Saturday Magazine
The Mystic Roots of Kabalewa Deity

by Gamini G. Punchihewa
The deification of gods and goddesses in old Lanka had its roots in India. During those halcyon days of ancient Lanka, when kings and queens ruled over her, the ruling monarchs of the time brought their consorts from South India. Hence there came with them the existence of devales, (shrines) to such gods and goddesses. Among the principal gods and goddesses imported from India are those dedicated to Kataragama, Ganesh, Vishnu, Natha and Pattini. There were also other deities who were worshipped where such shrines were dedicated to them, as well as for invoking blessings in times of illness and other calamities. They were particularly worshipped as past heroes for the kind acts and blessings bestowed on the people in times of distress and illness.

Kabalewa Deiyo/Deity

Among the worship of such miniature deities is a devale called Kabalewa Devale dedicated to Kabalewa Deiyo, also associated with Hoonium Devata. It is in Kuliyapitiya on the Hettimulla road along Ebawa Mawatha, about half a mile away from the Palugaha-handiya on the main road to Hettimulla.

Mystic and dreadful legend

I paid a visit to Sarath Halpe, native of Kuliyapitiya who knows the subject of varied deities dedicated to gods and goddesses. He took me to Kabalewa Devale on his motorcycle. Before we started the journey, Sarath briefed me on the antcedents of this mystic place, where later I gathered more information from the incumbent of Kabalewa Raja Mahavihara and the Devale Kapu Mahatmaya (custodian) narrated stories filled with thrills, miracles and eerie events.

Also came from India!

The roots to the origin of the Kabalewa Deiyo just like the other gods, began in a Prantha called Kally in South India. By some twist of mystic fate, a sort of a book called patuna here, bound in a leather jacket, was thrown into the Indian Ocean from there. Actually and physically in this patuna was imprisoned seven devils who had spelt doom in this prantha, killing children and people. They were caught by magic spells and were ‘encased’ in this leather bound patuna.

This miraculous patuna or book where the seven devils were ‘incarcerated’ drifted in the Indian Ocean landed mysteriously at Tissamaharama off Kirinda, while some say it landed at Devundara/Dondra in the southern coast of Sri Lanaka.

First to Nikaveratiya.....

In those grand old days of barter trade, a band of herdsmen hailing from Nikaveratiya (off Kuliyapitiya) had come to Tissamaharama on a barter trade mission. Among the commodities for barter trade was this mystic patuna bought by one herdsman in the team.

Armed with this bizzare book enclosing seven devils, these traders made their way home to Kuliyapitiya. Weary and tired, they spent the night on a rock and were restless and more inquisitive to see the contents of this unknown book.

So when they to began gradually turn over the pages of this book, with caution, they felt something heavy. The leaves were suppressed, making it difficult for them to turn over the pages smoothly. In order to supress it, abundle of thick ropes of coir called kaba was kept on it as a weight.

Seven ‘devils’

The seven devils imprisoned in the patuna escaped. They then, according to tradition, ran amok around the countryside, killing children, and parents had to keep them indoors. The whole village was plunged in pandemonium, and the people lived in mortal fear. Amidst this turmoil of terror and death, there appeared by some magic wand a swami dressed in immaculate white attire—a sort of village upasaka mahatmaya.

As he was versed in the Dharma and manthrams (charms), he by his supernatural powers sensed some evil catastrophe had fallen on the village by some devlish acts. So he hastily went in search of these seven devils, accompanied by the herdsmen who were armed with those coir ropes—kaba. This saint snatched some creepers and made them into coils like a rope and ministered them by chanting seth pirith (blessings of the Buddha Dharma) into them.

Devils stalked

With the herdsmen by his side, he made his desperate but bold journey to stalk these seven devils. He heard some loud noises emanating from a rock boulder, when there appeared before him those seven hideous looking devils shouting aloud to pounce on him and the men. This upasaka mahatmaya armed with seth pirith chanted into these coils of creepers, confronted the devils and threw around their necks. Then in this melee, one of them brushed his hand away, when four coils severed and only three remained which were woven around one of the devils and the other four broke away and fell on the ground. Meanwhile, the herdsmen threw their coils of coir ropes to tighten the devil.

Now the miraculous effects of the three coils chanted with seth pirith which were around the neck worked well. The devil summersaulted thrice before the upasaka mahatmaya, worshipped him, saying that he would never attack or kill people, and that he was not a devil, but a deity to perform service to people in times of distress and illness and to seek his blessings since he has a boon (warama) from Hoonium Devata as he was his avatara (incarnation).

As this bizzare episode happened on a rockoutcrop and as he was held at bay by those thick coir ropes (kaba), this deity came to be known to this day as Kabaleva (kaba means the coir rope, leva means it was put around to control him). The present devale dedicated to Kabalewa Deiyo and also to Hoonium Devata had been constructed at the rockoutcrop, where it stands to this day. The place around it is also called Kabalangala, reminiscent of the encounter related above. In the shrine room of Kabalewa Deiyo, the statue of Hoonium Devata is also enshrined in his dedication as he had given Kebalewa deity a boon (warama).

The statue of Kabalewa deity is marvellous and revealing as well. He is seen attired in white wearing a turban and three beads of necklaces woven around his neck. In one hand he carries the patuna—his symbol, while in the other hand he carries a walking stick and sembuwa (brass vessel) containing water. The three coils of necklaces festooned around Kabaleva deity represent those three coils of seth pirith chanted when he was held at bay and transformed himself into a deity. Hoonium Devata’s steed is shown as horse, while his feet and neck are coiled with cobras.

Popular place of worship

This Kabaleva Devale has turned out to be a popular place of worship where devotees flock, seeking the benision of Kabalewa Deity where they offer poojas and panduru — votaries in times of sickness and other distress in the family to redress them. Saturdays are specially allotted for such poojas and panduru, when people not only from the locality but other parts of the country too flock there.

Other similar tales

More and more tales are afloat about the origins of this Kabalewa Deity. But the main story pivots around that the deity having once upon a time being a devil and later transformed into a deity, after the three beads of necklaces chanted with seth pirith were woven around his neck, and that the devil was held at bay by putting the coir ropes and that the incident occurred on a rock on a rockoutcrop, and also that he got a boon from Hoonium Devata.

But the scene of the venue differed. According to the Kapurala of the Devale, he says it happened in Devundra and sought asylum in a place called Kottamvellanpitiya close to Kuliyapitiya. Instead of a upasaka mahatmaya, he is replaced by a Brahmin. The version given by the High Priest, Ven. Kalutavila Saranankara of the Rajamaha Viharaya adjoining this devale, is this.

The story is told in the same version, but the book (patuna) had landed at Dondra, when barter traders from Kuliyapitiya had laid their hands on it. Then it was brought to the banks of Deduru Oya. When it was opened, four of them fell off, while the other three remained. From there the same story is repeated. The upasaka mahatmaya who did the mantharams, seth pirith is mentioned as Mudiyanse. Around Kabalewa there are still places redolent of these encounters of Kabalewa deity. Among them are Deegallagas Yaya, Piduruwa, Kongalagedera-Randenawewa, Alagaha.

Another Devale

There is also another devale dedicated to Kabalewa Deity at a place called Kabulwala about four kilometers away along the Hettipola Road. Its origin is that out of the three devils (yakkas), two devils escaped and were thrown into a swamp where a devale named Kumbulwewa was built, which is also a favourite place of worship.

Next: Follow up article — ‘Ancestral Roots Halpe Generations — Kuliyapitiya’.