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Vatrappalai Kannaki Amman Kovil ‐ I have come to Amman for Solace; Where Else Can We Go ‐ Navraj Parthiban for GTN

 

The annual ther festival of the Vatrappalai Amman temple took place a few days after the war intensified, and after everyone there had left the area. Whenever the annual ther festival of Vatrappalai Amman takes place, many thousands gather at the temple. But this year it seems that no one had thought of the temple or the ther festival.

Vatrappalai Kannaki Amman Kovil ‐ I have come to Amman for Solace; Where Else Can We Go ‐ 
Navraj Parthiban for GTN
The annual ther festival of the Vatrappalai Amman temple took place a few days after the war intensified, and after everyone there had left the area.
 
Whenever the annual ther festival of Vatrappalai Amman takes place, many thousands gather at the temple. But this year it seems that no one had thought of the temple or the ther festival.
 
In fact resettlement around the Vatrappalai temple had taken place only recently.
 
When I went to the Vatrappalai temple, it was dusk. I got down at the Vatrappalai junction. The temple was at a distance. Flashing color bulbs of the temple could be seen from the junction. There was not much crowd at the temple. Only a few people were seen walking down the road leading to the temple and vehicles were fewer. I walked up to the temple. I was right. There were only a few worshippers at the temple.
 
Many thousands throng the temple court yard during the annual festival, but now it has been reduced to a few.
 
 
 
The first person whom I met for this cover story was an ex combatant, who was released recently from custody. He seemed to be very happy in getting released from the jail, perhaps enjoying his freedom. He started talking to me. The place of our conversation was the border of Nandhikkadal, a place which had gained immense popularity during the closing stages of the war.
 
“The sea is very calm now. Waves are few and seldom, but last year many of our comrades were floating here as corps. I escaped only at the last moment. Dead bodies were floating right around me. Nandhikkadal reflects our defeat, the confidence that the world will somehow save us and the innumerable deaths of our comrades. This sea is close to us in our life as well as in our death. Water is taken from this sea and the temple lamp is lit with that sea water. It seems to me that many lives are burning in this sea.
 
 
 
Many would have known beforehand that pilgrims may not come in large numbers this year. I could hear thousands of stories from the ones who had come and thousands regarding those who had not come.
 
First of all I entered the temple. Only a few were engaged in worship. Some were offering poojas, some were reciting slogans. I spoke to an elderly person who was engaged in temple work.
 
  

“You may have known about the ancientness of this temple. This temple in Vanni has been a solace to the people of the area for many years. You should think of this temple along with the beliefs, community level and the economical status of the people around here. The ther festival takes place along these lines. We have a great faith in all this.
Seven persons go to the sea to bring the water which is used to light the lamp of this temple. The seven persons come form the different community levels in the society. The idea behind this is that people from every level in the community are needed for the proper implementation of an activity” He was saying.
 
The lamp lit by sea water is providing light inside the kovil. The pujaris were getting ready for the final pooja. The elderly person was explaining how sea water is taken from Nandhikkadal.
 
 
“When collecting sea water the smaller waves are avoided and we wait for a big wave, when the big wave comes in, one person goes down and takes a pot full of water. This lamp is lit by that water. The lamp at the Kattu Vinayagar kovil is lit for 8 days and on the last two days the Amman kovil lamp will be lit. This has been going on for years. You many not believe, but the lamp you see here is burning in the sea water. We believe it. Many of our beliefs are centered on this lamp”
 
The lamp was actually burning. The belief of that elderly person should be seen along with the historical backgrounds. When you say the name of Vatrappali Amman temple what comes to our mind is the light and the beliefs. We all know this.
 
“What are your beliefs centered on the lamp” I asked the elderly person.
 
“Water collected in the pot should be full and not half empty. When the lamp is lit it should not go off. During the ther festival last time the water collected in the pot was half empty, and from then on we have been facing problems. But this time the pot was full and the lamp is burning without going off.  
 
Lamps were also lit in the backyard of the Kannaki Temple. Inside the kovil some were reciting religious versions; some elders were singing such versions loudly. It was the story of the history of Kaattu Vinayagar temple up to the Kannaki Amman temple.
 
 
 
An elderly person who was singing the religious versions then spoke to me. He   was saying that the old name for Vatrappalai was Paththappalai. Kannaki Amman after leaving the Kattu Vinayagar temple had gone to nine other places and only on the 10th attempt had come to the present place..
 
I spoke to some other people sitting on the dunes and in the fields. Some of them were still in the detention camps. Many of them were outside the temple without entering. Some were sleeping in the sand dunes.
 
“I have come from the Ramanathan camp. My mother’s sister has come with me and also her children. My mother has not come. My father went missing during the conflict; therefore my mother has not come. I am offering pooja with my mother’s sister on behalf of everyone”.
 
The boy who thus spoke to me is studying in the 6th standard. Many signs showed that he was living in a camp. He was abnormally thin. His face showed him to be tired and dull.
 
 
 
Next I spoke to a university student.
 
“I am studying at the Peradeniya campus. I used to come to this temple with my parents when I was studying for the A/L. But I have met my fellow students and the teachers, in this temple on several occasions. Do not know what happened to my friends during the war.  Do not have any contact with many of them. I came here today with the hope of seeing them. I met my friend whom you see here, only after I came to the temple”
 
Many such youth were searching for their friends. This could be seen from looking at their faces. Many were tired and were seated around the temple.
 
“I came here after filling a form at the camp, especially to see the village. Want to see how the village is, how the streets are, anxious to see all this. I am not in the proper mind to enter the temple, mentally still not prepared. So much has happened. Let’s see about entering the temple next year”.
 
He could not continue. His answers were such that he seemed to be dejected in life; I silently stood along side him for some time.
 
Then I saw an elderly lady. She was sitting on a mat all alone and was in deep thinking.
 
‘How much the mind pains when visiting the temple alone. I felt today.   I am like a single tree. I could not offer any prayers and alms as nothing I wished from god had actually happened. After getting hurt during the war I was worshipping Vattrappalai Amman at every moment. Finally I lost everyone. Today I have come to Amman for solace of mind. Where else can we go? Those who offer pongal do not do so with their wishes fulfilled, but they just do it as a relief.”
 
 
This elderly lady has been a regular pilgrim to this temple for a number of years. She is from Puthukkudiyiruppu. She is staying with a relative. She has not been resettled yet. She continued to talk. Looking at the flying kavadi and other kavadi carriers who were  offering prayers.
 
This time only a few pilgrims have come here when compared to the earliest occasions. Only 25% pilgrims are seen this time. Some of them are coming after a long time, after staying out of Vanni. There are some who have come to Vanni from outside and some Muslims are also seen this time. Around 75% who are seen here are new to this place.
 
The offering of pongal or milk rice as mentioned by the elderly lady takes place on one side. Offering Pongal as a thanking process for Amman for fulfilling some of their wishes is also a special event. Unlike the annual festival on the earlier occasions, there are only a few pots this time for offering pongal and many of those pots were just kept empty without any pongal offering.
 
“I am coming from Puttalam. Our home town is Mulliyawalai. We were displaced in 1990. I have come and seen our village during the peaceful days. My father has told me that we had a practice of coming to this temple during the annual festival. Therefore whenever I come to see the village, I want to come to the temple. As much we three of us   who work in Colombo have come together this time to pay a visit to this Amman temple.”     A Muslim brother saying so introduced himself.
 
 
 
There were several such Muslim brethren who had come there in buses. They were introducing themselves and talking to their newfound friends. Finally when I left the place around midnight an elderly person who came with me was telling many things about the temple.
 
“Vattrappalai Amman is very powerful. She is the one who brought the people of this area to this place once again” He was smiling. Perhaps he was feeling proud saying so.’
 
“Forces who were stationed here had seen snakes at the temple, and it has been revealed that the snakes had chased the forces from the temple premises, and most of the soldiers in fact had fallen ill due to their skirmishes with the snakes. That’s why they have brought us here. Apart from holding the annual Amman festival this year, we were very much worried about how long it would take for us to come back to Mullaitivu once again.”
 
I think he was happy to be back again in Mullaitivu.
 
Well, you actually see this temple along with the routine life of the Tamil people around here, their beliefs and every such thing. 
 
Navarajah Parthiban for   GTN.
 
for Tamil translation:
 
 
வற்றாப்பளை கண்ணகி அம்மன் ‐ வயற்கடல் வெளி ‐ மன ஆறுதலுக்காக அம்மாளிடம் வந்திருக்கிறேன் ‐ நாங்கள் வேறு எங்கு போக முடியும் ‐ குளோபல் தமிழ் செய்திகளுக்காக நவராஜ் பார்த்தீபன் 
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