Our last stop on the south coast was Yala National Park, which has three different entrances. We picked Kataragama because we found cheap accomodation (the deciding factor for many of our travel choices).
By the time we arrived, we had had a long day, so we decided to book an afternoon safari for the following day instead of at the crack-of-dawn like we did at Udawalawe National Park.
This meant we had a free morning, so we decided to go see the local temple, which is one of the more well known Hindu temples in Sri Lanka with an annual pilgrimage in summer. They have puja at various times of the morning, where ceremonies are performed and blessings given, so we showed up for the 10:30 puja and understood nothing at all of what was going on.
There were people praying and smashing flaming coconuts on the ground (a ritual I can get behind (because you wouldn’t want to be in front)), there were guys carrying stuff into a building, walking on a red carpet with other guys holding a silk sheet above their heads.
There were hundreds of local people carrying baskets of decorated fruit into the place; the streets in front of the temple are just rows of fruit stands. After a while some huge golf course sized sprinklers went off, maybe to cool down the sand since everyone was barefoot, maybe for some other reason. It was very interesting.
The highlight for us was when we walked out of the temple into the park area behind and there were two elephants about 30 m apart chained to trees. We figured they were there for photo ops until people started feeding them from the trays of fruit they had brought to the temple.
We had seen a massive lineup of people in behind the temple building all carrying fruit trays, so I think the fruit was meant for the ceremony but the lines were just too long. While we were standing around puzzling over everything, several people walked up and offered us some of their fruit.
When people saw that Elliot was not afraid to feed the elephants, his star-power kicked up a notch and there was a lineup of people waiting to give him fruit to hand over to the big trunk (we have video, but are suffering from technical malaise at the moment). He was like a middle-man in some weird supply chain. So many of the fruit suppliers wanted a picture of him or a selfie with him that I considered charging 200 rupees a pic, but I was worried about stealing business from the elephant guy (his backup muscle was a 2 tonne elephant, after all).
After the puja was over, the elephants went for a cooldown in the river. A very entertaining morning for us.