Devalaya in Sri Lanka

Devalaya Shrines Sri Lanka
Devalaya (lit: the Abode of God) is a type of shrine normally located within or attached to a Buddhist Viharaya in Sri Lanka (Holt, 2004). However, there are some Devalas that are constructed separately from Buddhist temples but they function under the nominal jurisdiction of the Buddhist temple of the particular area (Gamage, 2018). Devalas are venerated by Sinhalese Buddhists and sometimes by Tamil Hindus.

Although the rituals perform in Devalaya are similar to those observed in Hindu shrines (Kovils), they have evolved their own practices and deity concepts (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). A person with the title "Kapu-mahattaya" acts as the intermediary between the god and the patrons and this position is usually passed down through one family (Gamage, 2018).

Devalas are found scattered throughout the country mainly in Central, Sabaragamuwa, Uva and Southern provinces. Presently, in every Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, there is at least a small Devalaya shrine dedicated to a deity. Most of the Devalas have either lost their original links with the Indian sub-continent or have generated new deities unknown to the Indian region (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). Kataragama, Visnu or Upulvan, Saman, Pattini, Devol, Suniam, Dedimunda, and Natha are a few popular deities worshipped in Devalas in Sri Lanka.

Architectural aspects
The Devalaya can be a small, separate, and simple building or an adjacent cave or Puja room next to the main shrine hall dedicated to worshipping the Buddha (Holt, 2004). A typical Devalaya building mainly contains two sections, viz; the sanctum or Garbhagruha (the room housing the image of the deity) and the Digge or audience hall, where devotees present themselves and their petitions to the Kapurala [(shrine priest) Holt, 2004]. In some Devalas, there is a verandah attached at the front where ritual drumming occurs during Pujas offered by the Kapurala to the deity (Holt, 2004).

The sanctum remains a strictly private area meant only for the Kapurala assigned to service the temple (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). The part between the sanctum and Digge is called Antaralaya (the connecting passage) from where the Kapurala accepts the offerings of the devotees and carries them to the sanctum thereafter (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). Usually, a part of these offerings (mostly foods) is returned to the devotees.

In some major shrines, the Devalaya building is surrounded by an inner court that retains other shrines such as the image house of the Buddha (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). At the lower level in front of this is another courtyard where the ceremonial procession commences. The entrance of this procession path is an elaborate gateway leading to the Mahaveediya (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). At the further end of the processional path is the Sinhasanaya, the depositary where the weapons of the deity taken during the annual procession are kept (De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009).

Notable Devala shrines in Sri Lanka
Dedimunda Devala

Devol Devala

Kataragama Devala

Natha Devala

Pattini Devala

Saman Devala

Visnu/Upulvan Devala

1) De Silva, N.; Chandrasekara, D.P., 2009. Heritage Buildings of Sri Lanka. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, ISBN: 978-955-0093-01-4. p.13.
2) Gamage, L. S., 2018. The Dwelling of the War God: the Art and Architecture of Embekke Devāle in Medieval and Early Modern Sri Lanka (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles). pp.14-15.
3) Holt, J.C., 2004. The Buddhist Visnu. In The Buddhist Visnu: Religious Transformation, Politics, and Culture. pp.170-171.

This page was last updated on 22 July 2023
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