mahattaya) Chandradasa. According to him Devol came here from India , some say Kerala. He is one of the seven sons born to seven queens of a little known Indian king Sri Raman Swarnasingh. As legends show us one path open to Kings of India, was to put any sons that caused trouble, or the ones that got into mischief into a well equipped boat and push them out to sea.  Now they would be termed illegal emigrants sent back to where they came from.  Here Chandrasena’s story diverges a bit from what I had heard before that Devol first landed in Seenigama, close to Hikkaduwa. According to Chandrasena Devol and his brothers were not allowed to land in Devundara by God Vishnu or in Kataragama territory by God Kataragama. They tried to land at Ahangama but failing that ended up in Unawatuna.

Godwin Witana writing in the Lanka Library Forum on the “Worship of Lanka Goddess Pattini”, an earlier established deity in these parts of the country obstructed Prince Devol and his companions from landing by creating a conflagration consisting of waves and circles of fire which the brave Prince Devol fought to extinguish displaying super power and set foot on this country to establish himself in the same manner Vijaya won over Kuveni.”

“It is said that Pattini resorted to challenge Devol and his companions in order to test Devol’s ability to be in the superior position of a powerful deity and bring him on the same plane as herself and admit him to the Pantheon of twelve – Dolos Deviyo,. When all other deities witnessed the brave feat of Devol they unanimously admitted him into their fold.”

Getting back to Chandrasena’s story he says Devol meditated on a large rock, turned the water in the well to oil, the sand on the beach to rice. No food shortage there with these skills. After sometime Devol went roamimg, stopped at Seenigama. Here Devol’s powers turned the sand into sugar (seeni) and thus he left his mark there. Next his wandering took him to Panadura and from there to the Saman Devale in Ratnapura teritory. Somewhere along this way, Chandrasena says he was lured by a beautiful damsel ( sounds familiar?) and had a child — a son. Did they live happily ever after – sadly no. Edged on by the mother, the son spyed on the father to find out how he brought food home. He saw the father turn sand into rice  etc.. That’s when tragedy stuck. Devol lost his skills, got mad at the wife and son and killed them both. Thus Devol became the Lord of vengeance. The seat of judgment – became his Temple on the beach where he decided on punishment to evil doers.

The day I went, Chandrasena, the priest was blessing a little girl of about eight years and was in the process of tying a talisman around her neck. The fact that he was at times interrupted by calls on his mobile phone. bothered nobody. The young mother told me that the daughter has nightmares and they were looking for the protection from the God. The priest chanted stanzas, blessed her and brought out a long bunch of peacock feathers . With these he brushed the head of the girl and said emphatically, now you will sleep peacefully. That’s all good stuff, no doctors but a visit to the temple on the beach for healing and comfort.

Cursing on the other hand is a different story.   Cursing is a form of violence says J.P Fedeema but because it stops at one incident, without triggering endless cycles, Fedeema says it can traditionally be seen as a religious channel for violence, that helps to keep it in control.