Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) | Footprint on the Mountain

Sri Pada or Adam's Peak is a holy mountain in Sri Lanka visited by main four religious groups of the country Buddhists, Christians, Hindus & Muslims.
Sri Pada mountain
Sri Pada, fondly known to the west as Adam's Peak (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී පාදස්ථානය; Tamil: சிவனொளிபாத மலை) is a mountain and a sacred pilgrimage site situated in Ratnapura District, Sri Lanka. It is highly venerated by the Buddhists as one of the sixteen sacred places (Solosmastana) in the country where the Buddha is supposed to have visited (Abeyawardana, 2002).

Visitors from all parts of the world visit this sacred mountain. Buddhists firmly believe that the left footprint of the Buddha is preserved on the summit of the Sri Pada mountain (Paranavitana, 1958; Wickramasinghe, 2005). However, Christians and Muslims refer to Sri Pada mountain as Adam's Peak as they believe the footprint on the mountain to be that of Adam [(according to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the first parent of the human race is Adam) Abeyawardana, 2002; Paranavitana, 1958]. Muslims believe that Adam stood on the peak of this mountain on one foot for a thousand years when he was cast out of paradise and some Christians think that it is the footprint of Saint Thomas, who is said to have brought Christianity to Sri Lanka (Wickramasinghe, 2005). Meanwhile, Hindus think the footprint to be that of God Siva, left after his world-creative dance (Abeyawardana, 2002; Wickramasinghe, 2005).

The Mountain
Sri Pada (Adam's Peak)
Sri Pada is the fifth highest mountain in Sri Lanka with a height of 2,243 m [(7,358.92 ft. MAMSL) Abeyawardana, 2002; Wickramasinghe, 2005] and its summit which has a shape of a cone can be seen from many points in the country, as well as from the sea. It is an important determiner of climate and a water source for four of Sri Lanka’s major rivers (Paranavitana, 1958; Wickramasinghe, 2005). Four of the principal rivers of the island Mahaweli, Kelani, Kalu, and Walawe have their origins in Sri Pada (Abeyawardana, 2002; Paranavitana, 1958). Local Buddhists believe that the mountain is the abode of a god named Saman (Sumana in Pali), one of the four deities who have taken upon themselves the task of protecting the Sri Lanka island and the religion of the Buddha (Paranavitana, 1958).

Pilgrim season to the mountain is commenced on the full-moon day of Unduwap (December) and ended on the day of full-moon in Vesak (May) each year (Wickramasinghe, 2005). Tens of thousands of devotees ascend the mountain every year through three main routes; Ratnapura- Palabedda road to Gilimale (the ancient route known as Raja Mawatha), Maskeliya, Kuruwita-Eratna road, and Wewelwatta (Abeyawardana, 2002; Wickramasinghe, 2005). A small shrine with a granite replica of a footprint is found at the top of the mountain and pilgrims venerate it as they believe that the original Footprint of their relevant master is covered by this granite footprint (Abeyawardana, 2002).

Sri Pada entrance
Sri Pada (the Illustrious Footprint) [or Samanala-Kanda (the Peak of the god Saman)] mountain is referred to in many ancient texts and epigraphs by various names. Sri Lankan, Indian, and Chinese Buddhist writings refer to it as Sri Pada, Sumanakuta Mountain, Samantakuta Mountain, peak Samanta, peak Samanoli, Mount Lanka, etc. (Paranavitana, 1958). Indian Sanskrit writings refer to it as Rohana Mountain while Muslim and Christian writings refer to it as Al-Rohoun and Adam's Peak (Paranavitana, 1958). Hindus called the mountain Sivan-Oli-paatha-malai.

The footprint of the Buddha
Sri Lankan accounts
Sri Pada mountain Brahmi inscriptions (3rd century B.C.-1st century A.D.): A few illegible Inscriptions Written in Brahmi characters were discovered in the 1960s from the upper terrace (called Siripa Maluwa) of the mountain (Gnanawimala Thera, 1967). Of them, one contains the name Bhagava, a Pali word used for the Buddha, meaning "the fortunate one" (Gnanawimala Thera, 1967).

Mahavamsa (5th century A.D.): The chronicle Mahavamsa records that in the 9th month of his Buddhahood, on a Duruthu (January) full moon Poya day, the Buddha visited the island of Sri Lanka to subdue Yakkhas, who had assembled at the site of the modern Mahiyangana Stupa. After appearing at the site, the Buddha dispersed the Yakkhas to an island named Giri Divaina and preached the Dhamma to Devas (the gods) who had gathered there. On this occasion, a prominent Deva named Mahasumana of the Sumanakuta mountain (Sri Pada mountain) asked Buddha for something to worship. The Buddha gave him a handful of his hairs which Mahasumana enshrined in the place where the present Mahiyangana Stupa stands [(Mahavamsa, Chap: I, vv: 20-43) Geiger, 1986]. Later, the Buddha in the 8th year after his enlightenment visited Kelaniya in Sri Lanka with his followers on the full moon day of Vesak (May) and this visit was done upon the invitation of a Naga king named Maniakkhika. After receiving the homage from the Nagas at Kelaniya, the Buddha left an impression of his foot on the summit of Sumanakuta mountain, at the invitation of Mahasumana, before his departure to India [(Mahavamsa, Chap: I, vv: 71-84) Abeyawardana, 2002; Geiger, 1986; Paranavitana, 1958].

However, some of the chronicles such as the Dipavamsa, the oldest historical record (4th century A.D.) of the country and Buddhagosa's historical introduction to the Samantapasadika, have no reference to the Sumanakuta mountain or the god Sumana, in their account of the Buddha's visits to Sri Lanka (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1958).
As revealed by the Mahavamsa, the two children of Vijaya and Kuweni, after the separation of their parents, are said to have fled to Sumanakuta and settled in that region [(Mahavamsa, Chap: VII, vv: 66-68) Geiger, 1986; Nicholas, 1963]. It is said that there were 900 monks close to the mountain summit during the reign of King Dutugemunu [(161-137 B.C.) Abeyawardana, 2002; Nicholas, 1963].
Ambagamuwa Rock Inscription of King Vijayabahu I (11th century A.D.): The chronicle Culavamsa (the latter part of the Mahavamsa) records that King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) involved in making the facilities for the pilgrims who were travelling to worship the footprint of the Buddha on the summit of Sri Pada mountain [(Culavamsa, Chap: LX, vv: 64-67) Geiger, 1998 (I); Paranavitana, 1958; Wickremasinghe, 1928). This fact given in the chronicle was confirmed by the Ambagamuwa rock inscription established by the same king in the 38th year after his coronation (Nicholas, 1963; Wickremasinghe, 1928).  It is recorded in the inscription that the king who saw the difficulties undergone by pilgrims on their way to worship the footprint of the Buddha that is on the summit of Samantakuta mountain dedicated a village named Gilimalaya (see: Gilimale Viharaya Inscription) to provide food for them (Paranavitana, 1958; Wickremasinghe, 1928). Also, he built resting places on two other routes [Kadaligama (modern Kehelgamuwa in Kandy District) and Huva (modern Uva)] to the mountain and gave lands to each one of them separately (Abeyawardana, 2002; Nicholas, 1963; Wickremasinghe, 1928). The inscription reveals that the king himself ascended the mountain and worshipped the Footprint (Abeyawardana, 2002).

Sri Pada cave
Bhagavalena inscription of King Nissankamalla (12th century A.D.): As recorded in the Culavamsa, King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.) went on pilgrimage to the Sri Pada mountain and worshipped the Footprint of the Buddha with great devotion [(Culavamsa, Chap: LXXX, vv: 24-25) Geiger, 1998 (II); Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1958]. His visit is confirmed by a long inscription left by him on the rock wall in the cave known as Bhagavalena located about a hundred feet below the mountain peak (Paranavitana, 1958; Ranawella, 2007). The inscription states that Nissankamalla re-granted the village of Ambagamuwa which was already donated by former kings (Paranavitana, 1958; Ranawella, 2007). The text of the document is somewhat similar to that of the Panduwasnuwara Stone Seat Inscription of the same king (Ranawella, 2007).
A short record with an outline drawing of a man who is supposed to be the figure of Nissankamalla is also found by the side of this inscription (Ranawella, 2007). The short record states that "it is the manner in which King Nissankamalla stood worshipping the Footprint" (Paranavitana, 1958; Ranawella, 2007).
Samantakutavannana (13th century A.D.): Samantakutavannana is a Pali poem on Sri Pada mountain composed by a Buddhist monk named Vedeha Thera (Paranavitana, 1958). It contains detail about the career of the Buddha and his three visits to Sri Lanka.
Royal patronage (13th-18th centuries A.D.): As revealed by the chronicles and other ancient texts, many royals have gone on pilgrimage to this sacred mountain. King Parakramabahu II (1236-1270 A.D.) worshipped the Footprint and granted certain lands for the benefit of it (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1958). During the regnal years of the same king, minister Devapathiraja improved the road leading to the Sri Pada mountain (Paranavitana, 1958). Prince Vihayabahu, the son of Parakramabahu II, went on a pilgrimage to the Footprint before becoming the king of the country (Paranavitana, 1958). In the 15th century, Vikramabahu, the ruler of Kandy went to the sacred mountain and conducted festivities and made offerings to the Footprint (Paranavitana, 1958). King Rajasinghe I (1581-1593 A.D.) of Sitawaka who embraced Hinduism by renouncing Buddhism, entrusted the custody of the mountain to the priests of Saivites (Abeyawardana, 2002; Paranavitana, 1958). King Vimaladharmasuriya (1687-1707 A.D.) visit the sacred mountain and installed a silver umbrella over the Footprint (Paranavitana, 1958). King Narendrasinghe (1707-1730 A.D.) went on pilgrimage to the sacred mountain twice during his reign and King Sri Vijaya Rajasinghe (1739-1746 A.D.) also worshipped the Footprint (Paranavitana, 1958). King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1780 A.D.) restored to the Buddhists the incomes from villages that were formerly dedicated to the Footprint but had been given to Saivites by King Rajasinghe I (Paranavitana, 1958). A copper-plate charter by Kirti Sri Rajasinghe reveals that he donated Kuttapitiya village to the Sri Pada mountain (Paranavitana, 1958).
Indian accounts
Manimekalai (6th century A.D.): Manimekalai, a great epic of the Indian Tamil literature, mentions that the footprint of the Buddha on the summit of Sri Pada mountain in Sri Lanka was worshipped by the devotees (Rasanayagam, 1917). 
Manimekalai canto XI: "Adjacent to this (Manipallavam) is Ratnadipa. In it stands the lofty peak Samanta on whose summit are the feet of Buddha, a ship of righteousness to cross the ocean of birth. Them have I worshipped and returned hither."
Manimekalai canto XXVIII: "The preachers of Dharma who were returning after worshipping the peak Samanoli in Lankadipa".
The names Samanta and Samanoli ("Samanoli" is the Sinhalese "Samanola", equivalent to "Samantakuta" in Pali) both refer to Sri Pada mountain and Lankadipa and Ratnadipa were old names used to identify Sri Lanka (Rasanayagam, 1917).
Bodh-Gaya inscription of Mahanaman (6th century A.D.): A Sanskrit inscription discovered from Bodh-Gaya premises in India records that the early members of the school to which Mahanaman belonged had their abode in the holy country at the foot of Mount Lanka (Fleet, 1888; Paranavitana, 1958). Mount Lanka is another name used to denote the Sri Pada mountain (Paranavitana, 1958).
Chinese accounts
Fa-Hien (5th century A.D.): Fa-Hien, a Chinese monk who stayed at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka for around two years at the beginning of the 5th century A.D. has recorded about a mountain which, according to scholars, is the Sri Pada mountain (Paranavitana, 1958). 
Hieun Tsiang (7th century A.D.): Hieun Tsiang, another Chinese pilgrim who however did not come to Sri Lanka, but gathered information about the island from South India when he visits there in the 7th century, has recorded about a mountain named Mount Lanka (another name used to identify the Sri Pada mountain) in the south-east of Sri Lanka and which, according to his accounts, is the place where the Buddha delivered the "Lankavatara Sutra" (Paranavitana, 1958). 

Mahayana Buddhists in India and China are said to have believed in the 7th century that discourse was delivered by the Buddha to Ravana (a mythical figure found in the Ramayanaya) on Sri Pada mountain (Paranavitana, 1958).
Vajrabodhi (7th century A.D.): Vajrabodhi who stayed at Abhayagiri Viharaya for six months travelled towards the south-east to climb Lanka-Parvata. After a long waiting, he could climb the mountain and contemplate the impression of the Buddha's foot (Paranavitana, 1958). The Lanka-Parvata, according to scholars, is the Sri Pada mountain (Paranavitana, 1958).
Marco Polo/Kublai Khan (13th century A.D.): By the 13th century, the fame of Sri Pada as a religious place in Sri Lanka was known in China and as revealed by the notes of Marco Polo, the Mongol Empire Kublai Khan (1260-1294 A.D.) had sent a mission to Sri Lanka to obtain some holy object preserved there (Paranavitana, 1958). He, in his travel notes in about 1285, mentions the chains on the pilgrim route to the mountain (Nicholas, 1963).
Trilingual Slab Inscription (15th century A.D.): The Chinese inscription in the famous Trilingual Slab Inscription that was discovered from Galle, records the blessings to the Lord Buddha and a list of offering alms bestowed in 1410 by Cheng Ho, Wang Chin Lien, and others at the shrine of the Buddhist temple on the Mountain of Lanka (Paranavitana, 1933; Paranavitana, 1958).
South-East Asian accounts
Japanese peace pagodaSouth-East Asian Buddhist missions (15th century A.D.): In 1425, a group of Thai and Cambodian Buddhist monks received ordination at Kelaniya in Sri Lanka (Paranavitana, 1958). Medhankara Thera, one of the leaders of this mission, set up a shrine at Sukhodaya in Thailand after returning to the country and which, according to an inscription there, is a representation of the Buddha's foot which is manifested on the summit of Sri Pada mountain in Sri Lanka (Paranavitana, 1958).
During the reign of King Buvanekabahu VI (1470-1478 A.D.), the ruler of Burma (present Myanmar) King Dhammazedi (1471-1492 A.D.) sought the assistance of the Sinhala kings to re-institute the Theravada ordination in his country. In 1476, a group of Burma monks and their disciples were sent to Sri Lanka, where they were re-ordained at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara (Ko, 1892). Before leaving for their country again, these monks went on a pilgrimage to the sacred mountain (Paranavitana, 1958).

The appearance of the Rohana mountain
Balaramayanaya (c.9th century A.D.): Sri Pada is referred to as Rohana in some Sanskrit writings (Paranavitana, 1958). In the Balaramayanaya, a Sanskrit drama by Rajashekara, it is mentioned the Rohana mountain as a ground in Sri Lanka (Paranavitana, 1958). 

Anargha Raghava (c. 9th century A.D.): The Anargha Raghava, a Sanskrit drama by Murali refers to a shrine of Agastya related to the Rohana mountain in Sri Lanka (Paranavitana, 1958). 
Rajatarangani (12th century A.D.): The Rajatarangani (the chronicle of the kings of Kashmir, India) by Kalhana described Mount Rohana as a source of precious gems (Paranavitana, 1958).  

Anargha Raghava (c 13-14 century A.D.): The Anargha Raghava, a Sanskrit drama by Murali also has a reference to the Rohana mountain (Paranavitana, 1958). 
Al-Rohoun Mountain and Muslim beliefs
The footstep of Adam is mentioned in a Gnostic work of the 4th century A.D., but this doesn't localize it in Sri Lanka (Paranavitana, 1958).

Soleyman (9th century A.D.): The first Arab writer who mentioned the Footprint on this sacred mountain as that of Adam was Soleyman/Suleiman (Abeyawardana, 2002; Paranavitana, 1958). The records written by him in 851 A.D. during his voyages refer to this mountain by the name "Al-Rohoun" which is an adopted name of "Rohana" of Rajashekara who flourished about the same time (Paranavitana, 1958).

Bhagavalena Arabic inscription (probably 12-13th centuries A.D.): A short fragmentary Arabic inscription has been found in the Bhagavalena cave by the side of the drawing representing King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.) worshipping the footprint of the Buddha (Paranavitana, 1958). The inscription reads "Muhammad, may God bless him (the father of Man....)".

Ibn Batuta (14th century A.D.): Ibn Batuta, a traveller who visited Sri Lanka in about 1340 records that Imam Abu-Abdl-Allah (died 942 A.D.) was the one who taught him the way to Serendib (Sri Lanka) and thus to the footprint on Adam's Peak (Paranavitana, 1958). According to his travel notes, Ibn Battuta has gone on a pilgrimage to the sacred mountain (Paranavitana, 1958).
Ma Huan (15th century): Ma Huan, a Chinese Muslim has also recorded the sacred mountain in Sri Lanka and its Footprint on the summit (Abeyawardana, 2002). According to him, it is the impress of the foot of the first ancestor of mankind named A-tan [(or Pan-kau) Abeyawardana, 2002; Paranavitana, 1958].

God Siva's Footprint and Hindu Tradition
Ibn Batuta (14th century A.D.):  From the accounts of Ibn Batuta, it can be shown that Hindus were in the habit of going on pilgrimage to the mountain in the 14th century (Paranavitana, 1958).

Rajasinghe I (16th century A.D.): There is no concrete evidence to prove that there was any Saivite worship of the footprint on Sri Pada mountain before King Rajasinghe I (1581-1593 A.D.) of Sitawaka (Paranavitana, 1958). Rajasinghe I who embraced Hinduism by renouncing Buddhism had entrusted the custody of the mountain to the priests of Saivites in the 16th century A.D. (Abeyawardana, 2002; Paranavitana, 1958). 

In Tamil, Sri Pada is called "Sivan-oli" which is probably an adopted name of "Samanoli" that is mentioned in the Manimekalai of the 6th century A.D. (Paranavitana, 1958).
European accounts and Adam's Peak

In many of the European notes, this sacred mountain is referred to as Adam's Peak, the most popular name used by the Western world today.

Portuguese accounts (Portuguese Ceylon 1505-1687 A.D.): Portuguese historians such as Joao Ribeiro (17th century), and Fernao de Queyroz (17th century) have given accounts on Adam's Peak (Paranavitana, 1958). 

Dutch accounts (Dutch Ceylon 1687-1896 A.D.): Daniel Pathey who climbed the mountain in 1684 mentioned it in his book (Paranavitana, 1958). However, the Dutch confused Adam’s Peak with other rock (hill) temples in the country, particularly the ancient Mulkirigala Viharaya in Hambantota District (De Silva, 2014). This rock temple was identified by the Dutch as "Adam’s Berg" (De Silva, 2014).

British accounts (British Ceylon 1896- 1948 A.D.): Most books written about Sri Lanka during the British colonial rule over the Island contain a description of  Adam's Peak (Paranavitana, 1958).

Adam's Peak
Do you know?

1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2002. Heritage of Sabaragamuwa: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Sabaragamuwa Development Bank and The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-575-077-7. pp.13-14,125-126.
2) De Silva, P., 2014. Colonialism and religion: colonial knowledge productions on Sri Pada as ‘Adam’s Peak’. Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences 2014 37 (1 & 2): pp.19-32.
3) Fleet, J.F., 1888. Inscriptions of the early Gupta kings and their successors (Vol. 3). Superintendent of Government Printing, India. pp.274-279
4) Geiger, W., 1986. The Mahāvaṃsa, or, The Great Chronicle of Ceylon. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. pp.3-5,8-9,60. 
5) Geiger, W., 1998 (I). The Culavamsa: Being the more recent part of the Mahavamsa. Part: I. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. pp.220-221. 
6) Geiger, W., 1998 (II). The Culavamsa: Being the more recent part of the Mahavamsa. Part: II. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. p.128. 
7) Gnanawimala Thera, K., 1967. Saparagamu Darshana (In Sinhala). S. Godage Saha Sahodarayo. pp. Foreword (7-11).
8) Ko, T.S., 1892. The Kalyānī inscriptions erected by King Dhammacetī at Pegu in 1476 AD: Text and translation. Superintendent, government printing, Burma. pp.the "Contents" page, i-vi.
9) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.125.
10) Paranavitana, S., 1933. The Tamil inscription on the Galle Trilingual Slab. Epigraphia Zeylanica (Vol. III). pp.331-341.
11) Paranavitana, S., 1958. The god of Adam's Peak. Artibus Asiae. Supplementum, 18, pp.11-22.
12) Ranawella, S., 2007. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume VI. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-91-59-61-2. pp.130-132,160.
13) Rasanayagam, M.C., 1917. Nagadipa in the Tamil Classics. The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, (Vol. 26). pp.31-35.
14) Wickramasinghe, A., 2005. 15. Adam’s Peak Sacred Mountain Forest. The Importance of Sacred Natural Sites for Biodiversity Conservation, pp.109-118.
15) Wickremasinghe, D. M. D. Z., 1928. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon (Vol, II). Published for the government of Ceylon by Humphrey Milford. pp.202-218. 

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This page was last updated on 15 December 2023

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