Sri Lanka – Religion, Demons and the Witch Doctor

Today we experienced first hand the rituals of the witch doctor. Black magic is practised all over Sri Lanka, Buddhists can ask for anything from protection to casting a curse that can even cause death to enemies.

We visited a temple in Nawagamuwa (means – collection of 9 villages), just outside of Colombo, the temple was built to honour the Goddess Paththini, she is the icon of purity and protects the district of Nawagamuwa.

Paththini – Her story to divinity

Paththini carries tambourines, it is said that even hearing the noise can heal the sick
Paththini carries tambourines, it is said that even hearing the noise can heal the sick

She was born as a mortal, an Indian born of a high-class family and was known as an innocent and pure woman. She lived in Indian with her Indian husband to whom she was incredibly loyal, her husband was falsely accused of a crime and was arrested and taken away from Paththini. Her husband had many enemies now in India and it was not safe for her to be there so she fled to the neighbouring country of Sri Lanka.

She always believed in her husbands innocence and tried everything to protect him, she tried to find her way through Sri Lanka to ask for protection, her only strength was that she remained strong and committed to her love whilst surrounded with temptation and enemies but no one would help her or show her the way. The only people who would help her on her quest were the Singhalese children. They showed her the path to follow, her commitment, loyalty and innocence were the things that lead her to divinity and made her a goddess.

Today she looks over all the children and pregnant mothers that come to her for help and protection as they were the only ones to help her in her mortal life. They visit the temple and give an offering of fruit, clothes or flowers and ask for her to look over them, a priest chants the story of Paththini whilst waving Peacock feathers and says if she looks over this family they will return in 3 months to give another offering as a thank you. To be blessed with protection you must be pure and have done nothing wrong, you must believe in your goodness with your whole heart whilst asking this from Paththini – you can never lie to gods.


She is said to be the next Buddha but a woman can never reach enlightenment so she must wait until she is born again into the body of a man and live as such for thousands of years to learn to be enlightened and so become the reincarnation of Buddha himself.

The Gods

There are mangoes in this picture as people believe Paththini was born of a mango stone
There are mangoes in this picture as people believe Paththini was born of a mango stone and in the background is a tambourine

Buddhists believe some gods have 2 sides, the side that is pure and holy, these gods will never grant individual requests but choose to look over those people who are good and practise all things holy in their lives and ask for protection. The other side of the gods are demons, buddhists do not have demons in their religion and so look to Hinduism for these figures. They understand that with good there must also be evil but, Buddhism itself does not have evil presence and so has been adapted to allow these Hindu deities influence their religious practice over the centuries.

A demon will grant an individuals wish, whether this is to ask for protection from specific individuals by punishment for their continuing harassment or to cast a curse that will harm their enemies, sometimes and rarely even asking for death. There a few that believe in the power necromancer – to bring a body from death to do the bidding of pure evil.

The demons that are very evil will ask for a sacrifice, if you are asking for a death curse they will expect a life sacrific – a life for a life, this will be a chicken or a goat (sacrifices are illegal in Sri Lanka and so to see a witch doctor whom communicates with this level of demonic power you will be expected to come into the jungle in the early hours, or now days they will prick the skin of the animal to draw blood without causing death). However most will be happy with cooked meats of the oily variety such as fish or tripe or some may ask for lamps – to light at specific time for a period of time.

Firstly you must pray to the Goddess because as a Buddhist there is a belief that gods can not live without the prayers of people, they live a holy and pure life ad then share there collected goodness with the gods to help them reach a new level of divinity as a god can not live a life of their own and so without people will never raise through the levels divinity. You are creating universal power by living a life by Buddha’s teaching, you must pass on this power to the gods for that is their food and they will be unable to help you without firstly doing this, this is how they know if you are good or bad as they will not help the wicked.

Nawagamuwa Temple – The Ritual

The new temple at Nawagamuwa
The new temple at Nawagamuwa

Today we visited the home of Paththini and prayed to her for protection, our friend has been suffering under the hands of others, nasty words and violent lies have been told to try and soil his name, he decided to visit the temple to ask for protection from harassment. We have also suffered harassment on a smaller scale and so were interested in the practices.

Sri Lanka's national flower - "naa" only in Sri Lanka and not found anywhere else in the world
Sri Lanka’s national flower – “naa” only in Sri Lanka and not found anywhere else in the world

Firstly we gave our blessings and thanks to Paththini, then it was time to ask Kadawara for his favour, our friend went to the shop and bought a coconut, beetle leaf, burning camphor and exactly 251LKR, this is presented to the shaman priest (the priest whom communicates to a specific demon, these priests often know many languages, some old and forgotten used to communicate with the demon – these are known as tongues). You tell him your name and the names of those whom you want to stop harassing (or in other situations, to curse). He takes these items and disappears behind a curtain (this is where an item of the demon will be whether it is his jewellery – usually his choice of weapon, not just anyone can lay their eyes on these items, only the chosen shaman, the shaman lives behind the temple and the profession is passed down from generation to generation) where you will hear him chanting in these tongues, getting faster and faster, altering the pitch in his voice so it almost sounds like a conversation between 2 people. You are given a piece of cotton which contains a coin washed in turmeric water, this is tied to a pole in the god’s house along with many that have come before you, you ask your favour whilst tying this and it remains in the house as a token to the demon for answering your request. The coconut is returned to you with the campher on top, you light the campher and walk to a pit with a large stone in the middle, you smash the coconut to finalise the deal however, the way you smash the coconut is important and can have an effect on the deal you have made – making it more or less effective.

Kadawara in his demon form
Kadawara in his demon form


This is what we have learned only today but this is just the tip of the iceberg, it is such an interesting subject and I hope to learn more about the magic in Sri Lanka. It is safe to say that the locals completely believe with their heart and soul in the working of the gods, to have such faith amazes me and I hope to learn where this inner belief lies.

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