Traversing Serendip - anthropological considerations from the pilgrimage routes of Sri Lanka
Ben Vecchiet (Deakin University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the social and political transformational processes experienced by post conflict Sri Lankan devotees participating in their annual 650km pilgrimage to Katirkamam. Analysis of pilgrim rituals, symbols and social dramas that illustrate this process will be explored.
Paper long abstract:
The Kataragama patha yaathirai is an annual foot pilgrimage that traverses the length of Sri Lanka's eastern seaboard. During the island's civil conflict (1983 - 2009) the pilgrimage was sporadically shortened in length or abandoned completely. With the ending of the conflict pilgrims are again free to participate in their 650km journey south along the traditional pilgrimage routes. This paper will initially present the mode and nature of pilgrim austerities, symbolic interpretations of religious attire, and the ongoing rituals participated in by the pilgrims on route. These ritual and symbolic processes will be explored in a pilgrimage context in which the participants renounce their names and titles, ideas of caste and class and enter/exist in a (quasi) samnyasic or renouncer world. This analysis attempts to illustrate the significance of the transformational process experienced by the participants from lay devotees to pilgrim 'swamis'. The paper explores the fundamentality of the pilgrimage as a valuable avenue for members of the Tamil Saiva (Hindu) community to practically explore central devotional and philosophical themes. Furthermore, as the pilgrims step away from their post-conflict village worlds through transitorily renouncing society they paradoxically step into a dynamic political and cultural relationship with a greater Tamil and Sri Lankan community. An aspect of this relationship will be surveyed through the political ideals intertwined in attempts to harness the spiritual potency embodied by the pilgrims to strengthen social and political endeavours of contested and periphery villages that remain deeply embedded in a precarious post-conflict struggle for existence.
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