Guardian Deity, Borella


Image below is of a poster advertising the temple of the village guardian (Gambara) deity referred to as the “Suniyam” God. Not sure about the meaning of the “Siddha” in the title. Click on the image for more translations of the lettering. The village guardian title seems ironic since the temple is located in Borella – a crazy busy – some might say “rougher” part of Colombo City.

This deity is part of a larger pantheon of gods who are battered to resolve modern obstacles such as passing exams, securing jobs, getting visas, safe travel, success in business , etc. The typical stuff that people the world over ask from their gods.

Sri Lankan Deity

According to Lanka Library’s extensive post on Sri Lankan deities and rituals, this particular deity is described as

Siddha Suniyam god is protector of all villages & houses in Sri Lanka who is traveling village to village in mid night on white cloths. This god’ travelling can be know from sudden Jasmine smell & sametime dogs are barks. He give punishments to bad people while helps to good ones and Buddhists. This god stay in two ways as god and curel devil. Suniyam god is very curel god who gives vast punishments for bad people. In his human past life, he was person who protect law in society when Sakanda Kumara’s human life. Siddha Suniyam means this god need to be invited when use mantra science & related works, he gives permission to work mantra. Suniyam god stay under rules of the Kataragama god. It is popular he have white horse & wife too.

(Typos/text in the quote are from the Lanka Library post)

Some may validly point to these practices of appealing to a pantheon of gods as long standing Hindu influence or the persistence of pre Buddhist belief systems. Certainly makes Gananath Obeyesekere’s research into such practices very interesting reading (specifically Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka). A crude summery (aided by fuzzy recollections) is that the rise of deity worship is related to opaqueness/unreliability of social/economic institutions. For those looking to find out more (but don’t want to read the whole text), there’s a lengthy review on findarticles.com.

These practices are rarely questioned or openly discussed in day to day life — no more than you would discuss the blueness of the sky. They manifest themselves in a familiar Hindu religious art style such as in the photograph in this post.

I am interested in “collecting” images of this type of Buddhist Hindu religious art found in public such as the image of the patron god Dadimunda. If you know of similar images on line please add the line in the comment box below.

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9 thoughts on “Guardian Deity, Borella

  1. I was at the Munneshwaram Kovil in Chilaw a couple of weeks back. they have some mind blowing art there. Some Gods, actually most , it seemed to me , were really gruesome. and scary. I took some photographs but can’t publish them coz i don’t have their names. ok so I am no help. but maybe u’ve already seen them? maybe I could just email you a couple of them anyways?

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  2. There are some gods in kataragama devalaya as well.. even the “pathini” goddess in some temples…

    Very interesting topic…

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  3. MiddleChild: I wonder if you are referring to the a temple for Kali in the Chilaw area. I remember going their when I was a kid. Faint memories – but I was told that the image was Kali was only unveiled once an year. Apparently people go their to ask for revenge on people who have hurt them…

    Not sure what you mean by not being able to publish your photos on because you don’t have the name. If its a case of identifying the gods – then putting them online (specially) flickr would be a good way of pulling in the experts. Unless you feel it is disrespectful in some way.

    SanthoshiQuite true – been going to Katharagama since I was a kid

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  4. Hi,

    “Siddha” here refers to supernatural powers. I think God Suniyam is well known for that. I have heard that those who wish to attain siddhi powers can invoke Suniyam. He is great for getting help with mantra and tantra practices.

    I am not sure why the Sri Lankan dieties are referred to as “Buddhist” gods. I think it is misleading to lable them as “Buddhist”. In my understanding gods help those who deserve their help regardless of religion and they all uphold “Truth” regardless of religious doctrines. So I don’t see any point in calling them “Buddhist”.

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    1. Thank you for that info 🙂

      I think the references to “Buddhist” gods might due to these deities being worshipped at/around Buddhist shrines and/or a lot of the devotees being Buddhists.

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  5. sidda kota weda sidda nam lada sidda dew rada suniam
    hela udda dewiduge agga senpathi sidda dew rada suniam

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