Situated on the Kumana Panama jungle path Okanda Devalaya is believed to be the location God Skanda first sailed into Sri Lanka in a golden boat. The boat, which was turned into a rock, still stands on the Okanda beach known to all as the ‘Ran Oru Gala’.
Held in reverence by many without the difference of a religion, race or creed the temple’s origin is unknown although the signs of an ancient monastery are found nearby. Archeologists believe the temple being situated near the ancient Okanda harbor too would have increased its importance with many a seafaring men seeking its help before and after a journey.
Although the ancient devalaya was of much simpler structure and adornment the present temple imitates a more Southern Indian Kovil structure due to its large number of Tamil Hindu devotees. Earnest devotees of Kataragama by the thousands, hailing from all communities but especially Tamil Hindus undertakes an annual Pâda Yâtrâ or foot pilgrimage via Okanda temple and Yala National Park to Kataragama for the Esala festivities in Kataragama.
Nearly 30,000 pilgrims from the Northern and Eastern coasts of Sri Lanka arrives in procession at Okanda to commence weeks long walk through Yala National Park to the temple of God Skanda in Kataragama. The devotees pray for Lord Skanda’s blessings and assistance prior to commencing their journey through the thick jungles of yala amidst the wild beasts of prey.
The ones who walk from afar are those who savor the traditional pilgrim’s life of sleeping in temples and under the open sky, accepting whatever alms that strangers may offer, and bearing up under scorching sun while walking barefoot on searing hot roads, clad only in simple pilgrim’s garb with a small bundle of offerings and belongings balanced upon their heads. All along the way, villagers await their chance to offer dâna to the small bands of swâmis and swâmi ammas.
For many pilgrims the Pâda Yâtrâ is a chance to visit ancient shrines all the way to Kataragama in the company of veteran devotees. Their long trek takes them to famous temples at Sittandy, Mamamgam, Kaluthavalai, and Mandur in Batticaloa District. In Ampara District they follow the coast via Tirukkovil, Pottuvil and Okanda through Yala National Park to reach Kataragama.