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Kataragama will add serene spirituality in a way not many other destinations can. It is a city named after a revered god, and the town and its many shrines are a place of pilgrimage and worship for Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even Christians who are seeking enlightenment and a connection with the divine. This is a city with something different and truly spiritual to offer, because among its simple streets and quiet places of worship, even non-believers will find that the daily customs and rituals here bring them calm and peace. If you’re not so into religion and a slow pace of life, book your Kataragama accommodation in July or August when the Kataragama Festival takes place. The gruesome and testing rituals of this event are definitely a sight to see!
Kataragama is a small, serene town about 20km from the southeast coast of Sri Lanka. Its Kataragama Temple is one of the top three religious sites on the island, and pretty much the town’s only attraction, but it is from this one place that Kataragama gets all its special charm, life and breath-taking events.
The temple grounds are very different from the Hindu or Buddhist temples you may be used to, which usually have stunning and intricate ornaments, statues, carvings and colours, but here you are welcomed by a brightly painted arches (alternated between yellow and pink over the years) to see plain rectangular buildings within. But don’t let this put you off, because as evening settles over Kataragama, the evening puja (worshipping ceremony) begins. These are like daily mini-festivals as pilgrims arrive to give offerings to the god while dancers twirl to jazzy drums and trumpets played nearby.
When there are no ceremonies, Kataragama goes back to sleep, its dusty streets and low buildings take on a real countryside feel, and for most this is a rare and extraordinary experience because the destination is not geared for tourists in any way, something even quiet inland towns of Sri Lanka lack. There is one time per year that the town explodes with life and activity though, and that is during the Kataragama Festival (around July or August). People from all over Sri Lanka make the pilgrimage to the temple and either go about their quiet, personal rituals, or show their devotion with gruesome acts of self-mutilation including walking on burning hot coals, suspending themselves in the air by hook piercings, or skewering sharp objects through their cheeks. This is definitely the most exciting time for the town and the Kataragama hotels fill up fast, so take a look at our list and book early!
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Hotels in Kataragama start at AU$43 per night. Prices and availability subject to change. Additional terms may apply.