Buddhist Heritage and Conservation in Sri Lanka Lecture Series

Śrī Pāda Pilgrimage: History, Icons and Representations of Saman’s Divine Abode

Speaker: Professor Mahinda Deegalle

a picture of the Sri Pada mountain i OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Professor Mahinda Deegalle’s talk will focus on the history, inscriptions, pilgrimage practices and importance of the sacred mountain of Śrī Pāda (“Blessed Foot”) also known as Adam’s Peak in Sabaragamuva Province, Sri Lanka. The area is rich in precious stones and is the divine abode of the deity Saman who is believed to have become a stream-enterer at the Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka in the sixth century BCE. The fifth century CE Buddhist chronicle The Mahāvasa records it as the sacred site of the Left Footprint of the Buddha. For over a millennium, travelers such as Fa Xian (337–422 CE), Marco Polo (1254–1324 CE), and Ibn Baṭṭūṭa (1304–1368 CE) have visited the sacred mountain. Their accounts and inscriptions found below the summit at Bhagavālena (“Cave of the Blessed One”) dated to King Niśśaṅka Malla (r. 1187–1196 CE) are tangible evidence of ongoing pilgrimage practice.

Pilgrimage had been a standard practice of Buddhist royals, overseas travelers, missionaries, and civil servants of the colonial administration with two prominent routes developed to reach its summit. Annually, the six-month pilgrimage season commences on the full moon in December and ends on Vesak, the full moon in May, which is celebrated as Buddha’s birthday, a day sacred to Buddhists around the world. Thousands of pilgrims make the arduous climb to the top of the mountain at night and wait to glimpse the first rays of the rising sun. Using poetry, songs, stamps and icons, Professor Deegalle will examine the rich pilgrimage heritage and natural beauty and wilderness of the deity Saman’s sacred garden as a shared site important for multiple religious communities on the island.

Mahinda Deegalle (PhD, University of Chicago; MTS, Harvard University; BA Hons, University of Peradeniya) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge and Emeritus Professor in Religions, Philosophies and Ethics, Bath Spa University. He is an ordained Theravāda Buddhist monk, trained in the discipline of the History of Religions and Buddhist Studies. He held Numata Professorship at McGill University and NEH Professorship at Colgate University. He conducted post-doctoral research at Kyoto University. He received grants from the British Academy / Leverhulme Trust, British Council, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Fulbright. He is the author of Popularizing Buddhism (SUNY, 2006) and the editor of several volumes, including Buddhism, Conflict and Violence in Modern Sri Lanka (Routledge, 2006), Vesak, Peace and Harmony (2015), Justice and Statecraft (2017), Dharmayātrā (2022), and most recently, Philosophy, Ethics and Buddhist Practice (Buddhist World Press, 2023).

Organised by Lori Wong (The Courtauld) and Sujatha Meegama (The Courtauld) 

Supported by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Art and Conservation.

The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Art and Conservation at The Courtauld was established by a generous endowment in 2012 from the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.

This event has passed.

26 Apr 2023

Wednesday 26th April 2023, 6pm - 7pm BST

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square, Lecture Theatre 1

This is an in person event at our Vernon Square campus. Booking will close 30 minutes before the event begins.


Painting showing a woman kneeling, with her hands in prayer on her forehead, in front of an elephant
“Sumana in Devotion in the inner sanctum of Sri Pada Temple”. Image credit: Mahinda Deegalle. Photo taken on 26 December 2015.