Annadana Murugan
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Annadānam and pāda yātrā in Sri Lanka

Pada yatra pilgrims cross Yala National Park in 2004
In July 2004 more than 30,000 pāda yātrā pilgrims crossed Yala National Park to reach Kataragama.

Unlike in India, where innumerable traditions of pada yātrā flourish, here in Sri Lanka there remains only one pada yātrā tradition (foot pilgrimage to destinations such as Śrī Pāda died out in the 20th Century). The traditional Pada Yātrā from Jaffna in the far North to Kataragama in the far South has for centuries been an annual affair attracting not only local pilgrims but also pilgrims from abroad, especially from India.

Arunagiri Nathar

Seven centuries ago, one of these anonymous pilgrims (for not one diary or record of a pilgrim has ever been published), Arunagiri Nathar, was a great Tamil devotee of god Skanda-Murugan, who had set out to visit and sing the praise of every great shrine of the God.

Less than a tenth of Arunagiri Nathar’s reputed 16,000
Arunagiri Nāthar
Tiruppukal songs have survived. But from the few that survive, one can surmise that, like so many pilgrims before him, Arunagiri Nathar first visited Kiri Malai on the northern coast of the Jaffna peninsula where he sang Tiruppukal, proceeded by foot to Trincomalee where he sang at Tiru Konamalai.

Arunagiri Nathar may have sang Tiruppukal at other shrines as well, but it was only at his destination, Kataragama, that he sang the most verses, of which 14 still survive.

Arunagiri Nathar therefore was one among the traditional pada yātrā pilgrims of his day who annually walked for two months from Jaffna via Trincomalee to Kataragama in time for the great Esala (Adi) festival.

While en route to Kataragama, Arunagiri accepted annadanam from common villagers and, in return, sang his spontaneous verses of Tiruppukal. The subtle spiritual influence (āsirvādam) of pada yātris like Arunagiri Nathar, however invisible, should not be discounted or underestimated.

The yatris all carry the God’s blessings with them to a lesser or greater extent, and it is principally for this aim that villagers offer annadānam. When one happens perchance (or by God’s grace) to feed a great soul (like Arunagiri Nathar), the blessings continue to manifest for generations afterward.

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