A Prayer to Pattini
In Sri Lanka, a female deity is revered by both Tamil Hindus and Sinhala Buddhists. Tamil Hindus know her as Kannaki and Sinhala Buddhists call her Pattini. She is the patron goddess of fertility and health and her temples/shrines are mainly visited by women. A small shrine to Pattini is located within the Kataragama temple complex in Kataragama, Sri Lanka. The overall temple complex, a collection of small shrines, is unique because it is one of few religious sites in Sri Lanka venerated by the Buddhists, Hindus, Sri Lankan Moors (mainly Muslim) and the indigenous Vedda people. We visited the Kataragama temple complex during an evening puja (a period of rites and worship). Pattini’s shrine stood out with its vivid colors and bright lights, especially after dark.
For a small offering, the attendant (I am not sure what to call him because I don’t know if he was a Buddhist monk) in the shine would bless you and weave a colored string bracelet around your wrist. The color of the string related to why you are praying to the goddess. There were three options: yellow, orange and black. When the attendant asked me what color string I wanted, I selected yellow but he shook his head “no.” He said yellow for marriage, and apparently women of my age do not wish for marriage in Sri Lanka. To try not to feel so over the hill, I decided he saw marriage related to fertility; it was obvious that I was past my child bearing days. He picked the orange string instead and said it was for health. I don’t know what the black string represented but Pattini also protects against smallpox, chickenpox and measles. I wore the bracelet until it started to unravel. Even though I am not religious, my orange string bracelet hangs in my bathroom to remind me that Pattini is looking out for my health.