The Okanda Devalaya (or Ukanthamalai Murugan Kovil) is located in Okanda, a small hamlet in the Ampara District along Sri Lanka’s East Coast. Roughly 5 hours away from Yala, on the other end of the protected park; a visit to Okanda makes for a great day trip. Though the hamlet is best known for its surf spots, the temple serves as a significant key attraction in the region, seated comfortably amidst jungle and rocky slopes. It’s known to be a place people go to seek both blessings and penance.
It is believed that God Skanda (a prominent figure in both Sri Lanka’s religious and cultural history) first sailed to Sri Lanka on a golden boat which eventually turned into a rock (named the ‘Ran Oru Gala’), after he came ashore on Okanda’s sandy beach.
Not far from there stands the much-revered temple, which is also a provider of blessings for many seafarers who seek it out before beginning their journey as well as after the conclusion of their journey.
The vividly painted, simple but incredible temple attracts many pilgrims annually. According to historian Ven. Medhadana Thero in 1978, there were remains of a stupa at top of the rock upon which the devalaya is settled, but only bare traces of it can be found today.
The pilgrims must conduct the Pada Yatra (or ‘foot pilgrimage’) through the Okanda Devalaya on their way to Kataragama during the Esala period. Devotees flock to the temple to seek Lord Skanda’s blessings prior to continuing on the rest of the pilgrimage.
Apart from the Okanda Devalaya’s significance to Buddhists, it is also a sacred place for Hindus, who worship at the sylvan shrine on the temple premises. The premises are believed to hold uniquely divine powers, and so, regardless of race or religion, many visit to experience its sublimity.
If you would like to experience the depths of the faith Sri Lankans hold, you could always pay a visit to the Okanda Devalaya. But please do remember to adhere to the dress code (conservative) so as to respect the religious beliefs of the devotees.