Kataragama Mosque and timeless Shrine
Muslim or Islamic legends about Kataragama are relatively newer. According to Muslims Kataragama is referred to as al-Khidr or land of Khidr. A number of Muslim pious and holy men migrated from India and settled down in the vicinity. The earliest known is one Hayathu, whose simple residence became the mosque. Another called Karima Nabi is believed to have discovered a source of water that when drunk provides immortality.
According to Islamic tradition our forefather Adam (alai) first descended to earth in Serendib (modern Sri Lanka) upon Adam’s Peak. From the very beginning it seems that Serendib was the nearest of all places on earth to heavenly Paradise. And a great deal of this divine endowment is still preserved in Serendib to this day.
Kathirkamam Mosque & Shrine
Islamic Kathirkamam is one of the foremost living examples. Thousands of Muslim pilgrims go there annually. locals and also from distant places far beyond the shores of blessed Serendib.
A simple yet powerful Mosque & Shrine there are intimately associated in quranic and pre-quranic lore with Hazarat Khizr, ‘The Green Man’, identified with the mysterious servant of Allah and holy teacher of prophet Musa (Moses) spoken of in the Holy Quran (Sura Khalf ‘The Cave’), is believed to be the discoverer of the Ma’ul Hayat or Water of Life.
For many years people hold this place in such reverence that a Muslim traversing the wilds in the entire Eastern Province and parts of the Northern Province shuddered to refer to Kataragama by name.
If one were to inquire from another as to where he was going the latter’s answer often was “to the Khizr region”. The surrounding hamlets were listed as places receiving the patronage and blessings of Hazarat Khizr.
Mohammadans of the Village of Hambantota and the nearby villages come in vast numbers to Kataragama in search of a secret subterranean spring, the waters of which, if drunk are said to endow a person with the blessings of perpetual immortality.
The heart of the ‘Khizr region’ of Serendib
Zikr or Remembrance
Originally a humble wattle-and-daub hut, the ‘Khizr Room’ as it was called was occupied by pious recluses who came to live a life of undisturbed prayer and poverty. They were faqirs or ‘impoverished ones’ in the genuine sense of being endowed with the ornament of spiritual poverty.
The holy month of Ramazan represents an exceptional opportunity for believers to please Almighty Allah with offerings of prayer, fasting, charity (zakat), and ‘remembrance’ or zikr.
The Water of Life in other words. Prophet Moses (alai), commanded by God to learn of the higher mysteries from this servant of Allah, found Khizr (alai) ‘at the place where two currents meet and merge into the sea (majma’ul-bahrain). Local tradition maintains that the two currents are the visible Menik Ganga or River of Gems and the hidden or underground current of grace (Tamil: arul) and wisdom that issues from this site on the left bank of the Menik Ganga — al-Khidr’s Fountain of Life.
Even prophet Moses himself, however, could not bear patiently with Khizr’s baffling lessons into the paradoxes of life. With his third failure, Moses was obliged to part company with his strange teacher.
The principal Khizr shrine at Kathirkamam is situated a scant three hundred meters from that of the ancient war god Skanda or Iskandar deified. The two — Iskandar and Khidr — are said to have come together in search of the Fountain of Life; Khizr (alai) alone discovered and tasted the divine elixir. What Iskandar doggedly sought, Khidr found without seeking, they say.
Since the sixteenth century, many mainland Sufis continued to cross by way of Jaffna en route to Kathirkamam.
The old Jaffna pilgrimage route sees many Sufi descendants still carry on the tradition of pilgrimage to Kathirkamam.
In 1845 Seyed Jabbar Ali Shah came from Bakhara in central Asia to Kathirkamam in response to a divine summons. The saint lived a long life of solitude, prayer, remembrance, and voluntary poverty in Kathirkamam. His mausoleum today is a prominent feature of the sacred premises that are said to contain at least sixty unmarked graves of Muslim pilgrims.
The annual 15-day Kataragama festival in July is a spirited occasion for Muslims. The colourful festival, dating from antiquity, officially begins only with the kodi-yetrum or ritual hoisting of an Islamic flag at the mosque, signifying to Muslims the primacy or preeminent position of Islam.
Kataragama Mosque & Shrine is open to all humble seekers of truth and admits pilgrims of every confession.
Kataragama, it is rightly said, is a place where every pilgrim is respected and people of all religions may mingle openly, sharing freely with others the spiritual food of their respective traditions.
Anticipating a growing stream of Muslim pilgrims to Kataragama, the Mosque & Shrine under the even-handed stewardship of M.H.A. Gaffar of Galle has undertaken an ambitious and well thought-out programme of building restoration and expansion.
Under al-Haj Gaffar’s personal direction, the old mosque has been restored and improved to meet the needs of pilgrims while also preserving and protecting the sacred character of the site. A separate Muslim pilgrims’ rest house with spacious facilities is also under construction in the New Town with the support of many Muslim donors.
tradition, Kataragama is Khidr-gama, the home of al-Khidr, ‘The Green Man’. We call him al-Khidr, because he is always fresh and young and green, like tender grass. Everywhere al-Khidr goes, that place is fresh and green, like Kataragama, which is cool and green in the midst of dry, hot jungle.
At Kataragama, the Khidr Shrine is open to all, Muslim believers and non-believers alike. Everone is welcome to come and experience the peace and sanctity of this shrine, which is like no other.
Visitors to the Mosque & Shrine have included Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers and foreign dignitaries. Every year international photographers and television crews come to document the Shrine’s traditions.
Many saints and awliya have visited and prayed here, including Hayat Nabi, al-Khidr himself.
The Dambana Veddas always visit during Esala
Muslims who visit Kataragama have opportunity to deepen their faith through association with religious-minded people of all faiths. Those people of other faiths also benefit.
Tradition says that Kataragama, or Khidr-gama, is the place where Hayat Nabi found and tasted the Water of Life that gave him knowledge coming from Allah Almighty.
Kataragama is one of only few places in the world do people of three religions worship together. Kataragama belongs to all the people of the world, not only to Sri Lankans.
Kataragama is renowned among pious Muslims the world over as Khidr-gama, ‘the home of al-Khidr’. In Islamic lore, al-Khidr ‘the Green Man’ was the companion of Alexander the Great who discovered the ma’ul hayat or Water of Life.
Al-Khidr will live until the end of the world and whatever place he visits remains fresh and green. He is also known as Hayat Nabi ‘the living prophet’.
During the Esala Festival, Maulood is recited in the name of Hayat Nabi (Khidr alai) every morning. The final Thamam recital after which Buddhists and Hindus celebrate the Water-cutting Ceremony at the Menik Ganga. Following Thamam, a great feast is offered and the flag is lowered to end the festival.
Throughout the Esala festival, bawas or faqirs of the Refai Sufi Order perform Ratheeb ceremony every evening at the Mosque. The dramatic ritual of self-mortification in the Name of Allah attracts hundreds of Muslims and non-Muslims.
“Muslims call him Hayat Nabi,” al-Haj Gaffar told the assembled crowd. “To Hindus he is Murugan. Buddhists call him Kataragama Deviyo.”