Ceremonial statue of Pattini.

Pattini is the guardian deity of Sri Lanka in the Sinhala Buddhist religion, while also being worshipped as Kannaki by the Tamil Hindus. In Sri Lanka she is also the patron goddess of fertility and health, particularly in protection against smallpox.

Kannaki is the central character in the Silapadhikaram by Ilango Adigal, written in 5th or 6th century CE India. The text was introduced in Sri Lanka shortly after, and quickly became adopted into the mythology of the island. The story itself is said to take place in the 1st or 2nd centuries CE and tells of a human, Kannaki, and the relationship with her husband Kovalan. He left her for Madhavi briefly, before releasing the error of his ways and returning to her shortly after. Kovalan had been given an anklet by another, which he did not realise had been stolen from the Queen. Kannaki and Kovalan decided to sell the anklet in order to raise some money. However, when Kovalan attempted to trade it on the city market, he was wrongfully accused of theft and executed for the crime. The widowed Kannaki sought retribution for the crime and demanded justice for her husband from the King. When this did not occur, she destroyed the city of Madurai in India in response. She then crossed the sea to the island of Sri Lanka to cool off, and while doing so was said to perform miracles in various villages in her path. As a result, multiple temples were built in her honour. This story was then adopted into both Buddhist and Hindu tradition in Sri Lanka.

Buddhist tradition predominantly relegates all local female deities and spirits to minor and secondary positions. However, Pattini is a significant figure in the Theravada Buddhist Pantheon and the Sinhala religion. Despite being depicted as a violent widow who was both human and divine, she is the only female deity on par with male deities in Sri Lanka. She was also worshipped in the form of Kannaki by Tamil Hinduism. Both religions also follow the same religious practices in worship of her. Kannaki was also originally present in regions of Southern India as well, however those mentions have since been assimilated into the Kali worship of the region.

Pattini is often worshipped for her fertility, with rituals being given in her honour following a successful harvest. These are known as “gammaduva” and are a series given in thanks. They may also be practiced to ask for a successful cycle if a village is suffering from either drought or disease, while smaller versions of a similar ritual could be used for families or individuals. In Sinhala culture she is also shown as protecting against diseases such as chickenpox and measles. These are believed to be ailments given from god as punishment for frailty, however the goddess is able guard against such illness.

-Devon Allen
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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