In Sinhala belief the Pattini is a guardian deity. She is the deification of Kannagi, who is the central character of the Tamil epic Silapadhikaram of Ilango Adigal. She is worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus and is the patron goddess of fertility and health - particularly of smallpox, which is referred to as deviyange ledé ('the divine affliction') in the Sinhala language.
According to Sinhala mythology, the Bodhisatva Pattini was incarnated as Kannagi in order to rid the Pandya kingdom of its evil three-eyed king. She was said to have been born of a mango fruit, which was cut down by the god Sakra with an arrow.
The first mention is in the Silapadhikaram, written in India at some time after the 2nd Century CE. Introduced into Sri Lanka at some time after this, it absorbed earlier deities such as that of Kiri Amma ('milk mother'). Historians attribute her introduction to the island to Gajabahu I, a frequent traveller to Tamilakkam. The Silapathikaram mentions Gajabahu's presence at the consecration of a temple to Kannagi (identified as Pattini in this case) by the Chera king Senguttuvan.
Pattini is honoured in annual fertility rites such as
- Gammaduwa (village rebirth) festivals, during which her myth is enacted.
- Ankeliya (horn games) in which, as in the British game of Uppies and Downies, upper and lower teams compete.
- Porakeliya (fight games) during which two teams hurl coconuts at each other.
Major Pattini Temples in Sri Lanka
- Kaduwela - Purana Rankadu Pattini Maha Devale
- Maduwa Pattini Devale - The festival of the Pattini Devale is held annually during July–August season.
- Madhu - From the time King Gaja Bahu I (114-136 CE) allegedly introduced the Pattini worship to Sri Lanka, Pattini temple was there in Madhu Church premises (Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu) for 1850 years.Hindus called it the Amman Temple. The nearby reservoir is still called Kovil Kulam (Reservoir of the Temple).According to the "Manual of the North Central Province", by R. W. Levers, 1889, present Madhu Church site had a "Pattini temple" till the 1850. The Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu was established in 1876 on the same temple premises.At present, no ruins of Pattini temple can not be found there.
- Kandy - Pattini Devale is located to the west of Natha Devale close to Sri Dalada Maligawa premises.
- Mullaitivu - This is said to be the first Pattini Temple in Sri Lanka.But, at present, no ruins have been found.
- Medagoda (Sitawake)
- Nawagamuwa Devale - Thi s Devale is said to be built by king Rajasinha I (1581-1593).This is situated in Colombo to Avissawella Low level road. It is the principal cult centre for worship of the goddess.
- Panama - 15 km South of Arugam Bay. It is the site of one of the few remaining ankeliya rituals.
- Ratnapura - Saman Devale
- Seenigama -(Hikkaduwa) Originally the centre for Pattini worship, it is now the principal centre of Devol.
- Wilbawa (Kurunegala)
- Kabulumulla (One of the four major Pattini temples which the great 'Pattini Salamba' exists. This devale was built by King Rajasinghe I in 1582. This is situated in Colombo-Hatton rd. 15 km from Avissawella) - Visit http://www.kabulumulladevalaya.org/
Sinhalese people believe that goddess Pattini spreads viral diseases like chickenpox and measles and when a family member is infected, they hold a hold Dānas (alms-givings) to goddess Pattini, called Kiri-amma dāna (Milk-mother's alms-giving).