Kataragama Sri Lanka: photos late 20th century

Pilgrimage to Kataragama is a long tradition in my family. Goes back to my grandparents’ time. Perhaps beyond that (one of them is said to have origins in the area). I was taken there countless times during my childhood. The photos in this post are from that era. A Kataragama weekend somewhere in the late twentieth century. Yet these photos are more than just a few frozen moments.

These photos are my first attempts at photographing total strangers. I don’t have the guts, confidence and enthusiasm for it now. Or arrogance and ignorance. The kid that took these photos had plenty of the last two qualities. Using a telephoto lens gives a sniper like sense of power. Which, with my enthusiasm, I mistook for confidence. Giving me my high hopes for the shots I took.

The results pummelled my confidence with disappointments. Ignorant composition. Poor focus. Mismatched aperture and shutter settings. Yet the level headed comments my father jotted on the back of the photos kept me going. The photos in this post are from among least worst.

Finding these photos stirred realisations about the belief systems that run through daily life in Sri Lanka. Beliefs so fundamental that even those who realise it dare not voice them. In most cases these beliefs have gelled into habits. Marinated into the next generation’s subconscious through stories and vocabulary. Details of which are saved for a future post.

Katharagama pilgrims late 20th century
Pilgrims? Beggers? “Holy” men?
Katharagama shop front late 20th century
In the town – not in the sacred area
Katharagama pilgrims late 20th century
Devotees waiting in line to make offerings outside the main shrine.
Katharagama pilgrim late 20th century

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