The famous Kataragama Festival takes place at the time of the Esala full moon in July or August. During the festival, thousands of Hindus and Buddhists descend on the town to express devotion to the deity, to ask for forgiveness for their sins, to make vows and to request favours.
However, the festival is best known for the various forms of physical mortification and self-mutilation that pilgrims undertake as a form of penance.
A couple of days before the end of the festival there is a fire-walking ceremony where devotees walk barefoot on red-hot coals. The festival ends with a symbolic water-cutting ceremony at the Menik Ganga.
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Some devotees roll on burning hot sand near the temple to demonstrate their piety or to ask forgiveness for their sins.
The sacred relic, or yantra, is taken nightly from the Maha Devale atop an elephant and placed at the kovil dedicated to Valli. It is left there for 15 minutes and then returned to the Maha Devale, except on the last night of the perahera when it stays overnight.
The water-cutting ceremony at the Menik Ganga river marks the end of the festival. Once the priest has “cut” the water, pilgrims rush to the spot to absolve their sins by bathing in the river