Udappu fishing village, Chilaw District, Sri Lanka

A procession emerged from the temple led by drummers and flag bearers, the ringing of bells and the thin strains of flute music.

Udappu's Draupadi Goddess Festival

Of the many customs and rituals that preserve the traditional culture of Udappuwa, perhaps the most important is the Draupadi Goddess Great Festival, which takes place in July and August (the fifth day of the festival falling on the new moon). The festival is rooted in the Mahabharata, a well-known Hindu epic that is believed to be based on actual events.

The main theme of the Mahabharata epic is the rivalry for the throne of the Kuru Dynasty between two groups of cousins: the five Pandava brothers and the Kaurava brothers. The rival groups grew up together at the court, but upon the death of their father, the Pandavas were forced to leave the kingdom, due to jealousy and enmity that had developed between them and the Kauravas.

During their exile, the five brothers jointly married Draupadi—to whom the temple of Udappuwa is dedicated—and met their cousin Krishna, who remained their friend thereafter. They returned to the divided kingdom for some years but were again exiled to the forest for twelve years when the eldest brother, Yudhisthira, lost everything, including Draupadi, in a game of dice with Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas.

Duryodhana and his younger brother tried to disrobe Draupadi, but as they pulled off one sari, another took its place, thanks to the intervention of Krishna. For this attempt to dishonour her, Draupadi vowed vengeance upon Duryodhana; the ensuing feud culminated in a fierce battle lasting 18 days. Following the battle, the victorious Pandava brothers and Draupadi—now reunited to live in perpetual bliss—crossed a fire to expiate the sins committed during the fight.